01 Mar Is mission God’s or ours?
By Dr. Peter Nguyen, AsiaCMS Regional Manager – South East Asia
Christian mission is rooted in divine initiative and the character of God because we encounter a God in whose very essence is the basis for mission today. Ken Gnanakan, an Indian missiologist once said, “Mission begins with God himself, not merely because he is the God of mission but because his very character is mission.”(i)
Biblically, the act of mission is, and starts, with God right from Genesis 1:1, where the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, first initiated this sending activity throughout the Bible. In short, God is a ‘missionary God’. In His statement to the disciples that was recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20: 21b).
Here, the sending activity of the Triune God is revealed to us. The followers of Christ today are sent by Jesus to carry on God’s mission into the world. The sending of the Holy Spirit empowers the church to fulfil God’s mission in this world; “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14: 26).
Recognising that mission is the Triune God’s mission (or missio Dei in Latin terms) provides a new understanding of mission, in which the church again reverts to a narrow, ecclesiocentric (church-centric) view of mission. This means that mission (singular) remains primarily the mission of the Triune God, while missions (plural) means the missionary activities of the church, or simply Christian missions, as Stephen Neill claimed in the post Willingen period, “The age of missions is at an end; the age of mission has begun.”(ii)
David Bosch, a well-known missiologist, once said, “we cannot without ado claim that what we do is identical to the missio Dei; our missionary activities are only authentic insofar as they reflect participation in the mission of God.”(iii) This helps to eliminate the danger of what Stephen Neill once noted, “if everything is mission, nothing is mission.”(iv)
This means, the primary purpose of the missionary activities of the church or Christian missions is not simply the planting of churches or the saving of souls, but as in Bosch’s words, “it [Christian missions] has service to the missio Dei, representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God, holding up the God-child before the eyes of the world in a ceaseless celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany.”(v)
And that means, in its missions, the church witnesses the fullness of the promise of God’s reign and participates in the on-going struggle between that reign and the power of darkness and evil, as described by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6: 10-20. Christian missions then, participates in the mission of the Triune God (missio Dei). More specifically, it is Christ’s mission (missio Christi), and not ours.
Therefore, by God’s grace, we (the church) may be privileged to participate in the mission of God. In other words, God gives us (the church) the privilege to see the world from His perspective, so that we can humble ourselves in preaching, serving and witnessing to the work of God in the world today.
In conclusion, mission is from the Triune God, not the church nor any human agent, and is fulfilled only by His grace, not by our own effort and strength. But the Triune God’s mission must be understood as a foundational concept that launches the church from the place of worship and fellowship into the frontiers of God’s reign. (vi)
I suggest that Christian missions be involved in trinitarian dimensions: first, the proclamation of the reign of God or the kingdom of God’s presence in the world; second, the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord of every culture. Christian mission is supposed to model Christ’s way of humility and self-emptying, and bold proclamation of God’s already and not yet reign; and third, mission as participation in the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today.
(i) Ken Gnanakan, Kingdom Concerns: A Biblical Exploration towards a Theology of Mission. (Bangalore, India: Theological Book Trust, 1989), 67.
(ii) Stephen C. Neill, A History of Christian Missions, vol. 6, Pelican history of the church. (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1966), 572.
(iii) David Jacobus Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology series, Series no 16. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 391.
(iv) Stephen C. Neill, Creative Tension. (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1959), 81.
(v) Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 391.
(vi) Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory, xiii.