A Vision of Mission for the New Millennium

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2000 »Volume 37 2000 Number 2 »A Vision Of Mission For The New Millennium

INTRODUCTION

A microcosmic group of 44 concerned Christians, comprising theologians, social scientists, and activists, came together at the invitation of Ishvani Kendra, Pune, for a research seminar entitled “A Vision of Mission for the New Millennium.” The group spent four days at the national missiological institute - from 9th to 12 March, 2000 - in intense reflection on the various aspects of the Christian mission. The objective was to sketch out a vision of mission that is adequately responsive to the challenges posed by the contemporary realities of life in our country. This vision unfolded itself through the various moments of the seminar such as the input sessions given by the resource persons, interaction of the participants with the speakers, discussions in small groups, and exchanges in panels. The text that follows seeks to capture the essence of the deliberations on the floor of the assembly and thereby to present the chief ingredients of a vision of mission for the emerging era.

PREAMBLE

1. In recent years mission has been a subject of deep reflection and considerable debate within the Church and in the media and the political circles of our country. Expectedly, the latter’s assessment of mission is in the light of the painful experiences associated with the age of colonization, with its despoilment of cultures, desecration of sacred places, and in some cases the use of economic and military power to ensure the numerical growth of the Christian community. These are hurting memories of the past which we regret today and for which all of us Christians should be open to repentance and ready to seek pardon.

2. On the other hand, the Church’s official teaching continues to be articulated in a language and a tone that are perceived by many of our fellow citizens as smacking of imperialism and as offensive in the context of the new democratic ethos and the enhanced self-understanding of most religions. We feel distressed when we realize that our catechetical language hurts the feelings of many brothers and sisters who are not only our fellow citizens but also our friends.

3. As members of the national community we Christians have absolutely no aggressive designs on the followers of other faith traditions. In fact we seek to be enriched by the religious and cultural values of the communities we are in contact with. We do also experience the call of God to continue the task enjoined on us by Jesus and commit ourselves to work towards enhanced life in ourselves and in others. Our intention in this research seminar has been to discover new ways of understanding mission in the specific context of our country and to give a more articulate expression to what a great part of the Indian Church experiences and practises today. We do not pretend to give an exhaustive new definition to all aspects of mission but to find a new language and a new style to speak about our mission that seems to us to be more respectful of the religious experiences and sensibilities of our fellow citizens and at the same time in line with the example of Jesus.

THE CHALLENGE OF THE INDIAN CONTEXT

4. We began our search from our context. Our land, with its tradition of harmony, spiritual values, and democracy, is today sending counter signals of division, fundamentalism, and communalism. This makes us realize that our country is in the throes of many disturbing conflicts. From early times the legitimization of the caste system had turned India into a land of unequals. The contradiction we experience between political equality based on adult franchise on the one hand, and social/economic inequality that is the plight of more than 80 percent of our population on the other, is one of the causes of our present malaise.

5. The emergence of the subaltern movements, of the Dalits, Tribals, women, and other backward castes, is threatening the stability of India’s socio-economic structures. The inequality these impose on the poor and the marginalized, if left unrepaired, can blow up the basic framework of our democratic polity. The specific problem of Indian subaltern groups is that their rank in society is determined by birth which makes any improvement in their social, educational, cultural, religious, psychological, political, and economic status well nigh impossible.

6. The political quagmire that we find ourselves in is truly depressing. There are certain subtle changes taking place on the national scene which can be summarized as (a) an ideological shift from centrist to rightist, (b) a power shift from the Center to the regions, and (c) a shift towards subaltern groups. These changes will become more pronounced with the passage of time and will eventually exert considerable influence on the dynamics shaping the Indian polity so that the role of regions and subaltern groups will become increasingly crucial.

7. The unchecked march of globalization is widening the gap between the rich and the poor like never before and, with the boost that it offers to the mindless exploitation of the planet’s limited resources, is causing profound harm to the fragile eco-system. The impact of the communication media on the day-to-day life of the people and our rapid evolution into a society increasingly controlled by the dictates of the information technology are effecting rapid changes in value systems once thought of as unassailable.

