I'm a bivocational pastor. That means I relate to being a "Missiologist" like a â€śbeat copâ€ť relates to being a "Supreme Court Justice". Both function at different extremes of the same system. The beat cop lives in a universe that swings erratically between boredom and drama. There's an occasional brush with success and gladness on the one hand or sorrow and failure on the other. The emphasis, though, is on daily survival. It's the "Supreme Court Justice" who has time for pondering niceties from the relative safety and objectivity of a study. Like that cop on the beat, I signed up to do what's right, but occasionally I'd like to see things work really well without selling my soul. That's the perspective I bring to this discussion of Mission Shift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium. I'm hoping my time pondering these experts will help me find the golden mean between doing what's right, doing something, and doing something right in my ministry. My focus is work in a small rural US town if you haven't guessed!
My task today is to meditate on "Mission Defined and Described" by Charles Van Engen. I note that he arrives at his ponderous (yet tentative!) definition of "Mission" after a discussion of the wordâ€™s apparent â€śmeaninglessnessâ€ť. He then offers a brief and incomplete history of mission paradigms. In his narrative I am shocked there is no mention of the Church's Pre-Constantinian mission, the mission of the Church of the East, and the Pre-Roman Celtic mission. The paradigms he does examine are presented in a negative way that emphasizes their failures by modern standards. Each phase of mission historically, though, represented an advance in the Church's understanding of its aims and an increasing concern for faithful outreach. As a practitioner, however lowly, I see in this history the same â€śready, fire, aimâ€ť methods that, in practice, we all use.
The Constantinian era and its mission paradigm moderns love to dismiss did not arise in a vacuum. It was, in a manner of speaking, a logical consequence of the work of the Pre-Constantinian Church. The impact of that Church and the spread of the Gospel was the backdrop for wholesale persecution at times before Constantine's rule. Constantine was not the only king of that age to convert and stop these persecutions. Tiridates III of Armenia had a conversion as well. In each case the growing impact of the Church and its existence as a viable option to paganism predated the providences rulers like Tiridates and Constantine perceived as calling them to Christ. The steady growth of the Church frightened those in Romeâ€™s hierarchy who wanted unthinking allegiance.
What paradigm of mission characterized the Church before Constantine? The late Dr. Robert Webber was responsible for reminding evangelicals of the ante-nicene approach to making disciples known as the Catechumenate (see his Journey to Jesus for a summary). Their method was what Webber would call "Liturgical Evangelism." It lead seekers repenting from idolatry through a path of discipleship into full sacramental life of the Church. Instead of conforming the Church and its liturgy to the seeker, the seeker was conformed to Christ and the Church.
The mission work of the Church of the East was likewise overlooked. One of its remaining remnants of this ancient movement is the Mar Thoma church in India. To this day they consider the Apostle Thomas their direct founder. Historian Philip Jenkins' Lost History of Christianity reminds us that this Church spread from its base in Syria to China itself along the Silk Road. It was so vast and beautiful that, by comparison, the Western Church of that day appeared as little more than a barbarous podunk. This church spread without the "coercion" and "colonization" Van Engen considers such significant engines of Western missions. The Church of the East was overtaken by repression and murderous persecution and its memory almost lost to us. Nevertheless, it should have been considered as a mission paradigm in my opinion.
Finally the Celtic Church's mission was also expunged from the historical record in Van Engen's narrative. We know it through the labors of Patrick, the missionary to Ireland, and his kindred and offspring. The Celtic Church was characterized by its love for Scripture (especially the Gospels, the Psalms, and the Law of Moses), it's devotion to worship, it's penchant for pilgrimage and mission, and it's pastoral skill. While moderns have gone to the opposite extreme of Van Engen by romanticizing the Celts, fairly dispassionate scholars like Ian Bradley amply demonstrate the value of the Celts for informing our own mission paradigm today.
Why were these models not considered in the discussion? Is it our simplistic Protestant approach to church history? Perhaps they were too positive? Perhaps they could not be easily castigated as a form of Christian cultural imperialism in a "politically correct" narrative? Perhaps it is our modern historical snobbery C.S. Lewis warns against? Whatever the case, these missing mission histories are instructive for a Church like ours that has come full circle and resides in a culture with paganism on the rise.
I can't help thinking the omission betrays our age's uncertainty about who we are and what we are to do in Christ's Name. St. Boniface, missionary to the Germanic tribes, walked up to a tree dedicated to Thor only to chop it down and so prove that Thor was a false god. Today we'd nervously debate the rightness of tree idolatry as a form of "creational theology". Boniface's act would strike us as arrogant (Constantinian!) and be as loathesome to we moderns as singing an imprecatory Psalm in church. Sadly, we have lost any sense that Jesus Christ is transforming the world through His Church!
Of the responses, I suppose I best resonate with Hesselgrave. He notes the impossibility of defining â€śMissionâ€ť without first defining the â€śGospelâ€ť. In th process of coordinating the two, we must define how our understanding of the Gospel relates to the demands of cultures who would be "Lord". That relationship between Gospel and Culture will shape our missionary endeavors for good or ill.
Even from my own seat in the ecclesiastical bleachers, I note that failures in contextualization can and have become catastrophic. Witness the Crystal Cathedral built on attempting a Gospel "contextualization" to a people seeking "self-esteem". Critics note that the Cathedral's recent economic bankruptcy was foreshadowed by a theological one long ago. Still â€“ for a time â€“ it seemed to â€śworkâ€ť. In the end, Rev. Schullerâ€™s â€śGospelâ€ť was contextualized on the back of the larval stage of a larger spiritual malady. Full grown, the larval stage of â€śself-esteemâ€ť becomes the full grown beast called â€śNarcissismâ€ť which seeks no reference point outside itself on which to feed.
