Micah Network Integral Mission Initiative

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1 RE CATEGORY RE TITLE RE NUMBER and Development Programme, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa Plenary address: Micah Africa Regional Conference, September 20 23, 2004 The task of this paper is to provide the contours of a biblical and theological grounding for the involvement of the Church - and by this I mean the community of Christian people - in the work of development, which I define as social, cultural, religious, ecological, economic and political activities that consciously seek to enhance the self-identified livelihoods of the poor. To do this, I propose ten theological theses on mission and development. 1. God s being and God s acts are congruent We must begin with God, and the recognition that God s being and God s acts are congruent. There is a direct relationship between who God is in God-self, and how God relates to the world. This is no philosophical argument, but a statement of faith grounded in the scriptures, most simply in the recognition that because God is love, God acts in loving ways. For Christians, God is the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a profound conviction that is both a statement about God s being and about God s acts. In God s being, God is a community of love, respect and equity. God is not a solitary person, but a relationship of dialogue and mutuality, in which we understand the Father, Son and Spirit all to have their specific work, but who are nevertheless one. Now, if this is how we understand God s very being, then we have a clear picture of how God will act in the world for God cannot act contrary to who God is. If God is community, dialogue, mutuality, equity then this is how God is at work in the world. 2. God s work in the world the missio Dei is the work of Shalom We believe that God is at work in the world. God did not create the world and then abandon it, but rather chooses it as the arena for God s work. We understand that the love of God that is known within the Trinity reaches out to embrace the cosmos in creation, and particularly to draw all the living creatures of our earth into a covenant of love and justice with God and themselves. Now this work of love and embrace we understand to be God s mission the missio Dei and while it is witnessed to in many part of Scripture, such as the covenant with Noah, and the Law of Moses, it finds its most profound expression in the vision of shalom found throughout the Bible. Shalom is often translated as peace, but this is a very thin translation. For shalom is not just the absence of hostility, but peace with justice. It means dwelling at peace in all our relationships at four levels: with God, with creation, with other people, and with ourselves. It also involves an enjoyment of ones relationship. It means to delight in serving God, to delight in our physical surroundings, to delight in Page 1 of 6

2 RE CATEGORY RE TITLE RE NUMBER community, and to delight in what it means for oneself to be a child of God. It is clear that at the heart of shalom is the life that God has brought into being, and the desire to ensure that it is respected, nurtured and enjoyed. God s work in the world, the missio Dei, is therefore about creating and sustaining shalom, and restoring it when it is absent. 3. Jesus incarnates God s work of shalom The Scriptures tell us that this life of shalom is more often than not absent from the experience of the people of the earth due to a falling away from God, creation and our neighbours through sin. The life created by God, too easily became sickness, suffering, oppression and death. The missio Dei involved restoring this shalom through the exodus of the slaves in Egypt, the granting of the Law at Sinai, the prophetic call for justice, and the restoration after Exile. But the workers in the vineyard did not heed these messengers. And so as the parable has it (Luke 20:9-16) - the owner sent his son. To understand Jesus within the sweep of what God is doing in history we can simply state that as the incarnation of God, Jesus incarnates God s work of shalom. This is what it means to call him the way, the truth and the life. With this in mind it is not difficult to see how the birth, ministry, life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a profound proclamation of shalom. Christ is the peace of God, the bread of life; he who promises abundant life. The inner embrace of the Trinity finds expression in the physical embrace of Jesus. He goes to the lost and the outcasts, the marginalized and the excluded, and invites sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, children, lepers and political rebels to his table. He brings healing to the sick, food to the hungry, sight to the blind, hope to the despairing, good news to the poor, life to the dead. In a system in which religious control legitimated this exclusion, Jesus undermines the whole judicial system, causes a religious and political scandal and hastens his own demise by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in the name of the God of life. Jesus makes clear what other parts of scripture testify, that God has a particular concern for those who suffer in the absence of shalom, those whom we call the poor. 4. The reign of God is hidden in history We need now to reflect a little on the mystery of God at work in the world. God creates this world in shalom, and God is at work in it sustaining shalom but everywhere is hatred, poverty, disease, pollution, and violence. To make sense of this is a profound matter in Christian theology that has to do with human freedom, sin and suffering; and here we can only touch briefly upon it by reflecting upon the work of Jesus. Within the mystery of God s work in the world, God allows Godself to be pushed off centre stage so that the profoundest proclamation of God s shalom is on a cross, on the dung-heap of Golgotha. Yet, we know that this was not the end; and God signalled God s affirmation of what Jesus had witnessed to through the resurrection. Page 2 of 6

