All posts by Mark Oxbrow

Searching for Mystery in the Mission of God

A review of The Mission of the Church: Five views in conversation edited by Craig Ott                  (Published by Baker Academic 2016)

MOTCIn the style and tradition of “Three views of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism” edited by Brad Nasif et al., Craig Ott has now brought together five significant missiologists from major Christian traditions to reflect on the Mission of the Church.

This fascinating volume invites the five authors to first state there understanding of the Mission of God and then to respond to their fellow authors. The book has its weaknesses but contains much to stimulate debate and set an agenda for further inter-confessional enrichment. The two major drawbacks of this collection of essays are firstly, as Ott admits in his introduction, that of the five chosen authors four are North American men, and secondly that the Orthodox input is limited to a contribution from an Eastern Orthodox Church in North America with no voice from Eastern Europe or the Oriental Orthodox Churches. That said the five authors do bring to the table Roman Catholic, Conciliar, Evangelical and Orthodox perspectives. They are Stephen Bevans, Darrell Guder, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Edward Rommen and Ed Stetzer.

The focus of the debate is clearly missiological but this inevitable leads into an exploration of soteriology, Christology and eccleciology. All authors are agreed that there has been, over the past fifty years, a very significant convergence between their traditions which has placed both Trinitarian theology and the Missio Dei centre stage. Related agreements around the primacy of the church in mission, apostalicity as its primary characteristic in mission and the missional significance of (Eucharistic) community are also very much in evidence and are explored at some depth.

When it comes to embracing the holistic nature of mission there is often a greater sense of agreement between our Roman Catholic, Conciliar and Latino conversation partners than between the two evangelicals with Stetzer still wishing to retain an element of ‘priority’ for the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. Ion Bria’s language of “the liturgy after the liturgy” as an expression of a commitment to ensuring that our mystical union with Christ embraces the broken world with healing and reconciling life, is not only used by Rommen.

The area of greatest difficulty appears to be ecclesiology, something we have experienced during several of the LOI consultations. What, or who, constitutes the church and how; the relationship between the church and the Kingdom (or reign) of God; and the relationship between church and mission are all warmly, if not hotly, contested. Rommen in particular adopts a rigorous approach to apostalicity which, he maintains, can one be achieved through verified apostolic succession. He suggests that only such apostolic churches have the capacity (and ecclesial authority) to engage in mission. He asks of all mission movements “are [your] staff members legitimate successors of the apostles or simply hired help?” It is interesting that none of his conversation partners directly challenge this point or offer alternative approached to legitimate apostalicity.

Finally, my greatest disappointment was that what I had expected to be the Orthodox gift to this debate is in fact missing. There is none of that rich vein of apophatic faith which helps us grasp, or rather be grasped by, the mystery of the mission of God – the unknowability of the working of God’s Spirit amongst his people. Perhaps the North America bias of this volume has led to a rationalistic debate that robs us of the wonder of knowing that the God who is eternally in mission is also eternally a God of surprises, of paradox and of mystery. It is this that, for me, makes that divine-human relationship, which as Rommen so powerfully reminds us is both the fulfilment and content of mission, so intoxicating impossible to resist.

Mark Oxbrow  (International Director, Faith2Share)

Statement of Intent from LOI Regional Consultation in Ethiopia

loi-2016-ethiopia-group-picture-2The LOI Regional Consultation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia concluded today by issuing the following Statement of Intent.

Download PDF version here

Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative Regional Consultation, Addis Ababa

11-14 October 2016 (1-4 Tikemt 2009)

Statement of Intent

Sixty Orthodox and Evangelical Church leaders, theologians and mission workers gathered in Addis Ababa for a Regional Consultation at the invitation of Ethiopian leaders from both traditions. Over four days, we prayed, discussed, studied and shared meals together and were graciously received during our visit to the Ethiopian Patriarchate. Over half those present came from Ethiopia, with further regional representation from Egypt, Eritrea, India and Kenya. Many Orthodox participants came from the Oriental family of Churches, and were joined by participants from the Eastern Orthodox family of Churches. Evangelical participants came from the Mekane Yesus Church, the Kale Heywet Church, the Meserete Kristos Church, the Mulu Wongel Church and the Anglican Church of Ethiopia, as well as Anglicans, Baptists, Independent Evangelicals, Methodists and Presbyterians from other parts of the region and the world.

