Paul Hooker, “What Is Missional Ecclesiology?”

My Presbytery used this article as fodder for conversation as we considered the New Form of Government.  I wondered aloud at a Presbytery Coordinating Council meeting if we were intending to use the discussion about NFoG as a referendum on Missional Theology.  We were not prepared to lead that conversation, but know that it is a conversation that is forming us, whether formally on the floor of Presbytery, or indirectly (like through the mission values that inform the awarding of our Presbytery’s Mission Partnership Funding grants).  Paul Hooker’s presentation of Missional Ecclesiology draws out the implications of Missional Theology for the function of a denomination. 

So, what is Missional Ecclesiology?  Paul Hooker lists the following commitments: 

  • The starting point is God’s self-sending into the world (Missio Dei).
  • God calls the church to be a community of witness that participates in Christ’s work (kergyma).
  • The congregation is the basic form of the church
  • The ministry of governing bodies is shaped around the calling of the church.
  • The polity provides flexibility for mission within particular contexts.
  • The polity provides accountability between covenant partners.

 Missio Dei:  “Mission” means sending.  When we speak of God’s sending, we speak of the movement the Triune God made in coming into the world as the crucified and risen Christ for the purpose of redeeming and transforming the world.  The eschatological hope is that through this self-sending, the world will be returned to shalom with God and itself.  I am learning that there are many understanding of Missio Dei and questions about if it even exists.  Hopefully I’ll learn more about this as the term progresses.          

 Church as witness and participant:  Barth argues that the Church is a witness to God’s revelation through Christ.  We witness not only through our proclamation, but by living consistently with the revelation we have received.   Barth is, however, very careful to limit the Church’s role in bringing about redemption, transformation, or the eschaton.  Hooker’s Missional Ecclesiology claims for the Church a role as participant in God’s future.  This is the same move that Evans makes in Constructive Theology, when he claims humanity’s role as “cocreators” and “copreservers” of creation on the basis of God’s commission to Adam and Eve.  Is it too much to say that Missional Ecclesiology gives the Church a role not just in God’s future, but in the creation of God’s future?

 The congregation, rather than the individual, is the basic form of the Church.  Just as the Triune God’s nature is relational, so the nature of Christian life is relational.  Christ calls the Church into being as his body, and so we cannot escape being part of something bigger than our individual selves.  This congregation-centric attitude creates a structure in which the higher governing bodies exists to serve the congregations (the center resourcing the edges—a growth model) rather than the congregations existing to serve the center (a feudal model).   

 The ministry of governing bodies is shaped around the calling of the Church.  Governing bodies do not exist for the sake of preserving the institution, but in order to clarify and support the mission of the body.

 The polity provides flexibility for mission in particular contexts. The polity of a denomination should help, rather than hinder, congregations witnessing to and participating in God’s mission in their particular context.  Because contexts vary widely, the incarnation of the body will also vary widely.  However, we have struggled and will continue to struggle with the core standards which all congregations must maintain.  Can racial-ethnic congregations hold different ordination standards than majority congregations?  Can liberal or conservative congregations hold different standards of behavior or conviction than the rest of the body?  What level of self-determination do we choose to allow?

 The polity provides accountability between covenant partners.  It is within the gracious commitment of covenant relationships that we find stability and flexibility to grow into our true selves.  It is within that gracious commitment that we hold each other accountable to the other and the health of the relationship, that our witness becomes one of trust generated through honesty, self-giving, and focus on our mission.   

 I find much that is compelling about Hooker’s Missional Ecclesiology.  I like that the calling of the Church is to witness to the future that God is creating.  I like that “congregations in particular and the Church as a whole do not exist to serve their own aims or even to guarantee their own survival. ( 3)”  I like that Christ, through the Spirit, calls the Church into being and gives the church its purpose.  I like that the polity appears to have the center resource the edges, rather than being an hierarchical structure.  I wonder, however, if in the center of a Missional Ecclesiology we will find a male-dominated, hierarchical, approach to the Church?

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