Photo: The authors (l to r) Glenn Balzer, Neal Blough, Stefanus Haryono and Jamie Ross.
The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective was developed in 1995, and is the most recent systematic statement of belief for Mennonite Church USA.
Over the course of the next several months, we will be releasing “roundtable posts”, featuring two to three members of Mennonite Church USA congregations reflecting on an article from the Confession of Faith and how it impacts their ministry, congregational life and theology. We’ll move through the articles in numerical order. You can read all the past posts online.
Today’s authors are reflecting on Article 10: The Church in Mission. Writers appear in alphabetical order.
Glenn Balzer is the Executive Director of the DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) program.
Why does the church exist? What is its primary purpose? Matthew 28:18-20 is a pivotal passage for many, including me, when it comes to thinking about the role and purpose of the church. The call to go and make disciples of all peoples, to teach, and to baptize is foundational to any discussion about the church and mission.
In recent years I began asking another question: Why does the church need to be in mission? There was a time in my journey where the church was simply a place to purchase a ticket out of hell. More recently there are those who want to reduce the church down to issues of prayer in school, abortion and homosexuality. There is a comfort in only having a few issues to focus on. It keeps things simple!
What happens when the church starts to take seriously the message and weight of Scripture? Very quickly mission becomes more complex. Once the church commits to Scripture, then poverty, health care, race, sex, justice and living wages become critical issues for church and mission. Complexity means that different people will have different perspectives. Complexity means that statements of faith designed to keep everyone on the same page will ultimately fail. Complexity means that what I hold dearly may not be what others hold dearly. Complexity means we will have to find ways to work together in spite of diverse understandings.
Choosing complexity over simplicity means we will have to extend grace to each other. We will have to be open to the possibility of change and take seriously the idea that all of us “see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
The great commission of Matthew needs to be understood through the Apostle Paul’s vision of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Diversity and difference work together so that Jesus’ prayer came become our reality: “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) is a gateway for encountering the city through the eyes, ears, and heart of God. DOOR provides experiential learning and faith development for all ages, from one week mission trips to full year internships. Mennonite Mission Network is a sponsoring partner of DOOR.
Neal Blough is a long-term mission worker in Paris, France, in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network.
What stands out to me ?
The title of the Article 10 relates « mission » to « church », while at the same time being clear that the church witnesses to the reign of God and is not an end in itself. The article also reflects a conscious effort to define mission in relation to the key themes of Anabaptist theology: word and deed go together, witness is non-coercive, the church in mission is multi and counter cultural as well as international, peace and discipleship are fundamental aspects of mission… Even though today the article would probably be written more around the concept of missio Dei (the mission of God), the content corresponds well to the practice of Mennonite Central Committee and various Mennonite mission agencies that I have seen at work in countries around the world during the last generation.
Resonance with congregation
My wife, Janie, and I have been part of urban multi-cultural and multi-racial congregations since being in France. At present we worship regularly with people from over a dozen nations. It is a fascinating (and often difficult) challenge for congregations to learn to express and live peace theology in terms of reconciliation between peoples and races, between blacks and whites, between the formerly colonized and former colonizers. Urban multi-cultural churches are becoming more prominent in France and Europe and are one of the few social spaces where people from different backgrounds actually choose to be together. This then becomes a privileged place to work on reconciliation on many levels and offers great potential to the upcoming generation of witness throughout the world.
Reading this article brought several critiques of mission to mind. Christians in politically and economically strong Western countries often reject mission as impositional and culture-changing. While this has been and still can be the case, recent studies of mission history show that mission efforts have often been more counter-cultural and critical of power than is often thought. “Mission” must assume its past and present mistakes, but there are many powerful culture-changing factors at work in today’s world, especially globalization, which is often strongly related to American media, military and economic power. Western indifference to the effects of these forces outside of our own countries also contributes greatly to negative cultural change. The challenge of Christian mission is to be aware of both local and global contexts and to continually witness to and point to other realities.
Another frequent critique is that mission is often seen to be “exclusive” because of claims about the uniqueness of Christ. How dare we make truth claims counter to those of other religions and cultures? Two quick thoughts here. First of all, it is impossible not to make exclusive truth claims. To say that all religions or all ways of seeing the world are equally valid simply makes the absolute claim that relativism is the final truth and cannot be questioned. It is not the case that all worldviews are equally valid. Otherwise we would could not speak of peace or justice. On what basis can we say that Hitler or Pol Pot were wrong, or that slavery was evil? Not all worldviews make such claims.
