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World Mission Today

by Preman D. Niles

Preman D. Niles, Ph. D. (Princeton) is General Secretary of the Council for World Mission, London.  He is a member of the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom.  Prior to his present position, Dr. Niles was Director for Programme on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, World Council of Churches, Geneva, and was Senior Lecturer and Academic Dean at the Theological College of Lanka, Pilimaralawa, Sri Lanka.  This paper was presented at the Conference on World Mission and the Role of Korean Churches, held during November 1995 in Seoul, Korea.


The term 'world mission' is of rather recent origin. It is used to refer to both local and global mission, i.e., every place where the church meets the world. There are two prevalent attitudes to world mission today. Both are inadequate. One attitude is to give up on world mission altogether, saying that the era of mission has ended, and concentrate only on the life of the local church. This attitude is concerned neither with the world at the door step of the church nor with the world in the global sense. It is an attitude that is satisfied with maintenance. Theologically speaking, when a church ceases to be a missionary church it gives up on being a church. It then no longer understands itself as being sent, i.e., being in mission to the world with a message. The second attitude is to assume that nothing has changed, and so to continue with the old missionary thrust which is concerned essentially with mission abroad. By and large, this has been the response of the Korean churches. This type of missionary work has a few initial successes, and then there is a collapse. There are two principal reasons for the collapse. First, to whatever country one goes in mission today, there are already indigenous churches. These have their own understandings of what it means to be the church in a particular context. So, an aggressive missionary movement from outside is sooner or later resisted. Second, because of the impact of Western missionary movements and colonialism, other religions of the world have become not only impervious to Christian mission but have also themselves become aggressive missionising faiths. Consequently, to preserve harmony, many governments either prevent missionaries from outside entering their countries or enact stringent laws to control foreign missions to maintain religious harmony. Even those that do not have such laws tend to expel missionaries.

The inadequacy of both responses presses upon us the need to look again at the task of world mission in a changed world situation, so that we may indeed participate meaningfully in the Triune God's mission of love to the world.

There are already helpful beginnings. First, there are critical studies of the previous era of mission which help us to understand the principles or driving force of world mission, and the lessons we can learn from that period. We will concentrate on the work of British missionary societies. These being the oldest influenced other English speaking missions. English-speaking missions provided nearly 80% of all non-Roman Catholic missionaries. Furthermore, Korean Protestant churches are fruits of English-speaking missions.

Second, in the community of churches in mission called the Council for World Mission (CWM), there have been radical changes in the thinking and practice of mission. It has put into practice and tested over two decades the policy of mutuality in mission. This policy has a direct bearing on the Korean scene because the Presbyterian Church of Korea is a CWM church. As such, it is expected to uphold this policy in its missionary relationships both within and outside CWM.

Third, we will spell out a theological basis for mutuality in mission. We will do this by briefly setting out the contours of a biblically based theology of mission that goes beyond the so-called 'Great Commission' in Matthew 28. While this commission, understood as 'going out into all the world', served to enthuse an earlier generation for mission, it does not satisfy today. One of the main reasons for this is that mission is no longer one-directional, from the USA to Korea, or from Korea to Sri Lanka. One-directional mission assumes that the gospel has to be carried from a country that has it to another that does not. Today mission is multi-directional, because there are churches in almost all countries with their own understandings and practice of world mission. Hence, we need a mission theology that can take into account this fact, and undergird partnership or mutuality in mission.

Fourth, we will look at some of the implications of mutuality in mission for the churches in Korea.

I. Western missions revisited identifying some principles

When we revisit earlier missionary history, we find that our view of that history is coloured by an opinion, often justified, that Western missions were heavily identified with Western colonial aspirations and are therefore tainted. It is this opinion that is at the root of much of the political resistance to missionary work today. It is also this judgment that prompts many Christians to be shy of our missionary history, and even to argue that the words 'missionary' and 'mission' should be dropped from Christian vocabulary. But a more careful reading of mission history shows that, at the beginning, Western Protestant missions, particularly those from Britain, wanted to tread a path very different from Western mercantile and colonial interests. This is the judgment of T. V. Philip, the Indian Church Historian, in a series of lectures on Western Christian Missions in Asia.

