"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Monday, May 5, 2014

Approaches to Mission 4: Enlightenment Modern Mission and Mission within Postmodernity

As before, I am looking at Stephen Spencer’s studyguide Christian Mission.

Enlightenment Modern Mission

This approach to mission is concerned as much about the physical and mental conditions in which people live as their spiritual lives. It is rooted in what K√ľng calls the Enlightenment Modern paradigm, itself formed by key ideas of the eighteenth century Enlightenment in European culture.  It was a hugely influential approach to mission in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, leading to a construction of schools, hospitals and other educational and medical work all around the world and also propelling Christian laity and clergy into the forefront of social reform in the West. With Christian contributions to the founding of the welfare state in Britain, this mission type arguably reached the height of its influence.

In some ways the Protestant Reformation provided a seedbed of the Enlightenment Modern paradigm. This was through its theology of the two kingdoms and the way this brought about an increasing separation of civil and spiritual realms. The Church was to be concerned with the latter, while the state and civil society were concerned with the former. On political, social, economic and even moral questions the Church was gradually sidelined: its concern was to be the things of Heaven rather than of Earth. This resulted in the Church losing control of scientific endeavour and the post-Reformation period in Europe saw the blossoming of scientific exploration across the continent. In this paradigm, the Kingdom lies in the future but is being realized through human progress. Jesus is present among us as the pioneer of of a new humanity which is gradually coming about. 

Bosch, writing in Transforming Mission, provides a helpful summary of key features within this new way of thinking:

·       It was pre-eminently the Age of Reason, where reason was seen to belong not only to believers but to all people.

·       It operated within the subject-object scheme, in which nature ceased to be “creation” and was no longer peoples’ teacher but the object of their analysis.

·       It eliminated purpose from science, introducing direct causality as the clue to understanding reality.

·       It believed in the notion of progress with exploration of the world as well as science opening up new possibilities for human living, convincing many that humanity had the ability and the will to remake the world in its own image.

·       Scientific knowledge was regarded as factual, value-free and neutral, and as really the only kind of knowledge that counts.

·       All problems were in principle solvable, though it would take time to solve them.

·       Human beings are now emancipated, autonomous individuals.

Taken together, these ideas represent a revolution in European thought: the Age of Reason saw an increasing turn away from supernatural revelation as the source of truth and an increasing suspicion of medieval thought as stifling.

The Enlightenment also saw the rise of historical consciousness developing out of a critical study of history, including the Bible.

There were political consequences too. The rise of individualism implied the rise of democratic ideals and the overthrow of the medieval monarchies. The two most significant examples were the American War of Independence and the French Revolution.

Scientific understanding led to the development of newer technologies and commercial expansion overseas followed in the nineteenth century, which carried European culture, philosophy and education to many points around the globe. The Age of Reason became the Age of Empire, which harnessed technology and industrialisation for the scramble for global domination by the European powers.

The Enlightenment belief in progress, and especially in European culture’s progress within science, technology, philosophy and politics, had a major influence on a new type of mission within churches. Progress suggested the imminent this-worldly global triumph of Christianity. Some believed that the entire world would soon be converted to Christianity or that Christianity was an irresistible power in the process of reforming the world, eradicating poverty, and restoring justice for all. The spread of Christian knowledge would suffice in achieving these aims. The philosopher Leibnitz described the Church’s task in the world as the propagation of Christianity through science or knowledge. The advance of the honour of God was equated with the good of mankind.

The increasing provision of education became one of the most significant  by the churches in nineteenth century Britain and God’s Kingdom would become increasingly aligned with the culture and civilization of the West.

The second half of the twentieth century has also seen this type of mission promoted in various parts of the worldwide Church, though in different ways. For instance, in The World Council of Churches report The Church for Others (1967), the particular role in the mission of God was seen as pointing to God at work in history, to discover what he is doing, to catch up with it and to get involved ourselves: for God’s primary relationship is to the World and it is the world that must be allowed to provide the agenda for the churches.

The Roman Catholic world also embraced this kind of socially and historically rooted outlook. The initial impetus came from the Second Vatican Council’s document Gaudium et Spes, which, in rousing language called on the Church to turn outwards to the world in which it lived. This led to the Bishops of Latin America responding to that call with solidarity and applying it to their own context. As the Bishops opened their vision and hearts to the peoples’ struggle for justice they initiated the Liberation Theology movement.

