Missiological Foundations: The Missio Dei and Vision 2025

Synopsis:

The Vision 2025 resolution, introduced in 1999, speaks of intentionality and responsibility of the people within the Wycliffe Global Alliance and the global Church. Though it concludes with, “seeking God’s guidance and obeying Him in whatever new directions He may lead,” there was not a clear reference to the missio Dei in discussions leading up to the adoption of the resolution.

In the Great Commission passage in John 20, the Father sends Jesus, and Jesus sends the church, empowered by the Spirit, implying that any involvement in the missio Dei that is not Spirit breathed will struggle for effectiveness. Thus, the onus of accomplishing any vision related to the missio Dei actually belongs to God.

A changing understanding of the missio Dei within the global church suggests the need for a missiological reinterpretation of Vision 2025. In 1999, WBTI was still a Western mission agency with a smaller component of non-Western nations contributing their resources to Bible translation. This has changed significantly, to the extent that today 78% of the 100+ organizations that make up the Wycliffe Global Alliance are from the global South and East. The question is whether the leaders from those organizations have influence on The Alliance’s strategy and direction.

The Alliance was not created to prescribe issues and strategies for others. Nor is it a primarily Western organization wishing to expand its territory worldwide. It is a collaboration of like-minded, yet extremely diverse organizations and movements around the world under God’s direction.

Since 2008, significant changes have been implemented so that the Alliance now has a healthier structure with which to engage the global church.

Full Article: Article 13 – Missiological Foundations: The Missio Dei and Vision 2025

The Vision 2025 resolution uses language that calls for action by using the words, “we embrace… we acknowledge… we urge… we commit ourselves… our desire is…” (WBTI 1999:5). This is the language of intentionality and responsibility by the people within the Wycliffe Global Alliance and the global Church.

The concluding statement says: “seeking God’s guidance and obeying Him in whatever new directions He may lead” (WBTI 1999:5). I suggest that this is at least a minimal acknowledgment of the missio Dei. When the vision was announced there was not a clear reference to the missio Dei in discussions leading up to the adoption of the resolution. Missiological reinterpretation of the vision has come more recently, partly through the missiological consultative process starting in 2006 (Article 4) and even then it has not been clearly articulated within the Alliance.

In order to correct this oversight, I return to the John 20 text of the Great Commission where the Father sends Jesus and Jesus sends the church, empowered by the Spirit. The passage implies that any involvement in the missio Dei that is not Spirit breathed will struggle for effectiveness. While humans are involved in planning and action, it is primarily not about us, our activity or our initiative. Rather it is God’s invitation to his people to participate in his mission. Thus the onus of accomplishing Vision 2025 (or any vision related to the missio Dei) actually belongs to God.

Vision 2025 and influences from the global church

The opening statement of the resolution acknowledges that it is “our trust in God to accomplish the impossible”, which is at least a partial acknowledgement of the missio Dei. However, given the pragmatic history of Wycliffe and SIL it is likely that the emphasis was intended or at least interpreted to be more about human involvement and responsibility in the Great Commission than on the sending nature of the Triune God in mission, who invites us to join him. It is worth noting the changing understanding of the missio Dei within various parts of the Church and how this might influence a missiological reinterpretation of Vision 2025.

Take for example, that the World Council of Churches (WCC) understands the missio Dei as God’s sending forth,” which has been expanded “to include the participation of the church in the divine mission” (Balia & Kim 2010:23). Consequently mission is reframed from being church-centric to becoming theo-centric. This position is echoed in the opening of the Edinburgh 2010 Common Call where the church is described as a sign and symbol of the reign of God that is called “to witness to Christ today by sharing in God’s mission of love through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit” (Edinburgh 2010:np).

It is God through his missio Dei inviting our participation that will achieve the vision.

The Lausanne Commitment states that “the mission of God’s people flows from our love for God and for all that God loves” (Birdsall & Brown 2011:6).

Similarly, WCC’s ‘Affirmation on Mission and Evangelism’ states that the Triune God is bound together in love which flows on to all of his creation. Accordingly, “the missionary God who sent the Son to the world calls all God’s people (Jn 20:21), and empowers them to be a community of hope” (CWME 2012:2).

