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Mission together - basic principles

This is a work in progress as at 16.01.12

Christ's intercessory (high priestly) prayer
A key text for Christians working for mission and unity is to be found in the Gospel of John, where we read in Chapter 17 of Jesus praying, '"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me."' John 17: 20b,21).

Anglican Bishop Graham Cray

Bishop Graham Cray is the leader of the ecumenical Fresh Expressions team and gave the keynote Bible Study at the Hope Forum in December 2011 on the text from John 17.

Bishop Graham has supplied a copy of his notes which you can find here.

CTE and the Swanwick Declaration
A key part of the history and purpose of Churches Together in England is the Swanwick Declaration which includes the text signed by national denominational church leaders in 1987: 'It is our conviction that, as a matter of policy at all levels and in all places, our churches must now move from co-operation to clear commitment to each other, in search of the unity for which Christ prayed and in common evangelism and service of the world'.

You can read more about the Swanwick Declaration here.

The prayer at the end of the Swanwick Declation is still a frequent prayer of Churches Together:
Lord God, we thank you
For calling us into the company
Of those who trust in Christ
And seek to obey his will.
May your Spirit guide and strengthen us
In mission and service to your world;
For we are strangers no longer
But pilgrims together on the way to your Kingdom.

Mission and unity
Two key words which are often used to describe the work of 'churches together' are 'mission' and 'unity'. Definitions and the the relationship between these two key aspects are often debated. This is sometimes because different churches (like individual Christians) mean different things when they use the same words.

A useful document exploring different denominational understandings of 'mission' has been produced by Action for Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) called 'What mission means'. You can download a copy here.

Five Marks of Mission
Many churches use the analysis suggested by the Anglican Communion commonly called 'The Five Marks of Mission'. This is helpful as it lists various aspects of mission which are all biblical and important:
  1. To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of earth. Foundations for Mission

For a detailed study of how churches and agencies see 'mission' in their context, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland published research in 2010 called Foundations for Mission - A study of language, theology and praxis from the UK and Ireland perspective. For a link click to this study click here.

Missio dei
Essentially, mission comes from 'missio' which means 'to send'. There is a mission dynamic in God's creation, and in the Incarnation as God sent his Son (John 3 16). God sends his Holy Spirit, and in turn sends his church in to all the world (Acts1:8). These headlines illustrate what is often called the 'missio dei' or the 'mission of God'. The missiologist David Bosch is often quoted as saying 'mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God'. (David Bosch in Transforming Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books 1991. p 389/310).

The theology of 'missio dei' is important for churches together, as it reminds us that all we seek to do is the work of God who is already about the work of mission and unity.

The Lund Principle
Since the World Faith and Order conference at Lund in 1952, the churches have been asked whether they 'should not act together in all matters except those which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately? The question is sometimes asked the other way round!

Churches Together in England
'Churches Together in England is a visible sign of the churches commitment as they seek a deepening of communion with Christ and one another, and proclaim the Gospel together by common witness and service. It's strength comes from people from different traditions finding new ways to work and worship together'. 2009 Annual Report.

'Churches Together' and 'churches together'
In England there are 2500 local 'Churches Together' groups, some of which like Bristol and Cambridge have a long history going back to the 1920's and 30's. Many were formed after World War II when the World Council of Churches came in to being, especially in the 50's/60's/70's when the ecumenical movement grew. Now there are 800+ formal Local Ecumenical Partnerships.

In additional to Churches Together
(capital 'CT') groups, there are a large number of networks, both formal and informal, which bring churches together. During 2012 many of these networks (CT and ct) are engaging with Hope / Big Lunch and More than Gold / Games in significant numbers. We have heard of 20, 30 and 40 churches working together - sometimes in ways they have never worked together before - and for mission.

The research of Hope08 found that 1500 groups of churches had been involved in mission under the banner 'The whole Hope08 logochurch, for the whole Nation, for the whole year'. Interestingly, mission lead to greater unity. Here are some statistics from the Evaluation conducted by Theos (p 17):

88.2% report that as a result of Hope08 their church's attitude towards other Christian groups and denominations improved. In areas where inter-church partnerships were already in place, 71% thought these working relationships were strengthened. No one thought attitudes had got worse as a result of Hope08.

Mutual Respect and Interdependence
This phrase has been key over the past 20 years in overseas mission activity and reports of the Council for World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. Sometimes called the MRI principle, it has lead to fundamental changes in how mission is conducted, especially overseas (eg missionaries are now called 'mission partners') and is now seen by many as a guiding principle for mission in the UK.

If 20 churches are all involved in a mission project, eg major festival during the 2012 Games, they will build better relationships if the 'MRI Principle' is followed. One church may provide volunteers for making tea, while another brings a worship band. One church puts money in while another offers premises as 'gift in kind'. A large church may have a youth outreach, while another naturally attracts older people. In CTE we sometimes talk of 'celebrating diversity' while the biblical picture is of many parts of the one body working together.

For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function,, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy in proportion to our faith; if service in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness'. (Romans 12: 3-8)

Evangelisation / Evangelism
A key aspect of all that we are called to do in response to the 'missio dei' - the mission of God - is the specific task of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. This brings us to the 'Great Commission' - often the starting point for mission and unity in practice.  'Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ' is often called 'evangelisation' or 'evangelism' (the difference is too detailed to explore here and the two words are often interchanged). Churches Together in England supports this work through the Churches Group for Evangelisation, which brings together the denominational officers for evangelism and several key leaders of home mission agencies.

The Great Commission
So, a key mandate for mission comes from the Great Commission of Jesus recorded, for example, in Matthew 28 where we read, 'Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."' (Mt 28: 18-20)

All of these basic principles apply in the day to day work of Christians and churches, at local, regional and national level. To explore how these basic principles work out in 2012 with the extra opportunities of the Queen's Jubilee and Olympic Games, go to the gateway for 2012 Mission Together.
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