As a member of a missionary society and Latin Link Theological Consultant, maybe I should not say such things! But this post is prompted by something Eddie Arthur mentioned in a post on Wednesday. He mentioned a famous quote from Stephen Neill. “If everything is mission nothing is mission”. Meaning that if everything the church does is called mission then the task of spreading the gospel loses its name and becomes meaningless.
What Eddie’s post made me do was go back to reread the book. The book is Creative Tension (EHP, 1959). These are publication of the Duff Lectures of 1958. I have a copy but it is in a box somewhere (no I haven’t yet unpacked all of my books!).
The first thing I want to mention is I found this advert for the World Missionary Conference Anniversary Thanksgiving Services flyer (1960) being used as a bookmark! These services were celebrate 50th anniversary of World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910). There was a service in London and one in Edinburgh. For a geek like me this is exciting! It will go into All Nations archives.
The second thing is having reread the book was how, as Evangelicals we are still 50 years behind the Ecumenical Movement in our mission theology.
Neill is commenting upon the relationship between mission in the church.
Missionary societies as we know them today, although no sense in this necessary part of the existence of the church; they are simply temporary expedient for the performance of certain functions that could be form performed in and Carly different ways (pg. 82).
Even back in the late 1950s, the tension between missionary society and church was evident. He goes on to say,
It is, apparently, to the 19th century that we must look for the development of this curious entity, the missionary society acting and always as though it was it self the church; and for this strange and aberrant development we must lay the blame squarely where it belongs, on the churches. It was the failure of the churches develop a missionary sense that drove certain missionary societies to adopt positions and policies which were unrelated to anything in the New Testament, and then subsequently to attempt to work out a theological reckon out that which in itself is theologically indefensible (pg. 84).
This is pretty strong stuff. Let the church be the church and the missionary society a servant of the church. He is also saying that missionary has a very ambiguous situation in what he calls
this obscure and theologically indefensible situation. He [sic] has not been sent out as a servant of the church. In fact he is a paid agent of a private organisation, the missionary society. It is to that body feels responsible. To it to send his reports. Through it he makes contact with his friends at home. From it he receives the resources by means of which his work is carried out. Relations of intense loyalty to affection for the sending society have often been developed; but these in the end have perhaps been a hindrance rather than help, since they have been made more difficult by the emergence of the church idea (pg. 86).
Food for thought