"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

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.

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