REGARDED AS ONE:
Why the movement from maintenance to mission is not enough.
by Mark Harris, D. Min. firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Director, The Global Episcopal Mission Network
From Article X of the Constitution of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, as established in 1821, and amended in 1823, 1829, 1832, and 1835. “For the guidance of the committees, it is declared that the Missionary field is always to be regarded as one – THE WORLD; the terms Domestic and Foreign, being understood as terms of locality, adopted for convenience.”
The Temptations of Convenience:
We in the Episcopal Church sometimes modify the meaning of words for convenience’s sake. In the recent past we have adapted for convenience some of the modalities and methods of modern American evangelists as our own. In that mode “evangelism,” modified and divorced from its essentially global dimensions, becomes equated with the conversion of people one by one in their location and its success is measured by growth in church numbers. But in our better moments we know that the evangelical enterprise is not about a long series of individual conversions alone. Rather it is about the Good News that the Creation is made new in Jesus Christ, preached “to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
For “convenience sake” we have distinguished the conversion of individuals from the salvation of the world. For even greater convenience sake (read temptation’s sake) we have mostly taken conversion to be what the whole of evangelism is about. Yet both the individual and the world are of one whole – the outcomes of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. It is to our own detriment to forget the global dimensions of evangelism.
The decade of evangelism was viewed a roaring success in parts of Africa where the Anglican Churches there could claim remarkable membership growth, and something of a failure in the United States where numbers of Episcopalians have declined or stayed level. And what then would we make of the evangelical enterprise in Palestine where the numbers of Christians is falling off drastically? Do we really want to say that the effectiveness of the evangelical enterprise is about numbers alone, particularly the numbers of Episcopalians? I think not. Evangelism is about the declaration of the Good News of God’s whole-making presence in Jesus Christ. It is true and sure and not a matter of numbers.
The number of the saved is not ours to know. The statistics of the church are useful measures of our energy, enthusiasm, sales abilities or willingness to be open to new members. They are useful for that purpose, but not for the purpose of determining our evangelical and missionary successes. We do what the Gospel requires of us, and God will give the increase.
Evangelism concerns one thing: the proclamation of the fact that in Jesus Christ God is in the world, reconciling the world to God’s self. It is true even if no one is converted and the world does not see. For those who do see and are turned around, of course, the news of this truth is Good News indeed.
Yet here we are, given to judging success and failure on the basis of numbers of new Christians or new Episcopalians. As a matter of convenience and temptation we have distinguished between the fields of evangelism, and have ignored the cosmos and even the world, and certainly the nations, in preference for individuals who contribute to church growth.
In regard to mission we see the same dynamic afoot. The Constitution of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary society was clear to state that “the Missionary field is always to be regarded as one – THE WORLD; the terms Domestic and Foreign, being understood as terms of locality, adopted for convenience.”
But in the Episcopal Church we too often have adapted for convenience only part of that sense of mission as our own. In ways not unlike our adaptation of evangelism we have come to the conclusion that what matters about mission is how many people belong to the church - the Episcopal Church explicitly - when our task is completed.
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