God’s Mission in the World

God’s Mission in the World

 “The Church in Mission is the Church for Others”

A focusing biblical text: Exodus 3: 7-12

Then God said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.  Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.  The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.  So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”  But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’  God said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you:  when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’”

 Reflection Questions:
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 “the Church for Others”
The growing closeness of the Church and mission means that the whole Church and every part of the Church is involved in mission.  The location of God’s mission is deemed to be the world.  An interpretation of world events is a determining factor for mission because the world is the locus of the continuing encounter between God and humanity.  Instead of the Church as a starting point for the action of mission that involves God and moves to the world, God is understood as the instigator of mission directly in the world.  God invites the Church to participate in that mission.

Church           God   World 
 TO God          World       Church

This places much more importance on interaction with secular justice and development movements than previous church-initiated mission emphases. Mission in this emphasis necessitates the church’s participation in secular programs for urban renewal, civil rights, and humanization. A 1966 study project sponsored by the International Missionary Council articulated goals of mission as “shalom” and “humanization.”    This was especially poignant in a world context moving to a new era of colonialism. Many new nations were emerging from 19th-20th century colonial territories.   With these new understandings of geography, colonial legacies and interfaith relations, mission also recognizes that the boundaries between Christian and non-Christian lands are nuanced by new missionary frontiers between belief and unbelief within every country.

Illustrating Hymns
“Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life”
“We Would Be Building”

Ecumenical meetings that describe “Church for Others”:

Reflection Guides:
1.  Outline world events during the 1960s – early 70s.
2.  Identify the role of the Church in mission from these excerpts.
3.  Describe the purpose of mission presented in these excerpts.  Discuss the positive and
     negative aspects of this emphasis of  mission.

A.  World Council of Churches Third Assembly, New Delhi, 1961

 “The integration of the IMC and the WCC brings into being a new instrument of common consultation and action to serve the Churches in their missionary task under the new conditions of the second half of the twentieth century.  In it we see the good hand of God leading us into the next phase of the Church’s mission.  It is at the same time a fitting symbol of the fact that missionary responsibility cannot be separated from any other aspect of the Church’s life and teaching.  The Church’s mission is one throughout the world, for there is but one Gospel of salvation for all men, one Savior and Lord, who is the light of the world.  Today, thanks to the faithful witness of those who went before us in the missionary movement, the Christian mission has a world-wide base.  Every Christian congregation is part of that mission, with a responsibility to bear witness to Christ in its own neighborhood and to share in the bearing of that witness to the ends of the earth.”  (The New Delhi Report, The Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches 1961, New York:  Association Press, 1962,  249)

B.  International Missionary Council Meeting, Mexico City, 1963

New missionary frontiers were illustrated by the theme of the 1963 IMC meeting in Mexico City ‘Witness in 6 Continents:’  “Every Christian congregation in all the world is called to show the love of God in Christ, in witness and service to the world at its doors.” It articulated the goal of mission as, “It must be a common witness of the whole church, bringing the whole Gospel to the whole world.” 

United Church of Christ and United Church Board for World Ministries documents:

A.  Dr. Alford Carleton, Executive Vice President of the UCBWM,  “The Breadth and Depth of Mission Today,”  Keynote Address,  United Church Board for World Ministries, October 23, 1963

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the major problems, as well as the greatest opportunities which of course, result from two great new developments in the Christian world.  The first of these is a new sense of discovery on the part of Christians everywhere—discovery of other Christians, of their problems, of the interdependence which we share, of the range of concerns which we have in common.  There is, in other words, a sense of total involvement which we have never had before.  We are suddenly discovering in the local congregation that the cause of ‘Missions’ is not something limited to a small Missionary Committee and concentrated upon a few distant areas the other side of the world.  We are discovering that social action is not something limited to a few zealots, concentrating upon unpleasant problems in the neighborhood that we might like to leave alone.  We are discovering that the question of relationships to other major religions is not one of distant philosophy but of our own youth in our colleges today.  Now everyone knows that what happens to the Mission in Angola or Ceylon is of vital importance to us in our church life, that what happens in Mississippi is of vital significance to our own neighborhood, and to our Mission in South Africa; that evangelism and stewardship are not just strange words out of a religious past but vital responsibilities – in whatever terms we may express them.”  (UCBWM 152nd Annual Report, 1963, UCC Archives, UCBWM Collection, UCC 2002.05, Appendix A,  87-88)

