Rev Dr Chris Walker, National Consultant Theology and Discipleship
There are obviously links between theological, cross-cultural and missional reflection. Mission focuses on God’s intention for the reconciliation of all things. All that has been done today has been missional: from singing together as a component of mission to eating Tamil food as an expression of hospitality and sharing.
Clive Pearson reminded us this was a Christ and cultures (plural) gathering exploring the theme of the missional church. Dean Drayton pointed out the significant change in understanding that came from the move from talking about “missions” as activities of the church to “mission” which originates with God. He mentioned the danger of moulding our understanding of scripture to our culture and finished with reference to the NRSV mistranslation of Matthew 10:5 with Jesus sending “out” the disciples. Yet we do have the task of communicating the biblical message to culture(s). Dean also reminded us of the way the democratic era has emphasised the individual and this has greatly influenced the way Christianity has been reinterpreted.
All this highlights the need to allow scripture to inform us according to its own terms and to be alert to how our culture might distort our understanding. Dean pointed to the fact that there are larger factors involved in the decline of mainline churches in the West. We should note that in the global non-western world the change from Christendom to post-Christendom does not apply. The big issue Dean said is the message, what is the gospel? It is not simply that my sins are forgiven but that Christ brings a new creation. Tom Wright in What Paul Really Said points out that the Reformers’ emphasis on justification by faith was not the gospel for Paul which had to do with Christ and the salvation he brought which is for Jews and Gentiles received by faith. Jesus’ central message was the kingdom or reign of God, God’s coming rule of love, justice and peace which we can enter.
Clive raised some questions in his remarks about the worksheets. Emphasising one model of church might mean not recognising other models of church. Similarly focusing on the missional church may mean not acknowledging the prophetic and public church sufficiently.
Amelia Koh-Butler reminded us of the history of the missional church emphasis going back to David Bosch and Jürgen Moltmann. It is helpful to reread what they said rather than just consider more recent and more popular authors. She pointed out that the Uniting Church does discipleship reformation rather than making disciples or evangelism. We can learn from ethnic congregations about evangelism for they do it better than most Anglo congregations.
Amelia also reminded us of the grass-roots reality of churches in Newcastle. It is important to recognise that mission happens in real life situations and not in books. Church structures have a “best before” date so we need to be open to change them. Fresh expressions of church can fold or lose connection with the wider church. So there is the need to do the theological and relational work to avoid this.
John Jegasothy said we are called and sent by God. Chaplains can be missional and not just pastoral, such as his role in advocating for and assisting refugees. Chaplains and agencies need to be connected to the whole church taking their part in the mission of God. All followers of Jesus are called to be disciples participating in God’s mission using their gifts and talents and not simply be clients or consumers.
We have not said much about prayer but prayer is part of mission as we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Older people in particular can be linked to God’s mission by being prayers. All of us can play our part as members of Christ’s multicultural body working and praying for God’s kingdom.