When your fathers fixed the place of God,
Part Three – An IRM Historical Treasury
Dropping the “S”
Article first published online: 29 NOV 2011
Copyright © (2011) World Council of Churches
International Review of Mission
Special Issue: A Century of Ecumenical Missiology
Volume 100, Issue 2, pages 402–405, November 2011
How to Cite
Crane, W. H. (2011), Dropping the “S”. International Review of Mission, 100: 402–405. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-6631.2011.00082.x
- Issue published online: 29 NOV 2011
- Article first published online: 29 NOV 2011
With this issue of the IRM we change the name of the oldest ecumenical journal in existence from International Review of Missions to International Review of Mission. Authority for this decision was granted by the divisional committee of the Division of World Mission and Evangelism in its meeting at Odense, Denmark, in November 1968. This brings the title of the IRM into line with the designation of the division itself, with the thinking of the 1963 Mexico City meeting of the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism which gave wide currency to the concept of Mission in Six Continents, and with the broad consensus of missionary thinking of most of the member churches of the World Council of Churches.
We hope that the change from missions in the plural to mission in the singular will make the IRM more palatable to Asian, African and Latin American readers, for many of whom the old title must have been uncomfortably reminiscent of an era in which their continents were the only targets of the inexorable thrust of one-way missions from north to south, and an era in which mission was primarily the business of professional, dedicated expatriate Christians from the north rather than the primary business of all Christians, in every country in every continent. We hope too that the change will also make the IRM more palatable for many of our traditional subscribers in Europe and North America, many of whom must be troubled by the contradiction between what has until now been printed on the cover as the name of the journal and what is published inside as the content of the growing consensus that the mission is one for the church wherever it may be. For some time now the IRM has been publishing articles that reflect this conviction about the mission of the Church to the whole inhabited earth, and we do not do justice to the growing conviction about that transcendent, universal, excitingly diverse and amazingly unique mission by the host of outdated images which are perpetuated by the old title. Missions in the plural have a certain justification in the diplomatic, political, and economic spheres of international relations where their nature, scope and authority are defined by the interests of both those who initiate and those who receive them, but the mission of the Church is singular in that it issues from the One Triune God and His intention for the salvation of all men. His commission to the Church is one, even though the ministries given to the Church for this mission, and the given responses of particular churches in particular situations to the commission, are manifold.
The various studies and programmes initiated by the Division of World Mission and Evangelism in the past few years since integration into the life of the World Council of Churches, also reflect this concern for the one mission of the Church in six continents rather than the traditional concern for missions from three continents to the other three. These include: the study of the theology of mission, the study of churches in missionary situations, the missionary structure of the congregation, urban-industrial mission, joint action for mission, the Christian encounter with men of other faiths, and now the study of missionary participation in human institutions. All of these studies and programmes already undertaken make imperative the recovery within every congregation of the missionary dynamic which will enable Christians, as individuals and as communities, to break out of their walls of self-concern to witness the love of Christ within every level of the institutions which govern their activities, in their neighbourhoods, in the market-place, in the home, as well as to the ends of the earth.
It is that last phrase “to the ends of the earth” that troubles many for whom the shift from “missions” to “mission” raises the question of missionary priorities. If the phrase “to the ends of the earth” becomes only another way of saying that the whole inhabited world has become a field for mission, including those parts of the world which have already heard and in many cases rejected the Gospel, what is to be the instrumentality of the Church's obedience to the command to preach the Gospel to those who have not even had a chance to hear it for the first time? If the business of mission is every Christian's business, they claim, there is the danger that no one will make it his business to go to the two billion who still have not heard, or who have given no response at all either of acceptance or rejection to the Gospel. At the risk of caricaturing a position worthy of serious consideration and which has a certain justification in church history, such a theology of evangelism in actual practice tends to limit the inexorable march of the Church to “the ends of the earth” to quick occupation of enemy territory by “blitz forces” whose essential task is to present the Gospel in such a convincing way as to make the maximum number of prisoners, who are then marched to the rear and safely tucked away in the churches where presumably their rehabilitation begins to take place. There may be some justification of this image of evangelism in II Corinthians 2:14 with its picture of the triumphal procession of Christ. But even here the mystery of redemption is suggested in such a way that Christians as the “aroma of Christ”, whether an aroma of life or of death, can be pervading the atmosphere with that aroma in the most unexpected places, in the jungles of New York or London among the one billion that have heard the Gospel, as well as in the jungles of New Guinea among the two billion who haven't.
