Missiology Consultation, London
Report from a missiology consultation, London, April 14 - 19, 2002
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" John 10:10
The fullness of life is the goal of the missio Dei. This vision of abundant life now shapes our calling to engagement with the world. The mission of the church is to receive, celebrate, proclaim and work for the fullness of life in Christ. In Christ, we are called to be reconciling communities, bringing a message of healing and wholeness to a broken world; sharing in the life of the world as the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples; receiving the gifts of all peoples, cultures and religious traditions; and resisting the powers of death that steal and kill, scatter and destroy.
In our engagement in mission, we are not our own. We stand before God and before one another in the Church ecumenical. In South and North, East and West, we are immersed in particular contexts, responding to God's calling in mission and struggling to embody a message of hope in and for our communities. In seeking God's justice, truth and love, we need one another in order to learn from one another, challenge one another and support one another. We are contextual, but we are also intercontextual, rooted in our own situations, but also related to situations elsewhere. We engage in mission not because we have all the answers and all the required skills and resources, but because we belong to the Body of Christ.
We came together for five days in London to better discern the meaning of our calling today. Fifty-four people from churches in every region of the globe, gathered to struggle with some of the concrete missiological issues we are facing in our world of globalisation and plurality. It was our hope that together we would be able to suggest new directions and renewed commitment for the missio Dei.
The initiative for holding a consultation on some of the key missiological issues facing churches today came from three international communities of churches in mission who met in Wuppertal, Germany in 2000. In that initial consultation, the Cevaa - Community of Churches in Mission, the Council for World Mission (CWM) and the United Evangelical Mission (UEM) met to discuss how they might co-operate more closely together, in order to learn from and challenge one another, and at the same time offer fresh missiological insights to the ecumenical movement.
Following that consultation the three organizations consulted with the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) and asked it to organize a planning group for a missiological consultation. This group met in Cartigny, Switzerland last year to identify key issues for mission and suggest ideas for the consultation. CWM was asked to host the consultation in London, and a smaller planning committee co-ordinated by CWME was formed.
Invitations to the consultation were extended from CWME, Cevaa, CWM and UEM. Representatives of member churches and staff were included, and additional participants were invited as resource persons and as ecumenical guests. This was the first time that CWME has co-operated with the three communities of churches in mission to host such a joint consultation.
The purpose of the consultation was to elaborate new missiological concerns and suggest clear guidelines for the practice of a people-centred mission for churches and mission organizations today.
Specifically, consultation participants were asked to organize their insights and ideas in three areas:
- the paradigm shifts and current trends in mission thinking and involvement with regard to the consultation theme and subthemes;
- policy recommendations for Cevaa, CWM and UEM;
- recommendations and suggestions to CWME for the study process leading up to the world mission conference in 2005 on the following thematic area: "Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities."
The theme of the conference was introduced, appropriately enough, in the context of our opening worship. In his keynote address, D. Preman Niles, outgoing general secretary of the Council for World Mission, spoke of the basic missiological challenge implicit in the theme and introduced a new paradigm for understanding world mission today. The fullness of life, according to Niles, means that mission may be understood as "a contestation with the powers of death that deny life and prevent the sheep (John 10) from finding pasture or abundant life." John speaks of a "great missionary God" not a "great missionary commandment." This view of God's mission "requires us to read the signs of the time and work for those things that open up possibilities for abundant life."
The paradigm that helps us open up these possibilities is "the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples." It is a spatial paradigm, one that helps us discern the movement of the Spirit and "the previousness of Jesus" in our social and cultural locations. In this view, the church is called to practice a "receptive plurality" in mission in which Christians understand their faith and identity in relationship to other cultural and religious traditions. This means that Christian mission has to deal with the problem of religion itself.
The continued retelling of the gospel story as it moves forward among the nations is expected to gather in and affirm what is good and eliminate what is bad. It is to practice mission as contestation toward the fullness of life for all Receptive plurality requires the communication toward mutual understanding and acceptance that takes place between religions, cultures and therefore contexts that tend to define themselves over against rather than in relationship with others.
