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Toward the Fullness of Life: Intercontextual relationships in mission.

A title of this magnitude needs some exegesis! Since I was not involved in the preparation for this meeting, I have no idea of the difficult discussions that must have taken place to arrive at this formulation, or the reasons for choosing this theme. Consequently, I am free to inject my own ideas without let or hindrance!! These ideas have their genesis in my work as an Asian theologian who constantly has had to deal with the issue of plurality in its many forms. These ideas have also been shaped in my work with the ecumenical movement and more recently as general secretary of the Council for World Mission. I make no apology, but alert you to the way that I am approaching the challenge of and for world mission today.

The main title, "Toward the Fullness of Life", is the goal of the mission of the church. Perhaps it is better to take it as the vision that calls for our missionary engagement. I say vision, because a vision is what draws us forward but is never completely realized by us. Yet, we strive to realize it, caught in the "yet" and the "not yet" of the promise of God's reign/realm. This sense of movement or striving is implied in the word "toward".

The sub-theme, "Intercontextual relationships in mission", is not really a commentary on the main title, but is rather a statement of method. No longer is the mission of the church to be seen as uni-directional, from the North to the South or from the West to the East, but as from everywhere to everywhere. In the context of a new missionary situation, when world mission replaced the missionary era, the Council for World Mission was moved to state in its founding document, Sharing in One World Mission (1975), that we engage in mission not because we have all the answers and all the required skills but because we belong to the body of Christ. We are all seekers. Therefore we need each other, so that we may learn from each other. (1) Contexts are neither wholly discrete nor are they self-sufficient. In brief, in seeking to understand and respond to the goal or vision of fullness of life for all, we need several contextual responses, as each responds in terms of what is specific to its context and yet speaks to a ll contexts. Mutuality not moratorium is what constitutes the character of the gospel and is at the core of mission. Nevertheless, for some time some measure of moratorium has been necessary to prevent an indiscriminate merging of contexts, and the accompanying giving of so-called universal answers that may be applied to all situations. Intercontextuality seeks to balance independence with interdependence.

The work for this consultation is divided into three parts: identity and plurality; healing, health and faith communities, new models of mission relationships (partnership). These are three of the principal challenges for mission engagement. Each challenge raises in its own way a missionary response to the denial of the fullness of life in a particular area. While each challenge has to be faced in terms of the specific issues each raises, the three are also interconnected. Let me explain briefly.

I world, agree with the political, scientist, Samuel Huntington that the issue of identity and plurality has to be approached today against a prevailing attitude that he calls, "a clash of civilizations". Though on the surface it may seem unrelated to the issue of identity and plurality, HIV/AIDS, which presents sharply for our time the crisis in health and healing, raises the question of identity and plurality. Are those who suffer from HIV/AIDS to be classed as sinners who pay the price of licentiousness? This is not a theoretical question, but in many ways reflects the official attitude of many churches. If it is the consequence of sin, what is the identity of those living with HIV/AIDS as human beings? Where do they belong in healing communities? Though the issue of identity and plurality appears here in a different way from that posed by the paradigm of "the clash of civilizations", the issue as it is posed in this area of challenge needs to be related to the other two areas of challenge.

Part of the task of this consultation is not only to explore each challenge for realizing fullness of life, but also to show how they relate to each other.

I will not attempt to address each of the areas of challenge since there are to be major presentations on each of them and, more importantly, group discussions which will elicit from each of you your own insights. Therefore, I will refer to these areas of challenge only to present a backdrop against which explorations may take place. In other words, my concern is only to indicate the basic missiological challenge implicit in the theme and present a paradigm for mission which may be more appropriate for understanding the task for world mission today.

With this understanding of my assignment, I will first turn to the theme itself and see how we may understand the task for Christian mission today. Second, I will present and explore what is implied in speaking of "the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples" as a paradigm for mission today.

Toward the fullness of life: mission as contestation

The theme for the consultation, "Toward the Fullness of Life", is taken from the gospel according to St John: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (10:10b). I will, therefore, dwell on this theme in the context of John's understanding of the missionary task entrusted to the disciples of Jesus:

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:21-23)

The four presentations of the gospel agree that it was the risen Christ who entrusted the disciples with the missionary task of going into the entire world to proclaim the gospel. In looking at this task, John is not so much concerned with articulating a great missionary commission as presenting the great missionary God. The Father sends the Son, who then sends the disciples. A frightened group, we may even say a dead group, is created or made alive with the breathing into them of the Divine Spirit. It is similar to clay becoming a living being (Gen. 2:7) and dried bones being clothed with flesh and becoming living beings again (Ezek. 37:4-6) when God breathes life into them. Fear and death are replaced with courage and life. Knowing the difficulties and dangers that mission entails, without the gift of the Spirit mission would be impossible.

