Mission of God or mission of the church?

One of the things you learn almost as soon as you start taking an interest in contemporary mission theology is that mission belongs not to any individual or organization or church but to God. God’s mission is one of reconciliation and it is our job, as baptized Christians, to discern what role we are privileged to play in that mission.

This mission of God language is a shift away from earlier language of the mission of the church. For instance, the catechism in the 1979 prayer book refers to the mission of the church and not the mission of God.

In the last few months at divinity school (!), I’ve heard people talk about the mission of the church. On a few occasions, I’ve gently challenged them or corrected them. Sometimes people look at me as if to say, “What’s the big deal? Isn’t it all the same?”

One way it would be the same is the extent to which the church is seen as the body of Christ and not as an institution. But how often do we really think like that? When I hear the word “church,” I think of institutions, institutions that were created and are operated by sinful human beings and that are easily drawn away from the mission of reconciliation.

I feel about this issue the same way that some people feel about using non-masculine pronouns to refer to God, e.g. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” rather than “Blessed in he who comes in the name of the Lord.” I could say, “Isn’t it all the same?” but I know many people who think the distinction is vitally important and I respect their views.

It’s the same with the “mission of God” versus the “mission of the church” and so I’m going to keep picking on people to think about what they say and what they mean.

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