"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." 2 Cor. 10:5
As we approach the third millennium, we are confronted with the "problematics of missiology" as much as with "problematics of theology," "problematics of denominatonalized churches" and, naturally, the omni-problematization of the postmodern Western world. "The passing decades of the finishing century and millennium has witnessed to churches and congregations in sorry shape, characterized by shrinkage, lack of orientation, and theological confusion" (Michael Welker). Such being the case, I believe the pertinent and urgent question to ask is, What mission for which church? By common consent, modern missions have been engulfed in a paradoxical situation. Along with almost every other realm of modern culture and society, the church not excluded, missions have not escaped the disaster of "problematization," which, chokingly, is encompassing almost all spheres of created reality. Mission problematics are part of the modern era's general and exhausting problematization of technology, as it has been conceptualized by dominant scientific expertise. The postmodern man (was it otherwise with his pre-postmodern grandpa?), is unable to deal with any given question, be it cultural or religious, without elevating it — or, to state it more correctly, downgrading it — to the status and the level of a problem. Our contemporary world is involved in an endless race, unable to discover an exit from the cultural labyrinth into which he has again strayed. The postmodern diktat is that the "foundational" principle and model of the Enlightenment era is no more valid or operative in today's perception of reality; therefore, it is doomed to rejection and will be replaced by something else (Deconstruction à la Derrida?). As if the foundational principle and method of the Aufklarung had been the norma normans and not the Biblical model.
Theologians, noteworthy children of their age, have again jumped onto the bandwagon of history so that they do not miss the trends of the onward fleeing troopers. Adrift from their origins, having severed ties with "The Ground," they too are trapped in "the problematics of communicating" the Good News, which must be essentially communicated as the all-sufficient, necessary, clear, and authoritative Message. Church, theology, missiology (or, the recent pompous missionology), are singing l'air du temps in desperate dislocation and have gone into an unredeemable shipwreck. We may wonder what the unfathomable depth of the ocean of history will retain of the floods of their logorrhea.
A Shifting Zeitgeist
The theologia reformata quia semper reformanda has been abandoned to the mercy of the shifting Zeitgeist. "The profile of the Reformed Theology seems to be disintegrated into a plethora of attempts to engage contemporary moral, political and scientific trends. Now, the reason is the profound uncertainty created with regard to the norm and the motive power and the orientating foundation of Reformed Theology" (M. Welker).
Christian Faith — Biblical and Reformed — in the divine revelation is unique in critically challenging all the founded-on-the-sand mental structures; or, to borrow the paradoxical image of Franz Kafka, the modern towers of Babel built head below, constructed downwards! The Reformed Faith reminds the secular minds and makes crystal clear the limits and deficiencies of reason, of humanism, of science. Faith will mock the fanciful common market of religions pretending, as if by magic, to offer the solution. The confessing Reformed church seeks the solution outside the bizarre bazaar of the revelationally unfounded, fake religious aberrations. Paraphrasing G. K. Chesterton, we may say that she is aware that "the world is full of religions, all gone crazy."
The problematization of missions has produced a plethora of issues which with some reasonable realism we may call the missionary simulacrums. Not just isolated simulacrums, but a pandemic simulacrisis. The words used in this domain, too, are the same as the classic missionary vocabulary. Nonetheless, the meaning and content are different, even antagonistic to the scriptural normative concepts. The contemporary church has undertaken the huge yet useless task of reinterpreting what the Missionary Mandate originally meant. "Rethinking Missions" has become the refrain since the famous collection of Essays bearing that title appeared in the early 1930s. However, now it reminds us of those broken 78 rpm records which on your old phonograph needed rewinding every three minutes; yet, do we hear still the "Master's Voice"? "Rethinking Missions" may mean politicizing the gospel and securing political liberation. The women's liberation movement trumpets the good tidings — the manifesto — of social egalitarianism. The psychologization of the gospel — mirabile dictu — reduces the original content of the gospel to an internal state of consciousness (to such an extent of generalized consummation, that soon the sanctuary benches will be replaced by the psychoanalyst's sofa, upon which problem-stricken parishioners will stretch their legs, while the minister/sorcerer's apprentice/psychologist heralds the altar call, inviting not to the old style Bench of Penitence of the Salvation Army, but instead to a socio-psycho-pathological strip-tease). The blissful sanctification by solo sexo-gospel, and the voyeurism inflamed by the mass media will, thus, benefit from that blessed assurance which orbi et urbi proclaims — with an uncompromising, inerrant, dogmatic pronunciamento — and utters infallible promises to release you from all those alienating sexual frustrations; the long awaited emancipation from erotic repressions, etc. . . . Old Priapus is among us, not just in the market place, but also in our chapels where his oracles declare: "Thus saith Lord-Libido: Be Naked, for I am Naked"!
