Understanding Worship, Justice and the Missio Dei in Missional Contexts
Below is one of the first major papers I have had to write for my schooling. It is an integrative between two week long classes, the first being about worship and the second about Justice and Mercy. I wish I could have had about 5 more hours with it. Please feel free to critique ideas... I am not so interested in grammar and punctuation :)
Faith without Works is Dead
In finding the connection between acts of Justice/Mercy and the Acts of Piety, I feel there is a tendency to over-play the connection. Many Christians and churches and even scholars want to convey an idea of consequence; that proper worship will beget proper mission. I feel that this tendency is so strong it has been a lens through which I have read the readings and interpreted the theologians. But the scholars aren’t completely guiltless in forming this causal relationship. There seems to be a purposed set of scholarship that is fighting for a middle way between the conservative individualism that has plagued most of the reformation and the liberal stream that has sacrificed piety and transformation for Justice. In forging this middle way the missional church and scholars have connected Justice and Piety in some proper ways, in ways that reclaim a more complete gospel, but I just hope that they haven’t fed into the individualist notion that one leads to the other. A careful assessment will show that there is ambiguity, but ultimately I believe the material leans toward an equal stressing of both Piety and Justice in the living out the Missio Dei.
Acts of Piety, or the practicing of the means of grace, are the spiritual disciplines Christians use believing that God is working an inward grace. John Wesley says of the means of grace, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.”[i] Wesley believes that the most common and important are prayer, the reading of scripture and communion or Eucharist though he admits to there being many more.[ii] An individual can practice these alone or as part of a church setting. The question posed is how does piety and Justice relate to Missio Dei. I think definitions of both Justice and Missio are needed before we can answer.
Acts of Justice and Mercy are central themes in Scripture, specifically the Old Testament where they are often paired together. No other passage makes this clearer than the much discussed Micah passage, chapter 6 verse 8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV). Justice and Mercy are attributes that the Lord requires of us but they are also attributes that God defines God-self by. We see this in Jeremiah 9:24, “’but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD” (NIV). John Perkins describes justice in an easy way and a not-so-easy way. His view of justice is finding the cause of those who have been under the oppression of injustice and taking up that cause. But more than that, Perkins believes that in Christian downward mobility and relocation, the cause of the ones under injustice literally becomes our cause. He says, “In once again living among our people, their needs became our needs. Our shared needs, then, became the starting point of our ministry.”[iii] Justice is defending the cause of the widow, the orphan and the stranger. It is releasing the oppressed and fighting the cause of the poor.
The Missio Dei is simply “God’s Mission” or “Mission of God” in Latin. The implications of the Missio are, however, much wider and deeper. Darell Guder states that the Missio Dei involves a “Theocentric reconceptualization” or in laymen’s terms, a God-centered rethinking of mission. He says, “We have come to see that mission is not merely the activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation.”[iv] God is the one with the mission. God is sender. God has the goal. It is to God’s ends that all is done. This may seem like an obvious idea, that God is the doer and giver of all good things, but for centuries the church has assumed that mission was its job and not God’s action. Lesslie Newbigin says about the church, “[The Church] is sent, therefore, not only to proclaim the kingdom but to bear in its own life the presence of the kingdom.”[v] The very idea that the church is sent conveys that the church is a part of God’s mission and that mission does not belong to the church. The Missio Dei is always outside the church, but the church exists to live into the Missio.
But the Missio Dei is not just the abstract idea that God is awesome and inventor of the concept mission. Missio Dei is not even only the idea that mission is God centered and not church centered. Missio Dei is about eschatology. Wesley wants to point out that the “means of grace” are actually not ends in and of themselves when he says, “Remember also to use all the means as means; as ordained, not for their own sake…”[vi] It has to be noted that our worship and our mercy has an ends. This isn’t some argument about ethics for ethics sake. If the Missio Dei does anything it points us to the end. Newbigin says, “Mission, seen from this angle, is faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events of history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near. It is the acting out the central prayer that Jesus taught his to disciples to use: ‘Father, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as in heaven.’”[vii] The end of the Missio is that Earth is full of God’s Kingdom. As N. T. Wright suggests, the biblical echoing of “… the waters cover[ing] the sea” (Isaiah 11, Habakkuk 2) is God’s end to the Missio. He says, “As it stands, that is a remarkable statement. How can the waters cover the sea? They are the sea. It looks as though God intends to flood the universe with himself, as though the universe, the entire cosmos, was designed as a receptacle for his love.”[viii] The end of the Missio is the Heaven and Earth renewed and wedded. God’s ends is to be perfectly and completely with us without injustice, evil and corruption. Guder says, “A missional ecclesiology is eschatological. Our doctrine of the church must be developmental and dynamic in nature, if we believe that the church is the work of the creating and inspiring Spirit of God and is moving toward God’s promised consummation of all things.”[ix]
To the question at hand, How does the Missio Dei shape my personal acts of piety, my church and my acts of justice and mercy? My initial thought is to say that my personal connection to Christ through piety will inform my acts of Justice. The mission will follow worship. I am even tempted to generalize this to the whole church, to say that communal worship will guide our mercy. I want to use some evangelical cliché to say something like, “when my cup is filled to overflowing, then it can spill out to those around me.” These types of clichés are justification for deeper worship and individual piety, holiness of the heart. I could easily read into some of the scholars and find justification for such beliefs as well. Guder says, “By its very existence, then, the church brings what is hidden into view as sign and into the experience as foretaste. At the same time, it also represents to the world the divine reign’s character, claims, demands, and gracious gifts as its agent and instrument.”[x] By describing the church, he places great importance and value on the church; as it should be. Newbigin says, “I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation… that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.”[xi] Newbigin seems to be the first one to say “…the mission is God’s”[xii] yet here in this quote he indissolubly links church and mission, and more than that, as the church as one of the only options for mission. Wesley says that the most important means of grace are prayer, reading scripture and communion. These acts are all worship done alone or in church. He goes on to say, “According to this, according to the decision of Holy Writ all who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in the means which he hath ordained…”[xiii] Who doesn’t want the grace of God? Why wouldn’t we prioritize personal and corporate worship over mission, justice and mercy? In the questioning of my assumptions I began to ask a deeper question: do the two, piety and justice, have to be so intimately paired in a causal relationship? I have known very devout worshippers who have, for all intents and purposes, forsaken the call to act justly and mercifully. On the other hand I have known people who have a deep desire to do justice and mercy and have had poor worshiping lives. The latter is probably my own journey.
