Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The Church as Mission in Its Very Life: Toward Common Witness to Christ and Visible Unity

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The Church as Mission in Its Very Life: Toward Common Witness to Christ and Visible Unity

Article excerpt

Introductory Remarks

Is there a relation between Church and mission? And if there is, how are mission and Church related? Does the Church have a mission or even several missions? Or is the Church essentially mission? Is it mission in its very life? These are the core questions of the following study text (1) that constitutes the contribution of the Working Group on Mission and Ecclesiology of CWME, from which the new Mission Statement's chapter on the Church drew. To address these questions means to embark on a twofold agenda: It means to approach mission from the angle of the life of and the reflection on the Church, and it also means to tackle ecumenical ecclesiology from a mission perspective.

The present text grew out of further reflections on the study paper on theme 8 of the Edinburgh 2010 study process "Towards Common Witness to Christ Today: Mission and Visible Unity of the Church" (published in IRM 99.1 [2010] 86-106). The insights gathered in the following paper are part of an ongoing process that seeks to take into account the constantly changing contexts of mission and Church. Already on the face of it, the macro-context shows two opposing trends: on the one hang an increasing secularization of society, and at the same time, on the other, the emerging of new and rapidly growing religious movements. The present text limits itself to stating and briny analyzing some factors of the continuously changing ecclesial landscape that is created by these trends of the macro-context. This approach presumes that the Church is not merely a free-floating, ultra-mundane entity. It is of an "incarnational" nature. It exists in the midst of differing particular contexts in this world. The methodological option of starting from the contemporary contexts and challenges to world Christianity today and of evaluating the impacts they have on contemporary mission offers a fresh view on long-debated issues in missiology and ecclesiology.

In its search for solutions to these contemporary challenges, the text argues that theologically it is impossible to separate Church and mission. The missio Dei concept, which affirms the priorily of the triune God's sending activity, continues to provide the fundamental basis for both, an ecumenical missiology and an ecclesiology from a mission point of view. "The missionary intention of God is the raison d'etre of the Church," the text states in no. 32.

This Church (with a capital C) is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church we confess in the creed. The Church can also be called "apostolic" in the sense that Christians are "sent", since they are invited by God to become "part-takers" in God's mission (nos. 24 and 26). The second chapter is therefore called "Common Witness: That the World May Believe" It addresses the insight that a lack of unity is detrimental to the witness and mission of the Church. This insight, which is already highlighted in John 17:21, was prophetically spelled out for the modern ecumenical movement by the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. From an ecclesiological point of view, the core question is how our confessional churches embody this one Church or how they are otherwise related to it. From a mission point of view, the witness of the one Church of Jesus Christ in the world needs to be a common witness despite the divisions and fractions that split the Church and hinder mission. This common witness stipulates criteria of discernment. And a mission-centred ecclesiology has to ask: What structures and features in our churches further our common witness to God's mission? What features and structures hinder it? When answering these questions, the role of the Holy Spirit in mediating between unity and diversity needs to be taken into account. At the same time, the goal of full visible unity is reaffirmed by asking, How does unity become visible? Is this only and exclusively possible by common structures, or can it also, and perhaps more genuinely, be achieved by common service and witness to the mission of God? …

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