3 RE CATEGORY RE TITLE RE NUMBER At the heart of Jesus work and ministry was the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, or the Reign of God. Where Jesus healed, freed, touched, proclaimed - where he manifested shalom, and restored life there the Reign of God was experienced; and in the resurrection the Reign of God and the defeat of sin was signalled in the most profound victory of life over death. But we are still living in history, a time characterised by human freedom, sin and suffering. The Reign of God manifest in Jesus Christ is glimpsed and experienced in many ways, but it is not yet fully established. The Bible tells us that this will only happen at the end of history, and that for now the reign of God is hidden in history often found amongst the poor, in weakness, suffering and powerlessness. 5. The task of the church in the world is to participate in the missio Dei While the reign of God is hidden in history, God has not left Godself without a witness. In the power of the Holy Spirit, God has called into being a fellowship of those who have been touched by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who believe that he is the life of the world, who want to both experience and manifest shalom in their lives, and who long to be agents of God s shalom. This community of faith the church - thus has no other purpose than to bear witness to the ongoing work of God in the world, and in this way the task of the church in the world is faithful participation in the missio Dei. As we have seen, the missio Dei concerns the work of shalom peace with justice; what Jesus calls abundant life. It is an all encompassing vision that includes enjoying good relationships with God, with creation, with all humans and with oneself. It is a vision of life in all its fullness, and it is a calling for the church to be involved in caring for life. In faithful witness to the God of life, the church is thus called upon to be involved in the works of life healing, restoring, nurturing, caring, - and in the name of the God of life, whose desire is shalom to challenge the forces of death: injustice, violence, rape, pollution, poverty, slavery, racism. It is not surprising then that it is the poor who find themselves most at home in this community. Now, while the church has very often not lived up to its high calling in Jesus Christ, where it has its life has been characterised by works of caritas, diakonia, prophetic challenge and kononia. 6. The church s participation in the missio Dei is of necessity inclusive and ecumenical Because God calls the church into existence for the task of shalom, the church can therefore never be an end in itself. It is not the Kingdom of God, but it bears witness to the kingdom. In many ways this is not something the church does, but it is what the church is. For it is the sign community of the coming kingdom and this means that in its life and witness, it presents to the world what the kingdom will look like. It is thus the place in which shalom and the life that conquers death is found. Because the church exists in history, and is thus subject to the experience of sin, this is sadly not always the case; yet it remains as a crucial calling of the church to bear witness to God s love and justice in its own life and witness. Page 3 of 6

4 RE CATEGORY RE TITLE RE NUMBER Now because shalom is the way of God in the world, the way in which the embrace of the trinity is extended to the world, so the community of believers understand that they have been embraced by God in an act of grace. Because God embraces the world, because shalom is the experience of right relationships with all creation, and because the church is a sign of the coming kingdom, so the community of faith is a welcoming and inclusive community. No-one is excluded, because no-one can join due to their own efforts, status or origins. Because of God s particularly concern for the poor - those who suffer in the absence of shalom - the Church is especially a community in which the poor belong and participate. A church that is built upon national, ethnic, class, racial or other exclusive characteristics, loses the right to be called the Church. The ecumenical nature of the church is thus of the very essence of the church that is faithful to the missio Dei. 7. Participation in the missio Dei is spiritual work The influence of Greek philosophy and Enlightenment rationality has divided the world into the so-called spiritual and physical realms. For a number of reasons that need not detain us now, the church has absorbed this dualism, and promoted the idea that the proper work of the church is spiritual work, like prayer and evangelism; whereas work in the fields of ecology, economics, and politics is physical work and therefore not its responsibility. This is perhaps the most debilitating mindset that faces the church when it seeks to be engaged in development. Yet it is clear that this perception restricts the missio Dei to a sphere determined by human philosophy, limits our understanding of God s work, and therefore undermines the full work of the church. Against this we assert that because God is at work within history through the Holy Spirit, all God s work is by definition spiritual work. Rather than being defined by human philosophical categories, the missio Dei is God s definition of what constitutes spiritual work. As we have seen, the missio Dei is about shalom, about life in all its fullness and therefore when the church participates in the missio Dei when it seeks life in the world, in areas that humans define as economics, ecology, culture, and politics, it is therefore engaged in spiritual work. When it turns away from the fullness of life, when it absconds from participating in the missio Dei, then the life and witness of the church is being shaped not by God, but by the flesh and it is no longer involved in spiritual work. 8. The mission of the church concerns the penultimate in the light of the ultimate There is, however, an important biblical distinction to do with time and the anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ and the coming Kingdom. While the reign of God is hidden within history we anticipate a time when this present age will end, and the kingdom will be on earth as it is in heaven. The Church has always lived in this time between the resurrection of Jesus and his second coming; and the relationship between the ultimate kingdom and the penultimate concerns of this life has presented the church with two powerful Page 4 of 6

