Chapter 6: The Kingdom of God and Mission
A church-centric view of mission had been slowly developing in the ecumenical movement since the conference in Edinburgh in 1910. By the Madras conference, the Church had become the central concern of the missionary movement. Madras confidently asserted that the hope for the redemption of humankind centered in God’s work through the Church. It was this church-centric view of mission that was challenged by Stanley Jones and others like him. The complaint of Stanley Jones was that while Jesus went about preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, Madras went about preaching the Gospel of the Church. According to Stanley Jones, the Kingdom is absolute while the Church is only relative. A group of theologians in India known as the ‘Re-thinking Group (a result of their book, Re-thinking Christianity, published just before the Madras Conference), was of the same opinion as Jones. One of them, P. Chenchiah, felt that the institutional church was trying to usurp the place of the Kingdom. He wrote:
Christianity took the wrong gradient when it left the Kingdom of God for the Church... Christianity is a failure because we made a new religion of it instead of a new creation... The Church arrested the Kingdom when Peter added 3000 unto them - a fatal day for the Kingdom and a glorious day for the Church.1
J.C. Hoekendijk was also a strong critic of the church-centric view of mission. In his missionary scheme, it was the Kingdom of God and the world that occupied the central place and not the church. Though the criticism of Hoekendijk and others did not result immediately in a radical re-appraisal of missionary theology, it began to show results later. After 1960, the world became the focus of attention in ecumenical missionary theology and, by 1980, the Kingdom of God became its central concern. It was not a theological interest in the Kingdom as such, but in the Kingdom of God as it is related to the world.
According to Johannes Verkul, a Dutch missiologist, the whole of the church’s deep and wide mission agenda must receive its focus and orientation from the perspective of the Kingdom. Writing in 1979, just before the Melbourne Conference, he pointed out that contemporary writers such as Max Warren, Hans Margull, D.T. Niles, Moltmann, Rutti, and several others viewed mission in such a perspective. He said that it was gratifying to be able to see that "the missionary movement is more and more coming to see the Kingdom of God as the hub around which all missions work will revolve".2
It is no surprise that the main theme of the next two missionary conferences organized by the World Council of Churches was the Kingdom of God. The theme of the Melbourne Conference in 1980 was, "Your Kingdom Come";, and the next one in San Antonio in 1989 had as its theme, "Your Will Be Done - Mission in Christ’s Way".
Both for John R. Mott and J.H. Oldham, the moving spirits behind the Edinburgh conference and the pioneers of the modern ecumenical movement, the Kingdom of God occupied the central place in Christian faith and mission. They were inspired by a vision of "the large dimensions of the Kingdom of God". By choosing the theme of the Kingdom of God for Melbourne and San Antonio, the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) of the World Council of Churches was acknowledging its own heritage.
The next World Missionary Conference, after Bangkok, was held in Melbourne, Australia from May 12-24, 1980. There were five hundred participants from eighty-three countries and their attention was focussed on the theme, ‘Your Kingdom Come". Philip Potter, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, in his inaugural address spoke of the Council as being the inheritor of the great missionary movement. He added, "The theme of the Kingdom, affirmed in the context of prayer, has been dominant in all the World Missionary Conferences up to the last in Bangkok, 1972 on "Salvation Today". It is not surprising that the clearest expression of the Kingdom was in the prayers that the participants at Bangkok composed as they wrestled with the Salvation which Christ offered"3 He then quoted from those prayers:
Father, so many of the forms of this world are passing away... Help us to see that your Son has come into this world to transform it as Lord... Let not this world be changed without me being also changed. Convert me and I shall be converted. Let your judgement come in the Christ who is to come. And let us hasten his coming in the community that seeks his justice. Maranatha. Amen.
You have sent your Son in one place and time, We praise You!
Be present in every time and place, We pray You!
Your kingdom has come in his salvation, We pray You!
Let it come always among us, We pray You!4
Several speakers reminded the Assembly that the context of the conference theme was the Lord’s prayer and its task was to pray for the coming of the Kingdom. Soritua Nababan of Indonesia, the Moderator of the CWME, invited the participants to join in a process of prayer, reflection, search and obedience on the theme "Your Kingdom Come", and yet to pray expectantly, for the Kingdom in all its fullness is still to come.5 Krister Stendhal in his Bible study pointed out that the Lord’s prayer was a sustained cry for ,the coming of the Kingdom. Commenting on the verse, ‘Hallowed be your name’ Stendhal said that the meaning of it was not that we are urged to hallow or sanctify God’s name. A prayer is a prayer to God not a veiled form of moral instructions. People pray to God for the time when the whole creation will recognize God for what He is in His holiness and in His mighty acts. Again, referring to the verse, ‘Your will be done’, Stendhal stressed that it was a prayer to God that His will for redemption, for the salvation of creation, be done. "In this prayer, we here on earth pray that God lift us all into His gracious and heavenly will and plan and overcome our resistance, our fears, our selfishness: Be it on earth as in heaven".6 Emilio Castro, the Director of the CWME in his address said:
We are in a spiritual struggle and we are searching here for spiritual resources. The struggles to overcome oppressions have economic, social and political manifestations that should be considered on their own merits. But at the root there is a spiritual reality : principalities, powers of evil that need to be combated with spiritual powers and spiritual realities : the power of love the power of hope, the power of the Gospel. To pray, to worship, is essential for our conference.7
The theme of the conference, in the first place, came as a call to pray. The Kingdom of God is God’s gift and not the work of men and women. "Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom". Christian and church communities are credible only as long as people hear issuing from them the passionate cry: Your Kingdom come.8
Secondly, the theme of Melbourne was a call to confess. It was a call to believe that the Kingdom of God had come in the King, Jesus of Nazareth. This was highlighted in most of the plenary presentations at the conference. Emilio Castro in his address: Your Kingdom come: A Missionary Perspective, said:
We proclaim that the Kingdom has come in the King, Jesus of Nazareth. Leslie Newbigin has reminded us that it is easier to say "your Kingdom come" than to pray, "Maranatha, come Lord Jesus". With the expression ‘Kingdom’, we are related to all the dreams of humankind it would be difficult to find a people whose religion, or ideology, does not expect a new day in the future. But when we confess our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, we make a particular affirmation: We are calling people to recognize in the events of Golgotha and of the garden tomb, the redeeming and saving power of God with consequences for all humankind.9
The Metropolitan Geevarughese Mar Osthathios of the Indian Orthodox Church and Julie Esquivel from Guatamala also spoke of the relationship between the Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ who was crucified and risen. The whole emphasis of Ernst Kasemann in his address, "The Eschatological Royal Reign of God" was that the royal reign of God had been inaugurated in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Speaking of the difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and that of Jesus of Nazareth, he said:
Between the Baptist and the one who brings the eschatological kingdom there are two key differences. Firstly, God’s royal reign is not merely imminent but has already begun in Jesus’ message and ministry. And secondly, when the power of the devil has been shattered, salvation is no longer limited in principle to the frontiers of Israel. A new world begins. Pentecost hoves in sight; when the heavens open, the Holy Spirit acquires elbow room, and the pantocrator is glorified even by the Gentiles.10
Kasemann recalled that Origen of Alexandria called Jesus ‘autobasileia’, the royal reign of God in person. It was this. Kasemann said, that marked the distinction between the Christian view of the Kingdom of God and the Jewish view. For Judaism, the Kingdom of God was not simply a new structure. It was associated with the coming of the King. It had also connected the eschatological kingdom with the appearance of a Messiah on the scene, even if this view was not universal. The Messiah was generally thought of as being only a fore runner, i.e. as one who brought political liberation to Israel. "But in the Christian message, the Savior had become not just the flesh of Israel or exclusively that of its pious members, but the flesh of all humanity, and is now and to all eternity the mediator and revealer, the face of God, so to speak, turned towards the earth and its creatures".11 He is the way and the door, the shepherd, the bread and the water of life, the unique word of the Father and the sole interpreter of the Father. God has made Him the one Lord and the Messiah.12 He will abolish every kind of domination, authority and power and He is destined to reign until God has put all enemies under His feet.13 He is enthroned at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come".14 Kasemann went on:
