Toward More Mutual Relationships in the Global Church

Toward More Mutual Relationships in the Global Church

A focusing biblical text:  Philippians 2: 5-8
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

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 More Mutual Relationships in the Global Church

God’s mission in the world in which the whole church participates in a context of new nations, creates the context for an intentional re-examination of the role of partnerships and relations among churches and people in different parts of the world.

For mission organizations in the West, used to ‘being in charge’ a realization that the church is global and diverse means a challenge to re-direct the starting point and practice of mission.  An exploration of the role of missionaries; a focus on indigenous leadership development; and a re-examination of the relationship of ‘partnership’ takes place.  Contextual and identity theologies specific to particular people and places and times begin to shape mission decisions and practices.

The terminology of “older” and “younger” churches used in the ecumenical movement during the early twentieth century to differentiate between missionary sending and receiving churches is re-examined in light of the realization that the church has been present and active in mission in many places long before Western missionary organizations became active.

A focus on inter-religious dialogue also accompanies this focus on more mutual intra-Christian relationships.

Illustrating Hymns
“Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?”
“Partners in Christ’s Service”

Ecumenical meetings that describe “More Mutual Relationships”:

Reflection Guides:

1.  Outline world events during the 1960s – 70s.
     Review reflections on “The Church for Others” section.

2.   Identify the role of the Church in mission in these excerpts.
3.   Describe the purpose of mission presented in these excerpts.  
     Discuss the positive and negative aspects of  this emphasis of mission.

The “Church for Others” document of Uppsala, 1968 includes the emphasis on “Christian Presence” as a role for missionaries and the relationship of mutual partnership.  M.A.C. Warren of the Church Missionary Society of the Church of England begins to edit a “Christian Presence Series.”  The World Student Christian Federation during this period emphasizes incarnation as a key starting point of mission – Christ identifies with the human situation.  This leads to an articulation of the role of cross-cultural missionaries in terms of “presence.”

Christians are to identify with people with whom they wish to serve and witness.  Missionaries engage in personal encounter with an open expectant attitude toward others.  Dialogue receives a lot of attention.

The WCC Sub-Unit on Dialogue sponsors the document, “Dialogue with People of Living Faiths” which focuses on God’s movement toward wholeness and wider community.  “Because they share common human aspirations and responsibility for others, Christians ought to engage in dialogue with those also concerned about ultimate questions.”  Christians can thus discover God’s activity among people of other faiths.

A. “Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies, WCC, Kingston, 1979

“It is Christian faith in the Triune God – Creator of all humankind, Redeemer in Jesus Christ, revealing and renewing Spirit – which calls us Christians to human relationship with our many neighbours.  Such relationship includes dialogue:  witnessing to our deepest convictions and listening to those of our neighbours.  It is Christian faith which sets us free to be open to the faiths of others, to risk, to trust and to be vulnerable.  In dialogue, conviction and openness are held in balance….
C.  Reasons for Dialogue
#16:  The term ‘dialogue in community’ is useful in that it gives concreteness to Christian reflection on dialogue.  Moreover it focuses attention on the reasons for being in dialogue, which can be identified in two related categories.

Most Christians today live out their lives in actual community with people who may be committed to faiths and ideologies other than their own. 

They live in families sometimes of mixed faiths and ideologies; they live as neighbours in the same towns and villages; they need to build up their relationships expressing mutual human care and searching for mutual understanding.  This sort of dialogue is very practical, concerned with the problems of modern life – the social, political, ecological, and above all, the ordinary and familiar.

But there are concerns beyond the local which require Christians to engage in dialogue towards the realization of a wider community in which peace and justice may be more fully realized.  This leads in turn to a dialogue between communities, in which issues of national and international concern are tackled.”

