Henk Medema

Christology, missiology, ecclesiology: which first?

During the past weeks and months I have been studying a lot in missional ecclesiology. I felt a deep and growing urgency to understand how our being the Church and our being sent is connected theologically - but more than that: how we can realize this in the functional, local congregations of which we are part. Becaus … well, simply, the connection hardly ever is simple and smooth. It frequently does not work.

Amongst other books, I was reading Alan Hirsch & Tim Catchim, The Permanent Revolution. I worked my way through Mike Breen & Steve Cockram’s book A Culture of Discipelship (which I had to do, having been asked to prepare a slight revision of the Dutch translation). And I took a deep breath of Graham Hill’s book Salt, Light and a City: Introducing Missional Ecclesiology - magnificent and profound!

Now which comes first? It is clear that everything starts with Christ Jesus our Lord, and hence with christology and christopraxy. But from there? Both Mike Breen and Alan Hirsch contend that we should first study missiology, and from there ecclesiology. It is interesting, though, that after having stated this in (Hirsch & Frost) ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church (p.43), the authors continue to follow both lines in a parallel way, the individual aspect and the corporate aspect.

In his foreword to Graham Hill’s book, Michael Frost picks up the same point as he had (together with Alan Hirsch) formulated it in The Shaping of Things to Come - i.e. from christology to missiology to ecclesiology - and then says:

‘Our logic went: if we become students of the Scriptures, allowing our Christology to shape our missiology, then we can worry later about the forms of church that best serve that mission, depending on the context in which it is placed. It has often bemused me that whenever I am conducting a seminar or teaching a class on missional paradigm, the first question I always get relates to ecclesiology. (…) I would declare: let us focus on a trinitarian, Christ-centered missiology and we can worry about our ecclesiology later.

Well, clearly, later is upon us. Stalling the conversation about a missional ecclesiology can’t go on continuously.’

Now this seems, to my mind, to be not only a matter of chronology. Time-wise it is impossible to postpone a part of this discussion while first carrying on another part to a consistent end.

Theologically it is not workable either. In christology we study with our hearts and minds what He is essentially. We call Him by His names and titles: Jesus, the Son, Christ (Messiah, Anointed One), King, Lord, Master, etcetera - but we cannot disconnect this from missiology. For missiology is not only what we need to do, but is what He is doing, the pathway He is following, revealing God in everything, but also taking us along in His mission. It is the missio Dei, the mission of God. Straight from the Fatherheart of God, it is carried out through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. It is taken up by the many sons and daughters, those whom He guides towards ‘glory’ (doxa), that means His self-revelation.

And here is the second important crux: you cannot separate the individuality of these sent ones (as they follow the Master, let’s call them disciples, shall we?) from the corporate perspective in the Body of Christ. Nor can you separate, of course, the Body of Christ from Christ Himself. In fact, without going in detail I would suggest that the Greek ho Christos in Ephesians means of course Christ, but sometimes cannot be distinguished from the Church (e.g. 4:13 &c).

So what’s the suggestion? That on the basis of christology we go directly both to missiology and ecclesiology, and that missiology informs ecclesiology, but also the other way around. And that both are recalibrated by a radical re-Jesus movement.

And why is this so important? Not only from a viewpoint of sheer theology, but also from a practical perspective. Indeed (as many authors, including Mike Breen and Alan Hirsch) have emphasized) you cannot start with a church and then take for granted that you’ll get disciples. But the reverse is true as well. Starting with missiology and trying to skip the questions how this works in the local church - well, this may bring us to some functioning discipelship, but not to a trinitarian, Christ-centered missiology, which IS the church.

I am curious to hear your response, and hope it will bring us to some fruitful elements of theology and indeed christopraxy, both in mission and in the Church.


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