As far as Christianity is concerned, there is no eschatological divine reign of which Jesus of Nazareth is not the center. According to Luke 4:43, it was his earthly task to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom; for his disciples he became the presence of the kingdom with all its wealth of gifts and powers.15
To see Jesus of Nazareth at the center of the royal reign of God, says Kasemann, is the distinguishing mark of Christianity. "For us the Kingdom of God is not primarily theory but praxis. Nor is it a praxis concerned mainly with changed conditions, new possibilities and goals. From the New Testament, the Christian standpoint, the kingdom of God denotes that praxis in which Jesus of Nazareth is our Lord and Saviour of the world". 16
Undoubtedly, Melbourne’s emphasis was on Christology. Jacques Mathey was right when he said that Melbourne was a Christological conference. He wrote, "The preparatory process, the introductory speeches, the worship life, Bible studies and the report testify to the fact that whatever we may do in mission is rooted in God’s final revelation in Jesus Christ. To speak of God’s reign is to speak of Jesus; to preach Christ is to proclaim the kingdom of God". This does not mean that one can find in the Melbourne documents fully developed, systematic, Christological statements. "Rather Melbourne’s reflection centered around a specific missionary aspect of Christology stressed in the presentation of Ernst Kasemann: the identity of the resurrected or elevated kyrios, Christ, the Lord, with the earthly Jesus, the Jew, the Nazarene, who lived as a simple Galilean man, suffered and was executed, dying on the cross. 17
Melbourne not only confessed Jesus of Nazareth as the center of the royal reign of God, but it also stressed that as Christ’s Kingdom, the royal reign of God begins on earth as the kingdom of the crucified, which places his disciples with him under the cross.18 He did not come to be served, but ‘to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. He abandoned his equality with God and took the form of a slave. The power of his resurrection is experienced in the fellowship of his sufferings, which brings us into conformity with his death. "The king of the heavenly kingdom is still travelling the roads of this world. When he is sought in the wrong places and proclaimed under false colors, he has been completely misunderstood. Only where deliverance is needed is he to be found, i.e. as Psalm 107:10 tells us, only among those who sit "in darkness, dark as death, prisoners, bound fast in iron".19 Metropolitan Osthathios told the conference, "We say we have a Gospel of the kingdom to preach, and we preach everything under the sun except Jesus Christ crucified".20
Thirdly, the theme "Your Kingdom come" was a call for mission. It was this aspect of the theme which received the highest priority in Melbourne. All speakers touched on this question. Section presentations and discussions were all related to the mission of the church. Melbourne was a conference on mission: How the Kingdom of God is to be announced to the world, announced as Good News. It spoke of a "non-imperialistic evangelism, a faithful evangelism that aims at the transformations and permeation of societies from within; looks to the kingdom that is coming as the recapitulation of all things in Jesus Christ".21 Melbourne spoke of the kingdom as the goal of mission, the poor as a new missionary yardstick, and the Church as an agent of mission and a sacrament of the kingdom. It called for the church’s participation in the struggles of the world and for new structures and new missionary life-style. It recognized that the whole church is sent into mission and that all it does has to be seen as part of its calling - worship, parish life, diaconia, developmental work, pastoral work, catechetical instructions, interventions in political life, etc.22
According to Kasemann, the sovereignty of Christ meant a declaration of war against the principalities and powers of this world which enslave people and creation. He reminded the conference of Jesus’ reply to those who warned him of Herod’s plan to kill him. "Listen, today and tomorrow I shall be casting out devils and working cures; on the third day I shall reach my goal". Kasemann pointed out that time and again the Gospels narrate the healing of possessed persons, which then continues in the Acts of the Apostles; the New Testament letters, especially the "Revelation of John", celebrate the triumph of the Risen Christ as redemption from captivity to the powers and authorities, meaning by this, all who torment and seduce the world and individual human beings, and alienate them from their humanity, are thrown out of their power. Jesus was not a revolutionary. Nevertheless, his appearance on the scene has revolutionary consequences which were inescapable. Kasemann went on to say that for too long we have made Christianity an inward and private affair, the Holy Spirit into merely the power of sanctification in the Church, comforting ourselves and others with the prospect of eternal life beyond our temporal afflictions. Mission has meant, for the most part, the salvation of souls. Diaconia has been the demonstration of love for the weak and the suffering. "The new earth remained a dream; co-operation in changing the structures was left to outsiders and mostly fanatics. The proclamation of the resurrection of the dead was normally, therefore, only a message of personal survival after death, for which the tombstones were in order but none of the victory signs that represent a threat to civil order".23 If Jesus’ conviction that he cast out demons by the power of God was true, then all these must change. Kasemann continued:
Through him [Jesus], the reign of God was carried into the demonic kingdom but not finally and universally completed there. He established signs showing that this kingdom had drawn near and that the struggle with the powers and authorities of this age had begun. We are not called to do more, but neither are we called to do less. But this means that instead of leaving the demonic kingdom in peace we attack it here, there and everywhere, as witnesses of the resurrection from the dead, as instruments of the Spirit of God who does not share his sovereignty with idols but fetches his originally good creation back to himself in order that a new heaven may appear on a new earth.24
The theme "Your Kingdom come" was presented as an invitation to enter into an historical struggle for the total transformation of all creation. In Christian mission we are invited to participate in the liberating movement of the Holy Spirit in the world. Our missionary obligation is to announce the kingdom of freedom and invite all to participate in the struggles for the transformation of all things in the perspective of the kingdom.
Daniel Van Allmen of Switzerland in his paper, "The Kingdom of God and Human Struggles" asked the question : If we believe in the Lordship of God, and if we hope for the coming of His kingdom, what are we to think of the struggles and conflicts in our world ? He himself answered it thus: Since the incarnation, the struggles of humankind in this world can no longer be a matter of indifference for us. For in Jesus Christ God has made common cause with humanity, and his suffering struggle for the liberation of humanity will last till the end of the world.25
In Jesus Christ, God has made a pact with humanity to liberate it from inhuman powers. The Melbourne Conference understood the coming of the Kingdom of God as a declaration of war against all forces and structures that enslaved and exploited God’s creation. Did this mean that Melbourne thought of the Kingdom only in terms of material wellbeing and as a worldly affair? This was a criticism raised against the Bangkok Conference by the Russian Orthodox Church. After the Bangkok meeting, the Russian Orthodox Church sent a letter to the World Council of Churches saying that while they recognized the importance and the duty of Christian participation in social issues, they wanted to highlight the reality of salvation as hope beyond death, as life in God. Referring to this Emilio Castro said in Melbourne:
We do not, of course, want to escape our historical responsibility. But precisely because we believe in the historical responsibility of Christians and of all human beings, and in order to find inspiration, courage and vision for the historical task, we confess our faith in a kingdom that is not limited to the horizon of our historical death. The missionary movement was committed to overcome all distances, to cross all barriers, to open all frontiers with the message of the kingdom. To die is not to be lost to the kingdom, because God in Christ has overcome even the last enemy, death itself. Those who die in the kingdom’s struggle are also participants in the hope of the kingdom that is coming... How then can we make a contradiction between our entering into historical struggles and our belief in eternal life with God? It is precisely because we discover the ultimate within the struggles for the penultimate that we engage seriously in those struggles, surrendering even our lives because we know that our failures, too, can be used by God as he used the Cross of his only begotten son Jesus Christ to advance the redemption of humankind, to bring the kingdom.26
The Conference discussed four aspects of the theme, in four sections. The sectional topics were
1. "Good News to the Poor",
2. "The Kingdom of God and Human Struggles",
3. "The Church Witnesses to the Kingdom", and
4. "Christ - Crucified and Risen - Challenges Human Power".27
1.Good News to the Poor
There were three presentations on the topic in the section plenary. Raymond Fung of Hong Kong spoke of ‘Good News to the poor -A Case for a Missionary Movement’. Joaquim Beato from Brazil spoke on Good News to the poor and its implications for the mission of the church in Latin America. The paper by Canaan Banana of Zimbabwe was on the connection between the struggle of liberation from poverty and the proclamation of the Good News.
