Today’s post is the fourth in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990) Various United Methodist professors of mission will contribute to a re-examination of this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. Elizabeth Tapia, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. Dr. Tapia is responding to a previous piece by Daniel Shin on the second section of the document, “Our Unifying Vision.” Use the “Grace Upon Grace” tag to identify other posts in this series.
I am pondering this Advent season the meaning of God’s grace. Grace is grace, the unconditional love of God gracefully revealed in humble, tender, immigrant Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, a simple Palestinian woman named Mary received the grace-filled word that she would become the mother of the holy child to be named Jesus, the Son of God. Out of God’s abundant love for human kind and creation, God reveals, God graces, God loves. Like Mary, our souls magnify and rejoice in God our Savior. Like Joseph, we stand in awe and ready to savor God’s grace in the midst of uncertainty and fear.
Upon reading the section on “Our Unifying Vision” in the 1988 UMC mission statement, I pondered on what it means to be grasped by God’s abundant grace, what it means to be embraced by God’s self-giving, what it means for the church to be “transformed by grace”, and what this “unifying vision” implies. Who constitutes the “Our” in this phrase? How will a single vision unify a multi-diverse group of people called the United Methodists? How does this unifying vision find multiple dimensions in the global nature of the church? I have no ready answers.
The statement emphasizes the biblical rootedness that our unifying vision of mission is proclaiming and witnessing to the God of Grace in Christ, and that to “be in covenant with God is to be called in mission.”
“We need a dual vision that focuses on Christ and our specific context,” writes Daniel Shin. I agree with his thought. I like his emphasis on the universal scope of God’s mission and the varied manifestations of God’s mission depending on one’s specific and historical contexts.
What I take away from this “Our Unifying Vision” section of a twenty-five year old mission document are the following:
1) “The New Testament churches are communities in mission”. (Grace upon Grace, Para. 4)
2) “The people of God are wholly dependent upon the grace of God.” (Grace upon Grace, Para. 3)
3) “Jesus Christ defines grace: Immanuel, God with us as a person…grace is God’s way of being in the world, the expression of God’s own self.” (Grace upon Grace, Para. 5).
Daniel Shin’s comment on the widening gap between the rich and the poor, ongoing slavery and “global colonization that adversely affect[s] women, children and the nonpersons of the world” is a strong call for reexamination of the motive, message, manner and process of churches’ participation in God’s mission. How are our present day church communities in mission? Are our churches like “field hospitals for broken souls,” to use the phrase of Pope Francis? Are all Spirit-led, singing and worshipping together in multiple languages, preaching the gospel in word and deed? Are all included, are all genuinely welcomed, with resources shared and no one in want?
And if we are God’s people wholly dependent upon the grace of God, why do we worry too much about who gets the credit, where the resources will come, what petitions will be calendared, whether one breaks or follow the Book of the Discipline in its entirety? We follow Jesus, and the Jesus Vision is tied in with the Kindom Vision.
Our typhoon-devastated sisters and brothers in the Philippines, my homeland, lost everything. Those who survived this tragic disaster are spiritually, literally and wholly dependent on the grace of God. Many of them had not read this document, but I believe that through the praying-loving-sharing-giving acts of kindness of people around the world, including the United Methodist world-wide connection, they are embraced by God’s grace. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is not a noun, it is a verb.
Part of the message of the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches that met recently in Busan Korea reads, “God our Creator is the source of all life. In the love of Jesus Christ and by the mercy of the Holy Spirit we, as a communion of the children of God, move together towards the fulfillment of the Kingdom. Seeking grace from God we are called, in our diversity, to be just stewards of God’s creation. This is the vision of the New Heaven and Earth, where Christ will ‘fill all in all’ (Eph 1:23)”. From my Filipina Christian perspective, such an ecumenical and ecological move can unify believers in envisioning, by God’s grace, a world filled with justice and peace.