Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. Joon-Sik Park, E. Stanley Jones Chair of World Evangelism at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. Dr. Park is commenting on the tenth section of the document, "A World Transformed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.
Paragraph 59 “Incorporation” is a part of the section titled “A World Transformed by Grace.” Central to Christian mission is our witness to the transforming grace of Jesus. We proclaim the gospel and invite persons to decision for and commitment to Jesus and his reign. This paragraph calls attention, first, to the fact that the invitation is also to the fellowship, which is not only with God but also with one another. Second, those who are incorporated into the Body of Christ have different functions and diverse gifts, yet they above all share in the mission of Christ.
When the gospel is shared, the lives of the witness and the one invited to Christian faith are also to be shared. Important questions in Christian witness then are whether we are willing to share our lives with others and to share in the lives of others, and whether our community of faith is willing to be a home for all even with a place for strangers. Churches unwilling to extend community to people of differences would end up practicing what Charles Van Engen calls “a separation between church and mission.” Do United Methodist congregations, engaging in mission, seek to build relationships across racial, cultural, and socioeconomic differences? Or do they pursue exclusive forms of Christian witness and church formation?
When persons are incorporated into the Body of Christ, the demands, as well as the promise, of the gospel are to be made clear. The church in every generation has to grapple with a question about the ethical content of conversion. Authentic conversion involves a fundamental reorientation of life based on a radical commitment to the teachings of Jesus; there cannot be a separation between faith and obedience or between belief and practice. The gospel-sharing in the New Testament is always a call to repentance, belief in Jesus as God’s Son, and commitment to follow Jesus and his way. Do United Methodist congregations seek to be concrete in their communication about the meaning of Jesus’ teachings for the life-context of those hearing and responding to the gospel? Or are they content to live with abstract and vague Christian discipleship?
Paragraph 59 rightly says that “all who are ‘in Christ’ share in the mission of Christ.” As the International Missionary Council at Willingen well put it, “There is no participation in Christ without participation in his mission to the world.” When persons are incorporated into Christian fellowship, they are also called to participate in Jesus’ mission, embracing God’s purposes and priorities for which Jesus was sent. Yet, we often fall into the error of separating “personal salvation (one’s receiving the benefits of salvation) from the missional purpose for which we are called and saved” (Darrell Guder, The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness, 16-7). Our experience of the transforming grace of Jesus should, however, lead to our becoming witnesses to that grace.
For the genuine recovery of the church’s mission, there has to be a radical transformation in ecclesiology. Mission should no longer be understood as a program of the church, but as integral to its identity and calling. The church is a missionary community by its very nature and vocation; mission is intrinsic to the very life and calling of the church. The church is called to participate in mission not for institutional survival, but for the kind of community it has been created to be. Only when members of a Christian community understand mission in relation to their basic identity, can the biblical sense of mission be recovered. Do United Methodist congregations view mission as central to who they are? Or are they occupied only with the benefits of salvation?
When the church understands itself as a witnessing community, mission cannot be disconnected from the corporate life of the church. This is so because the concrete life of a believing community is an essential expression of the credibility of the gospel to which it bears witness. Mission is thus practicable and feasible only when there is a community whose life reflects authentic differences from the rest of the world. A future United Methodist mission statement should help the church be aware of and overcome reductionisms: separation between church and mission, separation between faith and obedience, and separation between personal salvation and the missional call.