MISSION AND UNITY

by Metropolitan Makarios (Tillyrides) of Kenya

 

If people proclaim in the world the Gospel of Salvation they do so by the Command and the mandate of Christ the Savior. The Lord commanded His apostles "Go and make disciples of all nations" Mat 4,28:16-20) and there rests the meaning of the Greek word for church "ecclesia" -to call out, to gather the People of God as a sign and manifestation of the Kingdom of God And before sending them told them "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Therefore, mission as the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is at the very center of the Church's vocation in the world, mission belongs to the very nature of the Church, for without mission there is no Church, "And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed'? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out?" asks that great missionary — St. Paul (Rom 10: 14-15).

The observation that the Church has been sent out and given a mandate to carry out mission work in the world should awaken in us to two very important convictions. First, that mission is not for an individual or an isolated act, it is one that is deeply ecclesiastical. When we evangelize, gather the people and or administer a sacrament, we are carrying out an ecclesiastical duty and that act is certainly attached to the whole Church by institutional relationships through the work of the Holy Spirit. This presupposes that our acts as missionaries are not attributed to ourselves but are in union with the entire mission of the Church, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.

The second conviction is that if each individual carries out mission work in the name of the Church who herself (Church) does so by virtue of a mandate from the Lord, no missionary is the absolute master of his/her missionary activities. He/she does not have absolute freedom to carry out mission in accordance with individualistic criteria and perspectives but rather must act in conforming with the mind of the entire Church.

Reflect on the early Christians; in their gathering and breaking of bread: they bore witness before their persecutors -judges and executioners and in their apologetical texts, they readily expressed their deep faith in the Church by describing her as being spread throughout the Oikumene. They were fully aware of belonging to a large community which neither space nor time can limit "… You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), "and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20). This is how the Lord wanted His Church to be: universal and timeless. He compared His Church to a small seed, but when it grows up "it becomes a tree, so that the birds come and make their nests in its branches" (Matt. 13:32). He likens His Church to a net that catches fish of every kind "they throw their net into the lake and catch all kinds of fish" (Matt, 13:47). He also compares the Church to a flock with a single shepherd "There are other sheep which belong to Me that are not in this Sheep Pen, I must bring them too".(John 10: 16) Mission should be aimed at the realization of a Universal Church without boundaries or frontiers.

In the mind of the Lord, the Church is universal by vocation and mission but when she puts down her roots in a variety of cultural, social and human terrains, she takes on different external expressions and appearances in each part of the world. Those churches or rather parts of the same body, should not be looked at as different establishments. Neither should they cut themselves off from the universal Church; because in so doing they cut themselves off and lose their relationship to God's plan of ecclesiastical oneness.

The unity of the Church is the unity in Christ, united by the Spirit with the Triune God. The Church is the Body of Christ, as there is only one body, as there is one Christ and one Spirit. Mission, therefore, should be understood in this context.

Mission in oneness will require that the individual churches keep their profound openness towards the universal Church. The unity of the Church however, does not mean creating a worldwide organization or a structural unity. Oneness, cannot be reached through joining all the local churches into one universe structure. Unity in mission and thus of the Church should rather be based on the norm and standards of the God-given and eschatological unity of the One. 14n1v Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ in the Triune God. Jesus prayed for such unity  "That they all may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:11). This unity in mission in the Triune God, with Christ in us and we in Christ. Christ the Father and the Father in Christ by the Spirit, as an eschatological reality is the standard and norm for the unity of the Church today. Something promised and assured by Christ — "And now I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you … if you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are My disciples" (John 15:12).

Mission in Unity will also require openness towards the whole of humanity and to the whole of creation which is a distinguishing feature of our authentic eucharistic spirituality. Openness to oneness in mission, cannot be achieved by giving out material things to the poor while closing our hearts. Compassion with the world which is a major requisite in mission means understanding and respecting people from different races, classes, sex and status. We have to be fully open to the Universal Church while understanding missionary work in the world and experiencing the suffering of God's people in true Christian compassion. We take upon ourselves the pain and suffering of the world as we identify ourselves with the task of mission work in true acts of self-giving love. The Church is called to preach the good news to the poor following the example of the Lord Who was incarnated as poor, Who lived among the poor and gave them the promise of the Kingdom of God. Jesus looked at the multitude with compassion and called them out of their distress "Come to Me all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). The proclamation of the good news to the poor is a sign of the Messianic Kingdom and a priority criterion by which to judge the validity of our missionary engagement today.

Christian mission discovers its foundation, goals, tasks and the content of its proclamation solely in the Commission of the resurrected Lord. Mission therefore is grounded in the nature of the Gospel, and its first and supreme goal is the glorification of the name of God throughout the entire world and the Lordship of Jesus Christ His Son. Mission today should very much be concerned with the disclosure of God as the manifestation of a new man and the extension of a new humanity, Jesus Christ our Savior, true God true Man, is the basis of Content and Authority of our Mission. It is the goal of this Mission to make known the gift of His salvation to all people.