The simulacra of missions consists of humanizing God's work. A World Council of Churches document, "The Church for Others," pleads not "Christianization, bringing man to God through Christ" but instead "humanization," in which conversion is now thought of at the corporate level in the form of social change. Mission is conceived as proposing to the world the goals of peace, non-violence, liberty, solidarity, disarmament, classless society, global society, political realization and, last but not least, green ecology. Evangelizing the heathen, in the Amazon forests or swarming in the bushes of Western Megalopolises — both the religio-moral contemporary Third World — is foreign to the agenda of those strange (foreign) missions. It is a mission like a knife with no handle and deprived of its cutting edge! Have you ever seen such a knife in your life? Three Blind Mice-naries, Oh, Three Blind Mice-naries, see how they run, they all run after what? In which church?
Another Shibboleth is the holistic conception of modern Christian missionary undertaking. I am not particularly allergic to something which is a global — let us use here some big words, German ones are very apt — to a Weltanschauung, provided I know what that holism contains. Black holes in the outer space? My concern is not a quantitative holism but with qualitative content. Some time ago, a cunning French physician was offering for one French Franc a bottle of dehydrated water! Blaise Pascal helped me make a vital distinction between "the geometrical mind and the spirit of refinement" (quality versus quantity).
The burning question, therefore, is to know what the priorities are what the foundations are — upon which they are built. Were space available for my unassuming notules (French for small notes), I would develop something about the "problematics of communications," the distinction between faith and ideology, contextualization-inculturation, dialogue (or trialogue? Harvey Cohn), adaptation or application, neo-syncretism, or theoria versus praxis, etc. Modestly, which means with no overwhelming originality, I offer the following.
I warn "Reformed" missiology not to overlook what, sometimes with condescending mood, it has some inclination to qualify as a merely individualistic, pietistic, subjectivist, spiritualistic that which pertains to the salvation of the individual man. Luke 15 sparks with unspeakable joy for the salvation of one prodigal son, of an errant sheep, a lost coin. The Son of God came to save the lost ones, not just the one lost in his socio-cultural sitz-im-leben, but lost in himself. Leslie Newbigin has made a helpful distinction between mission and missions. The mission of the church is everything that the church is sent into the world to do: preaching the gospel, healing the sick, caring for the poor, teaching the children, improving international and interracial relations, attacking injustice. The missions of the church is the concern that in places where there are no Christians there should be Christians. In other worlds, missions means to plant churches by evangelism. In this connection, I believe it is imperative to clarify the church's identity itself: is she the missionary church, or has she merely mission among all the other devouring activities she is involved in; convincing herself that she is really busy? Mission is not an appendix, but an essential part of her being.
Now, the foundation, the starting point, the resilience, the motive of Christian and Reformed missions is neither the personal enthusiasm, nor the enthusiasm of the community. Not even the particular utility as such of the undertaking. The basis and the motive is forever the mandate given to the church. The Biblical basis of the mission is solely sufficient; it will never be shaken under our feet when we are trodding on mission fields. Upon that foundation we need to build. From this motive we will ask for the strength we need. All else will prove to be deceiving. If the Bible is the foundation, it has equally established the rule for the task to be carried on. The world outside has its politics; the missionary church and the kingdom of God have their own, contradicting the former and superseding it forever. In obeying the rule, and exclusively that rule, as missionary church we will enjoy peace, get strength, be filled with joy, and be equipped for the task. The church will not be a missionary unless she is a confessing church, a body of proclaimers. Missions is not an optional work accomplished by a minority involved in it and running it more or less carelessly (entrusted to the "Prelacy of the Church" wrote Rolland Allen; with less gentleness I call it the ABCs = Administratura, Bureaucratura, Clericatura). She will become aware of her apostolic responsibility. If the church is gathered by the Spirit around the Word so that she receives life from Him, her duty is to communicate that life around her. She is the voice proclaiming the message, which makes the Word of God to be heard; thus His message becomes her mission. Over and over again she comes back to the purity of the message she has received. Thus, increasingly she becomes the church universal. Our mission has been planned, undertaken, oriented, fulfilled as God's gift of Himself; it possesses transcendent and ultimate unity in the work which we have been assigned, the task of communicator-witnesses. God offers His grace in His only begotten Son, in the communion of His Holy Spirit. Where could any one among the lost sons of men find a more free and transcendent gift? Transcendent, mysterious, yet disclosed "for us men and for our salvation." Salvation is not the subject of a theory but the content of an event. Augustine went so far as to consider the Fall a happy event: Felix culpa; did not that Fall provide such a great salvation? I dare take exception with this exaggerated formulation of the Great Bishop. If we jubilate for something it is not in the Felix culpa, but in the amazing grace.
