The missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae (Bosch 1991:370)
June 22, 2008
Probably the worst title for a post that I’ve ever chosen. It’s from David Bosch’s magnus opumTransforming Mission. This is the largest synchroblog I’ve ever taken part in. The topic: missional. There is some fine names on the list of people who will contribute today, you can find them at the bottom. I believe you will find some good definitions on the term, so I’ll leave that to others. The question I would rather like to ask is: “Why the missional church?”.
The missio Deihas become an ever more popular topic over the past years. Also in emerging circles, which interest me very much, it’s very popular. Sometimes I find that Bosch seem to be credited for this concept. I’m not exactly sure why. Alan Hirsch called it Bosch’s greatest gift to us, and Nelus Nimandt in a recent article said that emerging churches has learned greatly from Bosch’s thoughts on the missio Dei. I might not be the Bosch expert, so maybe I’m missing something, but as far as I can see Bosch is simply giving an overview of how the concept has developed since 1932 onwards. At a few points one do however find some comments…
First, let me give an overview of the missio Dei.The classical view of the missio Dei says that God is a sending God. God the Father sends the Son, and God the Father and the Son sends the Holy Spirit. This become important for mission when to this is added another “movement”: Father, Son and Holy Spirit sends the church into the world. The church then change form being on a mission, to being an instrument in God’s mission. And from this our title: The missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae. The sending God is the motivation for the missionary activities of the church. To use the words of the synchroblog: The missional church is not the church that send other on a mission, but it is the church that was sent by God.
We could have stopped the post here, but some questions remain, and Bosch doesn’t stop his exposition here. The missio Deithen developed to embrace both church and world. The world become the focus of God’s mission and the church is privileged to participate. A radicalized version of this started suggesting that the missio Dei actually excluded the church.
Well, Bosch so make some comments. And these help us to understand his own views. Apparently Bosch also thought that maybe the missio Deihas lost it’s usefulness because it has become so wide that it can be used by people who subscribe to mutually exclusive theological positions. But still he found the value of this in that it helps us to remember that neither church nor human is the author of mission. In his own words: “God is a fountain of sending love. This is the deepest source of mission.”
In our denomination I have heard people talking about participation in God’s mission a lot lately. This is a phrase which Bosch used in his writing about the missio Dei. However, it has found a strange pragmatized meaning which I’m a bit uncomfortable with, and also which I don’t find in Bosch (I’m open for correction on this one, but I’m pretty sure). When talking about participating with God where God is working in the world, people are then told that we should go and search where God is already at work in our community, and participate. There might be some good intentions, and also theological truth in recognizing that God is working wider than the church, but it leave us with some questions:
- Is God then not working at some places?
- How would we know when we have found God where God is working?
- Isn’t it possible that God might be working exactly when we start doing something?
This pragmatic understanding of the mission Dei seem to remind me of what Bosch wrote about a radicalized understanding, where the missio Dei exclude the church’s involvement, where we should be very glad if ever we are allowed to participate.
OK, I haven’t done so much metaphysical speculation in a very long time, Trinity, the character of God… not at all my style. So let me make some final remarks… but first, a last quote from Bosch:
“During the past half century of so there has been a subtle but nevertheless decisive shift towards understanding mission as God‘s mission. During preceding centuries mission was understood in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was interpreted primarily in soteriological terms: as saving individuals from eternal damnation. Or it was understood in cultural terms: as introducing people from the East and South to the blessings and privileges of the Christian West. Often it was perceived in ecclesiastical categories: as the expansion of the church (or of a specific denomination). Sometimes is was defined salvation historically: as the process by which the world – evolutionary or by means of a cataclysmic event – would be transformed into the kingdom of God”
The missio Dei remind us of why we talk about missional.
And now Bosch is quite and Cobus is talking. Although answering the why question obviously influence the whatpart, the missio Dei do not provide the blueprint of what I should do tomorrow. I get highly uncomfortable when some claim to be part of God’s mission in contrast to others. I get highly uncomfortable when what we say imply that we might forget about some people who suffer, because we haven’t found God working there yet.
Themissio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae. This is why we are missional. Here we are, we cannot with a clear conscience do anything else…
I’ll be walking with lions, literally, the next few days. So feel free to comment, but I’m not sure whether I’ll be having signal, so might only join in again after Thursday. If you’ve read through all this… thank you!
Other synchrobloggers on the missional topic today:
Arnau van Wyngaard
Cobus Van Wyngaard