Thursday, 28 January 2010

Thoughts on Mission

Here is the first part of my thoughts on mission.

We do what we do because we believe what we believe (theology and ethics), so in terms of mission and church planting I want to share my understanding and theology which will then inform what we will do in Newton Abbot. Here is what I believe to be crucial for the church plant in Newton Abbot in terms of what we believe about who Jesus is, which then informs us about what we believe mission should look like, which then informs us about what church should look like.
Go here for an extended a deeper theological reflection on what is below.

Incarnation – Future Fulfillment

The Incarnation[1] is a fundamental and foundational doctrine within the Christian faith whereby it is recognized that God has acted in a unique and distinctive way with the eternal Son of God coming in flesh to the world that was made through him.[2] The Incarnation is not merely about God identifying himself with us (although it undoubtedly is about that), but that God becomes one of us and embraces the fullness of our humanity in order that he might fully restore humanity and all of creation. Creation, therefore, has a goal, an ‘eschatological direction’, to become what God always intended it to become. Not merely a returning to something previous, but an intention to become something it has yet to be, something it never has been; something better. It is in light of this that the Incarnation can be seen to be so vital to humanity and all of creation; Christ has become one of us so that we might reach the goal to which God has called us.[3] This goal therefore, is for all of creation to participate in the communion of the triune God,[4] to ‘participate in the divine nature’[5] and escape the consequences of sin. For that reason the Incarnation reveals to us a God who desires us to become something more than we are at this moment and therefore truly incarnational mission must ‘in-flesh’ this concept of future fulfillment, of people and communities becoming something more than they are now, something they have never been before; something better. A church plant (alternative community)[6] in Newton Abbot would seek to enable the local community to journey towards a better future.

Incarnation – Identification

The Incarnation as identification is not about God resembling us and taking upon himself an ‘outer garment, like a beggar-cloak of a king who dresses up in order to seek out the love of a beggar-girl’,[7]it is about God stepping into our humanity and journeying with us through that humanity. From his birth in a cattle-shed to his death on the cross, Jesus fully identifies with the humanity that he created taking upon himself the limitations, conditions, temptations and struggles of humankind.[8] Yet in Christ identifying himself with us he reveals to us our condition, both good and bad; for in the humanity of the Son we see the goal of all humanity and also recognize how far we have wandered away from the goal that had been intended.[9] He reveals our need for salvation, not simply in terms of ‘getting to heaven’, but salvation in terms of complete and total healing from our ‘sin-sick’ state.[10] Sin has utterly contaminated all of creation and therefore humanity is in need of renewal and healing from our sin-sickness. That Christ fully identifies himself with humanity means that through him humanity may be fully healed and restored from its disorientated and contaminated condition; sin-sickness has a cure. Consequently, incarnational mission embraces this concept of identification, healing and future fulfillment and seeks to bring about healing and hope within the communities it is being worked out in. Because Jesus fully identified with humanity, an alternative community in Newton Abbot would seek to fully embrace the concept and practice of identifying with the local community. The church would find its missional focus in the ‘third place’ ensuring that we were a part of the community, meeting people where they were and ‘dwelling among them’. By identifying with the community the church has a valid and valuable voice into that community.

[1] ‘What is the meaning of the incarnation? A tear of divine pity.’ Barth, Karl, Theology and Church p 225

[2] John 1:10-11, Colossians 1:15-17

[3] Philippians 3:14

[4] See Volf, M., After Our Likeness, p 129

[5] 2 Peter 1:4 NIV

[6] Alternative Community is the term I will use sporadically for church plant.

[7] Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, p 36

[8] Hebrews 4:15

[9] ‘This particular man Jesus Christ, therefore, is not to be considered and judged on the basis of some general preconception about human reality. Rather, every man, and the universal truth concerning man, is to be understood from this particular man.’ Barth, Karl, God Here and Now p 6

[10] This is a term Stanley Hauerwas uses to understand humanity as sinners and this sin disorientates our nature and us. See Hauerwas, S., ‘Sinsick’ p 192 cf. Colwell, J., Promise and Presence p 199-201

1 comment:

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That Christ fully identifies himself with humanity means that through him humanity may be fully healed and restored from its disorientated and contaminated condition; sin-sickness has a cure.