Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A Mission of Unity and a Unity of Mission: A Look at the Work of the Church Unity Commission

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A Mission of Unity and a Unity of Mission: A Look at the Work of the Church Unity Commission

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article examines the notion and meaning of mission in United and Uniting churches; asks whether union fosters mission and, more specifically, whether United churches practise mission reflecting a commitment to unity; and finally considers some of the challenges facing the Church Unity Commission (CUC) in moving forward. It makes the claim that the CUC is not succeeding in using its strengths because it is failing to be a united witness in the world, and suggests that church unity should begin at the local level if it is to be more effective. Hence international, national, and regional structures and organisations should mobilise, empower, and enable local church communities for more effective mission and church unity. In order to succeed in the latter area, the mission should be not church, but Christ. The paper concludes that the CUCs task is to collectively and correctly read the signs of the times and faithfully proclaim, in word and deed, that God reigns supreme over our world.

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In this paper I shall explore (1) the notion and meaning of mission in United and Uniting churches, (2) whether union fosters mission, (3) whether United churches practise mission reflecting a commitment to unity, and (4) some of the challenges facing the Church Unity Commission (CUC) in moving forward. In order to explore these points, I begin by seeking to understand the meaning of Christian mission.

What Is Christian Mission?

Attempts to define Christian mission have resulted in prolonged and relentless debates. Even more difficult is the task of determining the aims of mission. If we employ a more specifically theological synopsis of "mission" than is traditionally used, we note that it has been paraphrased as (a) propagation of the faith, (b) expansion of the reign of God, (c) conversion of the heathen, and (d) the founding of new churches. Lesslie Newbigin has narrowed these into two terms distinguished as "mission" and "missions." He states,

   The Mission of the church is everything that the church is sent
   into the world to do: preaching the gospel, healing the sick,
   caring for the poor, teaching the children, improving international
   and interracial relations, attacking injustice. The Missions of the
   church is the concern that in places where there are no Christians
   there should be Christians, In other words, Missions means to plant
   churches through evangelism. (1)

Newbigin adds that the aim of missions should be to establish a new Christian community that is as broad as society and is as true to the national situation. He has in mind here an idea of Christianization that is highly questionable today in a world that is characterized by religious pluralism and democracy. Moreover, Christianity has lost its position of privilege. In many parts of the world, even in regions where the church has been established as a powerful factor for more than a millennium, it is today regarded as a liability rather than an asset to be a Christian. (2) The encouragement of inter-faith dialogue and cooperation today also draws the goal of mission as Christianisation into question.

Jerald D. Gort argues that such a Christian community is not only characterized by reconciliation and peace but also by justice. (3) The people of this new redeemed community are then equipped for their mission, their life assignment, which is to teach, preach, heal, care for the poor, and fight injustice. Karl Barth, however, warns us against the dangers of establishing such an exclusive Christian community. (4) He points out that the people's chief concern then is with the saving of their souls, or their experiences of grace and salvation; in short, with establishing their personal relationship with God. (5) Barth regards this whole understanding of becoming and being a Christian as thoroughly unbiblical and ego-centric. (6) What makes someone a Christian is not primarily their personal experiences of grace and redemption, but their ministry. …

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