While this truth is easily grasped, mission, as having to do with the forgiveness of sins and the retention of sins, is not so easy to understand. Let us try!

Clearly it is not individuals caught up in the missionary task who have the right either to forgive or to retain sins. This is not about wrongs done to us. Rather, it is the church itself that is entrusted with the task of forgiving or retaining sins. Most times the church has viewed this commission in an ontological way. The church, or better churches, assumes that they have a God-given right to forgive or not to forgive as a part of the very essence or being of the church. Understood in this way, the church classifies people into friends or enemies of the church and even into saved and not saved, and prescribes courses of action. I do not have to recall for you all of the horrible acts that the churches have committed and the ways in which churches have denied life and liberation to people on the assumption that the church possesses the truth and has a God-given right to the correct interpretation of the truth. Forgiving and retaining sins is to be understood in the context of the missionary task and as a c onsequence of the breathing of the Spirit.

When we transpose this task to the context in which Jesus says, "I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly," we find a clue to the interpretation of this missionary task.

In John 10:1-18, with its terribly mixed metaphors, a contrast is set out in two ways. In the first, Jesus speaks of himself as the gate through which the sheep come in and go outs and find pasture or abundant life. The shepherds who legitimately care for the sheep will come in and go out through this gate as they lead the sheep to pasture. By contrast, the one who does not use this gate but climbs over a wall to reach the sheep is a thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy. In the second way, Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd who genuinely cares for his sheep. The good shepherd is contrasted with the hireling who is only interested in his pay and runs away when danger threatens. The good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. The good shepherd breathes life; the bandit and the hireling breathe death.

Mission understood as forgiving sins and retaining sins is a contestation with the powers of death that deny life and prevent the sheep from finding pasture or abundant life. Here there can be no compromise. To forgive those who have wronged us knowingly or unknowingly (cf. Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21f.), and yet to resist, unswervingly and without compromise, those who deny life to the people demands of us a tough spirituality for mission. This is the spirituality that demonstrates the shalom (wellbeing) of God's reign/realm. It is the spirituality we receive when we receive God's Spirit for the task of mission.

Let me approach this issue another way. Today, in missiological discussions, as also in discussions on pedagogy, we do not speak any more about filling empty vessels. We do not take God or Jesus Christ with us in our pockets to those to whom we go in mission. As Bishop Victor Premsagar of the Church of South India once put it, "God reached India centuries ago. Jesus Christ is a newcomer. That is the challenge for mission in India." How do we interpret this challenge?

The fullness of life or abundant life is already there. As the Indian theologian, Paul Devanandan, said many decades ago,

God's act of redemption in Christ Jesus concerns the whole of his creation. Biblical faith repeatedly affirms that the work of Christ is of cosmic significance in that redemption wrought in Him has affected the entire creative process. (2)

Theologians of mission, such as D.T. Niles, express this truth in terms of "the previousness of Jesus". (3)

To accept and work with "the previousness of Jesus" is to realize that we do not take or offer anything. Rather, our task is to help people have access to the abundant life offered by Jesus. What this implies can be drawn from the ministry of Jesus himself.

In response to the question of John the Baptiser, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus says to the disciples of John,

Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have goods news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me. (Luke 7:22; Malt. 11:4-6)

Luke prefaces Jesus' response with the words, "Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind" (Luke 7:21). Jesus' summary of his ministry, or, as I hope we may also say, mission, was quite specific. Jesus removed the hindrances or barriers to abundant life. In this way, "the poor", i.e. those who were deprived of abundant life, had good news brought to them in specific ways.

How would it then be if we speak of the challenge for mission today as resisting the powers and structures that deny abundant life to the people, and as removing the barriers and hindrances that prevent the offer of abundant life reaching the people?! In brief, may we speak of mission as contestation?