That Christians have wrongly justified evil is obvious. Nevertheless, because of Christ, we can (without having to judge others) claim that peace, forgiveness and reconciliation are at the heart of the universe and that the forces of evil and death have been vanquished. I have no problem with that “exclusive” claim, embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Rev. Stefanus Haryono is Pastor in the Indonesian Mennonite Church (GKMI) and attends Claremont (California) School of Theology.
Healing and salvation are the basic foundation for mission based on the life and ministry of Jesus. In the Mennonite Church, the life and ministry of Jesus is an essential part of our Confession of Faith, because we believe that Jesus was embedded in history and attached to humanity. In the 21st century, the brokenness of the world has become wider and deeper. This brokenness invites us to reinterpret the interweaving of healing and salvation.
In the past, the church’s mission was tainted by colonialism and imperialism in the spirit of Christian triumphalism. Nowadays, in the post-colonial era, salvation should be seen not as exclusive but as an inclusive notion in the context of the interreligious world. Salvation should embrace others, including people from mixed religious backgrounds and creatively transform the world. In other words, contextualizing salvation means transforming both culture and doctrine. As followers of Christ then we will continue our faith in Jesus, but see salvation in the wider spectrum.
As an Indonesian Mennonite, I prefer to reflect on Raimundo Panikkar’s term cosmotheandric, an integration of anthropos [human], cosmos [universe],and theos [God]. I advocate that mission should shift from being focused on anthropos to cosmos. According to the Eastern perspective, humans should live peacefully in the world. This will happen when each person lives his or her life as a microcosm in the macrocosm. The idea of microcosm and macrocosm emphasizes living in harmony even though life itself is diverse. This can be (re) developed for Asian Mennonites by doing contextual mission to heal and save people and communities physically and spiritually. If we do this, we put healing and salvation into life practice — orthodoxy becomes orthopraxis – modeling peace in the interreligious world.
Jamie Ross is Co-Editor for the journal, Anabaptist Witness, and and is on staff with International Ministries at Mennonite Mission Network. She has served in Kyrgyzstan and Israel.
Several white women serving in Uganda released a spoof earlier this month of Justin Timberlake’s song, “SexyBack.” Dressed in traditional Ugandan clothing, they shimmy and shake while singing: “I’m bringing missions back … I’m out to serve God, it’s my pact.” They continue, “You best deworm or get your money back, put up your net, mosquitos will attack, bring in your laundry on your back.”
The lyrics trivialize the hardships many Ugandan women face. The gestures of the women are exaggerated and demeaning. Of the few individuals from Uganda included in the video, only the goat is given a voice.
While the video has been taken down and an apology issued by the sponsoring agency, Luket Ministries, the lack of sensitivity portrayed here has sparked outrage across social media. Rightly, Ugandans and others are calling for an end to the white savior complex and “voluntourism,” a practice and industry that combines volunteering with tourism.
Examples such as this should make us uncomfortable and even angry. Moments like this should cause us to reflect on our own history of colonialist mindsets and practices. But should stories like this cause us to disengage from cross-cultural mission entirely?
Article 10 reminds us that the church is called to witness to the reign of Christ “to people of every culture, ethnicity, or nationality.” And for the sake of “reconciling differing groups, creating one new humanity.” This call to witness works in multiple directions. One aspect of witnessing is the act of seeing the other. But being a witness also provides something for the other to see. To witness is to be in relationship. And relationships of trust, relationships that honor and respect the other, take many years to develop.
These relationships are fostered by individuals humbly investing their lives and making their homes in cultures other than their own. These relationships are nurtured when we allow others to come to us, receiving them with hospitality, knowing that we too are in need of good news. Relationships are also fostered over the years by congregations, networks, and agencies investing decades in communities, so that when one person serves for a short time, they carry institutional relationships and knowledge. These relationships have faces. These individuals have voices. And these relationships allow for healing. When this occurs, we are allowed a “preview of that day when all the nations shall stream to the mountain of the Lord and be at peace.”