#19:  In this sense dialogue has a distinctive and rightful place within Christian life, in a manner directly comparable to other forms of service.  But ‘distinctive’ does not mean totally different or separate.  In dialogue Christians seek ‘to speak the truth in a spirit of love,’ not naively ‘to be tossed to and fro, and be carried about with every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4: 14-15).  In giving their witness they recognize that in most circumstances today the spirit of dialogue is necessary.  For this reason we do not see dialogue and the giving of witness as standing in any contradiction to one another.  Indeed, as Christians enter dialogue with their commitment to Jesus Christ, time and time again the relationship of dialogue gives opportunity for authentic witness.  Thus, to the member churches of the WCC we feel able with integrity to commend the way of dialogue as one in which Jesus Christ can be confessed in the world today; at the same time we feel able with integrity to assure our partners in dialogue that we come not as manipulators but as genuine fellow pilgrims, to speak with them of what we believe God to have done in Jesus Christ who has gone before us, but whom we seek to meet anew in dialogue.”  (James A Scherer, Stephen Bevans, ed.,  New Directions in Mission & Evangelization, Basic Statements 1974-1991, Geneva, World Council of Churches, 1979, 16-17, 13).

B.  Council for World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, Bangkok meeting, 1973

“There is an interdependence between people and nations in the world community.  We need to dialogue to work together to meet human necessities, relieve human suffering, establish social justice, share in the struggle for peace.” 

“This meeting became famous for its holistic approach to the theme “Salvation Today,” encompassing its spiritual as well as socio-political aspects, without favoring one over the other.  Bangkok acknowledged the need for contextual theologies and recognition of cultural identity as shaping the voice of those answering and following Christ.  The delegates struggled with situations of exploitation and injustice expressed also in relations between churches.  In order to enable local churches in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific to set their own priorities in witness, a proposal was made of a temporary ‘moratorium’ on sending money and missionaries from the North.”

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

Reflection Guides:
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.  Dr. Kirk Stetson, Pierce Memorial Hospital Southern Rhodesia UCC,  Role of Missionaries in Rhodesia, 1964

“Missionaries are still wanted – for some “the contribution is just being where we are.  We interpret this not as our attempt to hold the status quo by force but the need of missionaries to relinquish active leadership as mentioned above.  The need now is for the quiet counseling and encouragement of indigenous Christian leadership that we may work side by side with our friends here in Africa and even in subordinate positions to them as is happening in many places in our mission.”   (Missionary Herald, November 1964,  8).

B.  Telfer Mook, Secretary for Southern Asia “Missionary Roles:  Friendship but not Identity” January 1965

 “They can accept our friendship and admiration without expecting us to identify ourselves with them…Dr. Chandran Devanesan of Madras Christian College  in India says that he wants [a missionary] to come as a representative of a different culture and civilization, bringing the best that his background can offer.  And, most important he wants him in this context to join hands as fellow Christians of one worldwide fellowship.  Not only is the Christian from the West welcomed because of new insights that he brings to the life of the church, but his very presence is a reminder to the Indians that the Christian Church there transcends national boundaries.”   (Missionary Herald, January, 1965)

C.  United Church Board for World Ministries 157th Annual Report, 1968

 “The Board recognizes itself as a partner with churches overseas.  In its relationship with overseas churches the UCBWM looks upon itself as a sharing partner, understanding well that it can never dictate.  The unique history of the churches, their methods of government, peculiar weaknesses and strengths and relationships often hamper the Board’s dealings with them regarding current issues.” (UCBWM 157th Annual Report, 1968, UCC Archives, UCBWM Collection, UCC 2002.05.155, 11).

D.  David M Stowe, Executive Vice President of UCBWM Address to Annual Meeting, United Church Board for World Ministries 1972

“Mission” means the sum of all those ways in which the Christian community becomes practically relevant to life on Planet Earth.  Every major event of 1971 affected the work of the Board and was, in some measure, affected by our work.  …Board staff are deeply involved in the ecumenical debates about evangelism, dialogue with persons of other faiths, and the meaning of ‘salvation today.’ We are participating in the United Church discussions on the ‘Faith Crisis’ and the ‘Crisis in the Local Church’ and are working to keep open the lines of communication between such evangelically inclined UCC members as those in the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen and the national structures of the church.

…While we affirm in these and many other ways the decisive importance of man’s relation to his Creator and Redeemer, we are equally aware that human brotherhood and welfare in this world are crucial.”  (UCBWM 161st Annual Report, 1972,   UCC Archives, UCBWM Collection, UCC 2002.05.155, 5-6).