He argues that 'the background, attitudes, methods and commitment of early Protestant missionaries were distinctly different in many ways from those who came after 1830'. He identifies several impulses that went into the beginnings of Western Protestant missions. Principal of these was the Pietistic movement and the Evangelical Awakening which pressed upon these missionaries the conviction that the whole world had to be won for Christ. Philip contends that the secular contribution to the making of a vision for world mission was the travels of Captain James Cook, especially in the Pacific. His travels, and not the expansion of European mercantile and commercial interests, opened up the possibility of traversing large expanses of sea and land to proclaim the gospel. On the one hand, this vision, with the commissions in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15 as its biblical basis, was used to resist the church leaders of the time who argued that if God intended to convert the heathen He would do it without man's help. This resistance led to the formation, in the late eighteenth century, of several mission societies independent of ecclesiastical and church control. On the other hand, this vision also functioned to resist what were deemed to be the evils of colonial and mercantile interests. This latter position is worth following up.

As T. V. Philip observes, almost all of those who went out as missionaries in the earlier period were 'a distinctive social class in British society...of craftsmen, small traders, shoe makers, printers, ship builders, school teachers...' William Carey, for instance, plied the trade of a cobbler to supplement his meagre earnings as a village school teacher and Baptist pastor. He taught himself the classical and European languages and several subjects such as Botany and Zoology that he might be a greater witness for the Lord. But the social background influenced his attitudes and his theology.

First and foremost, Carey saw world mission, understood as foreign mission, as an obligation or duty. As T. V. Philip comments, 'It was Carey more than anyone else who gave to the modern missionary movement its geographical perspective.'

The second great contribution that Carey made was to give a strong social perspective to Christian mission. He was not alone in this matter. Instead of denying their social background, the early missionaries used their class orientation to sharpen their theological perspectives. At a time when Church of England prelates were berating the French Revolution for its subversive teaching, the spirit of democracy and its blasphemous character, Carey welcomed the new spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity. According to Carey's biographer, Pearce Carey, Carey greeted the French Revolution as 'God's answer to the recent concerted praying of his people'. He viewed it as opening doors that will continue to open wide 'for the Gospel by the spread of civil and religious liberty and by the diminution of Papal power'. He and many of his fellow missionaries viewed the French Revolution as leading people to a more complete humanity. But, he was convinced that these ideas and visions had to be grounded in Christ if they were to bear fruit.

These convictions led to a form of missionary action that was radical. Carey and his fellow missionaries were fierce in their criticism of the slave trade which had reached disgraceful proportions in their time. Carey abandoned the use of sugar as a sort of personal economic boycott of the slave trade. Others in England, especially those in the Church Missionary Society, saw Africa as a place for their special concern. They spoke of 'the miseries which had entailed on them by the slave trade' and ' the duty of making some recompense for the injuries and wrongs, which by our participation in that nefarious traffic, we had inflicted on Africa...' This position led evangelicals to argue that Britain's role in Africa should be that of guardian and protector of the people.

It was this social and critical dimension, understood as an intrinsic part of evangelical and pietistic commitment, that gave the early missionary movement its distinctive character. These missionaries were not mere evangelists. They were also social reformers who challenged what they deemed to be wrong in society, theirs as well as those to which they went. William Carey, for instance, braved personal danger to express his resistance to the Hindu practice of sati (the immolation of widows at the funeral pyres of their husbands) at the very places in which these were being carried out.

Within such an understanding of the beginnings of the Western missionary movement, it is possible to detect the revolutionary impulse of the founding vision of the London Missionary Society: 'To send the glorious gospel of the blessed God to the heathen.' While we might deplore the use of the term 'heathen' with all of its connotations, we must remember that at a time when colonialism was interested in exploiting the heathen and accumulating treasures in Britain and other European countries, these missionaries were more interested in taking to the heathen a heavenly treasure which they felt had been entrusted to them. This was an act of love. As Carey put it, 'If we Christians loved men as merchants loved money, no fierceness of people would keep us from their midst.'

The task for today is to find a similar revolutionary meaning and practice for world mission, so that we may express God's subversive compassion and love for people and the whole creation. To do this, we need to note three important principles that emerge from this examination.

First, mission arises out of a compulsion or obligation to proclaim the gospel. It is to say with St. Paul, 'For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I preach not the gospel!' (I Cor. 9:16). The necessity or obligation to proclaim the good news is not based on any law or commandment. Rather, it arises out of our own joyful experience of the gospel as good news that has changed and shaped our lives. Bishop Leslie Newbigin, who was a missionary in India, puts it this way:

"It is, is it not, a striking fact that in all his letters to the churches Paul never urges on them the duty of evangelism. He can rebuke, remind, exhort his readers about faithfulness to Christ in many matters. But he is never found exhorting them to be active in evangelism...Mission, in other words, is gospel and not law; it is the overflowing of a great gift, not the carrying of a great burden".

