Monthly Archives: October 2014

More Bosch, this time on Missio Dei

Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980), pp. 179-80. My underlining.

The mooring of mission to the doctrine of the Trinity led to the introduction of the expression missio Dei (God’s mission) at Willingen. The term was in all probability coined by Hartenstein. He intended it to give expression to the conviction that God, and God alone was the subject of mission. The initiative for our mission lay with him alone (missio ecclesiae, the Church’s mission). Only in God’s hands our mission could be truly [sic] called mission. In the period after Willingen the concept missio Dei gradually changed its meaning. It came to signify God’s hidden activities in the world, independent of the Church, and our responsibility to discover and participate in these activities.

It’s interesting how the final idea is, at least in part, the basis of Roxburgh’s advice. Again, strange to see ideas from 1952, reported on in 1980, offered as the latest and greatest solution to the Church’s problems.

Just to repeat what was in the previous post, and speaking more generally of the use of missio Dei: the missionary focus on the world as we follow God’s initiative is right. The side-lining of the Church is a grave mistake.

The Church Inside Out

I discovered the following in Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980), pp. 176-78.

The theology of the apostolate soon underwent a certain radicalisation due to Hoekendijk’s contribution. He polemicised against the church-centric mission that had been especially in vogue since Tambaran 1939. The Church was an illegitimate centre. Not the Church but the world, the oikoumene, stood in the centre of God’s concern. Van Ruler’s thesis that mission was a function of the Church, was inverted by Hoekendijk: the Church was a function of mission. There was no room for a ‘doctrine of the Church’. We should refer to the Church only in passing and without any emphasis. Ecclesiology should not be more than a single paragraph in Christology (the messianic involvement with the world) and a few sentences in eschatology (the messianic involvement with the world) … 

From the outset Hoekendijk could not accept a ‘theology of mission’. If he did so it would imply that mission would once again be an extra. There would then also conceivably be other ‘theologies of …’. He therefore pleaded not for ‘theology of mission’, but for ‘missionary theology’ as expression of all authentic theology. …

In this way Hoekendijk’s theology of the apostolate became a theology of the world. Theology is God inviting us to share the world with him. For precisely this reason it was a theology of the Kingdom. Mission was not the road from church to church: mission or Church was the interaction between Kingdom and world, involved in both … The form which this involvement took he called shalom, Hebrew for ‘peace’, which he described as a ‘social happening’, and which was an ethical rather than a soteriological concept. Reconciliation became a universal humanisation process. In his earlier writings he did characterise the task of the Church as kerygma, koinonia and diakonia – proclamation, community, and service. In the course of time, however, he increasingly moved towards the last of the three.

I find it curious that the following theology derives from the 1960. Theological language along these lines is, I find, being used with plenty of enthusiasm today. Not having read Hoekendijk’s theology at first hand I should be cautious speaking directly about him. An English translation of some of his shorter works was published in 1966 with the title ‘The Church Inside Out’ (SCM). It’s another one to add to the list …

I am all the more interested having just read Barth on the Church as witness (CD IV.3), and also John Flett’s head spinning The Witness of God. When I hear this language used today, it is in my experience without reflection on Bosch’s concluding analysis (from 1980!): you get rid of the Church  and something essential is lost.

It’s not as though I don’t have sympathy for Hoekendijk’s frustration with the Church. It is only because of faith that I stay loyal to the church structures and institutions. Yes, I have enough self-knowledge to know that I am no less fallen than the next church member, but that doesn’t make identifying with and living with and in the Church any more comfortable.

As an attempt to flesh out something more positive, here follows a brief summary of something I was going to provide more detail of later … some Barth inspired thoughts.

The move from missio dei to church-less service (identified by Bosch above) seems to stem from an absence of Christology. The language of mission and kingdom seems to have been abstracted from Christ himself. One often hears today this language used in connection with discipleship. On the face of it, this sounds quite Christocentric! With it, though is a closely connected assumption that the discipleship of the gospels has no direct relationship with the Church. As Barth points out, this is a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. The ‘absence’ of Church from the gospels is because it is everywhere assumed! Of course it is, the gospels themselves were written from within ecclesial community, often addressing the concerns of that community (the assumptions of form and canonical criticism spring to mind).

This being so, the Church’s existence is determined (skirting over a discussion of actualistic ontology) by her saviour, by whom the covenant between God and humanity is concluded. Christ is about his Father’s work. Humanity is called to witness to that, to echo Christ’s words and actions as the covenant partner and so point others to him. The Church follows the attitude of Christ, who is about his Father’s business. God’s concern firstly is for the world and in Christ the world is justified. We come to faith and join the Church as members of the world. The Church is composed of those brought to the knowledge of this salvation found in Christ and so are called to participate in their own proper way in the loving work of God. The Church therefore cannot be and must not be firstly concerned with its own life, or see itself as an end in itself. To do so would be to be radically incoherent. The Church is called, and therefore the Church must follow Christ and do the Father’s work. But because it is called it is the Church and it is as a community that the Church can witness in a manner no individual can (Stringfellow springs to mind for the ability of the Church to witness politically today). Think of the roles of forgiveness and accountability. The Church here is not somehow establishing a perfect society on earth, it is pointing in a faltering manner to the one who has already forgiven them. Of course, I can forgive people outside of the Church and this can be a witness, but in the Church I don’t just forgive. In the Church I can be forgiven too.

The future of popular missionary theology is not the removal of ecclesiology. It is rather having a good ecclesiology by which the Church can understand her very nature is to be outward focussed, in which even her most private worship in word and form, can be a witness to the world of the coming kingdom.

The State of Play, Autumn 2014

I thought I’d provide an update as to what NYNO has been up to and what we hope to be doing in the near future.

We continue to run our two groups in a sheltered accommodation complex. The first group meets monthly and has moved from being a familiar minister led service to one based around a communal meal structured by set prayers and actions in which all participate together. The second group is smaller and meets most weeks, and would have been recognisable to most as a Bible study. That two has moved to so as to have a worshipful meal format in which young children and be kept at the heart of the meeting, rather than kept quiet during the adult talking time.

Over the summer Julie and I have really begin to give our attention to the practical questions of an every age meeting, particularly accessible to older people. The change in our worship to a format based around a meal was done with the idea in the back of our minds of finding a format in which young and old and can worship together. But it was, if you like, only a first step. There remains the question of how to invite the younger people to worship with us!

As with everything we’ve done, we’re not rushing to answer this question. One step at a time! That has, so to speak, been our mantra: take one step, reflect, listen, take the next step. You have to have some plans, but you need to hold them lightly, letting everyone be involved as you take the next one step.

Perhaps strangely, taking your time such a big change and allowing people to contribute can mean you have time on your hands, so in the meantime, I’m planning to put together a small booklet. This would together our reflections to date, and more easily allow people to follow what we’ve been doing date and amongst other things, get to grips with our notion of ‘first class church’, put into practice a reflective and participative cycle of leadership, pick up and use our liturgies and – if you like! – follow our bread recipes …

In addition we’ve been compiling some notes on Barth’s Church Dogmatics, IV.3.2 par.72 on ‘The Holy Spirit and the Sending of the Christian Community’: very helpful for clarifying the relationship between Church and mission. Hopefully they will be posted before too long.

Of course, once again, if you’d like to know more about NYNO, or have a conversation about starting your own church in Sheltered Accommodation (or indeed in a care or nursing home) we’d be more than happy to talk to you.