The three subthemes of the consultation provide different ways of approaching the fullness of life contextually and intercontextually. The conference organisers did not intend the subthemes to provide a comprehensive listing of the challenges facing churches today, but to address three critical areas of missiological engagement that can be reasonably dealt with in a short consultation. The three subthemes - identity and plurality; healing, health and faith communities; and new models of mission relationships and partnership - require an appropriate missionary response to the denial of the fullness of life in a particular area, and they are related to one another in particular contexts and intercontextually.
Ours was a working consultation in which insights emerged from dialogical engagement in a number of settings. All participants addressed the three subthemes consecutively in plenaries and in four small groups. Morning Bible studies helped us to explore questions of identity and plurality, healing and health, and new models of mission relationships biblically and theologically. We are grateful to the work of Monica Melanchthon, Musa Dube, Tinyiko Sam Maluleke (who could not be with us but who contributed one of the Bible studies) and Heleen Murre van den Berg who led us in Bible study. Our times of prayer and worship attempted to embody the theme for each day in creative liturgies. Our worship, led by Francis Brienen and Trish Watts, informed what we were doing in small groups and plenary. Evenings, breaks and mealtimes afforded opportunities to explore our subject informally, through the sharing of experiences and simply the enjoyment of one another's company. These informal times are always essential in ecumenical conferences, both for mutual learning and for the renewal and recreation of the koinonia. It is important to emphasise this, because such experiences can never be captured in a report such as this. Both formal conference sessions and informal times together became aperitifs for our own experience of the fullness of life.
The sections which follow distil conclusions and insights from both group and plenary discussions, and suggest questions or areas in need of further elaboration and action.
The first main subtheme Identity and Plurality' dealt with people's struggles for affirming different and often conflicting identities, and the relationship of these struggles to multicultural mission and ministries.
Christopher Duraisingh opened the discussion by arguing for a vision of mission as reconciliation. This may be seen as a complement to Niles' understanding of mission as contestation. Durasingh described two main forces in the world: the centrifugal force that constructs identity over and against the Other,' the idea that unless we hate that which we are not we cannot love what we are'; and the centripetal force of assimilating any element of life into oneself and calling it one's own. Both forces represent a universal metanarrative which claims primacy over all other stories and experiences. They are undergirded conceptually by the denial of historical particularity, binary thinking, the creation of impenetrable boundaries and the silencing and exclusion of those who are different.
In contrast, we need a vision in which the Other, silenced by both global and local centripetal and centrifugal forces, is taken seriously as Other. Such a vision needs to have multiple foci, in order to decenter any single narrative so that multiple narratives may be held in creative tension and a variety of voices may be heard. There needs to be flux and movement within and between peoples' stories, but this is only possible when borders between religions, cultures and peoples are porous, so as to allow for what some have termed passing over and coming back' for mutual flourishing. Duraisingh believes that mission as reconciliation holds out such a vision, for it brings into being a means of reconciling all human beings, binding us together as it liberates. Together, we can become a multi-voiced communion, rather than a single voice which silences, negates and excludes.
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen provided a short response on identity and plurality from a Pentecostal-Charismatic point of view. While he noted that many in the Pentecostal churches have yet to develop a theology of religions where the Spirit is released to work in the world or among all people of faith, there are individual voices particularly from outside the West which have suggested a more open attitude. He cited the examples of Amos Yong and Samuel Solivan who advance an approach to other religious traditions where scripture informs experiences of the Spirit in order to "examine the diverse ways the Holy Spirit is at work among other people of faith."