Raymond Fung28 argued for a missionary movement among the world’s poor so that the slum dwellers, factory workers, street laborers, farm hands, and their families could be confronted with the claims of Jesus. By the missionary movement he meant evangelizing and witnessing communities of the poor which will discover and live their expression of faith among the masses of the poor and the oppressed. He pointed out that a person is not only a sinner but is also the sinned against. A person is lost not only in the sins of his own heart but also in the sinning grasp of principalities and powers of the world, demonic forces which cast a bondage over human lives and human institutions and infiltrate their very textures. A person persistently deprived of basic material needs and political rights is also a person deprived of much of his or her soul - self respect, dignity and will. The destroyer of the body may not be able to kill the soul, but it can, and too often does, rape and maim the soul. Hence Fung urged that the Gospel should not only call on the people to repent of their sins, but must also call on them to resist the forces that sin against them. The Gospel empowers the poor for such struggles.
Joaquim Beato spoke of the missionary task of the Protestant churches in Latin America. He pointed out that there are two traditions in the literature of Israel in the Old Testament: one derived from the pact of Moses, and the other from the pact of David. The Mosaic pact is characterized by a protest movement of the disinherited, and its theological vision is articulated around a God who Intervenes decisively in favor of the enslaved and oppressed and against the oppressive structures that are apparently unshakeable. On the other hand, a Davidic tradition is characterized by a movement of the established groups, and its theological perspective is articulated around a God who depends and sustains the status quo. "A reading of the Old Testament materials of the various periods of the history of Israel, in the light of the contrasts between these perspectives, shows that this tension existed throughout the centuries covered by the canonic literature as the two "trajectories" in the reading of history where the existence and vocation of the people of God is made explicit".29
Beato mentioned that Gerd Theissen, in his sociological analysis of primitive Christianity, had reached the conclusion that there is continuity between Jesus and his first followers and the Mosaic liberation tradition. The tradition of Jesus’ teachings are characterized by an ethical radicalism that requires leaving home, i.e. to forsake permanent residence, the family, goods and properties. According to Theissen, such teachings can only be practiced in extreme situations. Only outside the establishment can such an ethos be lived. The early Christian missionaries moved from place to place and were subject to hunger and persecution. "If and when they found food and lodging it was from people who, like themselves, were outside the establishment. The attention of the religious and social pariahs, the prostitutes, the publicans, received in Jesus’ ministry is clear evidence that those who transmitted the word belonged to the lower ranks of society. In the synoptic literature we see the world from below".30
Beato pointed out that the Christian affirmation of the poor as the bearers and the object of the Gospel was not simply a theological thesis, but was also the result of an objective historical and sociological reading of the roots of Christianity. "It characterizes the option between two different "trajectories" that are present in the history of the people of God, and it is in this history that it affirms and makes explicit the meaning of its vocation in the world".31 Latin America is a continent where the state is very oppressive and the economy is controlled by transnational companies with the result that economic benefits are concentrated in the hands of a small community. In such a situation, Beato pointed out, evangelization that does not make a preferential option for the poor will have no future. The Roman Catholic Church in Latin America had already made a preferential option for the poor and the Protestants needed to do the same.
Canaan Banana, in his paper, discussed who the poor were, and why. He defined the poor as the little ones, powerless, voiceless and at the mercy of the powerful. The methods of keeping the poor perpetually in their place were the oppressive social, political and economic structures. The dynamics of being poor are such that the oppressed poor finally accept the inhumanity and the humiliation of their situation; they accept the status quo as the normal course of life. "Thus, to be poor becomes both a state of things and an attitude of life, an outlook, even a world view. The vicious circle is completed when the oppressor, in turn, internalizes an attitude of permanent supremacy and paternalism towards the poor, and undertakes to speak, think and act for the poor. The poor are thus made dependent and made to feel dependent on the rich".32
Yet, as the speaker pointed out, the surprising thing about the poor is that no matter how serious their dehumanization is, there remains an indestructible element within their personality. There is an inner kernel, linked perhaps with the image of God in human. being, which is very difficult, if not impossible, to crack. There is the capability to still be human . The recognition of this capacity is at the center of the Good News. The poor need not remain poor, lying in the dust, being trampled under the feet of the oppressor. God calls the poor up and out from his sad plight. He has the capacity to stand on his own feet. Coupled with the capacity to be human in dehumanization, and to be noble in indignity, is the poor’s inherent capacity to fight for their own liberation and to think for themselves.
Wherever Good News has been proclaimed, restoration of the dignity and personality of man must be clearly evident; restoration to wholeness, to humanness. This is healing in the true sense of the word. It signals the banishment of anxiety and insecurity. In a nutshell, Good News is that which humanizes the whole of life all of the time.33
Canaan Banana asked, "Is it possible to achieve total liberation of the whole person, of the whole society without recourse to theological or religious resources? Can man transcend himself and his limitations by drawing upon his internal capacities alone, without reference to the reality that is greater, outside of and beyond himself ?" It is here, he says, that the Gospel comes to our aid. Jesus the man addresses all liberation movements from the vantage point of an accomplished liberated liberator. Jesus was internally liberated. That is why he could liberate others. The liberators of humankind must be integrated and liberated within their own personalities. On the cross Christ identified himself with the poor, the oppressed and the captives of all times. Only the poor, can understand the full meaning of the death of Christ. He saved them by giving them the certainty of future fulfillment when they are engaged in their struggle against the oppressor. Liberation became possible when somebody much stronger than the powers of the world overcame death through the power of the resurrection. Good News to the poor is a celebration and enactment of the classic and normative liberation struggle in which Jesus defeated all human and spiritual forces of oppression.34
The section report stated clearly that in the perspective of the Kingdom, God has preference for the poor. God has shown preference for the poor throughout the history of Israel. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Good News to the poor". In Jesus, God has identified with the poor. However, the Good News is not only for the poor. The poor are blessed because of their longing for justice and their hope for liberation. They accept the promise that God has come to their rescue. It is a profound assurance that God is with them and for them. At the same time the coming of the Kingdom is a judgement on the rich, calling them to repent and trust in God.
The judgement of God thus comes as a verdict in favor of the poor. This verdict enables the poor to struggle to overthrow the powers that bind them, Which will then release the rich from the necessity to dominate. Once this has happened it is possible for the humbled rich and the poor to become human and capable of response to the challenge of the kingdom?35
The report stated that God intends all people to have the necessities of life and to enjoy a permanent or social state of wellbeing. This is what the Lord meant when he said, "‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly".36
As to the mission of the church, the report stated that the church was called to announce the Good News to the poor. Mission that is conscious of the kingdom will be concerned for liberation, not oppression; justice, not exploitation; fullness, not deprivation; freedom, not slavery; health, not disease; life, not death. The report pointed out that all over the world the churches were part of the establishment assisting in the maintenance of the status quo that exploited not only the nations and nature, but the poor in their own country. The churches were alienated from the poor by their middle class values. The report called on the churches to examine their lifestyle and urged them to become churches in solidarity with the struggles of the poor, joining the struggle against the powers of exploitation and impoverishment, establishing a new relationship with the poor within the churches, praying and working for the Kingdom of God.
