THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH IN 21ST CENTURY
The word mission is derived from Latin word ‘missionem’, which means ‘of sent or being sent.’ The mission of God through His son Jesus is a calling for the Church to minister for Him. Thus the mission of God perpetuated through Jesus has become the responsibility of the Church. The preaching of the gospel is not about planting of churches or just baptizing, but also about the centrality of the cross and the redemptive power of the resurrection providing hope for everyone. In the mission of the Church, emphasis should be placed on the idea ‘to be in the world and not of the world.’ Mission should be one for the ‘others’ and a process of not only of ‘moving from the center to the periphery’, but also ‘being in the world and identifying with the world.’ The epoch making decision made in 1910 in the Edinburgh Mission Conference is in tune with this idea of identifying with the community as a global Church.
The mission of the Church should enable it to do social justice, spread the gospel, regeneration, liberation, enculturation, witnessing and a hope filled life for the world. The Church at times misunderstood the call to discipleship of ‘carrying the cross of Christ’ as simply of planting church buildings and baptizing people. It is not the true mission of the Church; it should create a just society, a society in which each one feels that he belongs to other and being cared. The creation of equal justice and relationships should become the central point of a witnessing Church. There is mention of the word ‘mission ’in the Bible in one or two unrelated contexts and the word may be a creation of the colonial world, where the intention was to evangelize the people and also to colonize them and ultimately to rule over them.
The real Christian witnessing should be based on the transformed lifestyles of a witnessing Church. The cross should be the inevitable consequence of the ministry of a witnessing Church. Witnessing is about taking up the cross, which indeed the foundation and the corner stone of Christian faith. Jesus advised those who wanted to follow Him: "If anyone wishes to come after me", he said, "He must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians relates the power of the cross as: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us……….. We always carry around us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” Here the word death is used to resemble the bearing of the cross. In order to reveal Jesus’ life in our body we should carry Jesus’ death in our body by carrying the sufferings, difficulties, trials, and torture inflicted upon Him to the extent that it is evident in our lives as a witnessing Church. The Church needs to identify with the world and be able to carry the sufferings of its people to be the true witnesses for Christ. A witnessing Church cannot exist in its sanctuary alone and it should move out to the streets having its own ‘neighborhood missions’ as pointed out by Theodosius Thirumeni in the Festschrift volume “In Search of Christian Identity in Global Community’ published in honor of Thirumeni’s 60th birth day. Edinburgh conference also supports the idea of global mission.
John 20: 21 state the central point of this great commission and reinstated in the Edinburgh Mission conference: “As father has sent me, I am sending you.” "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). "And He said to them, Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). The mission of the Church is, in reality, a continuation of Christ's earthly ministry (John 14:12). Jesus viewed that redeeming men's souls was His whole purpose for coming to the earth. "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost" (Matt. 18:11). And in turn, He equipped with this same objective to His disciples. He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19). The Apostle Paul later confirmed that the ministry of bringing people to God has been imparted to all those who have been brought to Him (the Church). He wrote, "God... has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).
The Christ’s mission and of His church may be summarized as recorded in the Book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the LORD" (Luke 4:18-19). According to Miroslav Volf, "the church is created out of a 'rib' of the triune God and the 'wounded side' of the Crucified." Edinburgh was the venue for the first World Mission Conference which reflected the epoch-making vision of the church as a truly global missionary community. In the light of the experience of the past hundred years it is time to reflect on this vision and to face the realities of Christian Mission in the 21st century. We pray that the centinerary celebrations at Edinburgh in 2010 may be able to provide new perspectives on Christian mission and witnessing for the 21st century to the Church and its people.
God sent Jesus to identify with the world and be one of them. He identified with us in everything except in our sins. Thus we are called to identify with the people in their hopes and fears, and to share their physical burdens. At the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in 1966, John Stott stated, on John's version of the Great Commission: ‘By his birth, by his life and his death, God's Son identified himself with us. He did not stay apart from us or aloof from us. He made himself one with us...Now he says to us "As the Father sent me into the world, so send I you." I personally believe that our failure to obey the implications of this command is the greatest weakness of evangelical Christians in the field of evangelism today.’ We may hope that the Church under WCC may be able to overcome this weakness in ministry.
The greatest cost Jesus paid to identify with the world was that "He humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on the cross!" (Philippians 2:8). We are all called to surrender our lives unreservedly to him as Lord, as Paul writes, "to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1). Max Lucado in his book titled, ‘He Chose Nail’ summarizes that ‘He chose nails and embraced the rugged cross to fulfill His ministry in this world.’ According to John MacArthur in his book, ‘The Twelve Ordinary Men’ - The sovereign authority selected twelve ordinary men to do extraordinary works for Him after His death on the cross so that only His name will be glorified. After 2000 years, the apostolic works of those twelve ordinary men, who was specifically selected to find the lost ones of Israel, still bears fruit. Paul, ‘the Apostle of the gentiles’, who has been accepted by the twelve also contributed to the growth of Christian Church. Now it is the turn of the Church founded by twelve ordinary people and Apostle Paul to move forth in the ministry of Jesus Christ. WCC is providing able leadership in this direction of which Mar Thoma Church is a member.
The Church embracing the faith should move from streets to streets and from villages to villages as witnesses of the ‘Risen Lord’ as Jesus went around teaching from village to village (Mark 6:6) and doing good and healing people (Acts 10:38). He sent out his disciples to do the same (Matthew 10:7, 8). Christ’s ministry in this world was one began by His father the God. Since Jesus could not finish the same, He appointed the ‘apostles’ to finish the task entrusted to Him. He also assured them that the Holy Spirit will provide them with guidance in their ministry. According to WCC’s faith manifesto: ‘Through its worship (leitourgia) service, which includes the stewardship of creation (diakonia); and proclamation (kerygma) the Church participates in and points to the reality of the Kingdom of God. The Church is not merely the sum of individual believers in communion with God, nor primarily the mutual communion of individual believers among themselves. It is their common partaking in the life of God (2 Pet 1:4), who as Trinity is the source and focus of all communion. Thus the Church is both a divine and a human reality.’
E. Stanley Jones, in his book, ‘The Unshakeable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person’, gets to the heart of the problem: ‘The most miserable people in the world are the people who are self-centered, who don't do anything for anybody except themselves. They are centers of misery with no exceptions. On the contrary, the happiest people are the people who deliberately take on themselves the sorrows and troubles of others. Their hearts sing with a strange wild joy, automatically and with no exceptions.’ The church whose priority is focused on its own institutionalized existence and ritualism is still in its infancy and to quote Bonhoeffer, "an authentic church is one that lives for others." Let me conclude with the famous quote of Emil Brunner: "The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”
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