The theme of identity and plurality was discussed in small groups focusing on questions in the three different areas discussed below:
3.1 The People of God in the midst of all God's Peoples
Two groups, one working in English and the other in French addressed this theme. Both groups were asked to explore the meaning of Christianity in relation to the world of religions and discuss new ways to relate our identities to the identities of neighbours of other faith traditions. They were encouraged to explore possibilities of moving from a position of religious co-existence to religious "pro-existence", i.e. to mutual witness through dialogue and cooperation.
The French speaking group identified what they saw as two key paradigm shifts in the way we understand theology and mission today. First was the growing awareness of the need to recognise Christianity as a religion among other religions as a sociological and phenomenological reality. For Christians, the person of Christ gives identity to the church, even though the understanding of Christ is not the same for all peoples. Christianity appropriately finds itself at the heart of the world and not in a privileged situation, above the world. This is because of a second emerging paradigm shift within Christianity: a movement away from doctrinal pronouncements to an emphasis on the love of God in our encounter with other religious traditions. The confession of faith continues to be essential, but truth in Christ is grasped as love, and the core of Christian identity is love. This suggests a relational way of being the church. Mission is the incarnation of this love in the world, offering Christianity a community identity that is open to others.
The English-speaking group also affirmed that there have been paradigm shifts but it was more reticent to articulate them. There has been a new openness to other religious traditions in some of our churches, but many other churches have not yet experienced a paradigm shift in this area. When we speak of the unity we share in Christ, the term catholicity is preferable to universality, because it allows for the differences we have with one another.
From both groups and the plenary discussion, the following recommendations were made to Cevaa, CWM and UEM. These three organisations should:
- encourage the formulation of initiatives that provide for pastoral training shaped by the new paradigm stated above;
- support encounters between local, grassroots communities and not just the officials of these communities;
- give guidance on how the different communities can celebrate and worship together. One group termed this the "diversification of adoration";
- promote multidirectional exchanges between communities particularly within the South;
- investigate the role of religion in violence and peace making, not just in programmatic ways, but also through case studies in particular areas;
- elaborate the concept of "pro-existence" as a means to capture both living for and with each other and witnessing to each other. Pro-existence is an expression which conciously tries to include more evangelistic ways of looking at mission. This is needed for addressing our own intra-Christian differences and relationships with Pentecostals and Evangelicals.
From both groups and plenary discussions, the following recommendations were made to CWME:
- Further study is needed of paradigm shifts of how Christians understand themselves in relation to other communities. We need to better understand how recent developments in the theology of religions can be related to the theology of mission;
- Further involvement of Pentecostals and Charismatics both within and outside the so-called traditional churches is required. Learning from and with Pentecostals is important for enriching our Christian self-understanding. We note, sadly, that many Christians are more interested in learning from other faiths than they are from Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters;
- Further effort is needed to help re-envision mission in a manner that takes relationality and community seriously, particularly since Christian mission has often contributed to community fragmentation and violence.
- Each culture and religion should be encouraged to critically re-examine its own myths and identities based on those myths in order to reconstruct their self understandings and open themselves up to others. The "fullness of life" is a missiological focus which makes it possible for Christians to do this.
3.2 Ministry and mission in multicultural situations
The group which focused on this subtheme was asked to look at mission and ministry carried out in multicultural contexts, in part due to the increased mobility and transient populations. They were asked to look at the migrant populations who face cultural, generational, language and denominational challenges and who pose pastoral and theological questions for the contexts in which they find themselves.
Two paradigm shifts or trends have taken place in this regard. First, there has been a movement in mission, particularly in Pentecostal churches, from "South" to "North" so that mission is no longer understood as going from "the West" to "the rest". Second, Christianity is now seen as a world religion embedded in particular contexts and related intercontextually.
More than twenty specific recommendations were made to Cevaa, CWM and UEM, and these may be summarised in five areas. The three organisations should:
- Be more prophetic in confronting the injustices of European governmental policies on immigration and speak out on the double standards of "open borders" in a global world economy. The borders in the North often remain closed, as seen in the restrictive procedures for visa applications;
- Help member churches to analyse and change their own structures that exclude and suppress (e.g. through absorption) migrant Christian communities. Only in this way can the structure of our churches be consistent with our prophetic witness.