A different and influential example is the 1985 C of E report Faith in the City,  a response to inner-city riots which made it clear that both church and nation needed to take anew look at the most deprived areas in the larger cities and the recent growth of poverty. This was fiercely attacked by the Conservative government of Mrs. Thatcher.

Mission within Postmodernity

The roots of this new theological paradigm partly lie in the collapse of Enlightenment aspirations. The Age of Reason became the colonial age of empire in which European powers harnessed technology and industrialisation for the scramble for global domination. The next step along this road was war between the competing European powers which many see as the outcome of the Enlightenment era. These desperate events included the Holocaust and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japanese cities and for many these events undermined the belief in the existence of human progress based on reason and technology. While the work of church schools, hospitals and political involvement undoubtedly improved the physical wellbeing of many people, such work had not resolved or begun to resolve the ultimate issues and questions of the reign of God.

A second key development during this period has been mass immigration into western societies from the Indian sub-continent, Africa, the West Indies and central Asia which resulted in the rise of pluralist societies in Europe with different religions, cultures, languages and customs rubbing shoulders with each other in the larger European cities. This has included not just the arrival of other faith groups but also Pentecostalist forms of Christianity.

In the latter part of the twentieth century these two developments gave rise to a new way of relativistic thinking in Western culture - at least in the urban centres. This is often referred to as “postmodernism” and has led some commentators to describe the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first century as the start of a new postmodern era, contributed to by writers such as Adam Smith, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud and many others, who claimed to provide systems of political, religious or cultural ideas.

In tandem with these traumatic social and cultural events there has been an unfolding theological revolution. Karl Barth led a revolt against the way of thinking which had seen religion as concerned with the cultivation of people’s spiritual faculties and which believed that humanity might achieve union with the divine by gradually leading itself to God.

Christ’s revelation is primary for Barth: everything else must be seen in the light of that. The discipline of theology must have Christ’s life, death and resurrection - or “The Christ Event” - as he called it as the beginning, the middle and the end. Theology consists in tracing the significance of this event for every aspect of life. Christ, the Word of God, reveals the truth of all things. Barth’s theology does not begin with general and abstract philosophical arguments about the “ground of being” or “the feeling of absolute dependence” as nineteenth century theologians tended to do. He begins with God as revealed by Christ in his birth, death and resurrection: he addresses the doctrine of God and brings the doctrine of the Trinity to the centre stage because he sees the nature of God as defined by the interrelations of the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Father. Even when Barth explores the doctrine of Creation he relates it to Christ. He describes God’s work in creating the world as being about setting in place the right conditions for the revelation of his Son.

Barth was first misunderstood and rejected, especially in Britain and North America: his theology was labelled a “neo-orthodoxy” and dismissed as reactionary but now he is recognised as a pioneer of an approach to theology which is no longer dependent on philosophy or the study of history and has found its authority in transcendent revelation: the Word of God as found in the Christ Event. The Kingdom of God comes as His gracious gift, as a transcendent reality breaking into the corruption and failures of human life.

Barth was the key figure behind the coining of the phrase missio Dei as a summary of mission’s dependence on the initiative and substance of God himself. Mission was not to be seen as one of humanities building projects, carried forward by its own strength and reason, but as a divine movement in which the church was privileged to participate.

One of Barth’s students, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, who resisted the Nazis and was put to death by them, has been described as the architect of a new way of understanding the mission of the church. He believed that the Christian community was the concrete presence of Christ in the world and needed to be valued and nurtured as such. He also saw that the Christian life, if taken seriously, is no easy matter. He opposed what he called the offering of cheap grace by the established churches to their members. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he described the costly nature of following Christ, a way of service rather than domination. His writings, and particularly his Letters and Papers from Prison, help to articulate a theology of mission implicit in the witness of his life.

Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. He must therefore plunge himself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion and trying to transfigure it….It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world…. The church is only her true self when she exists for humanity. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

Christian mission, then, is about the church laying aside its own power and becoming open and vulnerable to the world, giving itself to serving the needs of others, locating itself where they live and, only then, finally, seeking to communicate the meaning of the gospel: Christian mission is all about witness out of a prior vulnerability.

This open-ended approach to mission has been expressed in an increasing number of places in the latter part of the twentieth century, especially as migration has resulted in people of different faiths increasingly living side by side and churches have had to enter into dialogue with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and others. This has taken place at every level, though not usually under the label of “mission”.  Dialogue is the norm and necessary manner of every form of Christian mission, as well as every aspect of it, whether one speaks of simple presence and witness or direct proclamation. Any sense of mission not permeated by such a dialogical spirit would go against the demands of true humanity and against the teaching of the gospel. (Bevans and Schroeder: Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today.)

