Last semester in class, we made a list of slogans, phrases, ideas, objects, etc. that we’ve heard in conversation about or relating to the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism, or any part thereof. Here’s a partial list:
- the three-legged stool (that is, Scripture, Tradition, and Reason)
- lex orandi, lex credendi—the way we worship shapes/determines/is what we believe
- a logo that features a shield with obscure heraldry
- “no outcasts”
- Via Media, or Middle Way
- “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” (to what?)
- Dispersed Authority
- The Four-Fold Anglican Shape: formed by Scripture, shaped by worship, ordered for Communion and directed by God’s mission (this is the most recent, I’d say)
- Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ (1963 document from Toronto Anglican Congress)
- Partners in Mission
- Decade of Evangelism (the 1990s, as set by bishops at Lambeth 1988)
- Millennium Development Goals
- Five Marks of Mission
(Indeed, the word “mission” itself could almost be added to this list, given the reckless abandon with which it has been used in recent years.)
I don’t find many of these particularly helpful. I can never remember the Five Marks of Mission, mainly because they don’t really grab me. I think the Millennium Development Goals promote a shopping-list mentality among churches that prize dollars and cents over relationships. The Decade of Evangelism is very well-remembered in the non-western Anglican Communion (an archdeacon in Nigeria last summer told me, “The Decade of Evangelism saved the Church in Nigeria”) but I rarely hear anyone in the U.S. talk about it.
The thing of it is, despite our wonderful slogans we still seem to have difficulty articulating what the Episcopal Church is and is for (though we seem to have no problem articulating what it is not). And, we lack a clear sense of what mission is, which results in something like the Sauls’ resolution’s very thin idea of mission.
There is much to find depressing in all this but two stand out. First, these slogans replace genuine theological engagement with inconsistent and confusing sound-bites. Second, they betray the assumption that we all know what we’re talking about when we say something so we don’t need to bother figuring out what it means. This is never a good assumption to make.
As far as mission goes, there’s a third disappointment: all of these are focused outward. This is, obviously, quite good. But I’d hope that we remember that in order for us to be a missional church, we need first to be transformed by the love of God in Christ to become missional Christians. Mission is our response to God’s grace—but we need to receive that grace before we can respond.
What are your favourite slogans that I’ve left out?
UPDATE: Welcome to all who are clicking over here from Episcopal Cafe. If you like this post, you might like some others I’ve written about mission lately: the spirituality of mission or how our understanding of mission shapes our budgetary decisions.