- Create more space for capacity building in immigrant churches. This grows from the realization that the church's growing edge even in the North is often at the margins, with migrant communities;
- Engage in deeper dialogue with Pentecostal and Charismatic churches;
- Foster closer relationships between existing indigenous churches and immigrant churches in all contexts, Common witness does not deny the plurality of expression.
CWME was asked to:
- Encourage further study of the ways in which the gospel can be communicated and shared without the imposition of one particular culture/tradition/power;
- Seek ways to work in ministry more fully with the excluded people from different parts of the world, realising that systems of exclusion are everywhere and parts of the common ministry is a deeper exploration of how the systems of exclusion operate;
- Create forums where church-state and/or religion-state relationships can be revisited the world over, especially where such alliances engender violence and war.
3.3 Mission of the church in the context of conflicting identities
This group was asked to look at ethnic, religious and other identities as they are related to issues of social, economic, political and ecological justice and are potential sources for violent conflicts, and to imagine how and under what circumstances religion in general and Christian churches in particular can foster harmony, unity and reconciliation.
The group noted that the language of identity is itself a paradigm shift from the use of economic and social scientific language to describe reality. The movement from contextual to inter-contextual as a means to understand identity is also a change in our way of thinking. There is a new realisation of the connection between the personal and the social with a stress on the relational aspect of personhood. The naming, cultivating and creating of identity can become and often is the very focus of violence. In this regard, case studies should be more widely used in communities which have both succeeded and failed to negotiate situations of violence and as a means to discern how to navigate the interlocking issues of identity and violence.
In light of our developing understanding of the fullness of life, we need to reflect missiologically on faith healing practices and on the challenges which the HIV/AIDS pandemic pose to the church. This was our second subtheme.
Two papers were given to introduce our discussion. Allan Anderson presented a Pentecostal perspective on faith and healing. He argued that healing, and especially physical healing, is central to the Pentecostal understanding of mission. Healing, far from being an expression of escapism, "proclaims and celebrates a salvation that encompasses all of life's experiences and affliction," empowering and motivating the church for mission. In the second paper, Musa Dube dealt with the theological issue of HIV/AIDS. In the face of the suffering brought on by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Dube urged us to focus on a people-centred mission in light of the mission of Jesus Christ. "Total healingeconomically, physically, socially, psychologically and genderlyneeds to become the mission of the church to the world" in the search for the fullness of life.
Both papers reminded us that the ministry of Jesus is to bring the fullness of life to all. Jesus came to save, to heal all of creation. Jesus' healing ministry includes spiritual and physical healing, the healing of people, communities, cultures, creation, and even the healing of religions. God is always responding to the groaning of creation and yearning for wholeness, both for individuals and communities.
The reports of group and plenary discussions can be summarised as follows.
4.1 Faith and healing
Every expression of healing comes from God. Our mission is to care for and accompany those who are sick and those who suffer, as God does not neglect us in our suffering or illness. Our mission is to be healing communities. But our discussion revealed different approaches to faith and healing within our churches.
The experience and positive acknowledgement (by quite a number of churches) of God's involvement in physical healing reveals a crisis in Western rationalist thinking. Non-Western societies however have never lost that dimension, and Pentecostal faith healing practices remind us of this. We are challenged to explore and contend with the positive and authentic aspects of "divine healing" as experienced in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.
There is much to learn on all sides about experiences of exorcism, demon possession and deliverance. How do we understand and analyse these phenomena theologically? To what extent can these experiences help to inform our theology and religious practice, and to what extent should they be resisted? The focus throughout should be on asking whether particular healing practices are liberating rather than on criticising methodologies. All of these questions deserve fuller attention and elaboration.