At the Conference there was uncertainty as to the definition of the poor - materially poor or spiritually poor. But the Conference made a deliberate choice. It recognized the fact that the frontier to be crossed today is not primarily to be defined in religious terms but In material terms. As Matthey stated, "In the world perspective and within many countries of the world, the mission under the Kingdom of God cannot be faithful today if it is not formulated as Good News to the materially poor".37
A major emphasis by the Melbourne gathering was on the Kingdom of God as Good News to the poor. What Melbourne did, according to Emilio Castro, was to affirm the poor as the missiological principle par excellence. The relation to the poor inside the church, outside the church, nearby and far away, is the criterion to judge the authenticity and credibility of the church’s missionary engagement.38 In this affirmation, the Conference had been greatly influenced by Latin American Liberation Theology, especially the pronouncement of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Pueblo (Mexico), on the preferential option for the poor.
2. The Kingdom of God and Human Struggles
Daniel Von Allmen of Switzerland began his paper on "The Kingdom of God and Human Struggles" by saying that conflict seemed to be a permanent truth about human life. In many parts of the world, human beings were struggling not for an improvement in their conditions of life or for any social progress, but purely and simply for life itself. They were deprived of their basic rights to sufficient and appropriate nourishment, clothing and housing, and often of their right to love, to warmth and to a human environment in which they could grow and develop as persons. Since the incarnation, Von Allmen said, the struggles of humankind in this world could no longer be a matter of indifference for the Christians.
Speaking of justice, he said that the struggle for justice was too often limited to one’s own rights. Any genuine struggle for justice could only begin at the point where such limits are called into question and where the rights of one are seen also as being valid for the other. For example, he said, "We have sent missionaries into all the world because we believed that the gospel we have received is also good for humanity beyond all frontiers. Will we now - and I am speaking as a man from the West - passionately defend the frontiers when it is a question of a better sharing of the riches of creation throughout the world! Will we claim that the struggles for a more just international economic order has nothing to do with mission".39 He then made an important observation. He pointed out that in the face of the coming kingdom, all the realities of human history became relative, indeed downgraded. Even at its best, human struggles in this world have no more than penultimate status. Yet if it is true, must we not necessarily draw the conclusion that we all, Christians and non-Christians alike, have been made equal? For even the historical reality of the Church at its highest and best has no more than penultimate status. We are all in the same boat.40
What Von Allmen said was that human struggles need to be seen in their international context, and that in those struggles, all human beings were basically in a common solidarity - Christian and non-Christian. In the perspective of the kingdom, he also stressed the penultimate status of all our efforts.
Von Allmen mentioned that one of the serious struggles in which human beings were engaged was the struggle for truth. "Are we in this case, too, in the same boat with the rest of humanity? Many people will dispute that, for in comparison to all other faiths is our faith not the true faith?" Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." This, according to Von Allmen, means that the truth is a living person, one who cannot be taken captive by words. "But as soon as I try to express this truth with my words it is inextricably caught up in the weakness of all human activity, loses all absoluteness and can only be treated as human. Until the Kingdom of God has fully arrived, until we see God face to face, our awareness of truth can at best be partial (1. Cor. 13:12)"41. Then he said:
Every pronouncement about our faith results not only from a struggle with the stubbornness of our inability to express the truth, but also from a struggle with God and with the truth which is always running ahead of us. Seen in this way we are on the same footing with all those who sincerely struggle for truth. This struggle for truth takes place in dialogue... For me this means that dialogue is a basic structure of Christian witness, and therefore quite naturally of all missionary witness, while we remain on the earthly pilgrimage.42
These questions and observations of Von Allmen did not receive adequate attention at the Conference.
The section report begins by saying that there were many struggles in many places. In view of the ambiguity of what was going on in the struggles, the task of the Christian churches was to say "yes" to that which conformed to the Kingdom of God, as revealed to humankind in the life of Jesus Christ, and to say "no" to that which distorted the dignity and freedom of human beings and all that is alive. The churches were called to live in the midst of human struggles and to be present at the bleeding points of humanity, thus being near those who suffered evil, and taking the risk of being counted among the wicked. Without losing sight of the ultimate hope of the Kingdom of God, or giving up their critical attitude, the churches had to dare to be present in the midst of human struggles for penultimate solutions. Above all the churches should witness to the hope for humankind and for the whole creation in the life, death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The report deals with the subject: The Kingdom of God and Human Struggles, under five areas of concern: The Kingdom of God and the struggles of people in countries searching for liberation and self-determination; The Kingdom of God and the struggles for human rights; The Kingdom of God in contexts of strong revival of institutional religions; The Kingdom of God in the context of centrally planned economics; and The Kingdom of God in the struggles of countries dominated by consumerism and the growth of big cities.
Speaking of evangelism and mission in the struggle for human rights, the report states:
When the churches and individual members of the churches get involved in the struggles for human rights they do so because they have seen in Jesus Christ as Lord of the kingdom of God a radical challenge of all attempts at depriving women and men of their human rights. Churches and Christians are called to participate in such struggles as those who witness in their obedience to the unique character of the Gospel’s demand for love towards the enemy, forgiveness and reconciliation. Evangelism is part of the local mission of the church in the social, economic and political life of the human societies. Thus such participation in struggles for human rights is in itself a central element in the total mission of the church to proclaim by word and act the crucified and risen Christ.43
The report reminded the churches:
There is a need for the churches to change their own attitudes and styles of life and let themselves be renewed by the Gospel which is entrusted to them, that they may serve humankind with a true interpretation of what is going on in the many struggles, pointing to Jesus Christ as the one in whom God sums up all things?44
3. The Church Witnesses to the Kingdom
John V. Taylor from Great Britain spoke on the subject in the plenary session.45 He said that the Kingdom of God did not lie within the span of world history; it belonged to another dimension. Yet it was so near at hand that it throws its light ahead of its arrival, and those who responded to its promise and invitation lived in the light. Jesus called men to live the life of the Kingdom in anticipation of its arrival. The sick did not have to wait for the consummation of the Kingdom before God’s victory over disease could be manifested in them. "If I by the finger of God drive out the demons, know for sure that the Kingdom of God has already come upon you". So neither should those who have responded, to the announcement of the Kingdom’s arrival wait any longer before beginning to live its life.
Jesus saw himself as the one in whom the Kingdom was already being realized. His task was not simply to announce its arrival but to actually inaugurate it. The church was called into being in order to live the life of the Kingdom in anticipation of its arrival. The church should be shaped by its certainty about the future that God provides. That certainty throws its light upon everything in the present. The future, in which everything will find fulfillment with the will and nature of God, is already pressing itself into the present world order to question and to change it. The Kingdom arrives from beyond, yet it is of this world. It is the Father’s will and Father’s rule on earth as in heaven. Therefore what the church offers mankind is an alternative life view and an alternative life style.
