Thursday, June 16, 2011

the church's mission in an ecumenical context


·         Can the Church’s mission exist in any context other than an ecumenical one?

·         What is the nature of the Church’s mission?

·         What is the nature of the Ecumenical context?

·         How does the Church’s mission apply to the Ecumenical Context?

ecumenical experience – personal

·         Alpha and Emmaus
·         Ministers’ Forums
o   White River, Nelspruit, Garsfontein
·         CUC Malelane (Anglican/Methodist)
o   Confusing Symbolic message
·         Trinity, Lynnwood (Presbyterian/Anglican)
o   Control of worship space
·         Serene Street, Garsfontein
o   Carol Service
·         Anti-Apartheid Struggle initiatives

the church’s mission

·         In its broadest sense the Church’s mission is to make God known to the Nations (Isaiah)

·         Roxburgh and Romanuk in their book The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World (2006:xiii) speak of

o    “... a missional understanding of church that emphasises an incarnational, servant approach and sees church not as a once a week gathering but as a community to which one belongs that relates to the whole of life. It is a community in which each person makes an active contribution, during gathered worship as well as dispersed service. These churches emphasise hospitality ... [and] are committed to maintaining their values of community, accountability, and service ... .”

·         Nelus Niemandt, Professor of Missiology at Tukkies, commenting on a definition offered by Craig van Gelder in his book The Ministry of the Missional Church: a Community led by the Spirit (2007), says

o    “… the missional church as called (from the world), gathered (by the Spirit as the body of Christ) and sent (to the world) to participate in God’s mission. The missional church’s purpose is to equip authentic disciples as missionaries in order that the church may be the agent of God’s mission in the world.

·         Basis in Scripture: Acts 17:16-34

o   Paul’s methodology in Athens a useful model for mission in the 21st century.

an ecumenical context

·         Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director of Faith, Worship and Ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada, addressing a session of the Lambeth Conference in 2008, comments

o   “If the 20th century was the great century of ecumenism, the early 21st  century provides an opportunity for churches to begin to live out the reality of their unity. After all the theological debate, the examinations of each other’s ecclesiologies, orders, and practices, there is now the possibility for real shared life and mission.”

o   There has been a clear trajectory over the past 100 years for agreements variously termed ‘intercommunion’, ‘communion’, ‘full communion’ or simply ‘agreement’

o   Three generations of agreements

§  Recognition of sufficient similarity in faith and order: declared that people could receive communion in each others churches.
§  A wave of schemes of union devised in many regions of the world
§  Proposals of “full communion”: leaving each church independent, but making commitments to work together and live into a fuller reality of shared life.

o   Emerging generation

§  Agreement to consult with one another on matters of faith and order, life and witness
·         How will churches discipline themselves to do this?
·         How will they shift their self-understanding in order to do so?

·         A definition of Communion, from The Lutheran World Federation document  Mission in Context: Transformation, Reconciliation, Empowerment

o   “Used ecclesiologically, the term “communion” expresses three levels of church relations:  first, the unity of the church across all times and space; second, the nature of life together in the local church; third, the relationship between local churches in a regional and global context.”

o   “The tendency to compete for mission fields in different parts of the world, in the race to expand the profile and sphere of influence of one’s own denomination or organization, should be replaced by cooperation and joint action.”

o   “The vision and practice of communion can help the church address the prevalent fragmentation and division of communities and bring healing to a world broken by greed and violence.”

·         Maintaining Communion – a move to Covenant

o   The Anglican Communion is struggling to maintain communion and is moving towards a Covenant. Professor Iain Torrance, representing the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, addressing the final plenary session of Lambeth Conference 2008, described a covenant as follows:

§  “A covenant is different [from a contract]. As all of you know, covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures begins  with the unconditional promise of God’s love. And who can come close to God and not be changed? So, a covenant is an initiative undertaken by transformed persons in response to a gift of unmerited grace. “

applying the church’s mission to an ecumenical context

·         A useful document in this regard is The Ecumenical Stance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 218th General Assembly in 2008.

o   “To commit to an ecumenical vision in this time and place involves a study of the changing ecumenical landscape. It is well known that a demographic shift in the global church from the north to the south has reshaped the dynamics of the ecumenical movement in a number of ways. Most importantly, the flow of influence is no longer from north to south or even west to east, but from every part of the world to every other part of the world. This has meant that ecumenical conversation partners are shaped geographically as well as denominationally.”

o   “… many Presbyterians are confused about the meaning of ecumenism and question how it relates to their own lived realities in congregations and whether it has relevance to a post-modern church and world. There has been an erosion of understanding of some traditional ecumenical activities and loyalty to them. Nonetheless, lively ecumenical activity is taking place in many forms throughout the denomination at the national, regional, and local levels. “

o   While we affirm our commitment to the unity of the Christian church, the ecumenical challenge for today moves beyond that initial vision to the healing and wholeness of the world. This broader goal of Christian ecumenism requires us to ask how we can be partners with others in building the human community that God intended from the very beginning. Where is there convergence between the Christian household and the larger household of God? 

o   The document notes nine “Contours of a New Ecumenical Reality” for the 21st century, defined as “varied and diverse nuances for Presbyterians:
§   reconciliation in Jesus Christ;
§  a spirit of generosity toward others;
§  unity and diversity in the Holy Spirit;
§  justice in the economy, and for the earth;
§  the call of God to mission and evangelism;
§  solidarity with the marginalized;
§  common memory of a people on a journey;
§  hope for the future of the world;
§  a gift of God and a task for all human beings.”

o   The document highlights ten priorities that a commitment to “the larger household of God” presents:

§  Growing the Ecumenical Vision
§  Facing Obstacles to Christian Unity
§  Bridging the gaps Between the Local and the Global, Individual Congregations and the Denomination
§  Enlarging the Table of Ecumenical Relationships
§  Covenanting for Justice and the Economy and the Earth
§  Covenanting for Peacemaking in a War-Torn World
§  Nurturing Interreligious Engagements
§  Renewing a Commitment to Disciplines of Christian Spirituality
§  Celebrating Gifts We Receive and Share
§  Revitalising Practises of Ecumenical Formation

o   Creedal Statement: the document includes “An Affirmation of Our Ecumenical Commitment”

Prepared for a Seminar on 15 June 2011 as part of the Patronal Festivities of Trinity, Lynnwood, by the Rev’d Canon Mark R D Long, Diocese of Pretoria (The Anglican Church of Southern Africa).

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