Healing in a narrow physical and individualistic sense remains problematic to many Christians. Deep convictions about "faith healing" also appear troublesome when they create hostile attitudes towards others. Wholeness means the restoration of relationships, but not necessarily a curing of all illness. So we distance ourselves from certain manipulative practises of religious healing, as well as from a simplistic theology of healing. There is no compulsory correlation between faith and healing; sickness and sin; or prayer and healing. We must also recognize that the achievements of medical science are a blessing, and healing through medical science is also a witness to God's healing. Faith healing is a gift of the Spirit, and can help to restore a person to life in community and wholeness. But if faith healing practices results in hostile attitudes toward other religions, it becomes problematic.
Physical weakness and illness can be an entry point to holistic healing, but it may also enable us to discover new dimensions of God's grace and the sacredness of life in a caring community. The overarching perspective is Jesus' announcement of God's reign, embracing a four-fold healing process in relationship to God, to one another, to one's self, and to the whole of creation. The healing ministry of the church deals with the quality of life and is central to the churches' commitment to the fullness of life.
We need to discern where the "mending of the creation" is taking place in a plural dimension, particularly in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, in traditional healing practices and in other faith communities.
As a church we are challenged to strive for a healthy social and ecological environment and for a healthy community. Prophetic witness is required, addressing the root causes of illness, of broken communities and of the inaccessibility of health care, in view of the "commodification of life" in the process of globalisation. In that respect, dialogue and mutual challenge may be necessary between adherents of Pentecostal theology of prosperity and people committed to the ecumenical imperative toward the fullness of life
All our statements and observations on "healing", "wholeness" and "faith" remain ambiguous in the brokenness of our world. The theological foundation and the practical criterion for holding the prophetic and the pastoral, the individual and the community, the physical and the spiritual together, is God's love and compassion for the world, incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ, and symbolised in the cross and the resurrection. God's love is central for understanding the human experience of suffering, the importance of healing in mission and the church's commitment to prophetic witness. This is part of our Christian identity, and also a grace through which we open ourselves up to others.
The church as a healing community should be a safe place, a place to tell stories of need and healing, problems and pains without being judged; a place to request prayers for healing as well as strength to endure; a place to debate and claim a theology of healing; a place to seek help where neither money nor the embrace of particular rituals is demanded as a prerequisite.
Recommendations to Cevaa, CWM, UEM and CWME are as follows:
- The healing ministry of the church, focusing on the restoration of relationships and reconciliation, must rely on a holistic missiology which focuses on God's love and compassion, recognises the movement of the Spirit in various expressions of the churches' mission, including those of Pentecostal/Charismatic character, but also in traditional methods, a missiology that bears in mind the ecological dimension of healing in society and creation;
- Such a healing ministry includes a prophetic witness. Therefore churches are encouraged to investigate the structural causes of illness, of suffering and of broken communities, and to advocate for access to health care by the poor and marginalised;
- But the spiritual gift of healing and personal, physical healing are equally important missiologically today, not only in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Member churches and bodies of Cevaa, CWM, UEM and CWME should be encouraged to further study faith and healing in dialogue with Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters;
- It is the churches' task to work towards healthy and healing communities by exploring what is happening in this area and what is currently understood, as well as equipping local churches for service and action, including: reading the Bible from the reader's cultural and social location; liturgical renewal and healing services; responsible forms of visitation of the sick; development of resources for caregivers, etc., basing their apèproach on compassion and liberation;
- Indigenous healing practices, "divine healing" in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches and parallel practices in historical communions (e.g. Anglican and Roman Catholic churches) should be studied with appreciation and discussed. Further, stories from local churches in healing and living with long-term illnesses should be gathered and shared;
- The CWME is asked to invite churches to contribute towards the development of a sound theology of healing, referring to God's love and compassion as a theological basis for holistic healing. CWME is also asked to assist in widening the discussion to involve other Evangelicals, the Roman Catholics and churches from the Orthodox traditions.