Second, 'the overflowing of a great gift' places upon us the need to cross a frontier. In the time of the early missionaries it was a geographical frontier. What is the frontier we are called to cross today when there are churches in almost all of the countries of the world? We will return to this question later.

Third, the evangelical heritage to which we belong urges upon us the necessity to proclaim and practise the gospel as good news on earth as well as in heaven. As we saw, the early missionaries were evangelists and social reformers in one, because they believed that both functions belonged together in the message of the gospel. Unfortunately, these helpful principles which undergirded the beginnings of Western Protestant missions, to which we are heirs, are shrouded in a massive negative verdict on Western Roman Catholic and Protestant missions as a whole. These are accused of being religious clones of the colonial military and expansionist spirit of the West. The evidence is so overwhelming and so shameful that we cannot deny it. Even the missions begun by Carey and others later fell prey to this spirit, and confused the values and concerns of the Kingdom of God with the demands of Christendom.

Since this verdict still bedevils Christian mission today, we need to formulate a mission policy that takes into account two principal points.

First, whether we like it or not, every time we speak of mission, especially with unfortunate terms such as 'crusades' and 'reaching the unreached', we touch a raw nerve. This is especially so, since the power of large financial resources has replaced military and colonial power. People immediately see mission in its old guise as an attempt to conquer others. Shutters immediately come down; and mission comes to a dead end. We might try to brush aside this criticism saying that we only want 'to win souls for Christ', but this will not do. Mission which is an alliance between financial strength and evangelical zeal can easily pervert the very gospel to which it attempts to bear witness. Furthermore, such mission is also not sensitive to those churches which have worked out a legitimate and relevant form of mission in their own countries. If mission is to be meaningful today, we must not only change our language and attitude to those to whom we go in mission, especially people of other faiths, but we must also control the use of financial power in mission.

Second, because of the former collusion between colonial expansion and mission, many countries still view the church as a foreigner in their midst. The Chinese saying that one more Christian means one less Chinese is symptomatic of the opinion of many. This opinion is an outcome of missionary policy which urged on converts a discontinuity between the religion, culture and politics of the land and the Christian faith. This was done because, in return for supporting and protecting mission work, imperial powers depended on Christians in the colonies to support them against national 'hostilities'. In a way, this policy put into political and social practice the neo-Orthodox postulate of a disjunction between the gospel and all religions and by implication between the gospel and all forms of non-Western and non-Christian political and social life. This isolationist policy has created in many Asian Christians and churches a 'mission compound' or ghetto mentality. There is a challenge here. If mission is to be the outcome of the gospel as received and practised in a particular context, there should be a story to tell. Therefore, we need to look at the ways in which the Word has become flesh in our contexts. A disembodied Word expressed in creedal statements, which were constructed to defend orthodoxy against heresy rather than proclaim the faith, will not communicate the joy and redemptive power of the gospel.

These two concerns, among others, went into the formation of the Council for World Mission as a partnership of churches in mission. The formation also reached back to reclaim the heritage of the early missionaries and their policies.

II. Mutuality: identifying a new policy for world mission

As a partnership of churches in mission, the Council for World Mission (CWM) came into being in 1977. It was the old London Missionary Society transformed to tackle the tasks of World Mission today. To understand its ethos, we will look at the milieu in which it arose and the debates at a consultation in Singapore (1975) that led to its formation.

The decade of the 1970s, when CWM was formed, was a time of great expectations in mission thinking and activity. The old era of mission was said to be passing away and a new era dawning. Symptomatic of this thinking was the observation of Emilio Castro at the World Mission Conference in Bangkok on 'Salvation Today'(1973): 'We are at the end of a missionary era; we are at the very beginning of world mission.' The title of the founding document of CWM, Sharing in One World Mission, reflects this expectation.

With a sense of joy at the end of the old and the birth of the new, the Taiwanese theologian, C. S. Song, said in 1975 that we celebrate the end of foreign missions and the growing confidence of the church in the Third World which makes demands for 'entirely new relations with the church in the West':

"She lets it be known that man does not live by bread alone, that she is awakened to the truth that the freedom of spirit is far more essential than the abundance of financial aid. She refuses to be judged and evaluated by ethical, cultural, and religious standards and values prevailing in the West".

