Neal Presa, moderator of the 2012 General Assembly, has convened a Colloquium on Ecclesiology this week at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary – the first of three such gatherings he intends to organize to discuss the purpose of the church.
The discussions, from April 23-25, center around seven papers that were written in advance and posted online. The format for the discussions is this: For each paper, the author presents a 20-minute summary; comments are then offered by members of the Austin seminary community and the event planning team; then in a question-and-answer session from those attending in Austin and submitted online by people watching the live-stream
For each session, the Outlook will provide a snapshot of the paper and a few memorable points of the discussion.
Session 4: The Church as Missional Community
Written and presented by: Darrell Guder, Henry Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, N.J.
What does the term “missional” mean? Darrell Guder, a professor of missional and ecumenical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, explores the use of the term historically, from the earliest days of the church, and its meaning today for evangelism in a global, multicultural church. Guder traces the decline of evangelism in Western culture that accompanied the rise (and now the fall) of Christendom in the West, and the globalization of Christianity. And he presents the idea that “to be authentically `evangelical,’ our ecclesiology must necessarily be ‘missional.’ ” As Guder put it in his remarks April 24 (speaking via teleconference): “Mission and church belong inextricably together.”
Ideas from responses:
The missional discussion challenges the idea that “the church exists for its members,” as an end in itself. William Greenway, associate professor of philosophical theology at Austin Seminary, said the idea of a missional church “counters country club, inward-turning type of dynamics.
Greenway offered what he described as “a narrow but significant criticism” of Guder’s essay – namely, his repeated use of masculine imagery for God. While there can be richness in such language and in the use of the term “’Father” for God, the essay’s persistent use of masculine language ties it to “a history of patriarchy which has been very oppressive,” Greenway said. When he thinks of all the women equipped and called by God, who “over two millennium have been systematically oppressed by churches and society, I see a grievous sin, and one I don’t think has been fully named and confessed.”
Guder cited his appreciation for the wider missionary movement – having also said that mainline churches need to understand lessons from the history that shaped western Christendom in order to move into the future. The western missionary movement “was in many ways highly problematic,” Guder said, passionate, spiritually-driven, but also with a history of colonialism, linked almost always with the sense of Western civilization as being “the highest expression of humanity.” Despite that, he said, the missionary efforts worked – the seeds the missionaries planted took root. Today, there are more Presbyterians in Korea than in North America. Moving forward, Christians everywhere must work hard to appreciate both the infinite translatability of the gospel, Guder said, and to recognize that “there’s no plurality about the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Teresa Stricklen of the PC(USA)’s Office of Theology and Worship asked about the implications of missional theology for spiritual formation and discipleship. “We’ve had a problem with spirituality in the Presbyterian church,” with too many folks seeing it as “just a me and Jesus trip” or the domain of the monastics, Stricklen said. Guder responded that the work of the Holy Spirit is to equip people to be witnesses for the gospel, for the work of ministry – there are definitely missional implications for spiritual formation, he said.
Guder described the post-Christian time in these terms: “We are in a compost heap.” Messy, smelly, hard to sort out. Massively productive. “We should be open,” Guder said, “to surprises from all quarters.”