8. Religious pluralism and religious tolerance, so characteristic of our nation in the past, are evidently at risk. Today what we are up against is a situation of ‘religions in conflict.’ These conflicts are not arising out of merely theological factors but also out of those which are socio-psychological in nature. They have four important roots: (a) religion as a source of identity is closely linked to culture and may be further strengthened by ethnic identity, (b) defensive fundamentalism in every faith tradition that leads to exclusivistic tendencies, (c) communalism that uses religion as a political tool raises its ugly head in most religious groups which in turn leads to the branding of the other as enemy, and (d) hurting memories of the unsavory past associated with domination and even persecution, etc., that continue to burn within the hearts of religious groups. The combined might of these factors frequently lead people to set up ‘institutionalized riot systems’ as evidenced in Gujarat, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and other places.

9. Christian life, born of the Spirit, began in small witnessing communities that followed the life and mission of Jesus Christ. The Church has now become an enormous institution and in a certain sense, sadly, also an obstacle to its quintessential mission. Two major factors have been responsible for the decline of Christian life: an excessive institutionalization of the believing community and its identification with the Western world.

10. Institutionalization brings in its wake efficient government, enviable discipline, articulate doctrines, and an impeccable system of worship. But then, in the resulting scenario, orthodoxy becomes more important than authentic Christian life and vital for the collective identity of the community. Church-going Christians are sacramentalized, but not always evangelized. The administrative structures of the Church with their increasing insistence on centralization, leave hardly any room for the local Church in the decision-making processes and for Christians to exercise their God-given charisms. The bane of institutionalization and the exclusive male character of the ministerial priesthood have led to the growing gap between the clergy and the laity and to the banishment of women to the periphery of Church life, resulting in their increasing devaluation in the Church.

11. The image of the Church in India is still very Western. Its association with the colonial conquest, domination, and exploitation as well as its failure to insert itself into the culture and tradition of the country hamper our efforts at engaging in a credible dialogue with the people of our land with their unique cultural and religious identities.

All the above factors call for a new paradigm for mission.

TOWARDS A PARADIGM SHIFT

12 We have normally approached missiology either from the perspective of the history of missions or from that of the ‘Great Commission’ texts, especially its Matthean version found in Mt 28:18-20, interpreting them in a narrow sense as a call to administer baptism to everyone. In the past mission was by and large concerned with ‘the salvation of souls.’ Today we realize that the welfare of the whole creation is the object of the Christian mission. It is not a project for the construction of Noah’s ark to rescue the ‘Christian remnant’ from the irredeemable rest. Instead, the Church is like leaven that is meant to facilitate the transformation of the world.

13. Reading the signs of the times we look at mission, the world, other religions, and the rest of humanity with a new perspective. The experience of our modern and complex world and a new understanding of revelation and of salvation, in fact, lead us to a new paradigm. This means that the experience of the Spirit’s action in the world not only sets the agenda for the mission of the Church, but also enables us to understand mission itself in a fresh way.

14. According to the new paradigm, creation itself is a self-communication of God, who is reaching out to all peoples through the Word and the Spirit in varied ways, at various times, and through the different religions. This ongoing divine-human encounter is salvific. However, God’s plan is not merely to save individual souls, but to gather together all things in heaven and on earth. God is working out this plan in history through various sages and prophets. Jesus, the Word incarnate, has a specific role in this history of salvation. But Jesus’ mission is at the service of God’s mission. It does not replace it. Taking a kenotic form, it collaborates with other divine self-manifestations in other religions as God’s mission is moving towards its eschatological fulfilment. As disciples of Jesus we must witness to the Abba and his kingdom of freedom and fellowship, love and justice. The ‘preparation-fulfilment’ framework that links Judaism and Christianity cannot be projected on to other religions.

