Mission and God
Mission begins and ends with God. It derives from the very nature of God. God’s life is a dynamic, creative and eternal movement of self–giving love. As Christians we believe that this boundless life and perfect love can be most clearly seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As the Anglican Communion document Generous Love puts it: “He [Jesus Christ] opens for us the way to the Father and we wish others to walk that way with us; he teaches us the truth which sets us free, and we wish to commend that truth to others; he shares with us his risen life, and we wish to communicate that life to others.”
Mission and the Church
It has been said that the church exists by mission as fire does by burning. Mission was commanded by Jesus himself and he assured his followers that the Holy Spirit would equip them for this task. According to the Fourth Gospel account of his first resurrection appearance to the disciples, Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you”. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. (John 20:21b–22.) Thus inspired, the Church expanded hugely during the first Christian millennium, as far as Norway and Ethiopia, Ireland and China. From our own country, Irish monastic missions to continental Europe were particularly effective in the 6th and 7th centuries. However it was not until the 16th century that intercontinental missionary activity took off, with Roman Catholic missions to Central and South America, Africa and Asia. Then, in the 18th century the newly confident Protestant churches began seriously to engage in mission, in the South Pacific, India and Africa, with a further intensification of activity in the early 20th century, when the vision was to Christianise the world in one generation. The missionaries frequently went out in the wake of the European traders and colonising powers, and that awkward relationship has only recently begun to be transcended, making the former mission territories truly independent. Indeed the majority of Christians now live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Pacific region.
Mission and Motivation
It is important to recognise the missionary emphasis in the New Testament, from Jesus’ sending out his disciples two by two to teach and heal (Luke 10) to his post– resurrection command recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew, known as the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20).
Jesus came and said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.
This Great Commission has been a powerful stimulus to Christians, and still today provides enormous inspiration. These words of Jesus fall into three parts: a statement, a command, and a promise.
The statement deals with the authority of Jesus – all authority has been given to him. It is a universal authority of truth and love, effected and revealed through his life, death and resurrection. It is through Jesus that God’s kingdom, the reign of justice and peace, has been inaugurated.
The word “Go” introduces the threefold command to Jesus’ followers: to make disciples, baptise them, and teach them. The word “Go” is crucial; it makes plain that the outward direction of mission has no limitations, it is to make disciples of all nations, all ethnic groups, tribes and peoples. It is all–inclusive. Baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, celebrates the start of a new relationship with God. Teaching then enables the new disciples to grow in their knowledge and love of God throughout their lives.
As to the promise, the Great Commission ends with some comfortable words about mission: Jesus is with his people until the end of time as together we work to realise God’s kingdom. Jesus will be with his messengers, as they are engaged in obeying his commission, each and every day. They will never be left to depend on their own limited abilities.
Mission can never be an optional extra for a Christian. It is a God–given task and part of being a disciple. In this regard we can learn from St Paul, who after his conversion embarked on three missionary journeys before travelling to Rome, where he was martyred. St Paul’s missionary zeal is grounded in the fact that he felt compelled to share his faith. This to him is what it means to be a follower of Christ (1 Cor 9:16). He goes to the end of the world because of his overwhelming experience of God’s love. He is driven by gratitude and wonder at his sense of Christ’s presence in his life. (Gal 2:20).
We are all called, as Paul was, to convert whole communities if we can; but each one of us is equally “sent” to demonstrate Christ’s love in our daily lives, and thereby to encourage others to share in the Christian life.
Mission and Method
The Church of Ireland is part of the Anglican Communion. In the 1980s and 1990s the Anglican Consultative Council suggested Five Marks of Mission. These marks are firmly rooted in Scripture and remind us as Anglicans what mission includes:
Above all, the mission of the Church is the mission of Christ (John 20:21); it takes place in specific locations and at specific times. What is a successful method in one place may not be helpful in another, so flexibility is needed in the way the Good News is shared. The approach used has to be sensitive to local conditions and show empathy. That is why each parish and diocese in the Church of Ireland is encouraged to take part in this shared task by developing its own mission strategy. Local Christians have local knowledge and can therefore work out what is best suited to their situation.
Mission can never be an isolated activity. It is a way of being that is integral to the Christian life. Mission, being sent, is our response to Christ’s commission and his love as we experience it. We go out to love and serve the Lord.
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