- Healing as mission should be part of the churches' missiological, pastoral and theological formation. This should include engaging Pentecostal churches on their experience of healing as mission;
- Further theological reflection is needed on this subject, particularly in relation to theology of the cross and theology of victory; the nature and location of evil and sin; concepts of Almighty God and the sovereignty of God; understandings of death; and the relationship between healing and salvation and the kingdom of God both in the now and in the future.
4.2 HIV/AIDS: A theological challenge to the churches
Our churches which are called by God to be missionary communities must respond to the suffering caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The churches have a special role to play in the midst of suffering of HIV/AIDS. Based on the biblical witness, they have the power to contribute to changing the prevalent attitudes of separation, exclusion, shame, and stigma to attitudes of inclusion, support, humanisation, and solidarity.
HIV/ AIDS does not call for a medical response alone, but for a holistic and intercontextual approach so that our theology addresses the pandemic. Recognising that the entire church is affected, if not infected, by the pandemic suggests another shift, a shift that has barely begun: we need to treat HIV/AIDS as a worldwide disease that brings grief, pain and death not exclusively to Africa or the "South." Healing needs to come to us all. If we take Paul's letters to the Corinthians seriously, we could affirm that since many Christians have HIV/AIDS, all are affected. In that sense, the church itself has HIV/AIDS.
Healing will come more fully through the church if the church itself takes up the challenge of developing programs, including theological programmes, that address the pandemic. Churches are encouraged to do this, and they can be more effective if they actively seek the involvement and contributions from people who are either openly infected by HIV/AIDS or profoundly and deeply affected by it.
HIV/AIDS is not simply a sexually transmitted disease. It is possible to be sexually abstinent and still be infected and affected by AIDS. However, because of the particular link between HIV/AIDS and sexuality, the taboos and silences around sexuality have to be re-examined as a means to combat the disease.
We should not lose sight of the relationship between AIDS and the socio-economic effects of globalisation. The church has a mission to those who make decisions in political and economic matters, so as to recall their responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. This should avoid a stigmatisation of the rich.
Recommendations to CWM, Cevaa, UEM and CWME as appropriate:
- Churches and mission organisations need to work against astigmatisation by: developing ways to increase communication about sexuality in the churches; welcoming and caring for all affected and infected in our communities; reflecting on our own traditions and (church) cultures to identify the places where we may contest how we contribute to the stigma;
- Churches and mission agencies should look for biblical answers to all questions connected to AIDS by: developing contextual liturgies (including prayers, songs, performances..) that highlight the experiences of suffering, despair, overwhelming burden, death and healing; reading the Bible from the viewpoint of people being affected by AIDS; taking up the question of sexuality, suffering, guilt healing; taking up the AIDS issue in faculties in theological training and offering short pastoral training modules for both church officials and pastors/ministers of local congregations;
- Churches and mission organisations should work for justice in the care for and access to medical treatment for the infected and sick by: networking on national level and by doing advocacy work towards our own governments; cooperating with the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance; sharing information about the various AIDS related activities by organising exchanges and exposure programmes in all directions; visitation programmes that take up the issue of AIDS and healing; developing materials for dissemination at the grassroots level; developing creative materials that may be more easily received such as cartoons, street dramas, kits, songs, radio programs and poetry, hosting competitions among youth groups.
- In short, churches and mission organisations should develop a theology of the fullness of life that puts fullness, salvation and reconciliation into relation with our mission as healing communities.
The purpose of discussions and deliberations on the third subtheme was to identify and analyse forces destructive to partnership and alternative communities; assess the validity of continuing use of the term "partnership" in mission; evaluate current mission structures, particularly with regard to how effective they are in empowering churches in regional mission bodies within global networks of solidarity; and clarify the ecclesiological and missiological implications of current ecumenical concepts and directions.
