Reread, Re-envision

For more than two centuries [Western power] has provided the framework in which the Western churches have understood their world missionary task. To continue to think in the familiar terms is now folly. We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and the influence of the Western nations. Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power. They have to learn to go against the stream. And in this situation we shall find that the New Testament speaks to us much more directly that does the nineteenth century as we learn afresh what it means to bear witness to the gospel from a position not of strength but of weakness.
-Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret[1]

A reframing of missions capable of countering the modernizing tendencies within the mission movement must offer an alternative that is substantial and potent. Such an alternative must come from sources that are more than cultural and religious, especially since these have been implicated in the initiation and justification of Western dominance and control. Surely, if we are to find an alternative, correcting voice, capable of defying the powers that so easily seduce and intoxicate us, we will need to look beyond the familiar to substance that is more than merely political, national, or cultural. Such substance can only be found in Jesus Christ and the scriptures that point to him. Continue reading

The Missionary Intention

The church is missionary in its very nature and thus missionary in its actions wherever it may be found.  And yet, if this is true (which I thoroughly believe it to be), then by what means does the church keep from sliding into inwardness and inaction.  As the saying goes ‘- if everything is mission, nothing is mission’ (attributable to Stephen Neill, I believe).  Lesslie Newbigin addressed this problem as early as 1958 … 

“… there is a missionary dimension of everything the Church does.  But not everything the Church does has a missionary intention.  And unless there is in the life of the Church a point of concentration for the missionary intention, the missionary dimension which is proper to the whole life of the Church will be lost.”  One Body, One Gospel, One World (1958, reprinted in 1960), 43.

The question become … at or in what point is the missionary intention of the church to be concentrated?  From the pulpit and in the sermon?  In the formation of its members?  In and through its budget?  In its corporate life, as it moves through and deals with society and culture?  Mission is only an intention, an abstract ideal, unless acted upon by the church via appropriate means.  The church must not assume it is missionary because of its nature or intention.  Rather, it must seek to realize its missionary dimension as it proclaims, disciples, spends money, and interacts with its neighbors.