Mission is the witness and presentation of eternal salvation carried out in the name of Jesus Christ by His Church by means of evangelism and the sacraments. The primary task of mission still is to call out the messianic saved community from among all people. Missionary proclamation should lead everywhere to the establishment of the Church of Christ. The Christian universal mission is therefore the decisive, continuous saving activity of God among men, and through the proclamation of the Gospel, new nations will progressively be called to acceptance of the Good News of Jesus Christ and thus the Kingdom of God which involves as the Bible testifies, a proclamation and a realization of total salvation. This common witnessing and proclamation of the Messianic Kingdom will also involve confronting the urgency and importance of responding to that Kingdom. They are addressed by Jesus Christ to repent and enter through the forgiveness of sins and the accepting love of a heavenly Father. Conversion is a must if they are to leave the Kingdom of darkness to enter the Kingdom of God. We must also pray to the Holy Spirit for a continuation of Pentecost. The Power of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth, "when however the Spirit comes Who reveals the truth about God, He will lead you into all the truth" (John 16:6-13). Then the Church will go out into the world to bear witness to Christ with confidence, and the Word of God will be known, loved, pondered and preserved in the hearts of the people. The Church must make greater effort to provide access to the sacred Scripture in different languages as part of her extended mission because the Bible especially in the Word that comes from the Mouth of God is alive and active, sharper than any double edged sword, it cuts all the way through … it judges the desires and thoughts of man" (Heb. 4:12). Just as the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1: 14), so too the good news the Word of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed and must take root in the hearts of people.

In conclusion, may I pose one question. Who is supposed to do all this? In order for mission and unity to be realized, agents for the task are needed. For how are men to call upon the Lord in Whom they have not believed? "And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?" (Rom 10:14-15). The proclamation of the Gospel can be fully carried out only through the contribution of all believers at every level of the universal Church It is especially the concern of the local church and entrusted to the guide of the local Bishop to co-ordinate the commitment to evangelization, by gathering the faithful together, confirming them in the faith through the priests and supporting them in the fulfillment of their respective tasks. The laity are to be helped to become increasingly aware of their role in the church, thereby fulfilling their particular mission and faithful witnesses to the Gospel. Mission work must start right in the family. The family is a privileged place for evangelical witness and thus a domestic church. It is in the heart of the family that parents are by word and example the first heralds of the faith and constitute the first school of Christian life.

The other very potential agents are the youth. The Church knows well that youth are not only the present but above all the future of the Church. It is therefore very necessary to help young people to realize the need for their involvement in mission. They should be helped to overcome the obstacles threatening their development: illiteracy, idleness, hunger, drug abuse, promiscuity etc. They, in turn should be invited to become missionary-minded and to evangelize their peers. The youth should be helped to discover very well and very ear I y the value of their gift and the potential for them to reach maturity, In this regard, mission and unity may be achieved through the participation of the entire Church both individually and collectively.

Mission and unity point to the service of humanity and unity in Christ. Mission points to what the Church has to do while unity to what the Church is to be. The Church is a community that is being sent into the world for a given mission. It does not only grow in communion with Christ. Mission and unity are inseparable. They are intimately, related and go hand-in-hand.

What is mission? The mission is of God. In one sense the Church has no mission. Its mission is to participate in that of God. The Church is a missionary event. Mission is the life of the Church that goes beyond itself to embrace the whole of creation and humanity.  Mission is the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, mission is not one of the functions of the Church.

What is unity? The unity of the Church is not a co-operation or a doctrine. It is a communion of the Church in Christ. It is also a communion of local churches in one faith and Eucharistic fellowship. The Church is one.

Mission and unity are dynamically interrelated. They are to be understood in the perspective of the Kingdom of God. Mission is a commitment to the work of the Trinity incarnated in Jesus Christ. Unity is participation in the life of the Trinitarian God. Co-operation in mission can enhance unity. Mission and unity belong to the essence of the Church. All of them have the same calling and the same act. Each one leads into the other.

In the world. the churches are striving for a common mission and visible unity in the context of multi-religious societies and in the midst of conflicts and turmoil ideologically. Mission and unity appear not to be presented to the churches in all parts of the world. There are several distinct aspects of mission and unity.

 

  1. Mission and unity as a continuous diakonia.
  2. A call for renewal.
  3. The emerging and converging point (Eucharist).
  4. Solidarity with the oppressed.
  5. A Living martyrdom.
  6. A question for survival.
  7. Dialogue in a multi-religious Society.
  8. A ministry of reconciliation.