To illustrate what such an understanding of the missionary task would mean for today, let us look briefly at the issue of health, healing and faith communities in terms of the challenge that HIV/AIDS poses. As I indicated earlier, by and large, churches have tended to ignore what has in fact become a pandemic in large parts of Africa, Asia and now the Pacific. It is ignored because HIV/AIDS is viewed as a consequence of moral laxity and licentiousness. But is such a simplistic approach, which borders on treating victims of this disease as "untouchables", really defensible? Many women and their children are perishing with this disease not because of their sexual promiscuity but because of the sins of their husbands and fathers.

To get away from the simplistic approach to this dreaded disease, which is destroying millions of people, let us take a missiological approach by relating it to John 9:2f.

"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."

Mission as contestation not only refuses to accept the facile assumption, "It is their sin and they deserve what they get", but also gets beyond that assumption and opens people up to the forgiveness of sins that Jesus often offered in healing people of their infirmities. Such an approach would both affirm the worth of people and help them have access, both medicinally and spiritually, to what makes for fullness of life. In this way good news is brought in a concrete way to "the poor", i.e. those who suffer from this dreaded disease.

Clearly, mission as contestation is no easy task. On the one hand, it requires that we do not keep an account of individual wrongs done to us. Contestation should not be mixed up with revenge or even forensic justice for us. On the other hand, it requires discernment, which is a gift of the Spirit. We have to read the signs of the time to see how and where abundant life is being denied to the people. Both require a tough spirituality, made possible only in and through the power of the Spirit of God.

Mission as contestation requires us to read the signs of the time and work for those things that open up possibilities for abundant life. To understand this task missiologically we need a new paradigm or a different paradigm from that which neo-orthodox theology posed.

The people of God in the midst of all God's peoples

When preparing for the joint CCA (Christian Conference of Asia)-CWM mission round-table, which was held in Hong Kong in November 1999, I proposed this formulation for understanding the relationship between people of the Christian faith and peoples of other faiths. I proposed this formulation because I was convinced that no amount of argumentation, qualification or clarification would enable the neo-orthodox formulation for the task of Christian mission, as Hendrik Kraemer proposed at Tambaram (1938), to provide us with a satisfactory paradigm for understanding Christian mission in our time. Taking into account new approaches that were being worked out, especially under the auspices of the Dialogue Programme at the World Council of Churches (4), and my own experience in dealing with the issue of many faiths in the Ecumenical or Conciliar Process on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, (5) I felt that a clear break was necessary.

The paradigm I proposed, viz. "the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples", is not the same as what it has sometimes become, "the people of God among all God's peoples". The latter formulation, while affirming that all peoples are created by God in the image of God, could quite easily, with the reduction of "in the midst of" to "among", assume that we among all God's peoples have been privileged.

That is not the intention. The formulation "in the midst of" emphasizes a spatial paradigm that I would hold is biblical and helps us to understand the challenge for Christian mission as posed by Bishop Victor Premsagar.

The paradigm of "the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples" requires a re-look at the canon of scripture, i.e. to look at the whole of scripture rather than just its parts.

Usually, Genesis 1-11, which begins our canon of scripture and tells the general human story, is dismissed as a mere preamble to the real Israelite or biblical story that begins with the call of Abraham in chapter 12. A better view would be to understand Genesis 1-11 as a theological setting for what follows. Thus understood, Genesis 1:26f. presents an account of the creation of humanity (adam) with a differentiation into male and female to carry forward the blessing given at creation: "Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth." After several vicissitudes in the general human story we come to Genesis 11, the story of the tower of Babel, that speaks of a further differentiation of humanity into several ethne or nations.

In large measure, the interpretation of the tower of Babel episode has been conditioned by the way in which Genesis 1-11 as a whole is usually understood. The fall of humanity, reported in Genesis 3, colours the interpretation of the rest of the general human story, so that it is seen as an unmitigated account of human perversion and sin that culminates in the tower of Babel episode in Genesis 11. Genesis 12 is then viewed as a fresh start, with the call of Abraham as the centrepiece in a new human drama. From this perspective, the nations, who are part of the general human story narrated in Genesis 1-11, are expected to find their redemption through Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:3), since their collective histories have already been repudiated.

While it is true that Genesis 1-11 is relentless in its depiction of all forms of human sin and depravity, and the condign punishment that follows, it is equally clear in portraying the divine concern, or grace that overrides both human failing and the ensuing punishment, so that God's creation may be both preserved and sustained. From this revised perspective, Genesis 10 may be seen as providing a table of nations, as known to the biblical writer, that exemplifies the fact that several nations are a consequence of the blessing given to humanity in creation and renewed in the covenant with Noah. Genesis 11 follows with an explanation of how this happened.