With regard to the witness of the church, John Taylor made it very clear that there could be no witness to the Kingdom without the cross and resurrection. Very early in His ministry Jesus had come to terms with the resistance and hardness of heart with which His preaching was met. People in power, people supported by tradition, and those who were insecure and envious, were not going to be changed easily. Jesus came to see that the Kingdom was going to be inaugurated through His suffering and death. This is indicated by the choice of the title "Son of Man" for Himself. In the vision of Daniel, the Son of Man represents not a single individual but God’s royal people. "The Son of Man, therefore, means the agent and inaugurator of the coming kingdom who will enable others to share with him his special relationship with God through a voluntary acceptance of death".46 Whenever we think about the church, John Taylor suggests, we must never forget that when Jesus chose the title "Son of Man" He was using a figure with a plural meaning. He called others to be with Him not just in living the life of the Kingdom, but also in dying the necessary death for the Kingdom. The twelve were selected by Jesus as representatives of the tribes of Israel in order to constitute the faithful remnant in its final manifestation as the dying and suffering servant. At the end, the twelve failed Him and He had to go alone to the cross. But the Apostolic Church realized that the invitation to share this with Him was renewed by the Risen Christ. This became for them the main significance of baptism. "If we have become incorporate with him in a death like this, we shall also be with him in a resurrection like this".47 And this sharing of the broken bread and the poured-out wine was the symbol He gave them to show that they were still included in His own vocation to be the Son of Man. The koinonia of the church is nothing less than the cost of literally partaking in the sufferings and the resurrection of Christ in order to make up the balance of what has still to be endured in order to unlock the Kingdom for others to enter in (2. Cor. 1:7; 1. Peter 4:13; Col. 1:24). The church which shares with Jesus being the Son of Man has to expose itself to the same humiliation and derision. Those who are called to live the life of the Kingdom in anticipation of its arrival commit themselves to the pattern of the cross and resurrection. If we live by another pattern we are not preaching the Gospel Jesus preached. This pattern of life opposes absolutely the way of the world.48
John Taylor pointed out that the context of the church’s witness was the local human situation:
It is in this world that the life-style of the kingdom has to be lived in anticipation of its arrival. The life-style cannot be lived in a religious enclave constructed to provide favorable conditions. Christians live the life of the Kingdom not as members of a sect, but as parents and neighbors, as workers, as citizens, as people of a particular race, as members of privileged or deprived groups. Witnessing to the Kingdom means enabling people in each particular situation to see the nature of God truly reflected in the mirror of their own culture, their own institutions and their own conflicts.49
It was in this context that John Taylor saw the importance of the local church. The belief in the Kingdom of God should give shape and direction to the five essential activities of the Church, which must also be the activities of every local Church - worship, fellowship, learning, service and witness. These are all part of the witness which the Church bears to the coming Kingdom. Though worship and fellowship, the learning and serving are all part of the witness which the Church bears to the coming Kingdom, we witness supremely by living the life and telling the story.
The Bible makes it clear that the people of God are his witnesses in two senses. Like someone in the witness box, they are called to say what they have seen and heard and experienced. But they are also, in themselves, by the lives they lead, the exhibits which the counsel for the defense will produce as evidence before the eyes of the court. What we are, as well as what we say, speaks either for the God of Jesus Christ or against him. The aim of all Christian witness is to persuade people whose minds are not yet made up to decide for God, to believe and trust in the God whom Jesus knew as his Father, and to experience the reality of that God for themselves.50
The story of God in Christ is the essential kernel which lies at the heart of all evangelism and at the center of every activity of mission. A major problem is to tell the story in such a way that people hear it as contemporary and relevant.51 John Taylor pointed out that we could reach outsiders not by anything we do inside the church buildings but by crossing over to the outsiders and learning to be at home in that alien territory, as the more we are engaged in Christian witness, the more we shall recognize that it is not we who make or mar the future. "The kingdom is being given to us. The penultimate reality in which we live and struggle is not the road by which we reach the ultimate. It is the other way round. The ultimate which lies beyond our sight is shaping the penultimate in which we live, through the power of faith, hope and love".52
The section report on "The Church Witnesses to the Kingdom" began by saying that the title was a frightening claim but a powerful reality. It was frightening because our personal experience of the empirical church is that often church life has hidden rather than revealed the sovereignty of God. Yet there is reality here. "The whole church of God, in every place and time, is a sacrament of the kingdom which came in the person of Jesus Christ and will come in its fullness when he returns in glory".53 The report dealt with the subject under five points: Proclamation of the word of God; In search of a living community at the local level; The healing community; Common witness to God’s kingdom; The Eucharist as a witness to the Kingdom of God and an experience of God’s reign.
The proclamation of the Good News is the announcement that the Kingdom of God is at hand, a challenge to repent and an invitation to believe, the report said. By Jesus, and in His name, the powers of the Kingdom bring liberation and wholeness, dignity and life both to those who hunger after justice, and to those who struggle with consumerism, greed, selfishness and death. The proclamation is the responsibility of the whole church and of every member, although the Spirit endows some members with special gifts to be evangelists, and a great diversity of witness is found. The credibility of the proclamation rests upon the authenticity of the total witness of the church. Authentic proclamation will be a spontaneous output of a church which is truly a worshipping community, welcoming outsiders, offering their service in both church and society and being a pilgrim community that makes its proclamation along the way. On this pilgrimage, proclamation is always linked to a specific situation and a specific moment in history. One specific area of concern at the moment is the widespread oppression of women in both the church and society.54
The report called the churches to search for an authentic community in Christ at the local level, which would encompass, but be larger than, the local church community (because the kingdom is wider than the church). The Kingdom of God is an inclusive and open reality, seeking to include people irrespective of their sex, race, age and color; willing to reflect on and respond to needs and ideas beyond the Christian community and thus entering into dialogue and service with all. The hopes and aspirations of the surrounding community are to be taken up in the life of the witness to the Kingdom. Its life being a foretaste of the Kingdom, the Church has to confront the values, structures, ideologies and practices of the society of which it is a part. The report recognizes the fact that there is disparity between the Kingdom and the actual condition of our empirical local congregations. Yet, as the report points out, the institutional church is not to be rejected as it is one of the forms in which renewal can occur. The report recommended various forms of community life which would bring about renewal in life and mission such as ‘Base’ Christian communities, House churches, Prayer groups, Monastic communities and other groups seeking a simpler life-style or seeking involvement in various kinds of mission.
Jesus Christ healed the sick as a sign that the Kingdom of God had come. It was a healing of the whole person - forgiveness for the guilt-laden, health for the diseased, hope for the despairing, restored relations for the alienated. The report says:
The churches in this response must commit themselves in fellowship with those who struggle to rid the world of these root causes. In their healing work they need to give priority to the poor, the aged, the refugees and the chronically ill who are particularly disadvantaged in health care. It is not only that poor countries lack basic medical services. It is also that the medical profession’s concentration on spectacular achievement, expensive specialist treatment, and great hospitals diverts attention from basic health care for all.55
The report affirmed the need for common witness to the Kingdom and called for common witness in many areas of church’s mission such as socio-political contexts, Bible translation and distribution, developing theological training for clergy and laity ecumenically, and so on. It pointed out that common witness was especially important in pluralistic societies. The churches could best contribute by joint efforts to promote the expression of Christian values in public affairs and in life styles. "Common witness implies respect for varying cultural heritages and the avoidance of even the more subtle and hidden forms of cultural invasion". With regard to the damage done for Christian witness by Christian divisions, the report says: "We believe that unless the pilgrimage route leads the churches to visible unity, in the one God we preach and worship, the one Christ crucified for us all, the one Holy Spirit who creates anew, and the one Kingdom, the mission entrusted to us in this world will always be rightly questioned".56
The Eucharist is a witness to the Kingdom of God and an experience of God’s reign. The sharing of the broken bread and the poured-out wine was the symbol Jesus gave to the disciples to show that they were still included in His vocation to be the ‘Son of Man’. On the very night of His betrayal when the agony and distress were powerful, He offered this food that the disciples might know their unity with Him. We are in a world where agony multiplies, and where there are no easy roads to peace. "On this betrayal night Jesus still invites us to share bread and wine that we may be one with Him in sacrificial love". 57 Communion with God in Christ and community with God’s people are two aspects of the one sacrament. The Eucharist calls us to be united with God and united with one another. It is a sacrament of unity. It is also Pilgrim Bread. There are times and places where the very act of coming together to celebrate the Eucharist can be a public witness. Yet the experience of the Eucharist is primarily within the fellowship of the church. It gives life to the Christians so that they may be formed in the Image of Christ and so become effective witnesses to Him. "As we receive the Eucharist, Gods’ all for us, are we giving our all to him and his needy children".58
4. The Crucified Christ Challenges Human Power
In the section plenary, Kosuka Koyama of Japan spoke on the subject: The Crucified Christ Challenges Human Power. In his address, he asked the questions: Who is Jesus Christ and What does the Crucified Christ mean? He pointed out that the church believed that Jesus Christ was the center of all peoples and all things. But he is the center who is always in motion towards the periphery. In this he reveals the mind of God who is concerned about the people on the periphery. Jesus was the center person laid in a manger "because there was no place for him in the inn". He affirmed his centrality by giving it up. He died outside the city gate. That is what the designation ‘crucified’ means. Koyama said:
His life moves towards the periphery. He expresses his centrality in the periphery by reaching the extreme periphery. Finally on the cross, he stops this movement. Then he cannot move. He is nailed down. This is the point of ultimate periphery. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). He is the crucified Lord. "Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself" (Phil. 2:6-7). From this utmost point of periphery he establishes his authority. This movement towards the periphery is called the love of God in Christ. In the periphery his authority and love meet. They are one. His authority is substantiated by love. His love is authoritative.59
The Crucified Christ challenges human power, Koyama continued. As the periphery man He challenged the idolatry in religion and politics and confirmed the deeper tradition of "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" in the life of the synagogue and the church. "When these words are said by someone, whether he or she, rich or poor, they can challenge the existing unjust social order, because such souls are free from idolatry. They do not try to be peaceful when there is no peace. They are ‘broken, souls’ (Psalms 5 1:17). The broken souls can become community-minded souls. They are equipped with keen perception on the whereabouts and works of social justice ... These words of the tax collector can challenge human religious and political power. The authority-free dynamism of periphery is at work in these words. They point to the authority of Jesus"60
With regard to the church, Koyama said that the church was a strange institution created by the Crucified Lord. It is this image of the Crucified Lord that must come out through the life of the institutional church. It is the life that accepts humiliation in order to save others from humiliation. The crucified Christ cannot be easily institutionalized. He cannot be tamed. He is always able to crucify the institution built in His name. He visits his church as the Crucified Lord. He asks His church to have a crucified mind rather than a crusading mind.
