A focusing biblical text: John 17: 20-21
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
1. Describe the action and nature of God in this text
2. What are the implications of this understanding of God for the church and the world?
3. How does this understanding of God, the church and the world shape the practice of mission?
Description of Missio Dei
The United Church of Christ was birthed in a time when church union and efforts for visible church unity was understood as “for the sake of mission.” The mission theology expressed in the Latin Missio Dei articulates the belief that mission is God’s mission and we are God’s instruments in that mission. The starting point of Missio Dei is a Trinitarian God: mission is the purpose and action of the triune God. The internal relationships of the Trinity also embody the way God acts in the world. The church, as a community of God’s followers, becomes an instrument of God rather than the proprietor of the action. Mission then moves from something that churches do for the sake of God, to understanding the very nature of God as missionary and sending. It changes missions in the plural as if every church has a mission to mission in the singular. Because God is one, mission is one. In 1964 Stephen Neill, a mission historian from Britain wrote in his book A History of Christian Missions: “The age of missions ended. The age of mission began.”5
At the same time, Missio Dei causes the church to understand its very purpose as missionary. The church is both an object and the subject of mission. Unity is an embodiment of the mission of God that creates the church and works in the world. At the same time, the practice of mission is integral to a church that receives its purpose from this missionary God.
“The Church’s One Foundation”
“In Christ There Is No East or West”
Ecumenical meetings that describe Missio Dei:
1. Outline world events during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s.
2. Identify the role of the Church in mission from these excerpts.
3. Describe the purpose of mission in Missio Dei presented in
these excerpts. Discuss the positive and negative aspects of this emphasis of mission.
A. Toronto Statement of the World Council of Churches, 1950
“...What the World Council of Churches Is…
#6. Since the very raison d’etre of the Church is to witness to Christ, churches cannot meet together without seeking from their common Lord a common witness before the world. This will not always be possible. But when it proves possible thus to speak or act together, the churches gratefully accept it as God’s gracious gift that in spite of their disunity he has enabled them to render one and the same witness and that they may thus manifest something of the unity, the purpose of which is precisely ‘that the world may believe’ and that they may ‘testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” (http:wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/ecumenical/ts-e.html).
B. International Missionary Council (IMC), Willingen, 1952
“Under the threat of events in China to the traditional mission enterprise, delegates rediscovered that mission depends first and foremost on God’s own activity. Mission is the purpose and action of the triune God. Willingen is rightly considered to have had the most lasting influence on the ecumenical mission theology. Indeed, the idea of Missio Dei that was taken up in the follow-up of Willingen proved to be most creative. The strong emphasis on the centrality of the church in mission (important since Tambaram) was replaced by an enlarged perspective that allowed an interpretation of world events as determining factors for mission.” (http://wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/mission/hist-e.html#4)
C. World Council of Churches Second Assembly, Evanston, 1954
Faith and Order Report
“Our Oneness in Christ and our Disunity as Churches”
But all this cannot be asserted without understanding that the unity given to the Church in Christ, and gifts given to the Church to help and enable it to manifest its given unity, are not for the sake of the Church as an historical society, but for the sake of the world. The Church has its being and its unity in the ‘Son of Man, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.’ The being and unity of the Church belong to Christ and therefore to His mission, to His enduring the Cross for the joy that was set before Him. Christ wrought ‘one new man’ for us all by His death, and it is by entering into His passion for the redemption of a sinful and divided world that the Church finds its unity in its crucified and risen Lord.” (Faith and Order Report, Second Assembly of the World Council Of Churches, Evanston, 1954, New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1955, 85)
United Church of Christ and United Church Board for World Ministries documents:
1. Identify themes in the following documents that demonstrate how the United Church of Christ attempts to embody and reflect ecumenical mission emphases.
2. How do these themes and actions affect the identity of the United Church of Christ?
3. Do you see these emphases in the action of mission today (and into the future)?
A. “Message to the Churches from the United General Synod” by General Synod of the United Church of Christ, June 25, 1957
“Active participation in both the National Council of Churches in the USA and the World Council of Churches has been an expression of the concern on the part of both of the unity groups. Now united, but recognizing that we are still under the judgment of an unfinished task, we pledge a continuance of that participation.
…We remind our membership that the union of churches is in itself an empty objective save as it is made the means of conveying Christ’s redemptive purpose to man in the realms both of personal and social life…broadening and deepening of God’s kingdom in and among all men. We hold that when a church extends its duties only to its own members and associates, it has fallen away from the principal end of its institution; its very purpose on the human side is to edify the Church Universal, making disciples of all nations through a vital and enlightened missionary program.
…A thousand new relationships must yet be woven into the fabric of the UCC. This cannot be without pain and tribulation; but with every day of patience and imaginative courage marking the emergence of the completed pattern, the time will come when our union shall be communion fulfilled in Christ.” (Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, in Living Theological Heritage, vol. 6, Growing Toward Unity, 751).
B. Rev. Fred Hoskins (President, United Church of Christ), “A Union of Trust, A Union with Faith, A Union of Hope, A Union for Mission” at General Synod of the United Church of Christ, Tuesday, June 25, 1957
“We want to publish to the world that we are nerved by faith, that we are secured by hope, that we are poised by our mutual trust, and further, we are impatient to press forward to prosecute the mission of the Church. It is the mission of the Church to be the tool for a divine penetration of the world. The Church is under orders to confront and penetrate with the gospel of Jesus Christ every dimension of life. Overseas ministry, homeland witness, social action, religious education, evangelism, stewardship, divide the mission up as you will, call the parts what you may, there still is but one mission for the Church. It is the mission which God endorsed by the resurrection, the same one upon which God sent Jesus Christ….” (Living Theological Heritage, vol. 6, Growing Toward Unity, 736-8).