#777 Some Uncommon Common Sense about “Mission”
“Go to my brothers and say to them…” (John 20:17; Jesus to Mary Magdalene, Gospel, Easter 1). Again, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21; Jesus to the disciples, Gospel, Easter 2). Etc.
Easter entails mission. The two are inseparable. This being so, we do well to take at least one Thursday of this Easter season to think about the mission that falls to people who wear and bear Christ in the world these days.
Some weeks ago Cathy Lessmann of the Crossings office sent us a little trove of unpublished pieces that Ed Schroeder had culled from his files. Most if not all were recently posted in Ed’s section of the library at crossings.org. We’ll ship a few of them to you even so via Thursday Theology, beginning with the one below. It hits the Easter mission theme as squarely on the head as anything you’ll find anywhere. It does so, of course, in Ed’s trademark style, and with his trademark clarity about the added value that the distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel brings to any discussion that’s worth having in the church.
For readers younger than fifty-five, a bit of necessary background:
In 1965 a convention of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod adopted a series of resolutions that quickly became known as “The Mission Affirmations.” They just as quickly became fuel for the fire in the controversy that eventually engendered Concordia Seminary in Exile (Seminex) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. Persons caught in that controversy—Ed, for example—spent lots of time thinking about them. Later they faded from view, as the meager results of a Google search today will quickly reveal.
I was a seminarian in those days, and Seminex was my school. I recall a general consensus that the Mission Affirmations were the last word in right-minded thinking about mission. I also recall a conversation with a sagacious and rigorously Lutheran missionary theologian who wasn’t so sure about that. Turns out that Ed wasn’t so sure about it either; or else that he had second and better thoughts when he returned to them a few decades later. After all, what we’re sending you today is Ed’s 2004 revision of these affirmations. You’ll agree, I think, that the improvement is huge. To see how huge, make sure you start by looking at the original resolutions.
It’s amazing how much clearer things become when you put your Law-and-Gospel glasses on. Would that more in the Church would do this.
Peace and Joy,
Jerry Burce, for the editorial team.
Affirmations of God’s Mission
Adopted by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (1965)
Variations proposed by Edward H. Schroeder, Jan. 27, 2004
- The Church Is God’s Mission.[RSV = Revised Schroeder Version] The Church is Created by God’s ”NEW” mission to the world, God’s unique mission in Christ.
The Church is both the product of God’s new mission in Christ to God’s old world, and thereafter its agent. God sends Christ on a MERCY mission to God’s own broken world. The depth of that brokenness is God’s “other” deal with the human race—first articulated in Gen. 2:17, first enacted in Gen. 3:8ff. In this old mission mercy is hidden. Instead God “counts trespasses.” No sinner survives such arithmetic. In Christ’s death and resurrection God offers these same sinners mercy, call it forgiveness of sins. God re-connects with them as Abba. A simple definition of church is “Church = Christ-trusting sinners.” All talk of Christian mission is grounded here.
- The Church Is Christ’s Mission to the Whole World[RSV] Christ sends that church to replicate its Christ-trusting throughout the world, where God’s other arithmetic is all-pervasive.
There is no technical NT term for mission as we use that word today. Closest is the language of God’s “covenant” or again, God’s “serving.” The Greek technical terms in the NT are diatheke and diakonia. But the way that God does covenant-service in Christ is very different from his alternate covenant-service apart from Christ. These two covenant-service-projects are grounded in two very different—finally contradictory—words from God. St John differentiates them as God’s “law coming through Moses” and God’s “grace and truth coming through Jesus Christ” (1:17). St. Paul and other NT writers use other contrasting terms for these two covenant-service-projects. [Hereafter CSP.]
Thus God’s old CSP is as different from God’s new CSP as night from day, as life from death. There is no “generic” CSP that covers both. Thus they must be specified, distinguished. It is always God’s new CSP in Christ that rescues sinners from God’s old CSP with its bad-news bottom line for sinners. Christ sends his trusters to replicate for worldlings what he has done for them, namely Christ’s own CSP. To wit, to offer them the promise of Christ’s own cross and resurrection so that they too might move from God’s old CSP to God’s new one. St. John quotes Christ as saying: “As the Father sent me, so send I you.”
- The Church Is Christ’s Mission to the Church[RSV stet]
Even though Christ-trusters are already “churchified,” they need constant nurture. For within their lives they too sense the “old Adam/Eve” present—and operational. “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” is the standard, not the exceptional, admission of all Christ-trusters. In the language of the Smalcald Articles, they constantly meet this need in one another with “mutual conversation and consolation.” In short, they continue to offer the crucified and risen Christ to each other, so that “repenting and believing the Good news” AGAIN AND AGAIN becomes the daily regimen of Christ-trusters. [This is perhaps the most important ecumenical phrase in the Lutheran Confessions. There are no barricades of any sort for any Christ-truster in practicing this “means of grace” (so Smalcald) with anyone who claims Christ as Lord.]
