Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Role of Ecumenical Charity in Christian Mission

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Role of Ecumenical Charity in Christian Mission

Article excerpt

In one of his most important and celebrated works, Jurgen Moltmann wrote that "Mission embraces all activities that serve to liberate man from his slavery in the presence of the coming God, slavery which extends from economic necessity to God-forsakenness." (1) This understanding of the church's mission raises both the spiritual ("God-forsakenness") and physical ("economic necessity") aspects of the impetus behind mission. In essence Moltmann has pointed to the church's role in proclaiming eternal salvation and in bringing about earthly justice.

The church has indeed been involved in mission to proclaim this gospel message of salvation and justice ever since the Jesus' first followers heard his command to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19a, N.R.S.V.). Subsequent generations of followers have carried this message throughout the world. Successive waves of missionary activity were characterized by different methods, depending on which churches were doing the sending. Over the last century, communities created through mission could be identified by the denominational logo of whichever church evangelized them. Today, with both short- and long-term missions that are sponsored by an array of nondenominational and other communities as well as mainline churches, this mission-field mosaic is even less orderly than in the past.

Sometimes these missionary efforts have complemented each other; sometimes they have clashed. Often these missionary efforts have introduced the crucified and risen Christ to people of other faiths; often they have introduced a differently packaged Christ to people who are already Christian. It is on the boundary line between these efforts that this essay focuses. My contention is that, in the absence of respectful relations between churches and with boundary lines marked with pain and anger, what results is a disfigured proclamation of the gospel. Conversely, when ecumenical charity--understood here as care, concern, and affection of one church for another--characterizes these relationships, these boundary lines reveal an appreciation for one another's gifts and a willingness to share one another's burdens, and they illustrate how genuine evangelization can take place.

Persecution and Mission

John Meyendorff has taken the discussion about the nature of mission one step further by pointing to what such mission entails on the part of the church:

   Mission belongs to the very nature of the Church ... This implies
   ... the duty to propagate the Christian truth for the salvation of
   all men [sic]. However, mission is not only "preaching," not only
   talking about God, or promoting "our thing." Mission is not a
   Christian commercial. It is a witness and an act of love. It
   implies love for those to whom it is directed, and love means
   self-giving, not simply giving something. (2)

The church gives of itself so that those inside and outside the church can hear the Good News of salvation and experience the first fruits of divine justice until Christ comes again.

This self-giving is to be understood as the very same self-emptying (kenosis) mentioned by Paul in Phil. 2:4-8:

   Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the
   interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ
   Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard
   equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied
   himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
   And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became
   obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross.

This most profound of scriptural passages, followed immediately as it is by Paul's theological conclusion--"Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:9)--lays out the Christian understanding of salvation: Jesus, through his crucifixion and resurrection, saves the world. …

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