Traditionally, mission has been seen as “saying”; that is evangelism and communication of the Gospel. In the mid 1900s there was a change: mission became “doing”; that is action, more to the point social and political action. This was most obvious in the late sixties and early seventies in the ecumenical movement, in and around the World Council of Churches. At a similar time some mission thinkers, especially Max Warren propounded a missiology of “presence”. To be with the people with whom we are working is to “take off our shoes”, “recognise we walk on holy ground” and to be “present”.
The question should be asked as to whether all of these approaches alone are reductionist to a wholistic gospel. Even having all three in our mission engagement and emphasising one over the other two seems to me to perpetuate a reductionism. All three, integrated into the life of the local church is the church’s biggest challenge.
The local church, rightly understood as a viable expression of the universal church, is the only group that can say, do and be without over inflating one or reducing another. It must be in order to do and say. It must say in order to explain its being and doing and it must do to validate its saying and being.
For followers of the discussion started last week by Eddie Arthur, here is a definition of “Integral Mission” from René Padilla, “More than a theology, integral mission is an approach to the Christian mission—a way to practice the mission of God in which local churches are viewed as communities that confess Jesus Christ as the Lord of all creation and of every aspect of life and seek to live on the basis of that confession through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
René is founder and president of the Kairos Foundation as organisation which “seeks to help the local churches to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ at a personal, social, and community level, not only by means of preaching, but also through all that the church is and all that it does.”
“This approach is presently fostered through a retreat center in Buenos Aires, the Center for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies (CETI, a theological training program with headquarters in San José, Costa Rica), and literature (which includes publication, in association with Certeza Unida, of a one-volume, exegetical and contextual Bible commentary in 2016).”
Please note in the first two quotes the highlighted words “local churches”. Also note that the Kairos Foundation does NOT itself do integral mission but rather fosters integral mission by supporting local churches.
So, if a Christian organisation proclaims that it is doing integral mission and all they do is do social work, challenge them to support local churches in their mission.
An interesting article on the BBC news website caught my eye. Louis van Gaal said that he has promised that at the end of the season, he will leave Manchester United because he had promised his wife he would do so. On further reading it emerges that he has also promised her 9 years ago that he would leave football. Apart from the fact that footballers and managers tend to leave their wives for football rather than the other way round, this got me thinking about our family lives and integral mission.
William Carey’s wife, Dorothy, could not adjust to life in India and Carey was so taken up with his mission work he didn’t know what to do. As he was baptising the first Indian convert, Dorothy was confined to her room raging with madness. Carey could not cope and this led to the neglect of his sons who were not people Carey would have been proud of. He prioritised his work over his family.
After 25 years of marriage and mission work together, C.T. Studd left his wife in England whilst he went to Africa. For the last sixteen years of their marriage they spent apart. It is not reported that this harmed her in any way but certainly it is not the best modelling of the Gospel, to say the very least.
This is a further argument against the separation of words and deeds in mission. Eddie Arthur posted an excellent blog on this subject a few days ago. His argument was that most mission that claims to be integral is not because it lacks the evangelistic element of mission. I agree with Eddie; too much work that claims to be integral mission is nothing more than Christians doing social action. If you know Spanish you can read René Padilla’s excellent contribution to this debate.
However, I am also arguing that unless our lives, especially our family lives, don’t live up to our words, then, however much evangelising or social action we do, our missionary lives are not integral either.
We live in a divided world. Any cursory look at the news on the internet will demonstrate just how divided the world is. The religious divisions, divisions within the religions (sometimes murderous divisions), East-West, North-South, Ex-Soviet, ethnic divides, political divides, divisions within political parties. The list could go on.
These divisions cost money, lives, energy and time.
The idea of reconciliation is a political one. As Christians we often think of reconciliation as religious but it is not. Spiritual it may be, religious it is not. As the Lausanne Covenant says, “reconciliation with man [sic] is not reconciliation with God” (LC5). However, reconciliation with God has consequences for politics. John tells us that “if we say we love God and don’t love our brother or sister we are liars” I John 4:20).
However, there is a further issue. The problem of a divided church is not so much a domestic and internal problem for the church but is a disaster for the world. The church is the God’s community which exists as an example for the world. Or more accurately should be an example for the world. There is a connection between Christian unity and reconciliation of humanity.
How can we as a church do this is the $10,000,000 question.
The term “Contextualisation” arose in the circles of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches in the early 1970s. Evangelicals were cautious as it looked like a “watering down of the Gospel”.
The Willowbank Report (1978) reflected on the subject of Gospel and Culture and remains and important text today in mission circles. Willowbank reflects Evangelical cautiousness emphasizing the unchanging nature of the Gospel.
There was a little known gathering in Haslev, Denmark (1997). Tom Houston of the Lausanne Movement wrote a superb observation. The Lausanne website is in process of refurbishment right now. I have posted an interesting table showing how Evangelicals have changed their views. Haslev 1997
I’d be interested in any comments. Are we improving our understanding, or our practice?
I would like to challenge my readers to guess who said/wrote these words. Don’t Google it just take a guess. You may be surprised!
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!”