15. For us in India, therefore, one of the primary tasks of mission is to be agents of an ongoing universal reconciliation. In this task the Church is not alone in the world but can find allies rather than enemies among the followers of other religious traditions and persons of good will.

16. In so far as God is ceaselessly active in the world, our mission does not consist in just giving but also in discovering and recognizing God’s presence and receiving God’s multiform revelation in others.

17. To be the light of the world we as Christians must become a more authentic community and overcome internal dissentions and resolve conflicts arising from narrow considerations of rites, castes, and majority/minority status. We must redefine our ecclesial boundaries and recognize the variety of ways of being Christian in the world.

CHARACTERISTICS OF MISSION

The new vision of mission is, therefore, marked by the paradigm shift outlined above. In the brief narrative that follows we present some of the salient features of this new understanding with no pretense, however, of providing an exhaustive listing.

18. Dialogue must be a way of life for the Christian in all his or her activities and relationships. Other believers are not adversaries but partners in mission. Christian mission is carried out in solidarity and not in isolation. Dialogue is its method, and the method itself is the message. This dialogue must be supported especially by a common action which is the best means for creating a new mindset. Only through a shared commitment to the cause of justice shall we discover one another as brothers and sisters. In the measure in which we are involved in such a common responsibility in that same measure will our mission be effective.

19. Mission necessarily has a prophetic edge. But the prophetic edge does not show itself in a confrontation with other religions or their followers but with the forces of evil, both personal and structural, that hinder human growth and frustrate the fulfilment of God’s plan for all. Such negative forces which we must jointly fight are all forms of individualism and egoism which manifest themselves as total insensitivity to the common good or the good of others, and in approaches shaped by the callous desire for profits for a few rather than by the concern for an equitable distribution of the goods of the earth. The strength of the mission will be proportionate to the strength of the prophetic challenge we are able to pose to the individuals and the structures of Satan and Mammon. We cannot discount the struggle involved in the service of God’s rule. If mission is a prophetic task and if it is to be exercised in collaboration with others, it means that the call to this task is addressed to all who participate in God’s mission.

20. The growth of the whole human family demands a special commitment to the weaker and the oppressed sections of society. The prophetic stand must include as a primary objective to work for providing a just space in the national community for women, Dalits, Tribals, and all other disadvantaged groups. Mission is characterized by this option.

21. Among the many oppressed sections of society and the Church, today we are conscious that women form the most disadvantaged group. Closer attention paid to the feminine face/aspect of the divine and an increased emphasis on the sense of belongingness to Mother Earth are among the ways to fight the marginalization of women. This would help the process of restoring the dignity of women and pave the way for empowering them as equal partners with men in the search for a new world.

22. This means that we oppose all tendencies of cultural nationalism and intolerance of pluralism whereby the rich variety of our country is sought to be wiped out by the protagonists of the inadmissible monoculturalism. At the same time we shall avoid the temptation to form quasi-political blocks of minorities to face the menace of the hegemonizing tendencies. While we commit ourselves to the service of all disadvantaged groups, we affirm that our mission is not directed against any particular community in the country but towards the establishment of a just and egalitarian society.

23. The task of being messengers of peace is enjoined on us by Jesus (Mt 5:9). One of the priorities of our missionary involvement will be to acquire the necessary know-how for conflict resolution, especially in areas prone to religious or ethnic violence. We must analyse the real causes of conflicts, keep up a sustained interest in the restoration of justice wherever it has been denied, create appropriate rites for reconciliation and for healing of memories, and wherever necessary establish multi-cultural and multi-ethnic peace cells in areas where conflicts are likely to erupt.