"New Models of Mission Relationships and Partnership" does not fairly reflect the deeper, more vibrant desire of churches to explore how interconnected global networks might be constructed for joint participation in God's mission, locally and regionally. Herein is implied a movement toward the fullness of life, following the example of Jesus himself.
Kai Funkschmidt introduced the subject with a familiar reminder about the limits of partnership, which can mask inequalities. He suggests that one area where more work needs to be done is the relationship between the vision of the fullness of life and the world of the market economy which address questions of human need in different and distinctive ways. He shared an example of this from St. Ethelburga's in the City of London, and its work in cross-cultural conflict resolution and interfaith relations. Mission is not detrimental to intercultural communication, but a precondition for engaging the Other. Attentive to the problems of globalisation, Funkschmidt pushed for an alternative model of mission, drawing on the experience of Cevaa, CWM and UEM, but stressing the importance of "intercultural communion" and koinonia. In the Eucharist, inequalities are symbolically overcome. Partaking in the body and blood of Jesus Christ transforms us, individually and collectively, even as we pursue ongoing transformation of the destructive and life-denying forces in a global world.
Funkschmidt's presentation was followed by a panel of respondents, including Hong Jung Lee, Verna Cassells, and Klaus Schaefer. Lee emphasised issues of power and inequality, lifting up the concept of kenosis or self-emptying. Power is neither shared nor transformed, it is yielded and thus space arises for empowerment and mutual restoration to right relationship. He suggested that new mission relationships require a multi-lateral dimension to avoid perpetuating colonial patterns of exclusion.
Schaefer touched again on the idea of koinonia and the practice of intercultural communion. Yet this ecumenically loaded term has its limits. How broad are our new mission relationships, truly? Do they reach Orthodox and Pentecostal churches? His admonition, was that we not overload our mission relations with high sounding words but, rather through and with Christ, to pursue such relations regardless of their name or description. He stressed that we need new experiments in mission, not new structures. Encounters among people matter most, even when they are fraught with rivalry and competition, as we see in the New Testament.
Verna Cassells suggested one such experiment, describing the structure and programs of CANACOM (Caribbean and North American Council for Mission). It is based on a roundtable model like Cevaa, CWM and UEM where resources are shared from a common pool and decisions are made with equal voice from each member church. As a regional mission network, she highlighted how CANACOM effectively localises the spirit of the missio Dei, "earthing the vision" of one model of mission relationships for the 21st century.
All groups focused on the common subtheme. While classical concepts and other partnership models of mission continue to be used, organisations such as Cevaa, CWM and UEM have some different experiences to share. For instance, there has been a shift from an understanding of the North as a "donor agency" and the South as a "receiver" to more meaningful multilateral relationships, North-South, South-South and East-West.
Given the missio Dei and the church's identity, empowered by the Holy Spirit, in the love of God in Jesus Christ, new networks in mission have an alternative quality about them. They both contest the profit-centred patterns of networking intrinsic to the global marketplace and continue the mutual critique of and discerning appreciation for our past narratives and histories.
Beyond the necessary and oft repeated insights into the operative model of mission relationships, a new way of thinking about networks was elaborated. Drawings and a dramatic presentation brought to mind the vision of "net" or "web of life" where no node is the centre but any node could become a centre, depending on forces that stretch the net. Ecumenical organisations and member churches are thus seen as nodes amidst the net, as alterNETive communities. Bilateral partnerships can serve as entry points and links to the entire net, and to nets beyond the immediate net. Indeed, there is the need to speak of multiple networks in a "web of life" both regionally and globally.
If people make up the fabric of these nets, people at the grassroots of a local church, then we observe a shifting logic within our mission organisations, a logic that contests power and promotes sharing. This in turn inspires a shift in function. The mission organisations may then serve as centres of service and facilitation rather than centres of power and direction. Mission becomes more fully from everywhere to everywhere, as is evidenced by the relative success of certain programs facilitated by Cevaa, CWM and UEM.