 

Being in Christ is loving your neighbor, helping the sick and the afflicted. These are the constitutive elements of the Church. The Church is a diakonia. It continues and commits discipleship to Christ to rebuild and recreate the fallen world. Through Christ, the Church becomes one in Christ. Diakonia. is the unity of the church and proclamation of the Gospel messages. The advent of Christ is a call for a new relationship with God and the world. The call is a reality in Eucharist. The Church is a community renewed by Christ. It is designed by Him to be an instrument for the renewal of the whole creation. Mission is the renewal of the local community of faith while unity is the renewal of the broken fellowship with Christ. Renewal is a dynamic process of becoming Godlike. Renewal is the transformation of human beings, communities and the whole creation. Renewal is a progress towards unity. It is also an obedient response to God's call for the salvation of the world. Unless we live in a constant state of spiritual renewal, we shall not be able to give a vital witness. The source of mission and unity is the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, mission and unity become one act of the Church. Through Eucharistic celebrations, the faithful are united with Christ; and also are messengers to the world. Eucharistic fellowship constitutes the foundation of mission. Believers sent out to the world, sustain and manifest a tangible unity with Christ. The act of the Eucharist is an act of mission and unity. Eating the body of Christ and. drinking His blood, makes us new people of the new creation. The Eucharist sends us to the world to transform and recreate it through Christ. "For as often as you eat this bread, and sends us to the world to transform and recreate it through Christ. "For as often as you eat this bread, and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (I Cor. 11:26). The Eucharist is people's work which they share with God. through the Holy Mysteries, God enters our lives and makes us one with Him and invites us to share in His divinity. This is aimed at the salvation of the creation. Communing from one cup means sharing one vision. The Eucharist is also participating in God's mission through proclaiming the good news and rendering services to our neighbors and struggling against every form of sin and wrongdoing. Therefore, mission and unity is a Eucharistic act. The Eucharist has remained the emerging and converging point of mission and unity as well as the living source starting from the past during the times of persecution and continuing to the present day. The Church of Jesus Christ as a Eucharistic community is in the world to confront its injustice, hatred, violence, corruption and every other evil. The Church exists for and serves the Kingdom. Attempting to separate mission and unity from social justice would be a denial of the true nature of the Church. The Church has a prophetic role i.e. rejecting and denouncing immorality, judging the world, challenging human self-centeredness, and helping the oppressed. These are the Church's mission and unity. Solidarity with the oppressed and poor has been central to the life and witness of the Church in the world. The Church has been playing its part in the movements for anti-colonialism, liberation and in the struggle for human rights.

We have seen mission as participation in the work of God in the world and unity being fellowship in the life of the Triune God. All these belong to God. The Church is an agent. God in Jesus Christ is present and acts in the Church's continuous struggle for mission and unity. Engagement in mission and commitment to unity is discipleship. This is a living martyrdom, a highest expression of unity of the Church and a concrete sign of Christian mission. Martyrdom does not only mean suffering and dying. It is also the quality of witness and life which makes the good news an incarnate reality in the midst of tension and suffering. The involvement of mission and unity of the Church in the world has been a continuous martyrdom in life, even in death, e.g. in the Muslim countries and Russia. In the Muslim countries the existence of the Church is indeed a living Martyrdom, though the situation has happily changed for the better in the former Soviet Union.

In the Creation, the Church is a living reality, The Church cannot carry on its mission without continuity and still live out its unity. Some local Orthodox churches are tiny communities in areas where other religions predominate, and this can make the Church lose its identity. In such conditions the Church experiences economic instability and other prevailing negative aspects and factors. This has reduced the presence of Christianity and its faithful in witnessing in such regions. The survival of the Church in such regions is at stake today, more than at any other time in history. The question of mission and unity is a question of survival. It requires openness to renewal, openness to the new realities. Commitment to mission and unity and faithfulness to the past. The Church should be aware that it cannot secure its continuity and maintain its identity without a common mission and a visible unity.

Our mission to the world together with our relationship to God are inseparable from the relationship with our neighbor. All these correlate, coexist and they interact. In the world, dialogue with other religions is not a conceptional notion but a reality of existential nature. Situations of a permanent dialogue is experienced in the Church. The Church shares with other religions the same land, history and destiny. The Church's entire existence is shaped by living among other religions. The Church needs dialogue with other religions so as to stay in peace. We need also a new theology that is strong enough to be open to mutual witness. We need to resist any temptation which would result in the possibility of improper compromise.

The Church is called to become the sign of hope where there is no hope, to proclaim the Kingdom of God, to be God's instrument of unity and reconciliation at the center of growing tensions. The Church is to prepare the way towards unity of the whole creation. God "has reconciled us to Himself through Christ" and Has given us "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:14).We are therefore "Christ's ambassadors of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). The Church is a partner with other Christian denominations in the struggle for building world societies on the basis of God's justice and peace and for securing dignity and human rights.

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