Another contextualization gone awry in our generation is Willow Creek's attempt to woo the unchurched via the Gospel contextualized for the "sit back and be entertained" TV generation. That approach has not produced disciples by their own admission. Even with their mid course correction (see "Willow Creek Repents"), one wonders if there time to salvage the enterprise and start making hardened disciples instead of more and more jaded spectators? Danger abounds in our attempts at "relevance", even when we are just crossing the street, let alone crossing cultures.
Here is my question: If the people with time, brains, entrepreneurship, energy, vision and money have squandered so much of each on these projects, what is the solo (and often bivocational ) pastor to do? He is the man with few resources to spare. Knowing his weakness, he is the pastor for whom 1 Corinthians 3 weighs heavily because the task of building already seems so difficult.
Here is a "tentative" answer:
Perhaps the failure of projects like the Crystal Cathedral and Willow Creek with time, brains, money and those related resources justify an attempt at a spartan missional simplicity like Jesus and the Pre-Constantinian Church?
In studying the Book of Acts, we find an indentifiable apostolic "kerygma" - the apostles' core proclamation of the message of Jesus presented to Jews and Gentiles. It presented the significance of our Lordâ€™s coming and summoned all to repentance and a lifestyle commensurate with such repentance.
The"Kerygma" is usually summarized something like this:
1.The promises of God made in the OT have now been fulfilled with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Book of Acts 2:30; 3:19, 24, 10:43; 26:6-7, 22; Epistle to the Romans 1:2-4; 1 Timothy 3:16; Epistle to the Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:18-19).
2.Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism as Messiah (Acts 10:38).
3.Jesus began his ministry in Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).
4.He conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God (Mk 10:45; Acts 2:22; 10:38).
5.The Messiah was crucified according to the purpose of God (Mk 10:45; Jn 3:16; Acts 2:23; 3:13-15, 18; 4:11; 10:39; 26:23; Ro 8:34; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18; 15:3; Galatians 1:4; Heb 1:3; 1Peter 1:2, 19; 3:18; 1 Jn 4:10).
6.He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24, 31-32; 3:15, 26; 10:40-41; 17:31; 26:23; Ro 8:34; 10:9; 1Co 15:4-7, 12ff.; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1Tim 3:16; 1Peter 1:2, 21; 3:18, 21).
7.Jesus was exalted by God and given the name "Lord" (Acts 2:25-29, 33-36; 3:13; 10:36; Rom 8:34; 10:9; 1Tim 3:16; Heb 1:3; 1Peter 3:22).
8.He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Ac 1:8; 2:14-18, 33, 38-39; 10:44-47; 1Peter 1:12).
9.He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Ac 3:20-21; 10:42; 17:31; 1Co 15:20-28; 1Th 1:10).
10.All who hear the message should repent and be baptized (Ac 2:21, 38; 3:19; 10:43, 47-48; 17:30; 26:20; Ro 1:17; 10:9; 1Pe 3:21).
The American Church Research Project has an excellent (free) powerpoint that summarizes these points even more simply as the fivefold Message and Mission of Jesus. And some might recognize these strands of thought in the Apostle's and Nicene creeds.
I have concluded that with my limited time, resources, brains and energy it is perhaps safest for me to pursue those avenues of "Mission" that most closely align with Jesus' own message and mission. I'm referring to the ones which require, in a sense, the least nuanced "contextualization".
My "target audiences" in this model would be people in situations where they are most open to hearing about Jesus as proclaimed by the apostles and most ready to consider that their own plans for life without God have failed.
Instead of racking my brain to over-contextualize things, I (and my brothers and sisters in the pew) must first internalize the message and mission of Jesus. Then I have to ask "who knows they need a new life, a new king, a new community, and a new hope?" Despite my limitations, I can see some such groups almost everywhere:
1. To people and families in sickness and crisis, it might be a faithful ongoing diaconal or shepherding ministry (in "Southern Baptist Speak" that could be called the "Deacon Family Ministry Plan")
2. To new parents wondering how to tame the child in the "terrible twos" it could be the pastor or other discipler modeling "Discipleship in the Home".
3. To those whose life is a complete mess through addiction and/or victimization, the "12 Steps" sound remarkably like the "Kerygma" especially when seen in AA's Earliest Christian Origins to people who need a "New King", a "New Life", and a "New Community".
4. To widows and single mothers who sense their vulnerability, New Commandment Men's Ministry may be just the model that makes the abstract claims of a God seemingly far away amazingly concrete.
5. To those trying to move from a life of crime to permanent employment or otherwise looking for a God empowered way out of constant contact with the "justice system", Christ centered "Rebuilding" curriculum may be a helpful tool.
(If you're wondering why I don't include more broad based charities, it's because I, for one, don't have the resources of time and money to conduct such a generic outreach, especially when I would often be competing with messianic state programs that are better funded and require no confrontation with the living God.)
For those people without obvious needs ("contact points") and perhaps opposition to the Gospel, our task as a congregation is to enter personally into the worlds of those we meet in one way or another as a "community of witness". Fostering Christian Friendship is the best starting point and avenue for contextualization when people don't have an obvious felt need that forces them to cry out for help (or when the cry is muted to us).
I look forward to subsequent discussions in this series. May God help us all refine our understanding of the Good News, and its necessary consequence of Mission.
Cross posted at Reformatus.us