Monday, March 12, 2012

Lesslie Newbigin on the work of the Church

"In discussions about the contemporary mission of the Church it is often said that the Church ought to address itself to the real questions which people are asking. That is to misunderstand the mission of Jesus and the mission of the Church. The world’s questions are not the questions which lead to life. What really needs to be said is that where the Church is faithful to the Lord, there the powers of the kingdom are present and people begin to ask the question to which the gospel is the answer. And that, I suppose, is why the letters of St. Paul contain so many exhortations to faithfulness but no exhortations to be active in mission."

I came across this fascinating passage by Bishop Lesslie Newbigin in his classic work, "The Gospel in a Pluarlistic Society" (1989). I've been reading a boatload of great books on church development and growth and many of these books are filled with wonderful recommendations about "techniques" and "programs". But beneath all that activity and energy, what is the theology, or perhaps more precisely, "where" is the theology?  As I was thinking about the Church, my thoughts went back to Newbigin, and I pulled down my torn and tattered copy off the bookshelf.

Here, we can learn something about mission from one of the great, and perhaps the greatest missionary theologian of the last century, Lesslie Newbigin. According to Newbigin, churches which make a difference are those which are "faithful to the Lord" and moreover, in these churches "the powers of the kingdom  are present and people begin to ask the question to which the gospel is the answer". Put another way, it is where the simplicity of the gospel is preached and where people are attempting to carry out discipleship in the world around them.

Newbigin however, was no Luddite! I'm sure he would have welcomed change and innovation. There is revolution taking place in the Church today, and much of it is needed and welcome. Christendom does not seem to be a paradigm which "works" any more for most people. Hence, all the new and exciting movements and new church forms. Newbigin, however,reminds us what is important and Who is at the center-Christ.

I met Bishop Newbigin when I was a student at New College, and my next blog article will discuss some of the points from his talk "Mission in the World Today".

1 comment:

  1. "The world’s questions are not the questions which lead to life."
    That's good. It explains why I am so uncomfortable with many of the mega churches I have encountered. They are answering the wrong questions.