Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Revitalizing Relationships in Mission

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Revitalizing Relationships in Mission

Article excerpt

The 1958 publication of Hendrik Kraemer's epoch-making book, From Missionfield to Independent Church,(1) marked a turning point in missionary strategy. Kraemer had made an extended visit to the mission churches of what was then the Dutch East Indies in the late 1930s and early 1940s, on the eve of the Japanese invasion of 1942 that put an end to the era of colonial mission in that nation. In Indonesia Kraemer had urged mission leaders to set aside paternalistic attitudes and allow independent churches to emerge in the place of the varied missions that were still led and financed by overseas boards and agencies.

As a result of Kraemer's visits and the reports he presented, the Dutch and German missions in the Indies were at least partly prepared for the Japanese invasion that left the mission churches to stand on their own feet, through both the occupation and the revolutionary struggle that followed.

The 1958 publication in English of Kraemer's reports produced a programme statement for mission churches in newly independent nations, and also in those colonial territories in which the aspiration for independence was growing stronger.

The movement "from mission-field to independent church" in Africa, Asia and the Pacific has been one of the dramatic features of modern church history. It has occurred as churches that had been founded and nurtured in the missionary era came to assume more and more responsibility for their own life and work. Sometimes this happened in the wake of campaigns for national independence, while at others it happened well ahead of such movements - for example in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), where the first generation of political leaders after independence were largely drawn from clergy and from church institutions. They had already gained valuable experience there in guiding and administering newly autonomous churches or dioceses that had once been mission fields.

I have argued elsewhere that "mission-field to independent church" was not in itself the end of the story - it was not a complete process.(2) While there is no doubt at all about the strategic importance of Kraemer's vision for autonomous churches, what he and his contemporaries could not have anticipated was that these newly independent churches would make an early and often very costly commitment to ecumenical fellowship - in many cases before they were properly standing on their own feet. And this was not just a commitment to cooperation in shared activities, but a radical commitment to finding and establishing new, more inclusive, forms of being church; forms that take seriously the universal nature of the Christian calling and the catholicity of the body of Christ.

In the post-war world, newly independent churches, often separated from each other by the confessional, cultural, political and linguistic divisions brought or fostered by their missionaries, moved very quickly to find appropriate forms of local and regional cooperation.(3) Cooperation between these local endeavours often evolved into the regional ecumenical bodies such as the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and the Pacific Council of Churches (PCC), so familiar to us today, and in some regions into comprehensive uniting churches such as the Church of South India (CSI) and the Church of North India (CNI).

By a process - which is not as separate as we might sometimes think - there has also been a steady exploration and extension of ecumenical fellowship, and sometimes of intercommunion, between churches of widely differing origin, for example, between the world Anglican Communion through its Indian members and the ancient Mar Thoma Church of India.(4)

We can speak now not simply of a process of development from mission-field to independent churches, but of a development from mission to oikoumene - from local faith communities, founded and nurtured by the labour and sacrifices of mission workers who have come from somewhere else, to locally autonomous church communities operating within international ecumenical networks. …

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