There are two examples of such programs offered from the experience of Cevaa. (1) Programs of "Joint Apostolic Action", in which intercultural and interdenominational evangelisation teams work together on particular, local ministries and long term or short term projects; and (2) "animation théologique" which encourages people at the grassroots to read reality in a critical way on the basis of the gospel. Such examples (and others could be offered from the experiences of CWM and UEM) illustrate the vision and success of a people-centred model of mission relationships.
But mission is not about success. It is continually put in jeopardy and risks failure. Failure in mission is normal because in the proclamation of the gospel and God's coming reign, we always encounter obstacles. The church must always ask herself what she can give and what she must receive so as to bear faithful witness to Jesus Christ as the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples.
Our recommendations to Cevaa, CWM and UEM are as follows:
- The communities of churches in mission should be encouraged to share their experience more widely and mutually challenge other churches in the North involved in structural transformation in mission;
- Continue journeying together by convening missiological consultations and open such consultations to other mission organisations. Given the increasing multiplicity of relationships between and among churches, CWME should consider promoting round table discussions to streamline mission relationships;
- Foster closer regional networking and ecumenical co-operation by sharing information, extending invitations for planned events, and engaging in common witness, i.e. through appropriate relational links and personnel exchanges, especially for youth;
- Request the three communities of churches in mission to review the recommendations of the February 2000 meeting in Wuppertal and offer a progress report to generate lessons from the experience;
- Regarding finance, encourage churches to practise mutual accountability, for example to study models of transparency and accountability, i.e. partner churches sharing their financial records;
- Consider that a Joint Apostolic Action be launched in one region of the world where Cevaa can participate with CWM and UEM;
- Assist each other in moving beyond the territorial logic inherited from historical patterns of relating. (The final three recommendations grew out of the French-speaking group and were intended to address only Cevaa.)
We appreciated the consultation themes and the valuable theological insights that arose from the discussions, especially those on healing and health. We found it important to revisit the themes on plurality and identity, and raise new questions regarding partnership. While we see the continuing challenges posed by religious plurality, we are encouraged by the growth of open networks among ourselves and our partners. We leave with a sense of celebration of having worshipped and worked together creatively and purposefully during the entire consultation.
One of the core values held in common by Cevaa, CWM and UEM is that of the sharing of persons, ideas and resources. If this consultation is to continue in that spirit, the ideas generated here need to be disseminated and shared more broadly. The fullness of life is a contestation with the powers of death that deny life, and so a multi-focal approach is needed to follow the missionary God and help create intercultural and many voiced communities where abundant life is possible for all.
List of papers (in chronological order of presentation)
D. Preman Niles, "Toward the Fullness of Life: Intercontextual Relationships in Mission"
I - Identity and plurality
Monica Melanchthon, "I am the Lord your God and you shall have no other gods before me - Identity and Plurality", Bible Study
Christopher Duraisingh, "Mission as Reconciliation - Beyond the Clash of the Centripetal and the Centrifugal"
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, "Identity and Plurality: A Pentecostal-Charismatic Perspective"
S. Wismoady Wahono, "Identity and Plurality" (not presented, but distributed)
Group reports on Identity and Plurality
II - Healing, health and faith communities
Allan Anderson, "Pentecostal Approaches to Faith and Healing"
Musa W. Dube, "Theological Challenges: Proclaiming the Fullness of Life in the HIV/AIDS & Global Economic Era"
Tinyiko Maluleke, "'Step Back! I have an Infections Disease'! Some Leprosies of our times and the Quest for Holistic healing", Bible Study
Group reports on Healing, Health and Faith Communities
III - New models of mission relationship and partnership
Kai Funkschmidt, "New Models of Mission Relationship and Partnership"
Hong Jung Lee, "Beyond Partenrship towards Networking. A Korean Reflection on Partnership in the Web of God's Mission"
Heleen Murre-van den Berg, Bible Study on I Cor. 12
Group reports on New Models of Mission Relationship and Partnership