Saturday, June 17, 2006

Moltmann's Thoughts About Missions

Jurgen Moltmann is perhaps my favorite contemporary theologian. I appreciate that he has something to say about important issues being faced by the church and even the world. I believe, he has something to say not only to the church but also to the world. And he does it through his theological discourse. This is the reason that the world appreciates Moltmann, he is a theologian, not for the church alone but for the whole world. In this post I related his ideas with my experience in the mission field.

One of the members of our small, struggling church here in the border of Thailand and Myanmar was put to jail by his employer. He was oblivious that his employer was taking him to jail that morning. The main reason was, he is planning to have a long leave of absence to train as Bible teacher for a month. His employer did not like it, seized his working permit and put him into prison. It was good that the police felt sorry for our friend that he was released and was deported to Myanmar.

Stories like these are very common here. We often hear stories of injustice and human right violations from all Burmese migrant workers we come to know and love. We believe that God brought us here because he knows that we can do something about the state of affairs. Our mission is not only to share the gospel but do something to fight the injustice being committed to the people who are victims of political mess in their country.

Moltmann have something to say about this by emphasizing that church mission is mission dei. The concept here is that mission is neither a program of the church or any mission organization but rather mission is an attribute of God. Mission comes first from the heart of God and we are caught up in it rather than initiating it. Mission is primarily the work of God and we participate with God in what he is doing. Missio dei is this:

The Father sends the Son,
The Father and the Son send the Spirit,
The Father and the Son and the Spirit send the church into the world.

Moltmann, however, reverses the order; he emphasizes the significance of the role of the Holy Spirit in doing mission. He believes that the Holy Spirit is the source of life and the giver of life. Thus he says that, “God’s mission is nothing less than the sending of the Holy Spirit from the Father through the Son into this world, so that this world should not perish but live.”

Only through the knowledge that Christian mission follows this sending principle that mission can be done correctly. This will prevent Western missionaries to dominate other people by their religion. I emphasize Western because we, missionaries from the Third Word, could not and would not in any way dominate our target people, we just don’t have the weight to do it.

Even though missiologists have been introducing radical changes in doing church mission in the last two decades, Moltmann asserts that up to now there have been no considerable changes with regards to mission as done by the West. He says,

“Up to now mission as we know it has meant the spread of the Christian imperium, Christian civilization, or the religious values of the Western world. Up to now mission as we know it has meant the spread and propagation of the church that guarantees eternal salvation. Up to no mission as we know it has been the communication of the personal decision of faith and personal experiences of conversion.”

I could not agree more, I have been attending missions conferences and still those statistics are being emphasized in reports. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you are doing great things for God, but if you are not winning people and hadn’t start a church, almost everybody would conclude that you have failed and criticism about your ministry are on the way.

Although these stuff are important, for Moltmann, the success of missions depends on the accomplishment of the Holy Spirit as the giver of life—new life, whole life, full life, undivided life and eternal life. He points out that in the traditional missionary endeavors the role and activities of the Holy Spirit are too narrow. Mission is the mission of life and it is the work of the Holy Spirit because he is the source and giver of life.

It seems that many missionaries are on the field for the reputation of their mission board. They want the mission board to look better. They are indifferent to the situation of the people, they are bent to accomplish what they want to do with disregards to the people they supposed to be ministering. Some missionaries are not sacrificing enough. They still live in a mansion and isolate themselves with the people. They are not determined to adopt the host culture and they are keen on living just like they do it at home. Yes, they are doing some missions work but they have not been the agent of the Holy Spirit in sharing life to others. As long as they accomplishing something… they feel good about it.

Moltmann would say that it is not right to spread Christian values or civilization to these people who have been suffering enough, who have been around death. Here people are suffering from human rights violation, injustice, exploitation and discrimination.

Jesus deals with those issues first before he would tell people about God. For Jesus, it is the most effective way of telling them about his Father, by extending his love towards them. Jesus is life. Where Jesus is, there is life. Where Jesus is, sick people are healed, sad people are comforted, marginalized people are accepted, and the demons of death are driven out. The Holy Spirit does the same. Christian mission should be about giving life… it’s about declaring war against all forms of death, anything that threatens and prevent people from enjoying life.

Missionaries should always remember that missions originate from the heart of God. We have to get out of the structure of religion to the kingdom of God, out of the church to the world, from being self-centered to giving hope to the whole world.

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