24. Our mission is exercised within the limits of history and finds expression in concrete geographical situations. Yet it remains ever open to the eschatological reign of God, i.e., to the fullness of life to which all individuals and peoples are invited to aspire. The mission today must infuse hope in every person not only for higher levels of material prosperity, but also for richer relationships between persons and communities. Above all it should foster genuine human response to the freely-offered experience of the Ultimate of which the Hindu scriptures speak as knowledge of ‘the Bliss of Brahman by which every creature lives’ and which the Christian tradition has always known as ‘the seed of glory, a certain beginning of eternal life.’ This God-given longing for a mystical union with the Absolute, however imperfectly experienced or variously expressed, and the ultimate awakening of every human being to the fullness of this Bliss, are the original inspiration and the sustaining power of all authentic mission.

25. In our commitment to the mission of God as Christians we carry with us the living memory of Jesus. He inspires us and we are happy to share his memory with others whenever an opportunity arises. This memory is for many a source of inspiration for a commitment to the good of others in a spirit of humility, after the example of the Suffering Servant, and the practice of a love which is stronger than death. At the same time we do not want to impose on others our way of following Jesus. We are aware that there are many forms of discipleship and that God invites each person to respond to God’s call within the concrete circumstances and possibilities of his or her life. We are open to the possibility that others are inspired by and feel called to follow Jesus in their own way different from ours, while we welcome those who wish to join our community of his disciples, namely, the Church.

SOME POINTERS FOR ACTION

26. Since every religion is proposing ways and means for liberation, both spiritual and material, attainable to some extent in this world and projected for fulfilment in the life after, Christianity needs to collaborate with other religions in the promotion of genuine human and cosmic liberation. The central point in this program is that God is present in every religion and has infused into the heart of every human being a glimmer of God’s loving care for each one.

27. In the area of inter-religious dialogue we feel that the focus of sharing religious experiences could be to evolve a consensus around the fundamental values of truth and justice, after the example set by Mahatma Gandhi through his prayer meetings. Inter-religious meetings could also evolve into common fora for discussing socio-economic and political issues of relevance to communities, both local and national. Such fora will make participatory resolutions to tackle the issues of truth and justice and implement them jointly. This will promote communal harmony.

28. With regard to dialogue with the promoters of other ideologies such as environmental groups, we go by our own experience of Jesus which impels us to join forces with our sisters and brothers in India for the much-needed protection of our imperilled environment. This we believe will amount to the promotion of a campaign to ensure a better and fuller human life for all of India’s citizens, especially the poor and the downtrodden. To this end our mission challenges us to collaborate unstintingly with those who struggle to safeguard our planet against all forms of exploitation and against the wilful destruction of the fragile eco-system.

29. On the question of dialogue with the laity we propose that we promote regular formal dialogue processes between the clergy and lay bodies at the parish/diocesan/national levels that may result in participatory decision making in the Church and enhanced clergy-laity collaboration in the ministry.

30. While affirming the central place of inculturation in all evangelical involvements, we feel that inculturation is not merely about changes in rituals, external observances, and theology. Crucial to the concept is entering into the very struggles of the marginalized peoples. The Christian community needs to identify itself with the struggling sections of society and share the suffering of the people. A community that reaches out to the wounded people after the example of Jesus who shared the concerns of the excluded categories of his time will become a truly evangelizing community.

31. Teams comprising clergy, religious, and lay people may be set up in each diocese/parish. Planning Cells can draw up parish pastoral plans and monitor their implementation.

32. Lay Catholic Associations may be constituted and authorised to represent even officially local churches and national Christian bodies in fora discussing the socio-political affairs of the nation.

33. There is an urgent need to purge fundamentalism from the Church vis-ˆ-vis all aspects of its exclusivistic claims. Transcending the narrow rite boundaries and fostering genuine openness to develop indigenous rites for local churches should form part of our commitment to mission.

34. Creation of fellow-feeling, communion, and togetherness among the various communities of the Church, fostering reconciliation and a sense of Christian solidarity are all essential aspects of the new vision.

35. Structural changes are a must for the implementation of the new vision of mission. Democratization of the present ecclesial structures and networking among theologians and grass-root level activists will contribute to the emergence of a more enlightened leadership at all levels in the Church. This democratization should also become operative in the liturgy of the Church through a greater practical emphasis on the common priesthood of the faithful, particularly that of women.