The episode begins with the explanatory statement that until then the whole earth had one language and a limited vocabulary. While migrating from the east, i.e. from Eden (Gen. 2:8), in response to the blessing to fill the earth, the people came to a plain and attempted to settle down. Instead of moving sideways over the face of the earth, they planned to move upwards to reach God through the construction of a tower. Then God thwarted the human attempt to move upwards, and scattered them over the face of the earth by turning a monolingual situation into a multilingual one. Thus understood, plurality is not just divine punishment for the hubris exhibited at Babel, but is rather God's way of ensuring that the blessing given at creation moves on and does not stagnate in one place. (6) To put it another way, Genesis 11 speaks of the emergence of ethnic and religio-cultural identities as a further differentiation of humanity (adam) to carry forward the blessing given at creation. Plurality is not the problem. Into lerance is the problem.

The problem of non-communication and suspicion that appears in Genesis 11 is symbolically resolved in Acts 2:5-12 when a representative group of men from the nations is caught up in the Pentecostal experience; and each receives the message in his own language. They understand one another and the purpose of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Acts 2 does not abrogate plurality as a divisive human condition, but rather affirms it as an enriching of one another in a receptive plurality.

Going back to the account in Genesis, chapter 12 follows chapter 11 by picking up one story among the many, the story of Abraham, and immediately links it with the other stories by saying that Abraham is called to be a blessing to the nations (12:3). Towards the end of the canon of scripture we have Revelation 21:22-27 with its heavenly vision of the new Jerusalem to which the kings as the representatives of the nations bring their treasures. These do not find their way into the holy city either through the history of the old Israel or the new Israel. As Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka pointed out:

The nations have distinctive histories in the providence of God, so that in the final Kingdom of Christ their sicknesses are healed and their riches become an acceptable offering to enrich life in heaven. National histories, both religious and political, have an autonomy of their own. (7)

Within this total perspective, the call of Abraham, to which we too are heirs in Jesus Christ, is to be a blessing to the nations: "I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse; and all the communities of the earth will find a blessing [or, will bless themselves] through you". (Gen. 12:3. See also Isa. 19:23-25.) This is a way of understanding mission as contestation with the forgiving and retention of sins toward fullness of life.

The Acts of the Apostles, with chapter 2 as its centrepiece, depicts the church or Christian community being scattered over the face of the earth, and locates Christian communities or churches in the midst of the nations. The Christian community, taken as a whole, holds within it the plurality of cultures and languages given by God (cf. Gen. 10) in a receptive plurality given through the gift of God's Spirit (cf. Acts 2). To be scattered in the midst of the nations is our geographical location in terms of which mission as contestation has to be grasped and practised.

The matter of geographical location can be explained also in another way. The Christian faith does not call for a specific "Christian" geographical location to give our faith existential validity. We do not have to perform an earthly pilgrimage. Geographical references in the Bible have been spiritualized. When we sing Luther's great hymn based on Psalm 46, "Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God," like Luther we have no great urge to go to Jerusalem, the earthly Zion. Zion has been spiritualized. If anything, it refers to the new Jerusalem descending from the clouds whose builder and maker is God (cf. Rev. 21 and Heb. 11). Likewise Jordan and quite a few of the geographical locations in the Bible have been spiritualized. Few Christians have been moved to visit the so-called "holy land", which of late has become quite an unholy place. When an American missionary who had come all the way from his country to Ceylon by-passing the holy land was asked why he had not visited the birth-place of Jes us, he responded quite simply, "Because I know that my Master is not there!"

This is another way of expressing the conviction that we have no earthly city or land that is specially ours except the lands in which we are located. On earth, we have been placed in the midst of the nations, as were the people of Israel during the exile. The exhortation of Jeremiah to the people of Israel scattered in the midst of the nations is apposite for us. Jeremiah says to them, "Settle down, get married, bring up your children and, more importantly, pray for the shalom (peace, wellbeing) of those people for on their shalom depends your shalom" (cf. Jer. 29). In other words, our salvation, shalom, wellbeing, is mixed up with the salvation of the nations. We have a dual identity: the identity of our faith and the identity of the people in the midst of whom we live. To relate these two identities is an inevitable part of understanding mission as contestation toward fullness of life.

