Tuesday, February 08, 2011

emerging responses to For the Parish, chapter 3 – mission and church

“For the Parish”, by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, is an extended critique of fresh expressions. Always good to listen to the critics, so I am engaging the book, chapter by chapter. The Introduction is here, Chapter one is here, Chapter two is here.

Before we plunge into round (chapter) 3 of For the Parish vs Fresh Expressions it is worth gaining an overview. Chapter 3 is a crucial chapter, which in a nutshell, battles over the relationship between church, worship and mission. Did Christus propter ecclesiam venit (Christ come for the sake of the Church)? Or the world?

Before I explore this chapter, I wanted to gain an overview of current debates on the relationship between church and mission. I turned to the The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church. Nearly 700 pages, of which chapter 36 is on the theme of church and mission (Ecclesiology and World Mission/Missio Dei, by Paul Collins, 623-636.)

Collins offers some history. First a history in which mission has been understood, based on Matthew 28:19-20, as going. By implication, mission becomes a task performed elsewhere. Second, a history in which the context of Christendom, which meant that “conversion and salvation, church and mission became inextricably bound together.” (624).

Collins urges the “understanding of the world church today [be] rooted in the experiences of the colonial and post-colonial periods of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (623). He then links six themes – salvation, partnership, missio Dei, relationality, inculturation and pluralism – in dialogue with major church councils like Vatican 2 and World Council of Churches. His conclusion is that to be church is to be sent, to participate in God’s mission in the world. “Ideas of ‘mission’ in terms of conversion and recruitment to church membership need to be re-evaluated in the light of God’s cosmic mission: ‘that God may be all in all.” (633, drawing on 1 Cor 15:28)

This overview of global trends in thinking about church and mission, gives us some way to understand For the Parish. The book makes no reference to trends in world Christianity, nor to the conciliar councils. Instead the authors draw on European theologians like John Robinson, Sergei Bulgakov, Henri Lubac. They acknowledge the place of the Kingdom in the Gospels, but choose to place priority on the Pauline epistles to argue that “the goal of salvation … might even be said to be all church.” (48) They conclude that to suggest mission is a proper ultimate goal is “the ultimate heresy within the contemporary Church of England.” (54)

Heresy. A strong word indeed.

They critique Fresh Expressions for having

the fervour of devotees casting around for increasingly precious things to offer up to mission. The favoured sacrifices are the practices and traditions of the inherited church. To mission, every and any treasure must be sacrificed. (For the Parish, 54)

This chapter opens up a crucial, crucial debate. What is the relationship between church and mission? Does church exist for mission? Or for worship? It seems to me, given the overview provided in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church that For the Parish is urging is simply continuing a Christendom, European understanding of church and mission.

Whether Fresh Expressions is doing any better is an equally valid question, which will occupy us in Chapter Four. But first, back to the piles of paper on my desk.

Posted by steve at 10:44 AM

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