As Bosch affirms, We do not have all the answers and are prepared to live within the framework of penultimate knowledge, that we regard our involvement in dialogue and mission as an adventure, are prepared to take risks and are anticipating surprises as the Spirit guides us into fuller understanding. (Transforming Mission)

Gibbs and Bolger, writing in Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Culture, conducted extensive research into the Emerging Churches movement in Britain and the U.S. They identified patterns most prevalent in churches that take postmodern culture seriously. The three core practices are;

·       Identifying with the life of Jesus, including welcoming the outcast, hosting the stranger and challenging the political authorities by creating an alternative community.

·       Transforming secular space in the same way that postmodernity calls into question the separation of sacred and secular.

·       Living as a community within all realms of the life of their members, not just within a Sunday morning meeting.

This strong sense of the missio Dei has led some leaders to renounce traditional evangelism altogether. We do not do evangelism or have mission. The Holy Spirit is the evangelist, and the mission belongs to God. What we do is simply live our lives publicly as a community in the way of Jesus Christ, and when people enquire as to why we live this way, we share with them an account of the hope within us…. Taking care of the sick and needy creates all the evangelism we need. (Gibbs and Bolger)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Approaches to Mission Part 3: Medieval Catholic and Protestant Reformation paradigms

As before, I am looking at Stephen Spencer’s studyguide Christian Mission.
Medieval Catholic Mission

As Constantine took control of the Western Empire he stopped persecution of the church. His family and court began to adopt the faith in increasing numbers and Christianity effectively became the state religion. The church began to become the religious arm of the Roman government. This shows the birth of “Christendom”, with the Christian community firmly embedded within the political structure in a position of power and wealth, but under a Christian monarch who has authority over the church as well as the state.

The Emperor was being given a mandate to use the power of the empire to bring its diverse peoples into the Christian religion and the use of coercion within mission was being sanctioned. While Constantine himself allowed a plurality of religions to be practiced in the empire, later emperors, particularly Theodosius, would proscribe all religions except Christianity.

All this throws light on the statement in the Nicene Creed that the Church was “one” as well as “holy”, “catholic” and “apostolic”. The Church was to be one as the empire was one, exercising authority over everyone within the empire. The Christendom paradigm had made its appearance: there was to be one order with Christ at the head and beneath him, the Emperor or, later, the Pope. Implicit within this was a new understanding of mission: the Church was to come into an increasing unity with the state and together do all they could to incorporate more and more people within its jurisdiction. The Church, in other words, was to work for the establishing of Christendom.

In the Eastern empire, this marriage of church and state remained as the norm for the next thousand years. In the Western empire the situation was more confused with the invasion of Goth hoards and the sack of Rome but St. Augustine established a theological framework that would give the church a renewed sense of its own inherent authority in the medieval world. Based on his reading of St. Paul in Galatians and Romans he became increasingly convinced of the deep corruption and sinfulness of humankind and of its inability to raise itself up. He developed the doctrine of original sin to account for this weakness and he saw that salvation must be entirely the gift of God, learning from St. Paul’s teaching on justification. This theology brought the cross to the centre of the faith: it was Christ’s death on the cross that achieved salvation for the believer, not their own efforts. It also shows that God must be the one who decides who shall be saved and who will not. The seeds of the doctrine of predestination are sown here. It is God who moves towards us, having predestined some to be saved and others not to be saved.

All of this is significant to mission because it places the individual soul at the centre of mission: to belong to a corporate community that has access to the gate of heaven, as in the Hellenistic paradigm, is not enough. The issue is whether the individual has appropriated that fact for themselves. The community as a whole, through its teaching and liturgy can aid that process but it cannot do this on their behalf: justification through the cross of Christ can only be appropriated by the individual believer. Bosch describes this as the individualisation of salvation and it would have dramatic effects on the practice of Christian mission, especially during the reformation era.

For Augustine, the Church was an indispensable because God’s gift was given through the Church: only membership of the church could allow salvation to be imparted to a believer, for salvation depended on unity with the church of the apostles. This meant that an awareness of boundaries between people came back into mission theology: Augustine’s theology created a sharp and decisive boundary between those who were part of the sacramental life of the Church and those who were not, and mission became all about moving them across this boundary. It is God who moves towards us, having predestined some to be saved and others not to be saved. Those to be saved belong to the city of God: the rest belong to the earthly city; in this life both cities are intermingled but in the next life they will be separated.

