Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Missional Church: A Historical and Theological Analysis of an Ecclesiological Tradition

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Missional Church: A Historical and Theological Analysis of an Ecclesiological Tradition

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article argues that an understanding of the development of a missional ecclesiology requires we recognise three closely connected and significant matters in 20th-century mission history: first, the increasing appreciation of the interconnection of church and mission evinced at major ecumenical conferences in the mid-20th century; second, the contributions of influential missiologist Lesslie Newbigin and his theological integration of mission and church; and third, the breakthrough of the phrase "missional church" with the 1998 publication of the book Missional Church. This article traces this three-part development through both historical and theological analyses.

Missional ecclesiology

In the past decade, missional ecclesiology has been subject to extensive research. In a number of articles and in his dissertation, Michael W. Goheen has analyzed several aspects of what we might today call a "missional ecclesiology." Two of his articles are of special interest for this discussion: in the first, Goheen outlines important aspects of the missional ecclesiology of Lesslie Newbigin; (2) in the second, he outlines key aspects of the missional ecclesiology belonging to the heirs of Newbigin: the Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN). (3) The primary focus of Goheen's works is Newbigin's theology and not the ecumenical movement in which it exists. Therefore, Goheen does not fully expound upon the closely connected and significant events in 20th-century mission history, and how missional ecclesiology originated in the ecumenical movement. Therefore, the aim of this article is, through both historical and theological analyses to clarify the development of this three-part ecclesiological tradition. (4)

The ecumenical movement as the starting point for missional ecclesiology

The disintegration of church and mission

If we are to better understand the development of a missional ecclesiology, it is important that we consider the 19th-century revivals in Germany and England. In 1792 William Carey, the father of the modern mission movement, encouraged his contemporary Christians to participate in world mission. This calling appealed to many in Germany and England. Nevertheless, the official churches were not willing to make a range of catechumenal, diaconal, and missional tasks integral to their being. Therefore, various mission organizations were established that, on behalf of the church, sought to respond to the Great Commission in the gospel of John ("as the Father has sent me, I am sending you" [John 20:21]). Consequently, a gradual disintegration of church and mission commenced, where "mission" and "church" became two separate entries with two different tasks. While the former body was responsible for the proclamation and spread of the gospel in foreign countries, the latter body supported foreign mission efforts but was primarily responsible for upholding and sustaining the already Christians in the so-called Christian West. In this way, the modern missionary movement contributed to the separation of church and mission. During the first half of the 20th century, however, we see a theological reintegration of church and mission by way of the ecumenical movement. (5)

In the following analysis, I will present some of the more important aspects of this very complex process of the reintegration of church and mission.

The reintegration of church and mission

From Edinburgh to Tambaram. In 1910, the first major missiological world conference was held in Edinburgh. During the ten days of this conference, the delegates were occupied with the question of how the non-Christian part of the world could be reached. Before the closing of the conference, a committee was formed to organize and expand the fellowship experienced at the conference. As a result, the International Mission Council (IMC) was founded (albeit not until 1921, due to the first world war). …

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