This brief overview shows how different parts of the church have been reviewing their interpretation of the missio Dei. It follows that this should impact how the Wycliffe Global Alliance interprets the accomplishment of Vision 2025 within the context of the missio Dei. It is not and cannot be based on human endeavor as the primary factor. Rather it is God through his missio Dei inviting our participation that will achieve the vision.

Vision 2025 and the marginalized

Earlier I covered Jesus’ concern for the people of Samaria and how they are a motif for marginalized people in general. Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God was intended to break through barriers of class, religion, gender and reputation. He demonstrated this when he spoke to the woman of Samaria (Jn 4). Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God was often directed at the injustices brought about by poverty and corruption.

The Acts 2 account mentioned earlier is a fitting reminder of how the Holy Spirit operates regardless of cultural, social, economic, political and or linguistic barriers.

Newbigin (1989:185) gives a biblical justification for language and therefore Bible translation. The action of Christians throughout church history demonstrates that Bible translation has made a significant difference to the acceptance of the gospel, the growth of the Church and the discipling of people. A contemporary development has been the reshaping of Bible translation theory by Nida, which paved the way for translations that have been easier to read and understand. This is a key factor for people who have limited educational backgrounds.

The action of Christians throughout church history demonstrates that Bible translation has made a significant difference to the acceptance of the gospel, the growth of the Church and the discipling of people.

Bediako’s description of Christianity being the culturally translatable religion that is “at home in every cultural context” (2004:32) is an important theological-missiological justification for Bible translation. This started with the incarnation because when God became man, “divinity was translated into humanity, as though humanity was the receptor language” (Walls 1996:27). This ‘translation’ enabled Christ to be a person in first century Jewish Palestine. Through the challenge of the Great Commission, people from all nations are to be made Christ’s disciples. Each geographic and cultural context needs to be considered because “the first divine act of translation into humanity… gives rise to a constant succession of new translations” (Walls 1996:27).

Sanneh explores the effects of Bible translation and the spread of the gospel over the past 200 years in Africa and notes that all African languages “may confidently be adopted for God’s word, a step that allows missionaries and local agents to collaborate … in the missio Dei” (1989:209).

The event in Acts 2 demonstrates God’s acceptance of everyone’s language and how he uses each to bring glory to himself.

Each of these cases justifies a missiological premise to the statement in the Vision 2025 resolution: “a Bible translation project will be in progress for every people group that needs it” (WBTI 1999:5). This caveat “that needs it” is subject to the marginalization and poverty that effects access to other major languages, higher levels of education, and so on. Furthermore, the event in Acts 2 demonstrates God’s acceptance of everyone’s language and how he uses each to bring glory to himself. As Tennent states, “at Pentecost… a small group of Jewish followers of Jesus are baptized into the reality of the infinite translatability of the gospel for every language and culture” (2010:412). Therefore Christians have the responsibility of ensuring that effective Bible translations (of the kind Nida had in mind) are made available to every people group that still needs them.

Vision 2025 and mission strategy

The earlier overview on the Apostle Paul and his missionary strategies has provided some missiological foundations for mission approaches today, including Vision 2025. One should not claim that Paul’s work was normative in mission strategy although he did follow some methodological principles.

The Vision 2025 resolution does mention strategy: changing the way Wycliffe works; building capacity for sustainable Bible translation programs and Scripture-use activities; giving priority to strengthening present partnerships; forming additional strategic partnerships; and collaborating on creative strategies for each context (WBTI 1999:5).

It seems obvious therefore that some of the Apostle Paul’s methodology can give missiological foundations for strategies for Vision 2025. In fact, some of the Wycliffe Global Alliance’s methodologies may compare favorably with some of the Apostle’s methods. For example, the Alliance’s desire to serve the local church (if one exists) when it is invited into a new language community is similar to the Apostle’s desire to work through the local Jewish synagogue.

Some of the Wycliffe Global Alliance’s methodologies may compare favorably with some of the Apostle [Paul’s] methods.