Over against the paradigm of the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples is a religio-cultural and political paradigm that Samuel Huntington identifies as "the clash of civilizations". In a book with the same title and with the additional words "and the remaking of world order", published in 1996, he speaks with deadly clarity to help us, five years later, understand the events of 11 September 2001 and what has followed. Huntington wrote:

One grim Weltanschauung [worldview or world-outlook, which we may call "signs of the time"] for this new era was well expressed by the Venetian nationalist demagogue in Michael Dibdin's novel, Dead Lagoon: "There can be no true friends without true enemies. Unless we hate what we are not we cannot love what we are. These are old truths we are painfully rediscovering after a century and more of sentimental cant. Those who deny them, deny their family, their heritage, their culture, their birthright, their very selves. They will not lightly be forgiven." The unfortunate truth in these old truths cannot be ignored by statesmen and scholars. For peoples seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential, and the potentially most dangerous enmities occur across fault lines between the world's major civilizations. (8)

In presenting "the clash of civilizations" as the prevailing political paradigm of our time and therefore as a way of reading the signs of the time, Huntington not only predicts something like what happened on 11 September 2001 but also shows why US President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair need to identify an "axis of evil" as the enemy of America and Europe. It also explains why the Rashtrya Swayamseveka Sang and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have such an appeal in India. "Unless we hate what we are not we cannot love what we are." Difference being expressed as hate is what is being held up as essential for defining one's identity in our time.

In terms of this prevailing political paradigm, identity and plurality are strange bedfellows. In fact, this juxtaposition draws attention to the fact that plurality, at least in terms of religious cultures, has always been intolerant of itself.

There are two classical forms of intolerance. One is the Semitic form evident especially in Christianity and Islam (Judaism remains largely as a tribal religion). This form of intolerance urges that differences either have to be converted or destroyed. "Choose either the Book or the sword, the choice is yours" is a good expression of this form of intolerance. The other is the Hindu form, which argues that all religious differences are but accidents of history and geography. "All roads lead to Vrindhavan" may be seen as an expression of this form of intolerance. Hinduism would then posit an eternal religion, sanatana dharma, which transcends all specific religions. Soon it becomes clear that Hinduism, in whatever form, is that eternal religion. It then seeks to absorb other religions and thus to kill them. This is what happened to ancient Buddhism in India and almost happened to Buddhism in Ceylon. The Hindutva movement in India is a modem, virulent expression of this form of intolerance.

In this situation it is also possible to see why the neo-orthodox paradigm for mission is unsatisfactory, if not downright dangerous. Despite all of the qualifications Hendrik Kraemer and other neo-orthodox theologians made at the world mission conference in Tambaram and later, a paradigm that in any way presents the people of God over against, rather than in the midst of other peoples will play into the hands of the prevailing political paradigm of the clash of civilizations. Stated simply, neo-orthodox theology postulated a disjunction between religion as the human search for truth and God, which is riddled with error and therefore a failure, and the once-for-all revelation of God's saving intention in Jesus Christ. Kraemer pitted what he called "biblical realism" over against all religions, and included Christianity as a religion. But in effect, at least in the missionary enterprise, it became a judgement on other religions. Consequently, it was asserted that other religions may have some degree of truth i n them but in the end as systems of belief they are irrelevant or worthless. This paradigm informed our understanding of mission as essentially an effort to convince non-Christians of the error of their religion, and the need to convert to faith in Jesus Christ.

This posture of Christian privilege, which influenced Christian mission and ministry, actually came up through the missionary movement itself. The missionaries felt that it was their duty not only to spread abroad the gospel, but also to be the conveyors of Enlightenment learning as God's gift Co humanity through the Western world. Enlightenment learning was intended to light up the darkness and expose the error and superstition in the lives and cultures of the heathens, i.e. you and me.

In contrast, to understand our missionary vocation in terms of Genesis 10 and Acts 2, and with the paradigm, "God's people in the midst of all God's peoples", is to enable the communication and receptiveness that is needed to overcome suspicion, and to lead the nations, as they learn from each other, to a deeper understanding and appreciation of God's purpose for the whole creation. In so doing, Christian mission also has to deal with the problem of religion itself. Not everything in every religion is good. Nor is everything bad. The continued retelling of the gospel story, as it moves forward among the nations, is expected to gather in and affirm what is good and eliminate what is bad. It is to practise mission as contestation toward the fullness of life for all.