The signs of a new, emerging era for mission were evident in new theological thinking and action. In the continent of Africa, there was a call for a moratorium on foreign missions. Churches in Africa were in effect saying to Western mission boards, 'Give us the space to be obedient to God's calling in our own context in our own way.' African Christians began to speak theologically from within and in terms of the various African contexts in which the churches were witnessing to the gospel. Far more important, indigenous African churches, of which the Kimbanguist Church is the best known, received ecumenical recognition. The Three Self Movement in China gave birth to a post denominational, indigenous church. Minjung theology (Korea), theology of struggle (Philippines), biculturalism (Aoteoroa), Homeland theology and chhut thaau thi'n (Taiwan) are just a few examples of a theological ferment that swept across Asia. In Latin America, liberation theology began to speak of the hope and struggle of the poor. Regional ecumenical organizations emerged to coordinate this theological and missiological ferment. The winds of the new era of mission were also blowing in the West. Black theology in North America was a revolt from within the very citadel of white Christianity, and so too was feminist theology as a protest and correction of white male theology. More can be added to this list which heralded in the new. Equally important were the responses of Western mission societies and boards. Most of them welcomed this change not only as a time of liberation for the churches which they had founded and had come of age, but also as a liberation for themselves. They did not have to carry the burden of mission. They were equally keen to learn from the others. What was needed was a partnership.

This was the time when CWM, as a partnership of churches in mission, was born to give expression to a new missionary arrangement for a new era in mission. The various accounts of what happened at the consultation in Singapore (1975), which led to the formation of CWM, make one common admission. The change was neither planned nor expected. It just happened. It happened partly because they were together in a part of the world where churches were already thinking of partnership in mission. It happened mostly because they were open to each other and to the Holy Spirit, so that something new could emerge.

The new emerged with a challenge from the churches in the Third World, as C. S. Song predicted, 'for entirely new relationships with the church in the West'. But unlike what C. S. Song expected, the churches in the Third World argued that spiritual resources and financial resources need to be shared in a partnership that would overcome the barrier of power. They argued that "as now constituted, the Council [for World Mission] represents only a very restricted understanding of the missionary task;...that it perpetuates the relationship of donor and recipient; and that it fails to give adequate place to the talents of every church in the cooperative enterprise".

The response of the European churches was humble and appropriate:

No particular church has a private supply of truth, or wisdom or missionary skills. So within the circle of churches which we serve, we seek to encourage mutuality. This is a recognition that to share in international mission every church is both a receiver of help and a giver of its talents. At the present time we are seeing a shift in the world church's centre of gravity from Western Europe to Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia and the Pacific. We therefore long to take this opportunity for change as a moment when we who are British may welcome more fully the influence of our partner churches in the Third World.

The relationship between donor and recipient assumes that where there is a concentration of power in the form of money there too are the real resources of ideas or theology and personnel. The challenge for the churches at Singapore was not simply to reform a structure but to change it, so that this false assumption could be exploded, and the resources of all churches in all their forms (not just money) could be acknowledged. Then, there could be a genuine sharing of power. Such power sharing could not be an end in itself. On the one hand, power sharing should be designed to remove the negative, inhibiting pressure that stifles self-expression. On the other, power sharing should enable a genuine sharing of resources and a method for sharing them that would enable each church to pursue in its own place the mission that Christ has entrusted to the church in every place. It was the recognition of this dual function of power sharing that led the consultation to use 'mutuality' rather than 'moratorium' to signify the new relationship of partnership and mutual accountability.

In using mutuality as a policy to define partnership in mission, CWM did three things:

First, it brought into the equation other forms of power besides the power of money. It rightly pointed to the shift in the world church's centre of gravity from Western Europe to the so-called Third World. The power of money could not have been the indicator for perceiving this shift.

Second, it viewed power, in its various forms, as gifts and resources for enabling (empowering) all churches to engage in mission.

Third, CWM maintained that if power is to be effective it must be shared. Churches that have customarily given their resources must learn to receive; and those that have habitually received must learn to share their resources.

The emphasis on mutuality led to a fresh statement of the basis for mission:

We believe that we become participants in mission not because we hold all the answers and all the truth, but because we are part of the body of Christ. All of us are still searchers... Therefore we seek a form of missionary organization in which we may all learn from each other, for in that fellowship we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to all through each.

