Missiological Foundations: Global Shifts

Synopsis:

Church history provides a connection between first century Jewish Christians and the spread of the Christian faith across the Roman Empire, later proceeding into Europe. Missionaries who accompanied the colonial conquests further extended the Christian faith to Africa, America and parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The 20th Century was particularly marked by wars, revolutions, and cultural, political and economic upheaval. In the late 1980s the entire world entered a stage of uneven economic growth, coupled with dangerous global threats. With the resulting restructuring of the world’s economy, now called globalization, the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) emerged as new economic players. By the end of the 20th century the vast majority of Christians lived outside of the West.

The impact of globalization is being felt on every corner of the planet. Globalization is not creating an equal world where long held inequalities and differences are given attention. Instead it brings social upheaval, because of cultural and religious differences that defy integration. While fundamentalism has existed in the Christian world all along, today all world religions have ‘fundamentalists’ reacting to globalization in some way or another.

The missio Dei will not be deterred by globalization and may actually be served by it. Mission agencies would do well to understand globalization’s value system and its effects on the worldview of Christians. The challenges from globalization require a thoughtful response from the Church. Any hint of human triumphalism or success in mission is countered by Christ’s example of humility and self-sacrifice.

Full Article: Article 11 – Missiological Foundations: Global Shifts

Church history provides a connection between first century Jewish Christians, Greek believers at Antioch and the spread of the Christian faith across the Roman Empire. From there the Gospel took root in Ireland and then proceeded into Europe. From Europe, by means of missionaries who accompanied the colonial conquests, the Christian faith was spread to Africa, America and parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

A century of paradigm shifts

The 20th century had a promising start with the famous Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910, a time when Western mission was a formidable force. The Conference was noteworthy because it “represented the all-time high-water mark in Western missionary enthusiasm, the zenith of the optimistic and pragmatist approach to mission” (Bosch 1991:338). The positive tone of the participants assumed that Russia and Western Europe would remain as “the centers of the Christian faith” (Bevans & Schroeder 2004:242). The language of world conquest echoed through the corridors with the mood being that God’s mission was a sign of world conquest with references, strategies and plans that used military metaphors, such as crusade, conquest, advance, etc. (Bosch 1991:338).

This optimism was quickly subdued because of World War I (1914-1918), the clash between the Allies and the Central Powers that swept Europe and involved other parts of the Western world. This was followed by the Great Depression, triggered by the U.S. stock market crash of October 29, 1929, which spread quickly to other Western countries over the next decade. Meanwhile Marxist Communism increased rapidly following the Russian Revolution in 1917 and later the Cultural Revolution in China in 1966. World War II (1939-1945) involved all the great powers aligned in two opposing military groupings – the Allies and the Axis. At its peak there were more than 100 million people serving in military units. The maps of the world were re-drawn, at least temporarily, as new territories were conquered by the likes of Germany, Japan, Russia and the U.S.

The great British Empire peaked in 1922 when it claimed about one-fifth of the world’s population.

The great British Empire peaked in 1922 when it claimed about one-fifth of the world’s population. Due to its expansion across the globe, the phrase “the sun never sets on the British Empire” appropriately described it. However, after World War II Great Britain was left virtually bankrupt. It could not sustain its empire and all of its former colonies had gained independence by the 1960s.

The U.S. emerged from World War II as the leading world power, although the U.S.S.R. soon proved to be a strong rival and a threat to world peace until its collapse in 1990. Further clashes with communism took place on the Korean peninsula in the 1950s and in Europe and Vietnam in the 1960s. Yet by the late 1980s only a few countries retained their communist political structure.

The four decades of the Cold War between the U.S. with its allies and the Soviet Union saw a global interest in ‘Third World’ nations and territories. These “successor states became more rather than less strategically relevant” to the world powers (Mahbubani 2009:57).

In the late 1980s the entire world entered a stage of uneven economic growth, coupled with dangerous global threats. With the resulting restructuring of the world’s economy, now called globalization, the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) emerged as new economic players. There are predictions that China will be the world’s largest economy by the year 2025 (Moyo 2011:182). However, this is not a new place for China since historians indicate both China and India “were as rich as the West right up until the 1800’s” (Zakaria 2009:52). China has been shaped by the teaching of Confucius who “set out rules for acquiring knowledge, behaving ethically, maintaining social stability, and creating well-ordered civilization” (Zakaria 2009:109).

By the end of the 20th century the vast majority of Christians lived outside of the West.

In respect to the events that strained the Western world, by the end of the 20th century the vast majority of Christians lived outside of the West. Jenkins notes “the era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetime, and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning” (2002:3).

As the 21st century progresses, some suggest that this will be the ‘Asian Century’ just as the past two centuries were influenced by the West and modernization. This optimism is tempered with the reality that the democratic Western nations with only twelve percent of the world’s population control global decision making and keep intact the “undemocratic world order” (Mahbubani 2008:104).