In terms of this paradigm, intercontextual relationships in mission are not luxuries;. there are necessities. Receptive plurality requires that communication towards mutual understanding and acceptance takes place between religious cultures and, therefore, contexts that tend to define themselves over against rather than in relationship with others. The notion of "unless I hate what I am not I cannot love what I am" has to be contested with "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you". This is an important part of the mission of the church, the people of God. Therefore, mutuality not moratorium, which is at the heart of the gospel message, has to be at the core of mission.


At the World mission conference on "Salvation Today" at Bangkok (1973), Emilio Castro, who was to become the director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, is purported to have said, "We are at the end of the missionary era, we are at the very beginning of world mission." The missionary organizations we represent in one way or another have tried to reflect this change and manifest this change. This consultation is an attempt to work out the nature and implications of this change in the light of our experiences.

In reflecting on this change, my address has made certain assumptions and put forward certain positions that I now want to pull together.

The missionary era continued what began at -Pentecost with the receiving of the promised Spirit of God and a scattering among the nations that followed the Pentecostal experience. These scattered communities grew in numbers so that in almost all the nations of the world, amidst all God's peoples, there are Christian communities, God's people. These have been chosen to be the bearers of the truth of the resurrection as an opening out of abundant life or fullness of life for all in Jesus Christ.

The "Word" in splendid isolation in and of itself is not good news. The proclamation and action that shows how the "Word" has become flesh in specific situations is good news. As we engage in this task, we take into account the oftrepeated truth that we are engaged not in the mission of the church but are partners in God's mission. We therefore recognize "the previousness of Jesus" in every missionary location, so that our main task today, with an understanding of mission as contestation, is to help open up the offer of fullness of life or abundant life to all in Jesus Christ. We are called to proclaim this truth in word and action, so that the Word does become flesh, i.e. tangible and real, in every circumstance and situation. We. are however not called to control the results of that proclamation. As St Paul said, one plants another waters, but it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:7).

In trying to understand the implications and task for mission in the movement from the missionary era to the era of world mission, I have proposed as a paradigm, the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples. This paradigm gives theological validity to our geographical locations and counters what has become a political paradigm based on the premise, unless I hate what I am not I cannot love what I am.

The acceptance of our geographical location as a community within communities does not deny but requires us to maintain our links across the world. As Christian communities, we find our identity both within the human communities in which we are placed and across the globe with Christian communities everywhere. We are linked by a common faith and commission to proclaim the Risen One. The task of proclaiming the good news is context specific but not context confined. We need each other so that we may learn from each other, especially in the context of globalization, both to understand the total task of world mission today and to affirm our identity in plurality. Missionaries are essential to manifest the global character of the church and to affirm identity in plurality.

In brief, as the people of God in the midst of all God's peoples, we are called to be a blessing to the nations, not to be a scourge to the gentiles.


(1.) See section 2: "Theological Setting".

(2.) Devanandan, P. D., Our Task Today: Revision of Evangelistic Concern, Bangalore, CISRS, 1958, p. 5.

(3.) Upon the Earth: The Mission of God and the Missionary Enterprise of the Church, London, Lutterworth Press, 1962, p. 46.

(4.) See Ariarajah, Wesley, Hindus and Christians, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1991, and Not Without My Neighbour, Geneva, 1999, for convenient presentations of the work done in and through the sub-unit on Dialogue and the issues raised.

(5.) See my article, 'How Ecumenical must the Ecumenical Movement be?' The Ecumenical Review, vol. 43, no. 4, 1991, pp.389-464.

(6.) The interpretation of Genesis 11 given in this essay follows the basic thesis of Bernhard W. Anderson, "Unity and Diversity in God's Creation: A Study of the Babel Story," CurTM 5 (1978), pp. 69-81. Independently, CS. Song also has argued for a similar interpretation in The Compassionate God, New York, Orbis, 1982, p. 22f.

(7.) Wickremesinghe, Lakshman, "Mission, Politics and Evangelism," CTC Bulletin, vol. 5 no. 1-2(April-August 1984), p. 48.

(8.) Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, London, New York, Touchstone Books, 1966, p. 20.


* Dr D. Preman Niles was general secretary of the Council for World Mission from 1991 to 2002. He is presently the Elizabeth Luce Moore Visiting Professor of Ecumenical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, USA.
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Author:Niles, D. Preman
Publication:International Review of Mission
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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