This confession acknowledges three important truths. 1. Mission is not just one of several functions of the church or the task of a few individuals who may claim to have 'all the answers and all the truth'. Mission is part of the very essence or being of the church. It is implicit in being part of the body of Christ. 2. Not all members of the body are equal in strength, but all are equal in value and have a function to perform. Each has to support the other. The metaphor of the body carries the tacit understanding that partnership is not among equals. We are all equal and unequal in different ways. 3. It is not just the churches in CWM that are part of the body of Christ. Implicit in the acknowledgement of being part of the body of Christ is the recognition that the partnership goes beyond CWM.

In brief, mutuality as a policy for engaging in world mission is a challenge along two fronts: 1. All forms of power, especially financial, power must be shared so that all may be enabled and empowered for mission. Such an arrangement would bring in as major players those financially poorer churches who have greater spiritual resources to share. 2. All churches engage in mission because they belong to the body of Christ. So they need to learn from each, for it is in that sharing that the Holy Spirit speaks to all through each.

III. A biblical basis for a theology of mission for our time

This new arrangement for world mission with the policy of mutuality needs a new biblical basis. This concern was already evident in the formation of CWM. But, instead of articulating a new biblical basis, it broadened the understanding of mission using the following key terms: conversion, reconciliation, liberation, sacrificial caring, preaching and teaching. No attempt was made to relate these aspects of mission to one another or explain them any further. All these aspects of mission were said to have a grounding in the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ and New Testament teaching, and that none of these can be isolated from the others and given preeminence as the controlling motif and motivation for mission.It was also assumed that the theological basis for an understanding of holistic mission would be spelled out as the journey of CWM as a partnership of churches in mission continued.

In a mission statement written in 1983, CWM did attempt to set out a biblical basis of what it understood to be holistic mission.

Surprisingly, it left out any mention of Matthew 28:18-20, and instead used Acts 1:8 as its starting point. To better understand the new direction and import of this mission statement, we will first see why and how persons from an earlier mission era used Matthew 28:18-20 for understanding their call to mission, and why this text is inadequate for an understanding of world mission today.

The text in Matthew, which came to be known as 'the Great Commission', undergirded the mission thinking and inspired the mission action of a generation that lived at a time when there was an aggressive outward movement to conquer lands, plunder nations and build an empire. A missionary movement arose with a parallel outward movement not with the desire to exploit nations, but to take to them a divine treasure. Matthew 18:18-20 was used to justify this movement, and was interpreted in that context.

The process of interpretation itself was quite complicated. The 'nations' intended in this passage, as in the Gospel according to Matthew as a whole, were not the gentiles thousands of miles away, but the 'gentiles down the road' with whom Jewish Christians refused to associate. The commission to mission that does talk of those in distant lands is Acts 1:8: to be Christ's witnesses to the end of the earth. In the process of interpreting the so called 'great commission', the mission understanding in a part of Acts 1:8 was conflated with the commission in Matthew. It is also clear, at least in William Carey's tract, 'An Inquiry into the obligation of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathens', which heavily influenced the missionary movement of the time, that Mark 16:15 was also drawn in and given a particular slant. Carey speaks of going 'into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature' (i.e., to every human being), rather than 'to the whole creation' as intended by the Greek. In this way, biblical texts were removed from their contexts, conflated and skewed in a particular direction to justify a particular understanding of the missionary task.

As the study of the history and science of biblical interpretation (Hermeneutics) demonstrates, the context of the reader heavily influences the interpretation of texts. So, this interpretation was inevitable and perhaps even justified. But this does not mean that what was seen as valid and relevant for one time should necessarily be seen as valid and relevant for all time, especially since this interpretation carries certain unfortunate notions prevalent at that time.

At one level, the eighteenth century missionary interpretation drew a distinction between 'home' and 'abroad' with the implication that it is those 'out there' who are in real need of the mission of the church. Today we realize that World mission includes the world at our door step (the local) as well as the world out there (the global). The world out there cannot and should not be an alibi for not engaging in mission at home, for it is only a church that is obedient to God's mission at home that can really have something to say about the efficacy of the gospel out there. In fact, as Graham Stanton observes, Matthew did not intend a distinction between home and abroad. For him 'all nations' meant not only the gentiles but also those Jews who still had not responded to the gospel.