In our world today, "good Christian people" are those who distance themselves from the suffering of the world. They talk about the suffering and give some charity. But their goodness is that of the bystanders. Millions of times the prayer "Your Kingdom come" said by those good people who live in ‘cruel innocence’. Koyama ended his address with the following observation:
This prayer, "Your Kingdom come", does not originate in the Christian Church. The Church inherited it from Israel. The Jews prayed, "Your Kingdom come". They prayed this prayer through the catastrophe of the holocaust in recent history. It was not a cheap prayer. Today when we pray this prayer we must know that we are saying it after Auschwitz and the Cambodian genocide. The world is replete with hideous lethal weapons. It is in this world that we pray this prayer. We must know the tragic brokenness of the world when we say this prayer. With the scars of Jesus that heal the wounds of the world, we say, "Your Kingdom come".61
The section report spoke of a world which had been created as essentially good, now under the grip of demonic powers causing untold sufferings for people. The reality of the demonic powers is seen in the death of Jesus Christ where the religious, political and military powers together conspired to put Him to death. However, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ something radically new happened which can be described as a new creation. An altogether new quality of power appeared to be let loose among humankind. It is the power of self-emptying love. It is the power of the kingdom, and of the Gospel. The believers in Christ also share in this new power with which they can fight demonic powers. The proclamation of the reign of God is the announcement of a new order which challenges the powers and structures that have become demonic.
There are different situations in which the churches are called to challenge demonic powers. The criterion for determining the relationship to the powers is the extent to which God’s creative, liberating and serving power is evidenced in their actions, and the extent to which equality is established. The churches must avoid imitating the patterns of the powers that they seek to challenge. In the light of the reign of God, the fundamental criterion for the church’s use of power must be the good of the poor and their liberation from oppression. The church itself is often guilty of using a measure of power. We need to ask if the church uses power for self-aggrandizement and self-preservation of the community, institution or leaders, or whether it is essentially selfless? The church structures often help in the concentration of power in the hands of the few. The report pointed out that in the church, power is exercised as an expression of selfless love and is used to build up the body of Christ. "Power which reflects the power of Christ is a power that is exercised within the community of sharing, built on communion with the Triune God. It is a power that is shared, as life within the community is shared".62 We need to ask whether all people, as children of God, participate in the agencies of power or whether there are groups that are excluded on the basis of, for example, sex, age, handicaps, economic circumstances, social marginalization. It should be noted that we have to think not only of sharing decisions, but also of the exercise in common of all the gifts given within a community such as, for example, healing, teaching, organizing, and caring. The report notes:
Any use of power that suppresses the loving exercise of gifts is an abuse that ultimately leads to the dehumanizing of persons. The clericalization of the church and the resultant withdrawal of power from the laity is a blatant expression of the abuse of power. This problem is heightened by the fact that when church structures place power in the hands of a few or even one person, a pyramidal system is created with the inherent danger of the monopolization of that power.63
There was no unanimity at the conference with regard to the ordination of women and the pyramidal pattern of the structure of some churches. As to the place of women, the report says, "It would seem to many of us that biblically, theologically and pastorally there is no reason why women should be excluded from any position in the churches. Those who affirm this feel bound to urge upon those churches which exclude the full participation of women in top leadership that ways be sought in which women can be increasingly involved in positions of full responsibility".64
The report recognized the power of money in the life of the Christian community. "Money must be considered as a tool of common sharing. The economically poor have a right to play an equal part in the common sharing of the resources of the earth. Church money should be used to support the struggle of the poor to end the unjust society". The report called for the re-structuring of the church for mission. The Crucified Christ not only challenges the structures of society, but also that of the institutional church. It said:
Churches are tempted to be self-centered and self-preserving, but are called to be serving and sharing. Churches are tempted to be self-perpetuating, but are called to be totally committed to the promises and demands of the Kingdom of God. Churches which are tempted to be clerical and male dominated are called to be living communities in which all members can exercise their gifts and share the responsibilities ... Churches are tempted to be exclusionist and privileged but are called to be servants of a Lord who is the crucified Christ who claimed no privilege for himself but suffered for all. Churches tend to reflect and reinforce the dominating, exploiting structures of society but are called to be bodies which are critical of the status quo. Churches are tempted to a partial obedience but are called to a total commitment to the Christ who, before he was raised, had first to be crucified. 65
The report called for a change in the direction of mission, arising from our understanding of Christ as the center but who is always in movement towards the periphery.
Our study and prayer together on the theme "Christ-crucified and risen-challenges human power" has led us to see special significance in the role of the poor, the powerless and the oppressed. Might it not be that they have the clearest vision, the closest fellowship with the crucified Christ who suffers in them and with them? Might it not be that the poor and powerless have the most significant word for the rich and the powerful: that Jesus must be sought on the periphery, and followed ‘outside the city’? That following him involves a commitment to the poor? Who but the church of the poor can preach with integrity to the poor of the world ? In these ways we see the "poor" churches of the world as the bearers of mission: world mission and evangelism may now be primarily in their hands. Perhaps they alone can waken the world to an awareness of the urgent call of Christ to costly and radical response.66
In many ways the Melbourne Conference was a great success. It was a well-prepared Conference. Its choice of the theme, "Your Kingdom Come" was a missionary theme par excellence. The Kingdom of God is not only the goal of mission but also the reason for mission. It is also the message of the Christian mission. Melbourne unambiguously affirmed that the Kingdom of God had come in the person of Jesus Christ. As Christ’s Kingdom, the royal reign of God begins on earth as the Kingdom of the Crucified, which places His disciples with Him under the cross. Melbourne, under the influence of Latin American Liberation Theology and the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops (Medellin in 1968) and Puebla in 1979), rightly stated that God had a preferential option for the poor, and the principle or yardstick to judge the authenticity and credibility of the church’s missionary engagement was the relationship of the church to the poor.
