Thursday, 15 September 2011

Strategic Planning: Mission Together

This post is the fifth in a sequence examining some of the issues raised in a new report, 'A Review of Intermediate Ecumenical Life in England' to be published by Churches Together in England in a few weeks time.

Today, I will reflect upon the relationship between unity and mission.  The following concludes Chapter 11:

Though they have served well in building and sustaining relationships between the mainstream Churches and their leaders, Intermediate Bodies have not been as good at responding to the calls for a "mission agenda", especially those aspects of mission related to new forms of proclamation and Christian presence.  Intermediate Bodies need to be generous and confident further developing networks and broadening relationships.  Thereby they may be more truly representative of Christianity in England today and strengthened in their role of oversight, and may help to ensure that the new expressions of being Church are espoused by the historic Churches.

This chapter contrasts the traditional ecumenical approach of ecumenism as a 'given definitive shape as unalterable' and those seek 'progressive growth and adaptation into the fullness of Christ'.  Certainly this difference of approach is real but I wonder if this analysis is inadequate.

When we contrast unity with mission, we miss a vital element of the purpose of churches, namely formation.  Within Methodism we are fond of referring to John Wesley as a great evangelist (the best since St Paul some believe) but he could equally be described as a great spiritual director.  He saw the importance of direction following conversion and indeed his often controversial emphasis on sanctification, contrasts significantly with some strains of evangelicalism.  The Methodist Societies were organised into various classes and bands, which were designed for mutual support.  There were few spiritual directors around and so Methodists had to learn how to support each other.  Wesley's genius was not just in bringing people to faith in Christ, he also structured a movement to enable Methodists to grow in faith.

At Methodist Conference 2011, the General Secretaries' report emphasised training in discipleship, and this has now been published as Contemporary Methodism.  In this paper Martyn Atkins makes a clear link between discipleship and mission.

I would want to argue the link between unity and mission becomes strained when formation is omitted from the equation.  The reality of alternative churches, long established alternatives to our current tradition, is a crucial experience in Christian formation.  It helps Christians grow in confidence as they discover their own tradition through relating to others and discover that uncertainty on doctrinal points need not ultimately be undermining of faith.
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