Christian Mission for all seasons
In the last sixty years there have been two major developments in the church's understanding of its mission. Firstly, the extent of mission has been greatly expanded. Secondly, Christian believers are more aware of the fact that mission is related to every day life, seven days a week.
We could sum up the full ambit of the church's response to God's initiatives in the following ways. It is an appraisal of being committed disciples of Jesus. It includes an analysis of both the wider world in which we live and the narrower world of our immediate vicinity. Fundamental to mission is the announcement of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. This involves advocacy of the truth of God's word and achieving a genuinely 'Christian mind' about the many predicaments facing humankind. By no means least, is offering appropriate assistance to disadvantaged and exploited people, particularly the most vulnerable. Of particular contemporary urgency is giving attention to taking care of every aspect of God's creation. All these aspirations require not only thought but action. It has been said that “the Church is by definition missionary. If it ceases to be missionary, it has not just failed in one of its tasks, it has ceased being Church”.
Christian mission happens in the midst of the daily life of a deeply troubled world. As societies today tend not to orientate their existence by the “good, pleasing and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2), it is crucial that Christians understand their underlying dynamics. The early Christians were conscious of the driving forces of the pagan environment in which they had grown up (Eph. 4:17-5:18), and in which they sought to bear witness to the new world that God was initiating through his Spirit and his Word.
So, we present-day Christians in our contact with the old world need to be aware of the pressures that operate in every sphere of life. This means following local, national and international news and those employed to commentate on it. It involves being knowledgeable about the world of our own profession and occupation and how our colleagues understand and react to it. Above all, it means cultivating a discerning mind able to distinguish between patterns laid down by the spirit of this age and what is holy and pleasing to God (Rom. 12:1-2).
Jesus has called his disciples “the salt of the earth” (Matt.5:13-14). That is what they are, but only if they do not lose their saltiness. Using this metaphor, Jesus indicated the importance of maintaining their identity as his disciples, putting his words into practice to distinguish themselves from a foolish and corrupt world (Matt. 7:26-27). They are also “the light of the world”. In the same way as a lamp, set in a prominent place, illuminates the whole house. Where there is light it dispels darkness. He has “called us out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). If they hide the light of their new relationship with God, the darkness returns. So, we are to live in the midst of the present world according to who we are now, “children of light” (“the fruit of light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth”) (Eph. 5:8-9).
Faithful Christian witness to God's template for life is not easy. The old world makes demands on us to conform to its standards, which are progressively being loosened from their former grounding in Christian ethical codes. This should not surprise Christians, for God's calling to “to be holy” (Heb. 12:14) is despised and rejected by a pagan world. There is increasing evidence that Christian faith is under attack from a secular-humanist animated culture.
On-line commentaries on current affairs can be useful resources to get us closer to the heartbeat of our society. For example, I have found that The Article, a blog from diverse perspectives, offers on a daily basis interesting, informative and controversial opinion pieces on a range of political, social, economic, educational and cultural topics. In its own words, it spells out its mission, in a “post-truth” world,...to help you make sense of the news through free access to exchanges of ideas, rather than echo chambers of prejudice. We have no ideological agenda”. It opens up a wide variety of different stances, usually well-argued. This is just one among many accessible reviews of contemporary issues.
For specifically Christian opinions, I would recommend the following. The series of webinars transmitted by The L'Abri Fellowship (at Greatham) on Friday evenings. They cover matters of particular public interest in various fields, articulating a strongly Biblical world-view on each subject tackled. It is worth keeping an eye on the Christian Institute's web-site for up-to-date news and opinions on a range of topics to do with the family, education, parliamentary legislation, legal processes, abortion, sexuality and other matters of current concern. The Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology, based in Cambridge, has a range of activities that are well worth exploring: “in doing public theology, (what) we do is aimed at providing rigorous answers to the question how then shall we live, before the face of God and in his world”? The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity likewise provides much literature and many courses which, from a consciously Biblical basis, touch the central nerve of current social and cultural life. There are, of course, a number of other Christian and secular organisations that provide worth-while materials for keeping abreast of current news-items and points of view. They are, however, too numerous to include here.