Since 1938 the missionary movement had been slowly moving away from a church-centric view of mission. But Melbourne brought the church back into discussion. The church was recognized as an agent of mission and the sacrament of the Kingdom. Melbourne made it clear that the church was only penultimate, and not absolute, and was under the judgement of the Kingdom. The Conference saw the demonic powers operating not only in the world but also in the church. It called for radical transformation of not only society but also of the churches. Speaking of Melbourne, James A. Scherer observes:
Beginning at Nairobi, and continuing at Melbourne, the church appears to have been rehabilitated in WCC circles as an instrument for mission. The spoken word - like Baptism and Eucharist - is said to have a sacramental quality; the church itself is called a sacrament of the kingdom. Melbourne clearly articulated the belief that the Christian community in its various forms is capable of repenting, being renewed, and being equipped for missionary service. In the eschatological perspective of the kingdom, the church attains its rightful place as servant and herald of the kingdom, not its final expression. liberated from feverish concern for institutional self-preservation, the church is free to give itself up its proper service of proclaiming Christ and heralding the kingdom by word and deed... Its real power lies in its faithfulness to the kenotic life-style, and to the cross and the resurrection. In giving up its life for Christ’s sake, the church finds its true identity, and becomes a church in mission.67
Not withstanding all the good work that was done at the Conference, it was narrowly focussed and failed to address some of the central issues related to the Kingdom of God. For example, some of the important questions raised by Daniel Von Allmen were not given proper consideration. Philip Potter had pointed out that one of the key issues raised by the theme was the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. This did not secure any attention at Melbourne. The question was not simply that the world and world history provides the context for Christian mission but whether the world has a mission to the church.
Is mission only from the church to the world or is there also a mission from the world to the church? Does God use the secular movements, other religions and cultures to educate and reform the church? In an article entitled, "The Ecumenical Movement Inside Out’,68 written as a preparatory paper for Melbourne, C. S. Song, one of the Asian theologians, points out that the notion of the kingdom used in a mission conference, if one is not careful, will make the story of salvation solely a Christian story. We may get away with it in so far as poverty, oppression, and injustice are concerned, but we will hardly find room for those faiths, cultures and ideologies outside the sacred tradition of the church. The issue of mission is the issue of human spirit. It is the struggle which takes place as the human spirit is invaded by the divine spirit. He says that liberation has been a great ecumenical catchword in the second half of the twentieth century, and rightly so. We all set out to liberate others - the poor, the oppressed and the exploited.
But there is another kind of liberation. This is liberation from ourselves, from our professional arrogance, from our institutional rigidity, in short, from our history. This is a liberation of a deeply spiritual kind. And since we are slow to liberate ourselves, the world has come to liberate us from our history. Secularization has done a lot towards the liberation of Christianity. It has invaded our inner sanctuary and forced us to face the reality of the world. Anti-colonial struggles too have contributed to our liberation. But this kind of liberation has yet to touch the very core of the Christian heart. When we see liberation forces advance towards the very citadel of our faith and challenge the fortress of our mission, we become defensive. We find the intruders of other faiths and ideologies a nuisance.
Speaking of the Melbourne Conference, C.S.Song said that it would mobilize everything in its power to claim the world as its mission field, and in all likelihood, come up with a well balanced manifesto on the missionary task of the church. He then posed the following question: "What will it do with the signs of Ishmael, a handmaid’s child cast away to make room for Isaac, the heir, the desert kingdom of Esau who had his birthright cheated away by the cunning Jacob, or the mission of Cyrus, the pagan king summoned by God to carry out his word which made it possible for Israel to go free?". The history we hear outside our sacred history, is the history of faith, mission and hope. He said:
At this juncture in human history, the crucial issue is perhaps not the world mission of the church, rather the mission of the world in fulfillment of the purpose of God’s creation and redemption. Let us not forget the world has also a mission and the Christian church has to find the place of her mission in the mission of the world. From the world mission to the mission of the world - this transition is, to my mind, the test of whether the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism can turn itself inside out in the service of God’s mission.69
The church and the world are signs one to the other. It was this perspective of the Kingdom that was missed in Melbourne. In Melbourne, the consideration of other faiths and the people of other faiths, was no more than an agenda for further discussion.70
San Antonio 1989
The Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches held its next world mission conference in January 1989 at San Antonio, USA. Like the Melbourne Conference, the San Antonio Conference pursued the Kingdom theme under a phrase from the Lord’s prayer, the theme being : Your Will be Done: Mission in Christ’s Way.71
The Conference made it clear that in the prayer, "Thy will be done" we proclaim quietly but resolutely that above all human wills there is one will that is redemptive, life-giving, full of wisdom and power which in the end will prevail. There is a firm certainty that at the center of reality is God and His Kingdom.72 In this prayer we speak to God about His will and ours. To try to transform the world in the direction of the Kingdom of God is a task far beyond our human strength, but it is a task in which we are not alone, a task in which God Himself is engaged. In his address, Anastasios of Androussa, Moderator of Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), said that in this prayer we beseech the Father to bring to completion His plan for the salvation of the whole world, while, at the same time, seeking His grace so that we may be freed from our own will and accept His will with joy. And not only we as individuals, but that all humankind may have fellowship in His will and share in the fulfillment. He quoted St. Chrysostom saying that Jesus did not say that thy will be done in me or us, but everywhere on earth so that the error might be done away with and truth established, all evil be cast out. "The prayer is for the celestification of the earth, that all persons and all things may become heaven".73
Emilio Castro, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, brought to the attention of the Conference the tremendous risk we run in speaking about the will of God. He said:
If we look at our own history, we have inquisition and counter-inquisition to remind us that the claim to know and execute God’s will has very often turned out to mean serving our own end and our own will, and has been used to justify crimes of all kinds against our neighbors.74
According to Emilio Castro, we can only guard against the dangers by reminding ourselves of the penultimate nature of our existence and the provisional character of our judgements. On the one hand, we must enter into history with all the seriousness of the ultimate things. Our day to day discussions, the way we treat our neighbor are significant for our eternal destiny because in that neighbor we meet Jesus Christ, God incarnate. On the other hand, we enter into history in the knowledge that the one who comes to us in Jesus Christ is the one who, at the end of history, will come to judge the quick and the dead, to bring His purifying fire and to establish a new measure of judgement that is beyond our historically limited understanding. We cannot admit irreversible sentences in our finite history because in so doing we are usurping a final judgement that God has not entrusted to His creatures.75
The prayer, "Your will be done" constantly reminds us of a different objective reality and of our own subjectivity. In practice, we can guard against misconceptions of God’s will through ecumenical dialogue, not only with other Christians, but also with other cultures and religions. The ecumenical dialogue might prevent us from falling into sectarian fanaticism. Any claim to absolute validity for our convictions will show that we worship not the transcendent God but our own idea or image of Him. This calls for dialogue, mutual criticism and constant re-consideration of our problems. The right to criticize, which is a fundamental expression of freedom, must be guaranteed for every one. Emilio Castro said:
The difficulty we have in discerning God’s will, the traps for us from our own arrogance and selfishness, which make us mistake our own will for God’s will, can be overcome by fellowship among churches in the ecumenical movement, by witnessing dialogue with people of other philosophical and religious convictions. But above all they are checked by constant reference, on our part, to the person of Jesus Christ. This is why the second phrase of our theme is useful: Mission in Christ’s way.76
The conference in San Antonio, when it spoke of doing God’s will, spoke of discerning and doing God’s will in Christ’s way. Raymond Fung in an article on the subject published in the International Review of Mission pointed out that the church did not have a free hand with mission. Christ who has given us the go-ahead for mission has also given us certain parameters within which to work. Before Jesus began His public ministry, He spent forty days in the wilderness, struggling with what that ministry was going to be, and how it was to be carried out. The result was certain parameters for mission. We know that Jesus turned water into wine and that He fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. Yet in the wilderness He refused to turn stones into bread. He would not jump to safety from a high tower to draw the world to Himself. In order to draw the world to Himself, Jesus bowed His head only on the cross, not in front of the offerings of power and wealth. This was the characteristic of His mission.77 Emilio Castro, in his address, also mentioned that as Christians. we cannot talk about the will of God in general terms in the presence of God in Jesus Christ. In our proclamation of God’s will the inevitable and fundamental center is Jesus Christ. What does this mean for our mission? In the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, said Emilio Castro, we find that priority is always given to the neighbor. In Jesus there is a total disregard for self. In His baptism, he places Himself in the rank of sinners so that with them He can assume the whole human condition. His priority, above all, was to the poor, the marginalized, children and those who were sick. The dynamic of mission in Christ’s way must always start from the marginalized sectors of society and move upwards towards the domes of power.