5 RE CATEGORY RE TITLE RE NUMBER temptations. The first has been to focus all its energies upon the ultimate coming kingdom, so that it no longer participates in the missio Dei here on this earth. Yet the truth is that we cannot speak of eternal life if we do not at the same time speak of the real life that is the focus of God s shalom. The second temptation is to become so focused upon the penultimate concerns of this earth, that we believe that it is our task to establish the kingdom of God here on earth. We soon get sucked into the vagaries of human life, the arrogance of works righteousness, and find we can no longer offer anything distinctive. On the contrary it is clear that the mission of the church, if it is to be faithful to the missio Dei, is to hold the ultimate and the penultimate in creative tension. This means taking the penultimate matters of life justice, peace, the environment - extremely seriously because the Bible tells us that God takes them extremely seriously. But it also involves giving our participation in these matters a specific character one that is profoundly shaped by the faith and hope of the final manifestation of the reign of God. For the poor for whom Christ came, and who constitute the overwhelming membership of the church, this relationship is one that is lived daily. Our prayer life, our worship, our sacraments are thus a vital way in which we bear witness to the ultimate in the midst of the penultimate. 9. The mission of the church requires personal conviction, commitment and witness The church is the community of believers. At its heart is thus a profound dynamic between the collective and the individual, one we see best represented in baptism, the sacrament of belonging and participation. On the one hand we are baptised into the body of Christ, and we now belong to a community that has existed through centuries in many different places and continues to exist in many different cultures today. On the other hand each individual person is baptised and named before God, so that this is a radically personal act through which we participate in the community. Without the community there can be no personal faith for it is the community that passes on the scriptures and the sacraments, and keeps the faith alive so that we may be introduced to it. Yet, by virtue of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, each one of us regardless of status or origin - is personally set aside by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit to participate in the missio Dei. The mission of the church is clearly a collective task, but because of this dynamic of belonging and participating, that mission requires personal conviction, commitment and witness. Each Christian is required to personally grow in faith, turn their life to the life that is offered by God in Jesus Christ, and seek to bear witness to this life by being a disciple of Christ - in the midst of the world. At times, when individuals fall away from this discipleship, it is the task of the collective body of Christ to remind them of their calling in Jesus Christ. At other times, when the collective is itself falling away from the missio Dei, it is the task of individuals to bear witness in such a way that the church is called back to serve the shalom of God. Page 5 of 6

6 RE CATEGORY RE TITLE RE NUMBER 10. The mission of the church draws it inexorably into the task of development We have seen that the church is called to participate in the missio Dei, and that the goal of this is the manifestation of shalom. Shalom is the experience of right relationships with God, with creation and in society. It means peace with justice, and power shaped by truth. It concerns matters of politics, economics, ecology, culture, and religion. Because the church is doing this as its participation in the missio Dei, this work is God s work and therefore spiritual work. The mission of the church, thus draws it inexorably into the task of development, which we have defined as: social, cultural, religious, ecological, economic and political activities that consciously seek to enhance the self-identified livelihoods of the poor. This is not an optional extra for the church, but is at the very heart of what it means to be the People of God, seeking to be faithful to the missio Dei as manifest in Jesus Christ. Page 6 of 6

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