Perichoresis is a term that communicates the interrelationship and interconnectedness of the persons of the Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit are for, of, with, and in each other—while distinct from each other. The perichoretic (interpenetrating each other without losing distinction) relationship of the Trinity is a model for Christian community.9 Jesus prayed that we would be one, as He and the Father are one. The relationships of Christian brothers and sisters is thus no small matter. What we call the “fellowship” of the church, when at its best, is an echo of the Triune God of the mission. Church communion as it should be reflects the image of the Three-in-One. People who invest themselves in new churches, or new forms of church, as well as members of new monastic communities, are living out the model of the perichoretic Father, Son, and Spirit.
This perichoresis is not closed or exclusive. God-in-Three-Persons is inviting, generous, open-handed, and open-hearted. The church is welcomed mysteriously into that relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. In the words of Samuel J. Stone’s hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation”: “She on earth hath union with God the Three in One.” We are not just emulating the Trinity in our fellowship; we actually are gathered to participate in the fellowship and mission of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
When a couple has children, those children are welcomed into the couple’s love. The children are not part of the marriage, of course; they are not “third parties” in the nuptial relationship. Yet the children participate in, enrich, and are enriched by their part in the unique connection between their parents. All analogies fall short of full insight into the Trinity, but likewise, the church is invited into the unique connection and love between Father, Son, and Spirit.
And, if we may, let’s push the analogy of parents and children a bit further. The church is shaped by its participation in, and what it learns from, the interrelating of the Father, Son, and Spirit, just as children are shaped by their interactions with their parents. The personality of the church is thus clearly rooted in the Trinity. Furthermore, taking our cue from God-in-Three-Persons, a Christian family of faith exists not for each other or ourselves but for those not yet in the family. The fellowship of a church, like that of the Three-in-One, is to be inviting, generous, open-handed, and open-hearted, always willing to love a new brother or sister.
Church and Mission
Among the implications of this shift to a Trinitarian foundation for mission is a refocus on the point of Christian mission—away from church to the nature of God. As recently as several decades ago, what we called “missions” was commonly understood as being about the extension of the church. More churches, for the sake of more churches, seemed the goal.
The expansion of the church, however, is no longer viewed widely as the point. The point, rather, is increasingly seen as being the nature of the Triune God and the overflow of His nature in the world. That shift clarifies our motivation and our direction. Our driver is the glory of God rather than the glorification of the church. Moreover, our purpose in mission becomes the purposes of God, and God’s broader purposes are not always the same as the interests of local congregations. Besides these, the fuel for the movement shifts from human strategies to the mystical, boundless power of the Holy Spirit.
The goal, then, is not simply to have more churches dotting the landscape. The purpose is God’s holistic mission to the world. The church is God’s primary people/instrument/plan for the fulfillment of that mission, but not the end of the mission.
So a clear and important theological assumption in today’s missional conversations is that Christian mission is not primarily about the church, is not ultimately for the church, or an addendum to the study of the church. Mission is no longer “ecclesiocentric.” Mission is now appropriately viewed as rooted in the person and nature of the Triune God Himself. According to Darrell Guder, “The ecclesiocentric understanding of mission has been replaced during this century by a profoundly theocentric reconceptualization of Christian mission . . . mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation.” (p. 81-82) Mission-Shaped Church declared, “Church planting should not . . . be church-centered. It should not be another device to perpetuate an institution for that institution’s own sake.” (p. 85)
The church is worth dying for. Jesus, in fact, did. A significant thrust of the Fresh Expressions movement certainly has to do with church. Yet the mission of God is bigger than any one congregation, and if our evangelistic efforts are merely for the purpose of propping up a local church, our motives are questionable at best.
Enjoy this entry? You’ll find Travis Collins’ book, From the Steeple to the Streets: Innovating Mission and Ministry Through Fresh Expressions of Church helpful. In From the Steeple to the Street, Travis Collins addresses the cultural realities behind the Fresh Expressions movement, as well as the movement’s theological underpinnings. From practical experience, Collins offers insights to local church leaders on how this might unfold in and through your church. If you would like to explore what Fresh Expressions of church could look like in your ministry context with a team, consider the shorter primer, Fresh Expressions of Church by Travis Collins.