Missio Dei - Godís mission


In the study of doctrine pertaining to the existence of the church (ecclesiology), a Latin phrase missio Dei was adopted and became increasingly popular during the last century to explain the relationship between Godís mission and the call of the church to participate.


The literature always mentions the term (missio Dei) in the same breath as the July 1952 Willingen meeting of the International Missionary Council, as the concept came into existence at that conference. Curiously, though, the expression itself was never used during the conference. It arose in the days and weeks following the Willingen conference in the report of the Württemburg prelate and former director of the Basle Mission, Karl Hartenstein. He created the term to summarize the main finding of the conference's closing statement, which said:


The missionary movement, of which we are a part has its source in the Triune God Himself. Out of the depths of His love for us, the Father has sent forth His own beloved Son to reconcile all things to Himself, that we and all men might, through the Spirit, be made one in Him with the Father in that perfect love which is the very nature of God. ... We who have been chosen in Christ... are by these very facts committed to full participation in His redeeming mission. There is no participation in Christ without participation in His mission to the world. That by which the Church receives its existence is that by which it is also given its world-mission.  (Richebächer 2003, p589)


The classical doctrine on missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit, was expanded to include yet another ďmovementĒ: Father, Son and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world...  Our mission has no life of its own: only in the hands of the sending God can it truly be called mission, not least since the missionary initiative comes from God alone.  (Bosch 1991, p390)


Basically mission is Godís mission and it is a mission that goes beyond the church.  It embraces everything that God is doing in the world through people and nations to establish His Kingdom here on earth Ė within the church and beyond the church.  It is a mission that all Christians are called to participate and have an immense privileged to do so.  Thus Godís work is not limited to the endeavours of the church, but the church does have a special role, sent by God to continue in His mission.


"It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfil in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church."  There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.  (Moltmann 1977, p64)


In sum, missio Dei is a comprehensive term encompassing everything God does in relation to the kingdom and everything the church is sent to do on earth.  (Scott Moreau & Corwin 2003, p73)


Central to the concept of missio Dei is that it is God-dependant rather than church-dependant.  The church doesnít have a separate overriding mission or agenda Ė it is called to take part in what the Triune God has ordered, from the beginning.  To make Himself known to all people and nations so that they may enjoy fullness of life as originally intended and as originally created:



Missio Dei, is the idea that God is actively working to restore his creation to wholeness. This wholeness looks like Jesus and is our intended expression as human beings designed in the image of God. Because of the fall, humanity is disconnected from God...


God has been actively building His Kingdom on earth and calling individuals throughout history to participate in his ongoing mission. Jesus removed the barrier between humanity and God. Followers of Jesus seek to engage in this mission by creating an authentic community where each personís dignity can be restored, actively participate in Godís Kingdom activities on earth... (Brink 2005)


...we have seen that the church exists not for its own sake but for the sake of Godís cause in the world.  That cause is the alienation from God and liberation from the oppression, deprivation, and suffering in which sin works itself out, so that human beings may dwell in Godís shalom, where there is harmony and delight in all dimensions of existence. (Wolterstorff 1980, p13)


In Michael W. Goheenís comprehensive examination of Leslie Newbiginís missionary ecclesiology, Goheen explains in the chapter ďmissio Dei as context for the churchís missionary identityĒ (with reference to the International Missionary Conference held at Willingen, Germany in 1952):


According to Willingenís ďStatement on the Missionary Calling of the ChurchĒ the churchís mission is derived from the mission of the Triune God (Goodall 1953:188-192). There are two sides to this new emphasis:


First, mission is first and foremost Godís mission. The church does not have a mission of its own. Rather the primary emphasis is on what God is doing for the redemption of the world. Thereafter, consideration is given to how the church participates in Godís redeeming mission.


Second, Godís mission is defined in terms of the Triune character and work of God.


Wilhelm Andersen comments on Willingen: ďIf we wish to sum up, with systematic precision, Willingenís approach to a theology of the missionary enterprise, we must say that it is Trinitarian in character. In the Willingen statements, the triune God Himself is declared to be the sole source of every missionary enterpriseĒ (1955:47). H. H. Rosin concurred when he says that ďthe Trinitarian foundation of mission is one of the most striking achievements of this [Willingen] conferenceĒ (Rosin 1972:10).


In the Willingen statements, mission has its source in the nature and action of the Triune God. God is a missionary God and mission is first of all His action. The missionary initiative flows from the love of God to reconcile His created yet alienated world. He trod a long road of redemption with Israel, until out of the depths of His love the Father sent the Son to reconcile all things to Himself. Jesus accomplished the mission for which He was sent by a complete atonement in His death and resurrection. On the basis of this accomplished work God poured out the Spirit of Jesus to gather His people together into one body as a first fruit and an earnest of Christís redemption. That same Spirit of Jesus equips and empowers His people to continue His mission as witnesses to Godís redeeming love and work. Thus the church is caught up in Godís redeeming action. Participation in Christís redeeming work means participation in His mission to the world (Goodall 1954:189f.). It is clear in this summary statement that the mission of the church is derived from the redeeming action of God that flows from His love for the world. The Father sends the Son to accomplish His redemptive work; the Father and Son send the Spirit to incorporate his people into that redemption; the Son sends the church to continue his mission and to participate in the reconciling work of the Spirit. The mission is Godís but He includes the church; the mission of the church is participation in the sending of God. (Goheen 2001, p117)


In his excellent study on the mission of God, Christopher Wright writes:


Mission, then, in biblical terms, while inescapably involves us in planning and action, is not primarily a matter of our activity or our initiative.  Mission from the point of view of our human endeavour, means the committed participation of Godís people in the purposes of God for the redemption of the whole creation.  The mission is Godís.  The marvel is that God invites us to join in.  (Wright 2006, p67)


And the end result of this is the glorification of the Triune God:


The Scriptures teach that ďthe end result of such missio Dei is the glorification of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.Ē  (Peters 1972, p9)


Manís chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.  (English and Scottish Divines 1647)


Creation exists not to serve human interests but to reflect the glory of God.  (Peskett & Ramachandra 2003, p48)


...I am sure that nothing gives such strength to everything we have to do or bear as the simple witness of your own conscience, that your desire is in everything to glorify God.  For so God has ordered it, that then are we efficient, and then are we happy, when His ends are our ends.  The end always determines the course; and the secret of beginning well, and going on well, is, first, to choose rightly, and then to fix firmly in mind one great scope.  There are many ends; and every end is again a means to a further end, until we arrive at one final end...  that everything must terminate in ďGodís Glory.Ē  (The Anglican Pulpit Library 1900, p1,2)


Unless the quest for justice among the nations is guided by passion for the glory of God, and is rooted in what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, it quickly becomes another form of domination.  Godís gracious, reconciling love in Jesus Christ towards us human beings is the ground and pattern for our response to injustice and conflict.  This takes the righting of historic wrongs seriously, but the ultimate aim is the transformation of sinful men and women through their reconciliation to one another and to their Creator. (Ramachandra 1999, p171)


I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.  (Psalm 86: 12) 


Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. (Isaiah 60:21)


For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)


For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.... Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 6:20, 31)


Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:11)






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