Unity of the Church and Mission
Bosch has an interesting section in his chapter on “The Missionary Paradigm of the Eastern Church”, where he discusses the relation between the church and mission in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In understanding missional paradigms, it’s important to understand the “why” behind the “what”. This becomes very important during the medieval paradigm. The Orthodox paradigm may seem rather inert compared to present day enterprises, but I think they deserve credit for stressing the oneness of the church so much in their understanding of mission. Sometimes it’s easy (dizzying really) to look at all the missional endeavors, justifications, and causes today and forget that there is a unified, organic, concrete whole that functions as the container of God’s blessing and the expression of His grace. When that corporate vessel is endangered, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
In Orthodox thinking mission is thoroughly church-centered.
“The church is the aim of mission, not vice versa” (Bria 1980:8).
The “ecclesial character” of mission means “that the Church is the aim, the fulfillment of the Gospel, rather than an instrument or means of mission.” The church is part of the message it proclaims. (Bria 1975:245).
In the Orthodox perspective mission is thus centripetal rather than centrifugal, organic rather than organized.
If mission is a manifestation of the life and worship of the church, then mission and unity go together… For the Orthodox the Great Schism of 1054 had far-reaching consequences. Whereas the Catholic Church continued with its missionary outreach without interruption, particularly after the fifteenth century, and Protestant churches and mission agencies each embarked on their own outreach to those who lived beyond the borders of historical Christendom, the Orthodox could not easily do the same. When the unity was broken, “the Orthodox Church saw its mission altered from evangelism to a search for Christian unity” (Stamoolis 1986:110)… Since the church is Christ’s body, and there is only one body, the unity of the church is the unity of Christ, by the Spirit, with the triune God. Any division of Christians is therefore “a scandal and an impediment to the united witness of the church” (Bria 1986:69). Tragically, from the Orthodox point of view, we only too often convert people not to this one church, the body of Christ, but to our own denomination, at the same time imparting to them the “poison of division” (Nissiotis 1968:198).
–David J Borsch, Transforming Mission, p. 207-208
- Toward a Theology of Church Unity (thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung)
- Toward Denominational Unity (thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung)
- Doctrinal Unity is the Foundation for Denominational Unity (thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung)
- Where and How Do We Draw the Line? (ligonier.org)