- The Church is Christ’s Mission to the Whole Society[RSV] The Church carries Christ’s Mercy-Mission to the Whole Society conscious that God’s other CSP is already in operation there. That has required Christ-trusters of every age to see society with binocular vision, lest either of God’s two covenant-service-projects gets short shrift.
Apart from Christ, God has from the beginning been at work in human society with his initial CSP. As wondersome as that CSP is—yes, good and gracious—it does not bring mercy to sinners. It preserves and cares for creation, yes. But forgiveness of sinners, no. The sinners dilemma is healed only in the new CSP grounded in Good Friday and Easter. It is definitely something else. Ask any forgiven sinner.
Articulating that distinction for Christians in society is crucial for both CSPs to proceed well. Lutheran language has capitalized on the Biblical metaphors of God’s left and right hands. Not two different realms (as territories), but God’s two different operations on the same turf, in the one and only world there is.
Christ-trusters, even before they encounter Christ, already have assignments in God’s “old” CSP, God-given assignments as caretakers, stewards, in God’s world. Such assignments arise already at human birth whereby God places people into specific spots in his creation. And along with that placement come multiple callings from God to “be my sort of person in all the relationships wherein I’ve placed you.” When human beings also become Christ-connected, they get a second assignment: “Replicate your Christ-connection, offer Christ’s redemption, in all the relationships you already have in your initial CSP.” A frequently used collect in the liturgy says it thus: “We dedicate our lives to the care and redemption of all that you [God] have made.” Care and redemption are two distinct jobs, not at all synonyms. Yet, the two come from the same God, and both become the assignments for every Christ-truster.
- The Church Is Christ’s Mission to the Whole Man[RSV] The Church Is Christ’s Mission to the Whole Person—but not forgetting the 2 CSP distinction
Biblical anthropology does not divide humans into body and soul. [Greeks in NT times majored in that point of view.] Bible language sees people made of distinct components, yes, but as one unified whole person no member of which is superior to the other. The Biblical focus is on relationships. How is this unitary, though multi-membered, person related to significant others in his/her God-given placements? That is the question.
The root relationship, of course, is someone’s God-relationship. Where that is fractured, only God’s right-hand CSP will do the job to bring healing. In all other relationships—with other humans, with one’s own self, with other creatures, with creation as a whole—God’s other hand is at work to care for and preserve what’s already created. Christians use the language of “social ministry, medical missions, inner mission,” etc. when they engage in such left-hand work. Such terms also apply to those who do not know Christ at all but are deeply involved in this CSP of God.
Designating such missions and ministries “left-hand” is in no way derogatory. Those tasks are divine assignments, godly work. Labeling them “left-hand” is descriptive. It describes what God is achieving there, that is, caring for creation. That is not yet redemption. Left-hand CSP does not translate sinners into Christ-trusters.
In executing God’s right-hand CSP Christ-trusters concretely offer the crucified and risen Christ to the receivers, God’s offer of merciful forgiveness encountered nowhere else in creation. Right-hand CSP is more than just speaking or offering “God’s love.” God’s love is already operating wherever God extends his left hand.
The right-hand CSP is an offer of Christ’s specific mercy-promise to folks who, for whatever reason, do not trust it, so that they may trust it. That offer occurs in concrete words and worded actions (sacraments) designated as “means of grace.” The Smalcald Articles specify five such word/actions that transmit this promise. They are visible, audible. You can record them when they are happening.
God’s left hand CSP—also assigned by God to folks who do not trust Christ—protects, preserves, restores the other relationships mentioned above. Christians have no scruples in joining God’s other left-handed workers in this operation. In fact, Christ commends it.
- The Whole Church is Christ’s Mission.[RSV] All Members of the Church are on assignment in both of God’s Missions.
If you are alive at all, you are God’s left-hand missionary. If in addition you also trust Christ, you have a second mission assignment as well, God’s CSP number 2. To be baptized is to be a CSP-2 missionary. When the congregation prays that offertory prayer IN UNISON, it is “all of us” who “dedicate our lives to the care and redemption of all that you, God, have made.” All means all. Working out the strategies in any given place and time for this double mission of care and redemption is a major piece of the agenda when the Christ-connected gather for “mutual conversation and consolation.” The overarching rubric is that none of God’s TWO Covenant-Service-Projects suffer loss.
All members of the church urge people to trust Christ. That finally amounts to urging people to switch gods, to “hang their hearts” (Luther’s phrase) on Christ, to abandon whatever their hearts have been trusting before. That is what St. Paul proclaimed to his audience on Mars Hill: “You worship many gods here in Athens. I urge you to switch. Hang your hearts on the one that is still unknown to you, the Christ whom God raised from the dead.” Christians do the same thing on today’s Mars Hill where other gospels abound. In doing so they do not argue that their gospel is the best. Rather their claim is that it is Good News, an offer both “good” and “new” that they too had never heard before. Nor have they heard it elsewhere on the Mars Hills of today. They seek to extend the same offer to others. They urge them to trust it.