My previous bishop, Johncy Itty, once asked my colleague George Hemingway for a brief, one-side-of-one page, explanation of the Missio Dei. I think that George's response to him has some bearing on the Nature and Purpose of the Church.
Missio Dei: A Brief Note
The Rev. Canon George Hemingway, D.Min.
The Mission of God is at root a manifestation of the Trinitarian God at work: At the beginning of all creation, God the Father sent out (missio) his Spirit upon the face of the earth, for its formation, sustenance and renewal. God the Father sent (missio) his Spirit to enunciate the coming into the world of his Son in human flesh. God the Father sends (missio) the Son to draw all humankind once again to him. The Son sends the disciples into the world, saying “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The Father and the Son send (missio) the Holy Spirit to call the Church into being on Pentecost. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sends the Church into the world. God’s mission is a self-emptying (kenosis) into that which he creates out of his love.
Mission is not so much an activity of the Church, but an attribute of God. There is a Church because there is a mission . Our mission is the Son’s mission, enunciated at Jesus’ home synagogue: to restore health, wellness, wholeness, holiness to all humankind and to all of creation committed by God to our care, a shalom, a peace beyond all comprehension, that penetrates the whole universe.
The Church is, therefore, an agent of unity, justice, love, and peace. Its proclamation is God’s proclamation of Good News: it communicates hope, liberation, and empowerment to those who despair, are not free, and are powerless. Jesus’ life models the life of a disciple, so that we may be sent (missio), by God through the Church, to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” . In imitation of Christ, we are called into a life of self-emptying in service and love. We are called to actively seek the values of God’s reign, to bring them into being as we are able, to pray to God that our purposes and wills may be knit together with His, and to call and make more disciples who will enunciate Jesus’ message. Just as at Pentecost, disciples must speak the Good News in constantly evolving contexts and amidst constantly changing cultures.
It is not sufficient that the Church be an agent of compassion and charitable acts. The Church must also empower the powerless, and dwell with those whom we serve in charity and compassion so that they and we may become One Body in Christ. Thus, the conversion (turning) of the world to God through Christ simultaneously requires the continuous conversion of the Church, through prayer, fasting, meditation upon God’s Word, learning, listening to God, and the keeping of the community of faith. The continuing conversion of the Church requires it to embrace change, for God renews all things at all times and places and makes a new creation.
Mathew 28:16-20; known as The Great Commission.
David Bosch, 2004. Transforming Mission. Orbis, Maryknoll, NY. P. 390.
Book of Common Prayer, 1979. The Catechism.
Darrell Guder, 2000. The Continuing Conversion of the Church. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI.