Mission at the Beginning of the Twenty-first Century
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Where does mission stand and what is mission at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium? First, we must be orientated towards incarnation instead of programs. To often, in contemporary mission, the focus has been on programs instead of people. Mission is about relationship for ultimately the missionary is the message. This means that mission involves living an incarnational lifestyle and presenting the gospel in both word, deed, and life in whatever context God calls us to witness.
Second, we do mission in the context of a global church. So mission is not about the West to the rest but rather mission from and to everywhere. Thus, we need to be receptive to the internationalisation of mission. We need to be open to engaging in mission alongside others from within the global church.
Third, we engage in mission in the light of a shift in the centre of the Christian world. Andrew Walls has delineated it as a “massive southward shift of the centre of gravity of the Christian world” The reality is that the Church in the West is in decline while the dynamism of global Christianity resides in the southern hemisphere. Africa is the new worldwide centre of Christianity today. I would suggest that later in this century that China will become the new centre of the global church and mission. This means that Western mission must be willing to take on a servant role and exhibit greater humility in the way we engage in mission.
Fourth, globalisation and Pax Americana are major issues in mission today. Political empires have always been the socio-historical frameworks for the development of Christian mission. There was Pax Romana in the first century, Pax Hispanica in the sixteenth century and Pax Britannica in the nineteenth century. However, there has always been an uneasy and tenuous relationship between Christian mission and colonialistic or imperialistic political powers of the World. The question we must ask is: Will the identification of Western Christian mission with Pax Americana be the downfall of Western mission in a globalised world? Many Majority-World nations and peoples are at odds with American foreign policy. America’s right to dominate the world is challenged not only by Islamic fundamentalists, but my many Majority-World nations tired of the economic imperialism that keeps them impoverished and marginalised.
Fifth, mission is carried out in a world of increased poverty, injustice, and inequality. The economic side of globalisation has accentuated the social disparities in the world. There is an increased gap between rich and poor not only in the Third-World but also in the Western world. Consequently, drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution and street children are either the results of poverty or lead to poverty. Nevertheless, these are the issues of mission in the urban centres of the world.
Sixth, Christendom is over in the West and we now live in a post-Christendom context. This means that Western nations have become one of the new mission fields. Lesslie Newbigin asked the question in the early nineties: “Can the West be converted?” What does this mean for church and mission in Australia? Certainly, it means that the old Christendom approaches to reaching Australia no longer work. It means the cross-cultural and missional approaches developed in the context of overseas mission need to be applied to the Australian context. It means that mission organisations will need to help the Australian church do mission here in Australia. If we don’t then the result could be the euthanasia of mission and church here in Australia.
Seventh, we do mission in a Pluralistic World. Postmodernism as escalated the movement towards pluralism. Many in our churches no longer recognised the unique claims of Jesus Christ. Mission is increasingly viewed as proselytism. Mission is often thought to be unnecessary.
How do we respond? We must respond with greater humility than we have formerly. Our truth claims are considered arrogant because often we have acted arrogantly. We must stop proof-texting in a simplistic way and defend the uniqueness of Jesus Christ on the basis of a high Christology.
We must assert that: In terms of faith the gospel is particularist, Jesus Christ is Lord. In terms of culture, the gospel is pluralist, people from all cultures may come to Christ. In terms of ecclesiology, the gospel is inclusivist, all are welcome to become part of the body of Christ.
The way forward for mission: We must return to a biblical pattern of mission informed by a global church instead of simply by the Western church. We must reaffirm our commitment God’s Mission in this world. We must reaffirm the missionary nature of the church. We must recognise that mission requires orthopraxy as well as orthodoxy. We must develop new structures for mission in a new and rapidly changing world. We must take seriously the internationisation of mission. We in the West must take seriously the call for a simply lifestyle. We must remember the gospel is still powerful, God is still sovereign, Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of the World, and the Holy Spirit is the One who empowers us to transform the World as a sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.