36. The emphasis today should fall on formation for human community leadership rather than on preparation for clerical ritualistic ministries. More self-reliant means of support have to be tried in the case of the financing of the projects of formation in seminaries and religious houses. This will in turn bear witness to our own commitment to the national policies on self-reliance and sustainable economic development.

37. Christian involvement in politics has to be holistic in nature. Since there are larger life-based issues which demand Christian engagement in every area of human life, it has to be both prophetic and messianic. As prophetic (Is 61:l-3; Lk 4:18-19) the Christians’ political involvement must be aimed at the protection of the poor and the weak, the oppressed and the marginalized and against the agents of exploitation in our democratic system. As messianic, it must also be a reminder to the oppressors that the true sovereign is God, and under God the State is a servant of the people in protecting their rights and their human dignity. Justice and truth must be the only guiding principles of Christian political action for attaining its messianic goals (Is 11:4-5).

38. Jesus’ own messianic model of the Suffering Servant, adopted to some extent by Mahatma Gandhi, who followed the ideals of satyagraha and ahimsa, should become a source of inspiration also for the Christian politician. The objective of the politics of Jesus was the formation of a society built on the foundation of justice and righteousness. It is these which must set the parameters of our participation in the political processes of the country. This is part of our Christian responsibility and it is to be shared with other secular agencies for building up a just society in India.

39. It is also the duty of every Christian to support the democratic system which is today closest to the Christian understanding of being human and the political order derived from the law of love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. This will include the practice of equality in all our Christian involvements and the quickening of the process of establishing social democracy paving the way for a just society. In short, the Christian political involvement will have to definitely move into the groove of people’s movements.

40. We need education for building up a new democratic ethos. Democracy is not a system in which the will of the majority is allowed to prevail unquestionably. The will of the majority itself is controlled by other institutions and values, a process which ensures that the whims of the majority are not ruthlessly imposed on the minority. The new order of democratic polity will be respectful of the diversity of cultures and communities and their claims for equal recognition, and hence participatory on a representative basis, allowing each group to contribute its riches to the common good.

41. Christians in general need a systematic political education, which presently they lack. Average Christians do not know even their basic constitutional rights, fundamental as well as civic. So is the case with the fundamental duties and obligations of responsible citizens. Therefore the Christian institutions need to undertake on a regular basis a program of political education about the rights and duties so that the Christian leaders, specially the laity, can play a meaningful role participating in the total life of the country, and take part in programs conceived and executed for the welfare of the weaker sections of society.

CONCLUSION

42. Reading the signs of the times enjoins on us the duty to reformulate the meaning of mission in response to the present day exigencies. What our milieu calls for is a clear departure from the preferred positions of the past resulting from blatant triumphalism, unqualified claims of absolutism, smothering hierarchism, unhealthy dualism, and debilitating male domination. For tomorrow’s Christian mission, the methods we adopt will be the ultimate message. Accepting mission as the art of negotiating boundaries, evangelizers are called upon to ready themselves for the task of communing across the borders, recognized as essentially porous and fluid. Moving beyond the confines of mere inclusivism and pluralism, they embrace the concept of kenotic universality, as opposed to hegemonic universality, and thus turn themselves into harbingers of a culture of tolerance and peace and messengers of hope. By the same token the Christian community is invited to overcome the ghetto mentality and insert itself into the realpolitik of the day and work tirelessly for the promotion of justice in society. The new vision of mission invites the followers of Jesus to abandon the language of fullness, which only promoted isolation in the past, and willingly adopt a language of emptiness and powerlessness. What it envisages is a continuous dialogue with religions and civil society in general leading to the creation of wider human communities that transcend local and limited identities yet having their roots in them. Such mission will indeed render them worthy inheritors of the legacy of their master, the Suffering Servant, whose most striking exhortation was that his followers become effective yet totally unpretentious agents of transformation in society in the manner of light, salt, and leaven

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