Today’s post is the the first of two concluding posts 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 mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries. Mr. Kemper is commenting on the last section of the document, “Renewal.” Use the “Grace Upon Grace” tag to identify other posts in this series.
We come now to the end of this series of blogs that has explored the continuing relevance and value for mission of Grace Upon Grace, the last official and comprehensive United Methodist statement on mission theology adopted in 1988, closing with the document’s final paragraph (66), 18 lines on the topic of “Renewal.” Having already enumerated two themes from Grace Upon Grace that I find enormously valuable for the renewal of our understanding of and involvement in mission in the first quarter of the 21st century, I now conclude by proposing two clusters of concerns I think were undeveloped in 1988 but must be satisfactorily addressed today if we are to be viable as a church engaged in the missio Dei. Again, my reflections are those of a missional professional, a practitioner, a layman, not a formal theologian, having been a missionary in Brazil with my wife from 1986 to 1994, and now serving as a mission agency executive.
I find Grace Upon Grace lacking in two major ways. First, at least to my mind, it neglects health, healing, and the care of creation as dimensions of the missio Dei. By health and healing I mean more than humanitarian relief and medical services. I also mean spiritual and emotional healthiness, wholeness of person and wholeness of community. Care of creation relates to individuals, families, communities, nations, and to international relations. It incorporates ecology and the use of resources, which has strong economic implications. Mission needs to grapple with broad economic challenges, especially regarding the poor and the conservation of nature.
A second cluster of concerns is the failure of Grace Upon Grace to discern and take into account the mission energy of mission-founded churches in the Global South and Asia. That could even be seen in 1988. We Methodists have been deplorably slow in noticing something that was evident as early as the world missionary conferences of the late 1940s and 1950s that the younger churches are alive and potent with the Gospel and seen by other communions. We have too long navel-gazed about our denominational “worldwide nature” and allowed our structures get in the way of letting loose the gospel energy of our mission progeny. This relates, of course, to the shifting Christian center of gravity from Europe and North America to the global South.
The World Council of Churches’ 2013 statement on Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes—a wonderful title for excellent work—takes serious account of the implications for mission of the shifting demography. It recognizes and celebrates not the hope but the reality of mission from what was once seen as the margins—mission in Africa and Korea and Brazil that is alive in indigenous cultures but also reaching into the old Christian heartlands of Italy, Canada, England, and Oklahoma City with the ringing, compelling word and work of the Lord. We of the West may still have the dollars and euros but we are not the only, maybe not the primary, proponents of the missio Dei anymore. God has other missionaries too, and we are thankful that some of them from the Congo, and Colombia and Hong Kong and Ivory Coast are enlisting in service through The United Methodist Church. There will be more—of that I can promise you. There will be many, many more. I truly believe that God really is in charge of mission and will see to that.
Grace Upon Grace will remain a worthy landmark—a clear statement of faith and hope—in our mission pilgrimage. It is dated more by its omissions than its commissions. I keep a copy ready at hand on my desk.
I also keep handy a much shorter document, a statement of only some 850 words on mission theology drafted and adopted at the end of the last quadrennium by the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries. It contains a paragraph on grace at work but it is the last affirmation I want to quote in ending these reflections, for it reminds us of an essential reality of the missio Dei in this and any century.
“The Spirit is always moving to sweep the Church into a new mission age. With openness and gratitude we await the leading of the Spirit in ways not yet seen as God continues to work God’s purposes out in our own day in a new way.”
(The full statement can be read online at http://www.umcmission.org/Learn-About-Us/About-Global-Ministries/Theology-of-Mission)