According to Anastasios of Androusia, the mission in Christ’s way needs to be seen in the light of Jesus’ total life in its Trinitarian connection and relationship. Jesus is sent by the Father and the Holy Spirit clears the way for Him, works with Him, accompanies Him, set the seal on His work and continues it for ever. The source and bearing of our apostolic activity resides in the promise and precept of the Risen Lord in its Trinitarian perspective: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you... Receive the Holy Spirit ..."(John 20:21-22). In the first place Jesus Christ assumed the whole humanity. He is not only a savior of souls but of the entire human being and the whole of material-spiritual creation. This perspective demands creative dialogue with contemporary culture, with secular persons stuck in the materialism of this world. Secondly, the radically and eternally new element in the life of the Trinity is the element of love. ‘The Father is love, the Son is love incarnate, and the Spirit is the inexhaustible power of love. Love is not a vague principle; it is the communion of persons. The Son reveals this communion of love. In it, He is not only the one who Invites, but is also the way by which this love can be attained. Closely bound up with love are the freedom, justice, liberation and fellowship of all humankind, truth and the harmony and fullness of human life. He reveals that the living center of all is love. He identifies Himself with the poor and overthrows all established authority and traditional purposes and values. "Concern for all the poor and those unjustly treated, without exception - independent of race or creed - is not a fashion of the ecumenical movement, but a fundamental tradition of the one church, an obligation that its genuine representatives always saw as of first importance".78
Anastasios went on to say that from the first movement of His presence in humanity, Christ made Kenosis (self-emptying) the revelation of the power of love of the triune God. The opposite of love is egoism. Christian life means continual assimilation of the mystery of the cross in the light against individual and social selfishness. The holy humility which is ready to accept the ultimate sacrifice, is the mystical power behind the Christian mission. To conform one’s life to the crucified life of Christ involves the mystical power of the resurrection. On the other side, the resurrection is the glorious revelation of the mystery and power of the cross; victory over selfishness and death. "A mission that does not put at its center the cross and the resurrection, ends up as a shadow and fantasy". All people, the rich and the poor, are faced with the final question: What happens at death? The answer is, "For this is the will of the Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40). Mission in Christ’s way reveals this ultimate prospect of human life, namely the celestification of life.
The conference at San Antonio discussed the main theme under four sub themes:
1. Turning to the Living God;
2. Participating in Suffering and Struggle;
3. The Earth is the Lord’s; and
4. Towards Renewed Communities in Mission.
In its discussion of Christian mission in the perspective of the Kingdom of God, the Conference, in many ways, did not go much further than the Melbourne Conference.
By focussing on the Kingdom of God, both the Melbourne and San Antonio conferences made it clear that the Kingdom of God is the goal and purpose of Christian mission. They helped the ecumenical movement move away from a narrow view of mission, with its emphasis on church extension or adding members, to the institutional church. Melbourne and San Antonio pointed out that the Kingdom of God represents the ultimate reality of the ‘world to come’ and is not identical with the institutional church. They made it clear that the goal of mission is the manifestation, in this world, of the new creation in Christ. Thus, Christian mission takes the form of a declaration of war against all forces contrary to the will of God.
1. Robin Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, Madras, CLS, 1969, pp. 159-160.
2. Johannes Verkul, "‘The Kingdom of God as the Goal of Mission Dei", IRM, vol. LXVIII, no. 270, April 1979. pp. 168f-.
3. Your Kingdom Come, Report on the World Conference on Mission and Evangelism, Geneva, WCC. 1980, p. 8. The ‘Kingdom of God’ was prominent in the IMC thinking from its beginning. However, the different understandings of the Kingdom created tensions within the ecumenical movement. At the beginning of the 20th century, the theology of the ‘social gospel’ was very prominent in American thinking. It emphasized human initiatives in building up the Kingdom of God and stressed the social witness of the church for the sake of transforming the society toward the Kingdom. This ran counter to the Continental emphasis on the eschatological nature of the Kingdom and their understanding that the Kingdom is a gift of God and not a human achievement. The tension between the American emphasis on the social gospel and the continental emphasis on eschatology was seen in several of the ecumenical conferences since Edinburgh. This was seen in Jerusalem and was prominently present in the Oxford Conference of 1937. In Jerusalem, in contrast to the Continental view, William Paton, R.H. Tawney and others pointed out that because God’s Kingdom is not of this world, it does not follow that this world is not part of the Kingdom..
4. Quoted in Ibid., p. 8.
5. Ibid.. p. 1.
6. Ibid., pp. 74-77.
7. Ibid., p. 36.
8. Ibid., p. 61.
9. Ibid., p. 34.
10. Ibid., p. 62.
11. Ibid., 63.
12. Ibid., Acts. 2:36.
13. 1. Cor. 15:24.
14. Eph. 1:20-21.
15. Your Kingdom Come, p. 63.
16. Ibid., p. 63.
17. Ibid.. xi.
18. Ibid., p. 64.
19. Ibid., pp. 64-65
20. Ibid., p. 37.
21. Ibid., p. 29.
22. Ibid., p. xvi.
23. Ibid., p. 67.
25. Ibid., p. 127
26. Ibid., p. 30.
27. Ibid., pp. 171-223.
28. Ibid., pp. 83-92
29. Ibid., p. 97.
30. Ibid., p. 100 see also G. Theissen, "Itinerant Radicalism", in Radical Religion, A Quarterly Journal of Critical Opinions, vol. II, no. 2 & 3,1975, pp. 84-93, The First Followers of Jesus, London, SCM Press, 1978, pp. 110-114.
31. Ibid., 101.
32. Ibid., p. 106.
33. Ibid., p. 110.
34 Ibid., p. 119.
35. Ibid.. p. 172.
36. Ibid., p 174.
37. Ibid., p. xiii.
38. Ibid., p. 228
39. Ibid., p. 129.
40. Ibid., p. 127.
41. Ibid., p. 130.
42. Ibid., p. 130.
43. Ibid., p. 186.
44. Ibid., p. 192.
45. Ibid.. pp. 133-144.
46. Ibid., p. 136.
47. Romans 6:5.
48. Your Kingdom Come, p. 137.
49. Ibid., p. 138.
50. Ibid., p. 143.
51. Ibid., p. 143.
52. Ibid., p. 144.
53. Ibid., p. 192.
54. Ibid.. pp. 195-196.
55. Ibid., p. 199.
56. Ibid., p. 199.
57. Ibid., p 204.
58. Ibid., pp. 207.
59. Ibid., p. 162.
60. Ibid., p. 167-168.
61. Ibid., p. 170.
62. Ibid., p. 214.
63. Ibid., p. 214.
64. Ibid., p. 216.
65. Ibid., p. 217.
66. Ibid., p. 219.
67. James A. Scherer, Op. cit, p. 144.
68. IRM, no. 266, April 1978, p. 203f.
69. Ibid., p. 206.
70. Your Kingdom Come, Op.cit, p. xiv.
71. IRM, October, 1989, p. 305f.
72. Ibid., p. 316.
73. Ibid. ,p. 318
74. Ibid., p. 330.
75 Ibid. ,p. 330.
76. Ibid., p. 332.
77. IRM, January 1989, p. 4f.
78. IRM, October 1989, p. 320.