At another level, the inadequacy, and even the danger, of using that interpretation of Matthew 28:18-20 for our time is inherent in the word 'heathens' used to translate the Greek word 'ethne'. Though the term itself has been dropped from modern translations of this text, its influence lingers. The term 'heathens' conjures up visions of unenlightened persons. These may then be seen as the objects of Christian mission, for heathens need to be saved from darkness, ignorance and sin. The term 'nation' on the other hand is a more positive word, because it denotes people with identifiable religious, social and political cultures whom God has created and loves in their ethnic particularity. However, many mission readings of Matthew 28:18 20 today still carry the influence of the term 'heathen' which clashes with modern understandings of 'ethne' as nations, and thus distorts the thrust of mission as the proclamation and practice of the good news. This was evident at a CWM meeting on mission at Seoul in 1991. When some Korean theologians spoke of 'reaching the unreached', Bishop Victor Premasagar, then Moderator of the Church of South India, retorted, 'This language of reaching the unreached sounds like God is fast asleep, and we are running around like busy bodies. God reached India centuries ago. Jesus Christ is a newcomer. How do we relate these two facts? That is the challenge for mission.'

Instead of trying to re-interpret Matthew 28:18-20, the mission statement of CWM begins with Acts 1:8. In this commission, Jesus says to his disciples, 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' As a later CWM commentary on this mission statement says:

This text brings together four important emphases for setting out a biblical basis for world mission. (a) Mission is first and foremost God's mission in which the church is called to participate. The primary mover in the continuing mission of the Father through the Son is the Holy Spirit. (b) The disciples are empowered for mission. Mission requires courage. Basic to witnessing is the possibility of both suffering and rejection. A martyr is one who has accepted the cross as an inevitable part of witnessing (martureo) to Jesus. (c) The call to mission is not so much a commission as a promise: 'You will be my witnesses.' (d) The movement of mission is from Jerusalem to the end of the earth, from the local to the global.

In the statement, John 20:21-22 follows to reinforce the emphases in Acts 1:8. The Johannine commission uses the Greek cognate for 'mission', and roots mission in the work of the great missionary God rather than in a great missionary commission: 'As the Father has sent me, so send I you,' said Jesus. And he breathed on them, and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' The great missionary God expresses his love for the world he has created by sending his Son, who reveals the character of that sending through his death on the cross. In the Gospel according to John, the glorification of the Son on the cross symbolizes God's self-giving love (cf. John 13:31, 17:1). To receive the Holy Spirit, and be missionaries in Christ's way, is to be caught up in the tremendous outpouring of God's love. To put it differently, it is the way of the Suffering Servant, who is the Lamb that is both slain and regnant (Revelations 5:6-10). The Lamb is the only and sufficient light in the Holy City which both attracts and illumines the nations (Revelations 21:22-27). Therefore, to be emissaries of the Lamb is to manifest that light which will come at the end of time. Such a task cannot be undertaken except in the way of the Suffering Servant, because missionaries are not soldiers. They are ambassadors who witness to God's reconciling work in Christ (2 Cor. 5:18f). In brief, we are called to be a blessing to the nations. We are not called to be a scourge to the gentiles.

This brief biblical basis for world mission, which could be developed into a full blown theology of mission, attempts to do four things. (a) It reflects the growing conviction in mission thinking that we are participants in God's mission and not in a mission of our own making. Consequently, we must not confuse the mission to which we are called with economic, mass media or even sectarian understandings of the world. We must differentiate between the values and concerns of the Kingdom of God and the modern equivalents of Christendom, such as the world market which propagates its own values based on greed and the logic of world economics. (b) It brings together the dual concerns of world mission, mission at home and mission abroad, to undergird multi-directional mission. We are both givers and receivers at the same time, and we need to learn from one another. (c) There is no place for arrogance or triumphalism in mission. The supreme model for mission is Jesus Christ himself, the Suffering Servant, the Lamb that is slain but regnant. (d) Mission is the receiving of a promise to receive the Holy Spirit who both guides and empowers us. In the words of Newbigin, 'Mission is not the carrying of a great burden but the overflowing of a great gift.'

