Christmas news from Paul and Wilma
A few years ago (2011), we had the pleasure of hosting C. René Padilla in our home. I had been at the 10 year review of the Micah Declaration. René was there, as were other important majority world mission leaders such as Melba Maggay, C.B. Samuel, and Vinoth Ramachandra. On the Sunday René was to preach in our home church. We had a BBQ on the Sunday afternoon and invited various students to come and chat.As is his wont, René spoke a great deal about the church. One of the students asked, “but René what is the church?” He replied “simple, ‘where two or three are gathered in my name'” (Matthew 18:20).
I tell that story because, in my conversations and reading, I am increasingly getting the feeling that we really don’t know what the Church is. This simple, almost reductionist answer reveals a great deal.
I spoke last Sunday at that same church on Matthew 1-2; a Nativity play not for the children and one thing I emphasised was from Matthew 1:23, which quotes from Isaiah 7:14, ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).‘ God with us is the presence of the living God among humanity. At the end of Matthew the Great Commission ends with a promise, “And I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Returning to René’s quote of 18:20
These three verses–Matthew 1:23; 18:20 and 28:20-point us to the essence of Church.
No not Louie XVI or the Rapper but the one from the Jungle Book. This King Louie famously sang, “I want to be like you oo oo!” It seems to me that often in the West, and mission (not only from the West) turns that around and says, “I want you to be like me ee ee!”
Christians are often accused of imposing their views on other people, missionaries doubly so. This is sometimes a justified accusation but sometimes it is simply an aggressive reaction to a simple sharing of the Gospel. Much of mission training is to convince students that mission and planting churches is not about reproducing our own culturally appropriate (or inappropriate) models of church in other places.
Because the modern mission movement emerged from the Western European church it shared much of the West’s expansionist elements. This can be illustrated by seeing how Western politicians and song-writers see the establishment of peace. As much as I love and respect US President Barack Obama, his response to the Paris atrocities demonstrates this. He said,
“This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”
John Lennon expresses the the same attitude perfectly in his anthem “Imagine,’
You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, Maybe some day you’ll join us, I the world will be as one.
The simply way that the world can be as one, is by you joining us. You need to become like us for the world to be as one.
This attitude divides the world into “them and us” categories, much loved by media all over the world. This is an attack on “all of humanity and the universal values we share”. There are bad people; i.e. those who carry out these attacks and there are good people; i.e. those who share our “universal values”. Whose values? What values? Well the answer is simple; my values.
I believe there are very many people in the world who do not share my values. Many of them are good people as well.
Mission is not people becoming like me but they, and I becoming more like Jesus Christ.
I am attending the INFEMIT conference on “The Migrant Crisis” at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS). There are some great speakers and massive themes. We have had Old Testament scholars as well as people working on the ground: there is an OT theologian from Greece and a worker on the ground from Lebenon. There are a couple of things that have struck me.
Firstly, both the speakers from Greece and Lebenon, both shared how the church has been revived by engagement with the people arriving in their countries. They said that there was fear at the beginning but the churches, when they started to help, house, and share their lives with the people then they found their true meaning.
The second thing that really struck me has been the dehumanising nature of the system that the people are coming to. They immediately get labeled “migrant” or “refugee” when they used to be human beings. The speaker from Lebenon said that people change their identity in the process of moving.
Too many organisations have programmes to care for people but not enough who incorperate people into their communities. This is what the local church can truly be. Can we see people arriving on European shores or UK shores as neighbours rather than migrants or refugees?
No, I’m not going to argue that the UK should remain in the EU, although I would hold that position. Let’s not get diverted with those arguments. I am referring to an excellent book by the British sociologist, Grace Davie, Europe: The Exceptional Case where she argues, rather convincingly, that the only continent that is rejecting religion wholesale is Europe.
In light light of last week’s posts, what is the role of the mission agency in this context. In the light of the fact that European churches seem incapable of reaching the non-Christian, especially secular, atheistic, liberal non-believers with the gospel, is there a role for mission agencies? This is the area where I think the agency comes into its own; with its experience facilitating mission elsewhere in the world, the role of the agency is to show the local church how to do mission here.
Lesslie Newbigin was a great example of a missionary bringing his experience from India back to Birmingham and sharing this experience with the UK for its benefit. (If you have never read Gospel in a Pluralist Society for do so without delay.)
There are missionaries from all over the world coming to the UK. They need people who have worked with the church in their home nations to come along side them to help orientate them to become more effective cross-cultural christian workers here.
See here for a Latin Perspective
We were talking yesterday of the sometimes over inflated self-image of mission societies. Reflecting on this, Mark 10:44 came to mind. If anyone wants to be first then they must be slave (δοῦλος·) of all. If mission agencies wish to remain important to the world mission enterprise, service is the way.
So how does a mission agency serve the world church? It is all very well for a theologian to pontificate from the luxury of his or her study but, if mission agencies can only prove their validity by serviing the world church rather than simply facilitate mission from the West to the rest, or even from one continent to another, how is this done in practice?
The worldwide church is a fact that Christians have been slow to recognise. The myth that the Western church is at the centre of what God is doing in the world is frustratingly persistent. We are, in a real sense a victim of the success of world mission. Not our success but God’s.
The Modern Missionary Movement was brought to birth by the so-called Father of Modern Mission, William Carey (BTW who was the mother?). By 1910 the world mission movement saw itself as being within reach of the goal, “the evangelisation of the world in our generation”. Archbishop William Temple said in the early twentieth century that the “great new fact of our time” is that there was a church in every nation. Henry Venn, the former director of CMS pointed out that the “goal” of 19th Century missions was the “euthanasia of mission structures”.
So returning to the question, how do mission agencies serve that worldwide church. If we assume that the role of the local church in the world to reach out to that world, then the agency must be serving those local churches in their mission. What do those agencies bring to the local church? I guess it could be any number of things, mobilisation, resources (personel and practical), experience, expertise or encouragement.
For agencies who work with a regional emphasis this may mean transferring the main office, or at least the office that directs strategy to the place where they work. This would give the executives leading these agencies far more knowledge, information and feel for the church that the agenciy is aiming to serve. Great examples are OMF, SIM and WEC.
What do we think?