Additionally, the Alliance’s desire to use the Scriptures in the vernacular is similar to Paul’s method of using the Scriptures of the lingua franca of the day (the Greek Old Testament). When Wycliffe is invited into a new language community, it identifies with the centre(s) of influence of that community to engage with those who will positively influence its ministry in the future. This is similar to Paul’s engagement with the leaders at centres and cities of influence.

The Apostle Paul also appointed new leaders to continue the ministry after he left. Many aspects of Wycliffe’s work may be temporary in nature since it does not seek a presence for an extended time in a community, beyond the goals of the language program, especially when people from other countries are involved. In instances where local citizens are involved, including local churches, Bible translation personnel do remain in contact with the communities they serve and provide ongoing assistance in educational and Bible training programs. In such cases it is important to train local leaders to manage and lead the Bible translation movement in a language group or country.

The Apostle relied on the Holy Spirit to direct him, resulting sometimes in a change of his plans. The Alliance and its personnel need to be reminded of the Holy Spirit’s role in the missio Dei and learn to listen to the direction of God. Paul’s methods were holistic from the perspective that the whole person was his focus, not just their spiritual condition, though that was of paramount importance to him. Likewise, the Alliance’s partnership efforts in literacy and in community well-being are examples of holistic mission and form important support for effective Bible translation programs.

Influences from the 21st century upon Vision 2025

Earlier reference was made to mission researchers’ prediction of how the shift in global Christianity will affect mission strategy. This is also significant in Vision 2025 as global plans for mission are increasingly initiated and led by Christians of the global South and East. When one looks back to the composition of WBTI in 1999 (when Vision 2025 was adopted), it was still a Western mission agency with a smaller component of non-Western nations contributing their resources to Bible translation. Now, this has changed significantly, to the extent that 78% of the 100+ organizations that make up the Wycliffe Global Alliance are from the global South and East.

Seventy-eight percent of the 100+ organizations that make up the Wycliffe Global Alliance are from the global South and East.

The question is whether the leaders from organizations from the global South and East within the Alliance have influence on its strategy and direction. Strategy and direction is the responsibility of the board of directors who govern the Alliance, and who hold the leadership team accountable for the implementation of the vision and direction. At present, the board of directors is comprised of 11 people, with seven (or 64%) coming from the global South and East. On the Alliance Leadership Community of 15 people, seven come from the global South and East, or 45% of the total.

Does this composition on the Board of Directors and leadership team of the Alliance ensure that it will have strategies that are influenced by Christians from the global South and East? One hopes so. However, it is a challenge that the leaders face and need to address in due course. It will be particularly important to give more leaders from the global South and East higher-level leadership roles. They will also need to reflect upon the Vision 2025 resolution and interpret it into their leadership contexts.

Globalization and Vision 2025

In Article 1, I referred to Escobar’s view that mission has become global and requires a paradigm shift on how it is studied today. This change calls for a re-examination of mission theory and practice in light of today’s global context.

In my examination of Wycliffe’s mission theory I noted the influences of globalization on mission. There are both positive and negative aspects of globalization as the world tries to operate as a single global unit. But most of the world is not exactly ‘flat’ or interconnected and the consequence has been that those on the linguistic margins of society have become even more marginalized. A more positive view of globalization is possible if viewed as it intersects with the kingdom of God and world evangelization in such a way that it creates a foretaste of an eschatological vision of those appearing before God’s throne coming from all ethnic groups, languages and nations.

A noticeable effect of globalization for the Wycliffe Global Alliance is reflected by the popular slogan from the Lausanne Movement that mission is from “everyone to everywhere.” This describes the Bible translation movement today, exemplified by the composition of the Alliance, which has over 110 organizations from Europe, the Americas, the Pacific, Asia and Africa.

The Alliance has recognised the importance and influence of the missio Dei in its global perspective.

As a reflection of the reality of globalization, in February 2011 the structure of WBTI changed and it became the Wycliffe Global Alliance. This new emphasis is necessary because the Alliance has recognised the importance and influence of the missio Dei in its global perspective.

Mission structure and strategies must continue to change to allow and encourage ongoing development, multiple partners and diverse contexts. Traditional planning models were designed to ‘build’ structures for stalwart, concrete, ‘controlled’ organizations. However, the metaphor of planning ‘for a journey’ is more appropriate for today’s mission agencies if they wish to be versatile, flexible and able to facilitate new or complementary movements.