The answer to the question of how does justice and piety relate to each other and ultimately to the Missio Dei comes in John Wesley, N. T. Wright and scripture. These provide the lens that helps me make sense of the rest of missional reading. John Wesley says in On Zeal, “Are you better instructed that to put asunder what God has joined? Than to separate works of piety from works of mercy? Are you uniformly zealous for both?... that consequently no outward works are acceptable to him unless they spring from holy tempers, without which no man can have a place in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”[xiv] Piety and Mercy are to be equally stressed in the life of the church and believer. Wesley wants to point out that works done without faith are useless, but the Epistle of James would equally stress “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17, NRSV). Either way, both scripture and Wesley understand that works and piety are separate entities that are completely dependent on each other and with out each other the other would perish. C. S. Lewis says it this way, “Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.”[xv] I do not feel compelled at this time to pick which blade is more important, but ultimately find them bound together. If they are bound, I have a hard time saying which one leads to the other.
The synthesis of piety and justice may be wrapped up in something larger than itself as it relates to the Missio. Wright says, “I remain convinced that the way forward is to rediscover a true eschatology, to rediscover a true mission rooted in anticipating that eschatology, and to rediscover forms of church that embody that anticipation.”[xvi] Wright suggests that maybe eschatology will be the overarching mechanism needed to make sense of how piety and mission relate to the Missio. If we know what the ends of Missio Dei are then we can talk about mission and then church. Interestingly, Wright finds that mission will be the first thing effected by correct eschatology and spawning out of mission church practice will be formed.
But ultimately every scholar, from Wesley (On Zeal) to Wright (Surprised by Hope) must conclude that the way Missio Dei relates to piety, both in church and personal, and justice is through Love. If truly the greatest commandment is to “’love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind [worship].’ And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself [justice/mercy/mission]’” then maybe the synthesis of the two really is love. But not in the way we think. Jesus is equally commanding both. He is commanding worship and he is commanding mercy. He stresses both equally by saying that the second is like the first (o’’”`moi,a). Piety and justice are separate but both equally important bound together by love which, in his synthesis of piety and mercy, Wesley says love is “the queen of all graces, the highest perfection of heaven or earth, the very image of the invisible God…” in On Zeal.[xvii]
If the Missio Dei is God’s mission towards a consummated end where heaven and earth reside together as one, where God floods the earth like the “…waters cover the sea” then certainly the church has a role. But the church’s role is not to be the doers of mission or even the keepers of the mission, but created out of God’s mission to be the embodiment of God’s mission. The Church’s worship/piety is to love God. But Wright puts this love into eschatological perspective, “…love is not our duty; it is our destiny.”[xviii] Wright believes that our worship in love is a reflection of the future reality. We as a present reality people live into a future reality in the kingdom by our worship. Our worship orients us to the future reality. It reminds us that the Missio has an end, that we have a glorious end. Our work of justice and mercy is the living out those ends. We work towards the “Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven…” We work to wipe out poverty, to heal up the broken hearted, to release the oppressed, to set the captive free, to defend the cause of the orphan and widow and stranger because this is the end of the hope we live into. We live into this hope with such assurance and present reality now that we shape the things around us to become more like what the whole world will become. And the whole thing is held together by love. The Love of God which continually calls us out of this present reality and into the future hope and the love of neighbor as self which calls us out of the future to be present. The two cannot be separated but the two cannot be confused: Piety and mercy are one in love.
[i] Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater, edit., John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987), 160.
[iii] John Perkins, With Justice for All (Ventura, CA: Regal Press, 2007), 61.
[iv] Darell L. Guder et al., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 4.
[v] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 48-49.
[vi] Outler, Wesley, 170.
[vii] Newbigin, Open, 39.
[viii] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission
of the Church, (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 102.
[ix] Guder, Missional, 11-12
[x] Ibid., 102.
[xi] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 227.
[xii] Newbigin, Open, 18.
[xiii] Outler, Wesley, 162.
[xiv] Ibid., 473.
[xv] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (San Francisco: Harper Collins: 2001), 148.
[xvi] Wright, Surprised, 264.
[xvii] Outler, Wesley, 473.
[xviii] Wright, Surprised, 288.
Guder, Darrell, Lois Barrett, Inagrace T. Dietrich, George R. Hunsbeger, Alan J. Roxbrgh,
Craig Van Gelder. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
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