IV. Some implications for the mission of the churches in Korea

I want to approach the matter of the implications of what has been said above to the work of Korean missions in a more personal way. As I worked through the early period of British Protestant missions, my mind went back to the time when I was involved in the thinking and writing of what later came to be known as Minjung theology. I wondered why an indigenous Korean understanding of the impact of the gospel on the lives of ordinary people, i.e., a Korean evangelical theology, had been jettisoned in favour of a second-hand Western evangelical theology. Is it that Korean Christians have suddenly lost their identity?

If Korean missions is to be authentic it must arise out of the soil of Korea. For this to happen, you must take far more seriously than you do now, Korean church history and Korean Christian reflections, especially those of the poor, the Minjung, who after all are God's chosen people. Koreans are beautiful people created by God with a culture and history. You were not originally heathens and now something different. God loved you as you were, gave you a culture and history, and has redeemed you in Jesus Christ to be Korean children of God. The gospel story to which you are called to witness is the way in which the gospel has impacted on your lives, culture and history. As I urge you to do this, I want to remind you of the sage advice of a great Asian theologian, M. M. Thomas, who spoke with special reference to India. He said, 'Indian theology must be judged in the light of the mission of the Church in India, and need not be brought to any other court of judgment.'

When you rediscover your own Korean cultural and Korean Christian roots, you will find that you have two important contributions to make to world mission. First, your heritage has its own explications of the role of the Suffering Servant in Korean history. This should be the foundation of an authentic Korean mission for which the suffering world longs. Second, Korean Christian faith, unlike the 'ghetto faiths' of many other Asians, bears witness to the ways in which Korean Christians, moved by their deep faith in Jesus Christ as the Suffering Messiah, joined other Koreans to resist historical forces of injustice that were denying Korean people of life, justice and dignity. This happened in 1896 during the Donghak Revolution and then again in 1919 in the March 1st Independence Movement, and then still again in the 1970s and 1980s to overthrow dictatorship and to bring in democracy. Today, the reunification of Korea is in your prayers and mission concerns at home. I would see these involvements on the same level as the evangelical and pietistic commitment of missionaries such as William Carey.

Clearly, the commitment to world mission of the Korean churches cannot be limited to Korea. It also needs to be expressed internationally, because the Korean church is part of the world church. It is at this point that we need to take into account the demands of mutuality in mission.

1. True world mission must be willing not only to give but also to receive. There needs to be authentic sharing and dialogue. For this to happen, we must first be willing to learn from others. A Pacific project on world mission, 'God's Pacific People', puts it this way: 'We want to cross over to the other side to learn from their culture and share the gospel with them.'

Are the Korean churches willing to receive from others and learn from others, especially the poor and less powerful, to whom you are sent in mission?

2. World mission has to do with the crossing of a frontier. Geographical frontiers today are crossed more easily and with less hazards than before. Those that pose a real challenge today are (a) the frontier of religious cultures which define a people and (b) the frontier of power. To cross these frontiers in a missiological sense is not to eradicate them or behave as if they do not exist. Rather, to cross a frontier is to go over to the other side and belong to those on the other side. Only the acceptance of the mission of the Suffering Servant, i.e., mission in Christ's way, and a theology of kenosis or self emptying, will enable us to cross a frontier.

Are the Korean churches willing to enter into partnerships which will enable the crossing of frontiers?

3. Mutuality means not only the willingness to respect and belong to those on the other side, it also is a willingness to respect all resources for mission and share all resources for mission. To do this, CWM works with a firm principle. When a church sends a missionary it is the receiving church that must pay the salary. In this way it separates personnel resources from financial resources. When a local church is unable to pay for the total upkeep of a missionary, the common resources of CWM top up the local contribution. To illustrate, should a missionary from the Presbyterian Church of Korea go as a missionary through CWM to Bangladesh, it is the Church of Bangladesh that is responsible for maintaining the missionary.

Consequently, because personnel resources are free of the burden of finding financial resources, there are many South to South movements between the churches in CWM; and many of these, like the early missionaries, are artisans and craftsmen. For instance, the Church of South India has sent carpenters with machines and technology to work and witness together with the people in Kiribati in the Pacific.

Will the Korean churches be willing to place their financial resources in a common pool to which all may have access, so that you may indeed be free to follow in the foot steps of the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour? In a word, are you willing to give up you control over Korean financial power?

Only when you face and answer all these questions will you indeed be ready for real world mission.

You have the theological and spiritual resources to be a blessing to the nations. Others in the World Church are willing to enter into partnerships with you, so that you may not be outsiders, but belong to a community of churches in mission who proclaim and practise in Christ's way, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 


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