This is a follow-up post, of sorts, to the article “Two Churches, One City, Almost No Common Ground in Mission – An Interactive Scenario.” That post and this one are designed to catalyze conversations with your missions committees, small groups, and church leaders about the ‘Missio Dei,’ the Latin Christian theological term that can be translated as the “mission of God,” or the “sending of God.”
John Flett summarizes how karl Barth understood the relationship between the church’s existence and its proclamation to the world:
“The apostolic community, ‘can never in any respect be an end in herself but, following the existence of the apostles, she exists only as she exercises the ministry of a herald.’ And so the community ‘does not exist before her commission and later acquire it. Nor does she exist apart from it, so there can be no question whether or not she might have to execute it. . . .’ Her essential direction is ‘outwards to mission, to the world, because she is not merely based upon the apostolate but is identical with it.’” ~ Flett, Witness of God, 265, quoting Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/ 1, 724; IV/ 3.2, 779; and II/ 2, 430.
How are we to understand ‘apostolic?’ Jürgen Moltmann describes it this way; “The historical church must be called ‘apostolic’ in a double sense: its gospel and its doctrine are founded on the testimony of the first apostles, the eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, and it exists in the carrying out of the apostolic proclamation, the missionary charge. The expression ‘apostolic’ therefore denotes both the church’s foundation and its commission.” ~ The Church in the Power of the Spirit p.358
If Flett is interpreting Barth correctly here, then I’d have to agree with Barth, but only with Moltmann’s understanding of ‘apostolic.’
If I had to explain all this so that anyone could understand it, then in my own words, I’d say it this way;
The Church, either in its local assemblies or universally are not to be ‘ends unto themselves.’ But, like the Apostles, and on which teachings the Church is founded, is not to be entrenched in, and seeking to sustain its ‘internal’ or ‘local’ ‘ministries’ alone. To plant a church with the ‘intention’ of doing mission ‘later’ is neither church planting or mission. To claim existence as a church without mission, is to be an imposter. And, I’ll take that one step further. To ‘be’ a church that puts the bulk of her resources, people, time, and energies into sustaining herself, as opposed to the outward commission and missionary charge to Make disciples of all nations, be witnesses to Jesus by word and deed, and foster the reconciliation of all things as much as we as humans are able, is to not be a gathering assembly or ‘church.’ A few questions;
1. Have I, in my interpretation of Flett, Barth, and Moltmann, taken things too far? How so?
2. If you agree with my summary, then what do you suppose is the solution for churches/local assemblies that find themselves in the situation described above? (More resources, people, time, and energy for ‘church’ than mission)
3. Do you reject any of the propositions above? Which? Why?