Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mission Theology of the Church

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Mission Theology of the Church

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article on the mission theology of the church, a personal perspective by the vice-moderator of CWME, draws on documentation produced by the commission and also responds to the Faith and Order document, The Nature and Mission of the Church. It is based on the trinitarian paradigm of mission referred to as missio Dei, which emphasizes the priority of God's sending activity in the world, by the Son and the Spirit, and the contingency of the church and its mission activities upon that. Therefore, it is concerned with the participation of the church in God's mission to and in the world, and from this perspective, has a particular interest with the actual, empirical church rather than the ideal church, recognizing that the church exists in many different firms in particular social, cultural, economic and political contexts. The article argues that the church is "missionary by its very nature". Both theologically and empirically, it is impossible to separate the church from mission. Indeed mission is the very life of the church and the church is missionary by its very nature the Spirit of Christ breathed into the disciples at the same time as he sent them into the world. The mission theology of the church as it has developed in ecumenical discussion over the 20th and early 21st centuries is discussed in terms of the relationship of the church to the three persons of the Trinity: as foretaste of the kingdom of God," as the body of Christ; and as a movement of the Spirit. The article shows that being in mission is to cross the usual boundaries and bring new perspectives from outside to bear, and this is a never-ending, enriching process.

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There are many things to be said about the church, and they cannot all be eencompassed in this paper, which must be limited to a mission theology of the church. This paper is my own perspective, but many of the ideas can be (and are) referred to documentation produced by CWME. As the successor within the World Council of Churches of the International Missionary Council, which was set up as the continuation committee of Edinburgh 1910, CWME material covers one hundred years of mission study and reflection. Extensive discussion of mission issues is found in its journal, The International Review of Mission, in the reports of its thirteen conferences since 1910, and in a number of summary documents produced over the years. The classic statement remains the 1982 document Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation, which was adopted by the Central Committee of the WCC and remains the WCC's official position on the topic. In 2000 this was supplemented by Mission and Evangelism in Unity Today, which updates it in some areas. CWME also respects and promotes "common witness", as described in the 1997 document, Towards Common Witness. Recently, two more documents have been produced by CWME on the topics of reconciliation and healing as paradigms of the mission of the church, which was the theme of the most recent mission conference in Athens in 2005. These papers have all been gathered conveniently into one volume. (1) I am pleased to find that much of what is said here is also found in the Faith and Order document, The Nature and Mission of the Church. (2) David Bosch's summary of the development of theology of mission (3) is still a very helpful source for this topic, along with several other sources. (4)

The mission thinking brought together in the CWME papers is broadly in the trinitarian paradigm of mission referred to as missio Dei. The shift from a Christo-centric interpretation of mission to a trinitarian one owes a great deal to re-reading of the Eastern church fathers and to the encounter of Western with contemporary Orthodox theology. Missio Dei emphasizes the priority of God s sending activity in the world, by the Son and the Spirit, and the contingency of the church and its mission activities on that. (5) Therefore, a mission theology of the church is concerned with the participation of the church in God's mission to and in the world. …

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