The Kingdom Perspective
Reformed missiology is exercised in the kingdom perspective. The scope of our mission is society-wide. This concept will avoid a reduced gospel, dealing with only so-called "higher, spiritual" notions. Reformed missiology will develop a meaningful relation between evangelism, the Word-proclamation, and the transformation of world and its cultures. "No certain limits are Prescribed," writes Calvin, "but the whole world is assigned to them, to be reduced to the obedience to Christ; that by disseminating the gospel wherever they could, they might erect his kingdom in all nations" (Inst. IV, 3). We shall reevaluate drastically any policy that either declares or assumes that politics, education, art, science, or culture are out of the limits of the Christian mission. It is of crucial importance that we keep in focus the redemptive work of Christ in history as it leads toward the end time. Christ's rule encompasses the whole cosmos. His rule does not adjust itself to the rules of the world, nor must we separate what God has united by an improper view of two realms.
A further consideration needs to be made. To my knowledge there has not been sufficient attention drawn to the fact that the present session of Jesus-Christ at the right hand of the Almighty Father is of paramount significance for the Great Commission. Whatever one's choice, Trinitarian basis, Christological nature, pneumatological ground of missions, the fact is that we are able to get involved in mission because of Christ's present supreme authority at the right hand of God. Our times are those of the inaugurated kingship of Christ. The decisive battle has been won. The clock is advancing, even though in tribulation, but with patience, we share in the kingdom (Rev. 1:9). God's patience measures our times. He is waiting. During this time of His patience, His church is placed into this world. The raisone d'être of the church is nothing else than to proclaim that victory of her Lord. To offer the opportunity to the world to listen to the heralding, radical transformation already taken place. This present world still counts its time with the old calendar. On the contrary, we, the church, live according to the new calendar, witnessing that things are already being transformed. Behind us there may be fire, war, wickedness, illness, death, sin, continual Fall, on all levels of human society. According to the old calendar, Satan is still alive and well and the prince of this world. We have been introduced into "The Light, Justice, and Peace." Therefore, this is the time for us to speak our words in His Word. This is time for our responsibility; our times and each day is a missionary one. Times fulfilled, though time is still running to its end. God calls us to become partners of His work in His creation. The ear of every man must hear that message. All our forces will become available for Him. This is indeed the time of "the church missionary," the end times; time for apostate men to repent, believe, and reconstruct their lives. The Lord is closer to us than He was yesterday. He is standing at the door, knocking. This is indeed the decisive time when only God's Word must be heard and His will prevail. The time — kairos — when hatred, division, prejudices, injustice, war, and destruction have to disappear, as we feel uncomfortable with the old status quo and yearn for the renewal of all the atrophied structures. We are even impatient to make heard this ultimate Word. Christ, sitting at the right hand of God, enables us by His Spirit to become His witnesses.
His Message Is Our Mission
In closing, I again wish to underline the following five points of Reformed missions. They may not satisfy the erudite missionologists, nor will they earn me any Doctorate in Ministronics.
- 1 John 1:1-4 establishes the pattern of our communication of the message. Not mere proclamation but also witness, kerygma and martyria.
- We need to be filled with a holy amazement at what God has undertaken for the salvation-restoration of His creation.
- A sanctified intelligence will elaborate a relevant message to be delivered in the modern Agora.
- We need to calculate the cost of discipleship.
- Finally, remain confident, active, though in prayer, that God watches over His Work.