This association of a church-centred mission with coercion was to gain strength over the course of the Middle Ages. Pope Gregory advocated that those who would not listen to “reason” be “chastised by beating and torture, whereby they might be brought to amendment” and free men were to be jailed. All of this was for the non-believers’ own good.

Spencer goes on to discuss the relationship between Pope Leo III and the Emperor Charlemagne to explain how the relationship between church and state was strengthened. The Poe’s responsibility was to intercede for the Emperor and his military campaigns. Each needed the other.

In the Church of England today we see vestiges of this paradigm in the Monarch’s role of Supreme Governor of the Church.

Protestant Reformation Mission

Augustine bequeathed a deep theological contradiction to the medieval world, one which helps to explain the eruption of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. He stressed the city of God and the earthly city, arguing that the church contained both good and bad and it would not be until the final consummation that the two groups would be separated and this led him to adopt the idea that God must have predestined those who are saved. He espoused the Cyprian principle that there is no salvation outside the church. However, he also argued the Pauline doctrine of Justification by God’s grace: salvation is given freely to the sinner by God and this could only be received by an inner conversion of the soul, a reception that only God can see.

Martin Luther is the pioneer of the Reformation paradigm of Christianity and, within that, the Protestant Reformation type of mission. This took place at a time of the rise of humanist learning with its undermining of much medieval theological thinking and at a time when ordinary people began, firstly to tire of the Pope’s attempts to commercialise the business of religion and then to be  opposed to it.

Luther was an Augustinian monk and the turning point for him was a theological one: he experienced an increasing sense of anguish and despair as he failed repeatedly to live up to the holy and righteous life. He came to believe that the Epistle to the Romans was the most important document of the New Testament: the Gospel in its purest expression. While he accepted the Augustinian doctrine of original sin and the dependency of humanity on God, he concluded that a believer could only be declared righteous through faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In this sense he agreed with Augustine but he rejected Augustine’s contradictory idea of predestination as found in his doctrine of two cities. The crucial arena for the receiving of salvation was within the soul of the believer and what took place was known only to God. The corporate life of the Church ceases to have any direct role in the securing of salvation and Luther was particularly critical of the corruption of the church of his day, particularly through the selling of indulgences. The doctrine of justification by grace through faith gave a theological rationale for sidelining the institutional church in the salvation of the believer. The key relationship was between the believer and God and was a direct one-to-one engagement. Everything else was secondary to this and therefore there could be no coercion to outward shows of faith.

A second important strand in Luther’s thinking was the elevation of scripture over the church as the authoritative guide in the life of the Christian. It was Luther’s own reading of Romans which had opened his eyes to the true nature of salvation whereas the teaching of the church had clouded these truths. If scripture taught all things necessary for salvation then it was scripture that should be recognised as the primary authority in the life of the Christian. This, of course, meant that it needed to be accessible to the individual and therefore needed to be translated into the languages of ordinary people rather than in Latin which, as most people did not understand it, could only be interpreted to them by the church. In addition Luther ejected the idea of a “spiritual” and a “secular” estate: All Christians truly belong to the spiritual estate and there is no difference between them apart from their office … We all have one baptism, gospel and faith which alone make us spiritual and a Christian people. This has become known as the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and it became a central feature of the new Reformation paradigm. Inevitably these ideas began to spread and take root elsewhere in Europe where they were championed by native theologians.

In each nation or area of civil government the unity of church was to be secured by an established religion: Now anywhere you hear or see the word of God preached, believed, confessed, acted upon, do not doubt that the true Holy Christian Church must be there. This clearly shows the centrality of preaching to the life and mission of the church. It is through preaching – both its delivery and its reception - that the visible church (the outward organisation) most closely resembles the invisible church (the true church, whose membership is known only to God) but this happens only through the God’s action by the Holy Spirit and not through the will of preacher or congregation.

The starting point for the Reformers’ theology was not what people could do for their salvation, but what God had already done in Christ. Christians were therefore under an obligation to preach and teach the gospel to the erring pagans and non-Christians because of the duty of brotherly love.

However, there are weaknesses here. The emphasis on the pointlessness of “good works” as a means to please God, when salvation comes through faith alone, has given some the excuse to be inactive about struggling for justice and social change.

Additionally the emphasis on the role of scripture has restricted some of the disciplines of Biblical criticism as a conservative understanding of scripture has held sway.