In the context of the Wycliffe Global Alliance, the term ‘Global Alliance’ signifies a desire to bring various and multiple partners to the table for creative, collaborative thinking, working and problem solving. The Alliance was not created to prescribe issues and strategies for others. Nor is it a primarily Western organization wishing to expand its territory worldwide. It is an alliance of like-minded, yet extremely diverse organizations and movements around the world thinking and working under God’s direction.

When Vision 2025 was adopted, those who led the discussions and those commissioned with its immediate implementation did not necessarily have a clear vision for WBTI. However, due to commitment to the vision, it became apparent that structural changes were needed. Consequently, since 2008, significant structural changes have been implemented so that the Alliance now has a healthier structure with which to engage the global church.

Influences on Vision 2025 from various streams of the church

The Second Vatican Council opened up the opportunity for greater collaboration and partnership between the Roman Catholic Church and other streams of the worldwide church. There was a new understanding of the Church’s origins, which “are inextricably linked to Jesus’ gathering a community of followers who… were empowered by his Spirit to continue in his mission to serve, proclaim, and realize the coming reign of God” (Gaillardetz 2006:149). The Church acknowledged that there were parts of the body of Christ outside of the Church’s structures (LG 8).

This wider collaboration beyond the structures of the Church has included Bible agencies. There are various organizations within the Alliance that serve Roman Catholic communities. This is an encouraging trend, although it may still be met with some suspicion by those who make up the Alliance. However, returning to Wycliffe’s roots, one is reminded that Townsend’s audience in Guatemala was predominantly Roman Catholic. He held the view that his two organizations placed their emphasis on the Bible “rather than on the various interpretations of it” and the members of his organizations “did not represent any of the established ecclesiastical organizations” (Hibbard 2007:6). Even in the early years of Townsend’s work in Mexico a representative of the National University in a public address summed up the attitude of Townsend’s colleagues: “These young people have brought a message that is far above Catholicism and far above Protestantism. It is a gospel of love and service” (Hibbard 2007:6).

[Townsend] held the view that his two organizations placed their emphasis on the Bible “rather than on the various interpretations of it”….

The World Council of Churches through its sponsorship of the Edinburgh Conference 2010 articulated mission as a recognition of and response to the “abolition of injustice and building of a renewed society” (Balia & Kim 2010:35). This bodes well for the people groups in focus by Vision 2025 because many live in situations of marginalization where even basic human rights are exploited or neglected. A Christian response to such evil is needed and encouraged.

The Lausanne Commitment’s mention of engaging with unreached people groups through a focus on language, culture and Bible translation is also noteworthy. The provision of the translated Scriptures in the form(s) that suit them best is important to the wider evangelical world’s affirmation and participation in Vision 2025.

Missiological Foundations: Conclusion

In Articles 8 – 13 I have established missiological foundations that influence and guide the future of the Wycliffe Global Alliance. These are essential to the Alliance because it refuses to operate in a vacuum outside of, or separate from, the churches that participate in the movement.

The sources of these foundations are multifaceted. From a biblical perspective they have come from: 1) the teachings of Jesus, in particular the Great Commission texts that focus on his ministry to the marginalized Samaritans, and 2) the mission methodology of the Apostle Paul, including gleanings from some of his reoccurring strategies that he used during the course of his three missionary journeys.

From a theological perspective these foundations have come from: 1) influences in church history regarding the importance of language, the translatability of the gospel message, and Bible translation; 2) missional reflection coming from various places; and 3) implications of globalization for the church and mission agencies.

An outcome of the Edinburgh Conference 2010 is an understanding of the “collaborative nature of the being and life of God in Trinity [who takes] the risky course of partnership” with his followers (who come from very different theological and social backgrounds) and to them he “eventually entrusts the task of global mission” (Balia & Kim 2010:136).

The application of these foundations has been important to the examination of Vision 2025. This examination has also affirmed the direction outlined in the resolution which remains crucial for the Alliance. At the same time it has highlighted areas that need further reflection and additional development in light of the missio Dei. In the following articles I turn to some of the implications for future leadership and the Wycliffe Global Alliance.

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