Mission researcher Patrick Johnstone notes that by the year 2000 there were 3,000 cross-cultural mission agencies and the ten largest interdenominational and international agencies had between them 50,000+ missionaries (2011:64). Yet all of these larger agencies are from the West at least in their origins or locations of their headquarters. The point is that Western missions have been the primary influence upon cross-cultural mission methodology – at least in terms of number of participants.

In summary, 100 years after the Edinburgh 1910 Missions Conference, the world is very different to what it was then. The participants of the Conference had the “expectation that other world religions would wither and die in the face of the triumphant worldwide spread of Christianity” (Johnson & Ross 2010:12). A century later, while there is ample evidence that Christianity is a worldwide religion, “other world religions have not only survived but have undergone significant growth and renewal” (Johnson & Ross 2010:12).

Modalities and sodalities

Ralph Winter introduced the concept and terminology of modality and sodality. Wycliffe Global Alliance can be viewed as a sodality because of its specific focus on Bible translation and associated ministries of specialized natures that extend beyond the capability of the Church. The Church is a modality because as Tennent explains, “it is the most basic organization to which all Christians belong” (2010:442). Tennent suggests “the church, as a modality, has the broad responsibility of making sure that the Bible is translated into every language on earth” (2010:442). However, the Church lacks the expertise to carry this out and therefore it must rely on the sodalities, such as the Alliance. On the other hand, the Alliance, due to its specialized role, cannot be expected to carry out the functions of the Church – the modality – such as administering the sacraments.

The relationship between Wycliffe (the sodality) and the Church (the modality) may have worked well in the past. However, as Wycliffe Bible Translators International has evolved into Wycliffe Global Alliance, its new structure enables churches to become formally identified with the Alliance as ‘Wycliffe Organizations’. Therefore denominations such as the Episcopal Church of Sudan (Translation Department), Mekane Yesus Church of Ethiopia and the Convencion Bautista de Mexico (Baptist Convention of Mexico’s mission department) are now formally part of the Alliance. Each of these denominations agrees with the Alliance’s mission, vision, values and doctrinal position. This new relationship blurs the distinction between sodalities and modalities, at least when applied to Wycliffe.

All who seek to serve through the sodality should have the approval to do so by their church/modality.

If one holds to the modality-sodality relationship as relevant to Wycliffe Global Alliance, then it is worth noting Tennent’s call for greater accountability between the sodalities and the modalities. This is due to the inherent autonomy of the sodalities, especially if they are non-denominational like the Alliance. To bring about greater accountability, Tennent suggests: 1) a sodality should be governed by a Board made up of godly and respected Christians who in turn are accountable to their churches; 2) the sodality needs to be committed to serve the modality; and 3) all who seek to serve through the sodality should have the approval to do so by their church/modality (2010:456).

In the case of Wycliffe Global Alliance, all three recommendations for greater accountability are followed: 1) The Alliance’s independent board of governors (currently ten people from around the world) are Christians who adhere to the organization’s doctrinal position and are required to be in good standing with their local church; 2) the Alliance’s Purpose, Mission, Vision and Values statement echoes a commitment to serving the church: “In communion with God and within the community of His Church, we encourage and facilitate Bible translation movements that contribute to the holistic transformation of language communities worldwide.” One of the Alliance’s core values states “the Church [is] central in God’s mission”; and 3) the process of new personnel joining a Wycliffe organization requires them to have the approval and endorsement of the leadership of their local church.

Mission strategy

The growth of the Church in the global South and East has had many influences, but two noteworthy ones are the African Initiated Churches and Pentecostalism in Latin America. In both cases they trace their roots to the end of the modern missionary movement of the late 19th century (Bevans & Schroeder 2004:283).

The shift of the centre of influence of the Church to the Global South and East has many implications. David Barrett, Todd Johnson, and Peter Crossing state the shift affects mission strategy in these ways:

(1) global plans are increasingly initiated and led by Christians of the Global South; (2) the worldview of these Christians is often more in line with that of the unevangelized; (3) the perception of Christianity as a Western religion is disintegrating, and (4) new forms of Christianity, particularly insider movements (e.g. Muslims following Christ in their own cultural context), are emerging. (2008:28)

The shift of who influences mission strategy has great implications for Western mission agencies. In the Introduction, I mentioned James Engel and William Dryness’s outline of three trends agencies should consider: 1) the degree to which they are captive to their home culture realities, including Western political and economic pragmatism; 2) the initiatives for mission change as they shift to younger churches; and 3) how the loss of the theological roots of mission has become more apparent (2000:18).

[The Western Church] still believes it is at the centre of scholarship and theological reflection.

Another challenge the Church of the global South and East experiences as it interacts with its Western counterparts is the fact that the latter finds it difficult to listen well to the rest of the world. It still believes it is at the centre of scholarship and theological reflection. One reason is due to the use of English as the main language for theological scholarship. The consequence is that “Christian scholarship and theology are not yet endeavours in which scholars and theologians from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Pacific Islands participate fully” (Ott & Netland, 2006:45).