B.  Dr. Ben M. Herbster,  (President, United Church of Christ) ”Wholeness”  Keynote address, United Church Board for World Ministries,  November 12, 1963

“I have chosen for my theme the word “Wholeness.”  I chose this theme because it seems to me that one of the imperatives of our day is to make plain the wholeness of our faith and to establish the wholeness of the Church.  Negatively, I could say that the failure to achieve this wholeness has been and is now one of the reasons why the Church is no stronger than she is, why her message is no more effective, why her life is a no more potent witness.  The very life of the Church, the very life of the mission, the very life of the people and the very life of the world depends on it.  There is great need for wholeness.
 … The unity of the faith, the unity of the Gospel, the unity of the word is one of the imperatives which we in the Church must face and face it quickly, face it courageously.  Unless this Board for World Ministries is willing to say our task is to proclaim the whole Gospel, be witnesses to the whole word, be ambassadors of the whole truth, we might as well go out of business.
 …  The mission is one.  The work of the Church is a whole mission to the whole of life.

This whole mission must be carried on by the whole Church. Now this has two aspects each of which proposes a challenge to the Church in our day.  First, we are challenged to make the Church a unity.  This means pursuing the ecumenical movement, breaking down these walls of partition, of segregation, that separate our churches into little competing groups when the task is so tremendous and the challenge is so gigantic that there is no time to spend on trivia.  This, of course, is more evident upon the so-called mission field than upon the mission field here in America.  The very fact that in other parts of the world Christianity is so much more a minority religion tends to bring groups closer together for counsel, to form a common strategy and to establish a common front.

…  We need to unite our efforts and our mission because God calls us to that type of unity.  It is the will of God that his children shall act as members of one family.  The mission must be pursued by the whole Church.  By the whole Church I mean all the people in the Church must be engaged in mission.

…And finally, the whole Church must be involved in mission to the whole world.  That is where particularly the BWM comes in.  The Church must come to see that what we do in Africa, Asia, or South America is no different from what we do in the US.  Although we may do it in a particular fashion, though the language is different, though the circumstances into which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is introduced are different, though in other lands we work through the indigenous Church, the end is the same – to help people come to know Jesus Christ, to help them through their acquaintance with Jesus Christ to understand God’s will, to shape their lives according to that will and purpose, to understand and to live by the way God has been working in His world.”  (UCBWM 153rd Annual Report, 1964, UCC Archives, UCBWM Collection, UCC 2002.95, Appendix A,  97-99).

C.  Frederick Shepard, “Our Ministries in the Near East,” Keynote address to Annual meeting of Near East Mission in United Church Board For World Ministries, 1964

“The definition of mission, given at the Aleih Conference, was that of having each individual give a Christian witness where he is – in the community, school, clinic, or office; this puts the Christian into society rather than in a small enclave.  The emphasis on the importance of the witness of the layman is promising in this clergy-centered church situation…”   (UCBWM 153rd Annual Report, 1964, UCC Archives, UCBWM Collection, UCC 2002.95,  28).

D. Dr. Alford Carleton, Executive Vice President of UCBWM, Annual Meeting Address United Church Board for World Ministries November 10, 1964

 “In the third category of new adjustment to a secularized world we are deeply concerned with the studies of the forms of the ministry, of the missionary structure of the congregation, of lay leadership in the Church, and of the Church in the world.  We participate in very significant experiments in industrial evangelism in the Philippines and Japan; in India, in Africa, and in Germany, especially in the great new industrial complexes growing up far from the established centers of population, and often under governments that would resist the building of churches in the conventional way.  In Asia and Africa there are many ways in which the Gospel must be carried beyond the reach of the Church itself.  We must pass beyond the boundary of church extension into the uncharted realm of mission to people of whatever race or creed under unfamiliar and often discouraging circumstances.  That is the meaning today of the call that we ‘go into all the world.”  (UCBWM 154th Annual Report, 1965, UCC Archives, UCBWM Collection, UCC 2002.05.155, 10-16).

1.  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)?