Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Ecclesiology and Mission: A Reformed Perspective

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Ecclesiology and Mission: A Reformed Perspective

Article excerpt

JET DEN HOLLANDER [*]

One han' caan clap, no, one han' caan clap, Tell it to de worl' dat one han' caan clap!

Chorus based on Jamaican proverb

The chorus "One Han' Caan Clap" points to a basic truth about life and being human. It is something we all know from daily life: none of us can go it alone. We need one another to share our joys, sorrows, strengths and our weaknesses. One hand alone cannot clap!

This is a song that our various traditions should sing often, for not only people but also churches need to be reminded time and again that one cannot live, function and develop alone. It is in relation to others that, generally speaking, we become more ourselves. The Reformed family is gradually becoming aware that, in this respect, all is not well. We also realize that even within our denominational family we are not optimally giving shape and content to the inherent unity of the church nor - and the two are not unrelated - optimally engaging in the church's God-given mission. [1] It is this awareness that has led the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the John Knox International Reformed Centre to create the Mission in Unity project 1999-2002 (MIU).

Central to the MIU project is the metaphor of the church as the "body of Christ", with an understanding of church and mission similar to the one set forth in the World Council of Churches' (WCC) document The Nature and Purpose of the Church. [2] Regarding the church's purpose, its raison d'etre is to share, as Christ's body, in Christ's mission. Regarding its nature as Christ's body, the church consists of many different parts and it is only within the larger body that they can find their purpose and be energized for their individual tasks. Thus, mission and unity are two sides of the same coin, i.e. two features which define the church, whereby - theologically speaking - the given unity is for the sake of mission.

When looking at the church as it exists in reality, however, it is clear that simplistic equations like "more church unity equals better mission" or "disunity results in a lack of mission" will not do. The ecclesial reality is more complex than that. Nevertheless, the present disunity and unconnectedness in the Reformed family certainly does not enhance credible and creative witness; in fact the contrary is true. Hence the MIU project seeks to raise awareness about the problem of division and disunity in the Reformed family for the sake of the churches' mission, and to accompany Reformed churches as they search for new expressions of working and witnessing together in a particular context. This process takes different forms in different countries and situations, but underlying all are the basic questions of our understanding of the being of the church, our understanding of mission and the church's role in it, and the ways in which our ecciesiology and understanding of mission mutually influence and challenge each other. Thus, the questions that the MIU project poses to the Reformed family are very similar to the ones which this consultation poses to the wider ecumenical family.

For this reason the WCC organizing team suggested that the Mission in Unity project perspective become the starting point for this exploration of ecclesiology and mission in the Reformed tradition. What does one see when looking at the Reformed tradition with MIU project spectacles? Before attempting to answer this question, however, two preliminary points should be made.

First, the word "Reformed" is used here in a comprehensive sense. It refers not just to churches which have the word "Reformed" in their name but also to those which call themselves Presbyterian, Congregational and Disciples of Christ, or in some cases evangelical (e.g. Germany), as well as those united churches which have some of these roots. A recent survey lists more than 800 churches which consider themselves to be part of the Reformed family worldwide. …

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