Globalization and mission

Much has been written about the topic of globalization in recent years because its effects, both positive and negative, are being felt with great impact on every corner of the planet. Richard Tiplady (2003:2) defines globalization as an “increasing interconnectedness, so that events and developments in one part of the world are affected by, have to take account of, and also influence, in turn, other parts of the world.” David Smith (2003:93) states that the heart of globalization is “the spread of the economistic culture throughout the world and the attempt to secure dominance among all peoples everywhere.” Richard Gaillardetz says “global unification” is the agenda of globalization due to technological, communications and transportation advances “furthered by the unfettered expansion of neoliberal capitalism which has brought the ethos of the free market world and certain icons of Western culture to the world” (2006:158).

Local nationalisms spring up as a response to globalising tendencies.

Anthony Giddens has also written much on the topic of globalization and states that it “not only pulls upwards, but also pushes downwards, creating new pressures for local autonomy “(2003:13). As a result “local nationalisms spring up as a response to globalising tendencies, as the hold of older nation-states weakens” (Giddens 2003:13). This is a factor behind the renewal of cultures and their traditions in various countries. Giddens comments on the dark side of globalization that is “destroying of local cultures, widening world inequalities and worsening the lot of the impoverished.” This creates an environment of “winners and losers” where a few quickly prosper but the majority are “condemned to a life of misery and despair” (2003:15).

Many people champion the economic benefits of globalization but the issue is very complex. For some it characterizes the success of free-market capitalism over communism. Meanwhile for others “it represents conflict, unbridled greed, deregulated corporate power, and an utter disregard for humanity” (Aaronica & Ramdoo 2006:17).

Globalization brings social upheaval because of cultural and religious differences that defy integration.

Globalization is not creating an equal world where long held inequalities and differences are given attention. Instead it is producing “new forms of social and economic division on a worldwide scale” (Smith 2003:94). Globalization brings social upheaval because of cultural and religious differences that defy integration. It spawns “deep pluralism that often seems unbridgeable” and creates “violent tribalism” along with religious fundamentalism (Gaillardetz 2006:158).

While fundamentalism has existed in the Christian world all along, today all world religions have ‘fundamentalists’ reacting to globalization in some way or another. Giddens defines fundamentalism as “a return to basic scriptures or texts, supposed to be read in a literal manner [with] the doctrines derived from such a reading be[ing] applied to social, economic or political life” (2003:48). This is in the hands of those who guard tradition and believe they alone how to defend and protect the beliefs. Giddens concludes that fundamentalism is dangerous to society and should not be tolerated (2003:48).

The challenges from globalization require a thoughtful response from the Church. Bulus Galadima suggests three ways: 1) reject all aspects of globalization and view them as secular trends; 2) embrace globalization’s “relativism and pluralism” which leads to a “fundamental transformation of religious beliefs”; or 3) wisely engage with the challenges presented by globalization yet be informed by biblical truths which “requires tact, creativity, and especially the enablement of the Holy Spirit” (Tiplady 2003:201).

The missio Dei will not be deterred by globalization and may actually be served by it.

Steve Moon and David Lee believe there is an “interplay between the kingdom of God, world evangelisation and globalization” and see this coming together and portrayed in the Apostle John’s eschatological vision (Rv 5:9-10; 7:9-10) (Tiplady 2003:255).

Mission agencies would do well to understand globalization’s value system and its effects on the worldview of Christians. With this in mind mission leaders need to be committed to “a biblical worldview that places Christ and his church above world trends, whether economic, political, cultural or religious” (Taylor 2000:68). This is reasonable advice given the likelihood that globalization is here to stay at least in the medium term. Nevertheless the missio Dei will not be deterred by globalization and may actually be served by it.

Mission today is urgent, modest and exciting

The missio Dei today is influenced by three factors: urgency, modesty and excitement. Steven Bevans and Roger Schroeder elaborate:

It is much more modest because we realize that ‘the mission is not ours, but God’s’; it is much more exciting because it is about God’s gracious invitation to humanity to share in the dynamic communion that is at the same time God’s self-giving missionary life; it is more urgent because in a world of globalized poverty, religious violence and new appreciation of local culture and subaltern traditions, the vision and praxis of Jesus of Nazareth can bring new healing and new light. (2003:285)

Modesty in mission is an acknowledgement that God invites us into his mission through the example of Christ’s “humble service, solidarity, love and compassion” (CWME 2012:22). Christ’s example is his self-emptying and death. This provides a “humble understanding of mission [that] does not merely shape our methods, but is the very nature and essence of our faith in Christ” (CWME 2012:22). Thus any hint of human triumphalism or success in mission is countered by Christ’s example of humility.

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