PERSPECTIVES ON MISSION AND MINISTRY
"The Church we know, is both holy and sinful, and it seemed as if sinful part had taken over the holy one.” (p.3). What does it mean? Ezekiel, the priest-prophet asks us from the valley of Dry Bones, “Can these bones live?” Yes! “In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” (George Orwell). The voice crying in the wilderness reverberates in time and space, and the word that goes out for the divine cause will never return empty but shall accomplish its purpose and succeed in the thing for which it was sent’ (Isaiah 55: 11)
The credibility of the Church has become very low because it has lost its “being” and thereby it projects a blurred image of mission in the world. The centrifugal and the centripetal character of mission have lost its dynamism. The faithful are called “to celebrate the festival of life, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1Cor.5.8). The Church of today does not seem to stand around the Manger and the Cross. For her, the Manger is a place of rags and the Cross is a symbol of powerlessness. This is the context of mission today.
We need to remind ourselves again and again what St.Paul wrote to us in Romans 12.1-2, “Dare to be different”. ‘Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of mind so as to prove what is the will of God.’ The, particle, “oun” is significant, as it makes a link between Theology and Ethics”. The Pauline indicatives such as “you are the aroma of Christ” (2 Cor.3.3), “you are a letter of Christ.” (2 Cor. 2.15), and the identity of the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount as “salt” and “light” (Matt.5.13; 14) speak of the “being” of the Church and it makes the Church conscious of its identity rooted in the values of the Kingdom of God. The opening sentence of the book, Turn Around-Called to Witness together amidst Asian Plurality (CCA, 1994) is worth recalling: “Turn around, turn around all our thought, all our mind to the will and the way of Christ Jesus who has come grasping no glory, craving no crown, pawn in no market, a voice for the poor, throwing our values all upside down” (Taken from the Seoul Conference theme song, ‘Mind-set of Christ’)
To live in conformity to the world simply means our unwillingness to face and grasp the realities of suffering and conflict and our inability to respond to them in faith and hope. God calls the Church in each generation to interpret the message of the Kingdom with challenging relevance. Thus the Gospel, peace on earth, under the power of the Holy Sprit must become good news to its hearers in each group and in each place. The gospel- ethics of the Church ought to be the ethics of the Kingdom of God .It always stands for a counter culture, which takes seriously into account conflictive situations (cf. The message of the Magnificat). The uncritical acceptance of the immediate speaks of moving with the currents of the times. The so called “prosperity theology”, “insurance theology” (Samuel Amirtham) and “crusading mission” have eroded the overall perspective of mission in God’s economy of Salvation.
The words of Arch Bishop William Temple are worth quoting: “If you have a false idea of God, the more religious you are; the worse it is for you: it is better for you to be an atheist”. An ‘unbiblical theology’ - a theology unrelated to the world (John. 3:16) can do a lot of harm to the life and mission of the Church. It should be the message of the Church that God’s promise will be with us in and through all the joys and sorrows of life. (Rom.8.38-39). As Raymond Fung wrote, we should make an effort to say boldly that ‘Gospel is not for sale; not because it is not worth anything, but because it is too precious that it cannot be bought or sold’. It can only be shared freely. It is the kenosis of the Church and of its ministers brings about transformation in the community as Jesus said in John.12: 24. In order to restore its credibility, she should bear in mind that “its spirituality rests with the outbreak of truth” (Swami Agnivesh). What St. Paul wrote in 2 Cor.13:8, ”For we can not do anything against the truth, but only for the truth”, ought to be the basic logo of Christian mission and ministry.
The 21st century is an era of convergence and comprehension. The period of consolidation is over. The time has come for people to speak more of renewal and reconciliation at the grass roots level and to seek for all the available spiritual resources for unity and social harmony. The need of the hour warrants us to say together in a spirit of manava mythri (love and brotherhood for humanity). The attempt to pool all the God-given resources for the establishment of Peace on Earth is a bold inititative towards the realization of God’s Eternal plan in Chris-to sum up all things in Christ. The theme of the 9th Assembly of the WCC, “God in your Grace, transform the world”is indeed an interfaith prayer urging people of all nations to live in humility, sincerity and concern. There are bold initiatives for building up bridges of peace and reconciliation as the manifestation of the Kingdom in our midst. The protagonists of Church Growth quote St. Matthew 28:19 to prove their thesis.