The trouble with this position is that it fails to project the complex interrelationship, and interdependence, of the biblical doctrines of both Creation and Redemption as the Bible does. It fails to see the Old Testament dimension of salvation as liberation, and the concern for the restoration of God's shalom, as Israel accepts the full missionary implications of being God's covenant people witnessing His chesed (covenant love) to the nations. Biblical man is called to be the steward of God's creation and responsible for his brother, as God is Creator of them both. Because of this failure to relate the doctrine of Man and Creation to the doctrine of Redemption many of the Church's missionary battlefields are untidy, reflecting the passage of “blitz forces”, and there are far too many unhappy prisoners cooped up in the churches, as well as in the societies which have not been effectively evangelized, oblivious to the freedom to which they have been called as children of God. In short, because of our enchantment with the “ends of the earth” as a geographical and logistical reality we have left the “rear areas” in a mess, and it is time that we see them as being just as essential a priority for mission as the so-called “two billion”. T. S. Eliot effectively described for the phenomenon of imperialistic expansion much of what is also true for the expansion of the Church in a memorable passage from his “Choruses from the Rock”:
And settled all the inconvenient saints,
Apostles, martyrs, in a kind of Whipsnade,
Then they could set about imperialist expansion
Accompanied by industrial development.
Exporting iron, coal and cotton goods
And intellectual enlightenment
And everything, including capital
And several versions of the Word of God:
The British race assured of a mission
Performed it, but left much at home unsure.
In the same meeting in which the decision was made to drop the “s” in our name, plans were made by the divisional committee to liven up the IRM, and to attempt to make it a more effective platform for the discussion of those issues which most concern the churches as they attempt to understand their missionary task in this post-Uppsala period. The old editorial advisory board was dropped, not because it was no longer useful, but primarily because resources had never been available to allow it to meet and function as a real advisory board. A new advisory board was named, made up of members of the divisional committee who would be able to meet periodically to plan the future of the journal. However, one member of the old advisory board was retained and promoted to the post of honorary chairman of the advisory board. This was Dr Kenneth Scott Latourette, the noted missionary historian, author, and late professor of missions at Yale University. As we go to press we have just heard of Dr Latourette's tragic death in an automobile accident in the state of Oregon.
The best appreciation of Dr Latourette which we could think of comes from a closing passage in one of his own books:
Always, we need again and again to remind ourselves, the secret of the Church's strength is not organization. Age after age it is men and women, who have been captured by Jesus and have entered a new life through Him, who have been the centre of Christian advance, the active agents through whom the faith has gone on. The greatest of early Christians clearly saw this. They declared that Jesus was the expression, in such fashion that men could see it, of the Eternal God Himself, that He was and is the Logos, the Word, through whom God touches human life, that in Him was life, and that life is the light of men. Always that light, so they saw, shines in darkness. Yet, they declared, the darkness never puts it out. The experience of nineteen centuries has justified their insight. It is this life and this light which constitute the secret of the power of Christianity and of the Church. It is this life and this light, emanating from the creative heart of the universe and of its very essence, which are the sure hope of the future.
This better than anything else affirms the faith of one of this century's greatest missionaries, and certainly of this century's greatest missionary historian! He was himself one of those unusual men “captured by Jesus”. We will miss him – the whole Church will! But most of all we will miss the long, critically sensitive and excitingly fresh contributions to the IRM which he sent in regularly every year – the fruit of his own thinking and the thinking of a small group of missionary strategists who used to meet with him at periodic intervals to discuss the contemporary issues of mission and evangelism. He took his responsibility as a member of our advisory editorial board very seriously, and it is unlikely that anyone can fully take his place as senior statesman, strategist and prophet of the modern missionary movement.
William H. CRANE
- 1Choruses from the Rock” from The Complete Poems and Plays (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1939), p. 101.: “
- 2The Unquenchable Light (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941).: