Liberative Solidarity: Contemporary Perspectives on Mission by K. C. Abraham
Rev. Dr. K. C. Abraham is a presbyter of the Church of south India and a leading Third World theologian. He is director of the South Asia theological Research Institute, Bangalore, India and director of the board of theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College. The book was published by Christava Sahitya Samithi, Tiruvalle, April 1996, and is used by permission of the publisher. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Numerous articles and books have been written on mission. To add another book on this topic is to run into the risk of repeating all too familiar ideas. But the attempt can be justified for many reasons.
First, the perspective on mission is still a point of debate. Some of the traditional patterns of mission are becoming irrelevant to meet the emerging needs and challenges of our situation. In this collection of essays many such issues have been analysed. Developments in science and technology communication systems economic policies and practices, the emergence of market as the altar at which all are required to offer their sacrifices and the globalisation process -- all these have tremendous impact on the lives of our people. We are also aware of other issues such as the ecological crisis, marginalization of weaker sections and communalism that distorts the essence of all religions. Organized movements of people for identity and justice also raise challenges to the Church’s mission. Therefore the questions that are raised on the proclamation of the Gospel directed exclusively to the renewal of individual souls is also inadequate. A wholistic message that brings all our relationships into the orbit of divine reality alone will be meaningful for today
Second, there is need for a careful assessment of the style and purpose of mission in the emerging context of a pluriform society. In fact mission is no more a Christian word. It is widely used by people of other faiths and secular strategists. A few years ago when Rajiv Gandhi started his campaign on science and technology he constituted a body called technology mission. When the U.S.A. launched its war against Iraq it described it as a mission to liberate Kuwait. We are also familiar with the Ramakrishna Mission and missions in other faiths In these usages mission is conceived as an activity designed to achieve a result. It is a programme to win others to your point of view or to your side by persuasion and even by coercion.
Unfortunately this prevailing notion of a propagandist mission has failed to capture the authentic message of the Gospel of Jesus. It has distorted the message. This is not a biblical concept either. The word is from the Latin version of the biblical word “sending.” Missionary is ‘apostle’ and mission is “apostolate.” We are called to be messengers of God. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:27). The New Testament also uses the word “witness” to denote the outward expression of the life of the Church. The emphasis is not on activity -- although activity is not totally absent -- but on life and its relationships.
A recovery of this New Testament meaning of mission is necessary to ward off much of the distortions that have come into our understanding of the Church’s mission. In other words, Christian mission is not so much what we do as who we are as God’s children It is a life lived in response to God’s purposes for us and for all his creation. “Mission is as concrete as the life of a people” (Legrand, p. 144). I believe that a reformulation of mission as faith response alone can give an authentic basis for pluralism. One’s response to one’s faith is not directed towards denying other faith responses; rather it is always concerned with building a world in which all God’s children with their different gifts could praise God the Creator.
Third, the praxis of mission is closely related to the discovery of who Christ is among us and for us. Thanks to the emphasis of liberation theologians, we see Jesus in his social and cultural environment and not as part of a doctrinal formulation. As Dorothy Solle writes,
If we look at the paradigm of liberation theology, we find there an understanding of Jesus which strives for neither objectification of the mystery in dogma nor for subjectivising in personal appropriation. The liberation theologies mention the mystery of Jesus in his historical existence. They say of him that he was poor, hungry, forsaken, subversive, and out of his mind; that he was a worker, a nobody without papers, a carpenter, unemployed, a political prisoner, tortured. They attempt to begin where Jesus began, where he lived, where the people met him-not in churches but in everyday life and that means in misery He is not recognisable by his halo. (Solle :An Introduction to Theology, p. 114).
It is this discovery of Jesus that is at the centre of our discussion on Mission in this book. To respond to this Jesus in the concrete is to embark on a costly form of discipleship. In fact, there is simplicity about this Jesus. But that simplicity is offensive to our life-style.
The papers in this book have been presented at various occasions, and published in various journals. They have been edited to avoid obvious repetition. But some of the ideas are repeated and I ask the reader to bear with me. A wide range of concerns are raised and the reader may miss a coherent presentation of a theology of mission. The first four chapters may provide a theological basis for mission. Included in them is a discussion on different paradigms of mission with the first chapter giving a general framework to it. A selected number of issues have been dealt with in the rest of the articles. Two themes that run through these inflections are “Life” and “Solidarity.” Mission is celebration of God’s gift of life. “I have come in order that you may have life - life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10). Ours commitment to life-affirming values and structures are integral to our obedience to Christ.
The solidarity with people, especially with the suffering, is the way to live out mission. “Jesus also died outside the city... Let us, then, go to him outside the camp and share his shame” (Heb. 13:12,13).
K. C. Abraham