In his S.J. Samartha memorial lecture, Justice K.T. Thomas said, “The Christians appear to believe that they can afford to ignore or disobey the rest of the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ relating to social justice, but they implicitly follow the mandate of conversion because it would result in the strength of the Christian population.” I believe that the manadate is about a divine commission to the Church to speak and practise the meaning of discipleship as agents of change and channels of grace. The oft quoted text, … “to make all nations my disciples” could also be interpreted in the light of the Greek text, matheusate, exhorting all the nations to accept the discipleship of Jesus “Following Jesus” is the gospel mandate.
If we think of the mission of the Church in terms of the transformation of the world, the message of the Kingdom comes alive. In an article entitled, “Values for Ecumenism in Asia” (Living in Oikoumene, CCA, 2003, Pages 78-86)), Fr. K.M. George raises an important issue. To quote, “In the Gospels there are already more than one models. The model of Christ’s sending the disciples two by two to towns and villages and instructing them to reply on the hospitality of the people for the peaceful announcing of the gospel are completely ignored by the Western Churches. They took up the other model of ‘going out to all nations and baptizing people’ as the only model, because it suited very well the western quest since the Crusades….”. He writes again, “We have already in Asia the old celebrated peaceful missionary model of Buddhism which spread mainly through the power of compassion (karuna) and dispossession, not of armed might, conquest and expansion.” I agree with Fr. George when he asks us to review the western notion of mission by seeking Christian methods of hospitality, compassion and dispossession coupled with constant search for justice, equality, freedom and human dignity and ecological harmony.
In the New humanity of Christ, there is no religious, cultural or gender divides. M.M. Thomas writes, “The nature of koinonia in Christ is that it transcends all human communities defined by nature, culture and even ideology and religion. One has to remember the truth of the Kingdom preached by Jesus that it was not addressed to any religion, but to human beings. The boundary of the Gospel is not between religions, but between love and hate, justice and injustice, truth and falsehood. When we address God as Father in the Lord’s Prayer, we affirm with one voice that He is the Father of all. If Jesus Christ is the New Adam, all people on earth have a place in God’s salvific plan and act of grace. Christian mission and ministry should always be geared to the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in human affairs.
The Kingdom in our midst:
New mission paradigms:
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” In the mission of the Church today, the glory of love is to be translated INTO HISTORICAL HAPPENINGS. The Ministry of the Church should be geared to the affirmation of the core of the gospel, which is love. St. Paul asks us “to put on love which binds everything”. Church as a reconciling community, has a significant role to play as makers of peace. Living in a global village, we interact with each other. In ‘pedagogy of encounter’ our identities are meant to assume larger identities. In a dialogical existence (not co-existence) we need to uphold mutual appreciation. The message of St.Paul in Rom.15:7 requires the Churches I to remain in frankness and openness. “Accept and welcome one another as God has accepted us in Christ”. In 1 Peter 3:15-16, St. Peter asks the Christians to give an account of their hope in gentleness and reverance (other renderings, gentleness and respect, courtesy and respect) Peace-building, peace making and peace keeping are the noble tasks of Christian ministry. For this one has” to pursue the things that make for peace” as St.Paul writes in Rom.14: 19.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are God’s agenda of mission as God is primarily concerned with the healing of human brokenness and the scandal of disunity in the body of Christ. In wider ecumenism, the concerns of the Churches, fellowship of faiths, the renewal of humankind and a caring attitude to nature are all addressed. In order to overcome the barriers of religious and caste divide, we need to manifest the power of love. Swami Agnivesh, while delivering the 14th M.A.Thomas Memorial Lecture at ECC, Bangalore (2007), said that the very religious faith to which we belong could create stumbling blocks in our vision and mission. To quote, “As a religious tradition gets increasingly institutionalized, the priestly begins to dominate and eventually outlaw the prophetic elements in the outlook and culture. The priest, especially when he rejects the prophetic breadth of vision, tends to be a fierce proponent and custodian of the interest of the religious establishment with which his own class interest are deemed identical.”
Focusing on the ministry of transformation:
The task before us could be stated as:
The Eco-vision of the Earth community:
Paper presented at the Seminar organized by the Ecumenical Christian Academy on May 20-21, 2008 at Bethel Ashram, Tiruvalla
[Rev. Dr. M. J. Joseph is the ex-director of ECC, Bangalore and former Principal of Marthoma Theological College, Kottayam. Achen puts tremendous efforts for the propagation of Eco-Meditation and Eco-Spirituality as the Convener of the Environmental Commission of Marthoma Church.]
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