The minutes of the 2007 meeting of the General Synod use the term “missional” as a self-evident description of what the church is about. It is as though the official ecclesiological understanding of the church is “missional.” This must be challenged. Not because advocates of a “missional” understanding of the church do not have an honorable point of view, but because it is a point of view and one that is still contested. It certainly isn’t the official position of the RCA.
As is probably understood by most readers of this blog, the idea of the church as “missional” took hold most recently with the work and writing of missiologists gathered in the “Gospel and Culture” network, working largely in the spirit of Lesslie Newbigin. This group has written a great deal and offered a number of reflections in many fora. The earliest book, Missional Church, “defines the church as God’s sent people.” It continues, “We are persuaded that nay responsible missional ecclesiology must be centered on the hope, the message, and the demonstration of the inbreaking reign of God in Jesus Christ.”
That’s not wrong. It’s just half-right. Compare that with the Book of Church Order: “The Nature of the Church on Earth. The church, which Scripture represents with many images, is a gathering of persons chosen in Christ through the Holy Spirit to profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to embody God’s intentions for the world. Gathered by the Spirit around Word and sacrament, the church fulfills its call within the expectation of the reign of God as it participates in mission, in calling all persons to life in Christ, and in proclaiming God’s promise and commands to all the world.” Here we have “God’s intentions for the world,” and the church fulfilling its call within the expectation of the reign of God.” All missional. But not only mission.
If the church is only mission, then the “gathering” is functional to what the church is to be about beyond itself. But that’s not all the church is about. It is also about the gathering. (Jesus not only said “go” in Matthew 28; he said “come” in Matthew 11). It is about being drawn into the delight of God’s people at the table (what are we missioning for?). It is to be God’s people sent, but not only sent.
The notion of the church as mission was a helpful correction when the church became (and becomes) introverted. The church is in service to the kingdom of God. The irony of what’s going on in the RCA right now appears to be that the notion of missional is being used to strengthen the institution to go outside itself to gain more persons to be part of the institution.
It can, of course, be argued that such is the task of the church — to win souls. In which case the church is only functional. But then we need to be very clear on the nature of this “kingdom” we’re talking about. And at least historically, for the Reformed this included the souls of persons, but always in the larger context of not only the community of faith, but the world itself. For God’s sovereignty and Jesus’ lordship included all the world.
Can we begin the discussion?