 We wish to express our gratitude to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Evangelical Churches of Ethiopia for hosting our gathering. At the opening session we were encouraged by an inspiring message of greeting from His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, and members of the Steering Committee were warmly received by His Holiness, who encouraged them to continue the work of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative (LOI).

From a shared commitment to the historic Christian Faith, we discussed the themes of witness, peace and unity, and explored how we could address these topics together. Among other aspects, we also considered how to better understand and relate to brothers and sisters of other religious traditions in the region, as demonstrated by the work of the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia.

Our time together reinforced our desire to co-ordinate our activities and co-operate with one another in a deeper way, and we wish to renew our commitment to doing so as Evangelical and Orthodox Christians. The Churches in Ethiopia look forward to continuing to work together in this way.

As participants in this historic gathering, and in response to the evident moving of the Holy Spirit amongst us, we go forward from this consultation with a clear commitment to pray for, encourage and empower a deeper fellowship in mission between our respective traditions.

To fulfil this commitment we will endeavour, in the strength of the Holy Trinity, to:

  • bear witness daily, in word and deed, to the reconciling love of the Gospel;
  • be patient, forgiving, generous and humble towards one another as we struggle with theological, cultural, historical and personal differences that divide us, as well as the historical context of our relationships, always seeking the mercy of God;
  • foster continuing engagement between our traditions within the whole region of the Horn of Africa, as in other regions, for the sake of the Kingdom of God – using, where appropriate, the insights, resources and experience of the LOI;
  • support those in Ethiopia whose vision is to explore and express more deeply our respective, and joint, participation in the Mission of God for the sake of His glory in this land;
  • encourage the “formation of mission-minded leaders” within our respective traditions, and hold in prayer the 2017 LOI consultation on this theme.

In making this commitment we, as participants in this consultation and members of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative, draw strength from the prayer of our Lord that we might “be one” in life and in witness, in the spirit of John 17. We draw hope from the experience of divine grace which we have enjoyed together this week in the fellowship of the saints of all ages.

Addis Ababa

14 October 2016

4 Tikemt 2009 (by Ethiopian calendar)

Prayer for the Care of Creation

Annesley Aug 2015 (13)Thursday 1 September is the Global Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation when Orthodox, Evangelical, Catholic and other Christian communities around the world come together to pray for God’s good earth and our responsible use of His gift to us.

Please see the background to this day and resources for prayer here and spend a few moments with us in prayer.

LOI heads for Ethiopia

Picture2Having already hosted three successful international consultations in 2013 (Albania), 2014 (Albania) and 2015 (Finland), this year the LOI are taking a new step as we plan our first regional consultation. This will enable us to work on Orthodox-Evangelical relationships in a more contextual way and to build relationships ‘on the ground’ which can then continue afterwards as working partnerships for the mission of the Church.

The first regional consultation will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 11-14 October 2016 serving the nations of East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Although the majority of the participants will be evangelical and Orthodox leaders from within this region there will also be a number coming from India as well as from Europe and North America. The gathering will be hosted by His Holiness Patriarch Mathias and leaders of the evangelical community in Ethiopia.  During the consultation participants will deal with the challenging issues of peace building, relationships between different faith communities and the building of unity within the Body of Christ.

There are now 250 leaders worldwide, from Orthodox and evangelical communities, who have been part of the LOI journey in one way or another. Sadly it was impossible to invite everyone to Ethiopia this year but we hope to engage with a different group next year (2017) when we will meet in the UK to consider the formation and training of missional leaders for our churches.  There is also a possibility of a fourth international consultation in 2018.

 

Orthodox Africa – A review article

We are pleased to be able to publish the following short review of In Africa: Orthodox Christian Witness and Service by HE Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos of Albania who was the host of the first two LOI international consultations and continues to encourage us in our work together.

In_Africa046_grande“My sisters and brothers, on behalf of the people and the Church to which I belong and which was founded by the Apostle Paul, I would like to ask your forgiveness for arriving so late, with a delay of centuries.” These words, spoken by a Greek Orthodox bishop in a “shed” church at Ol-Moran in the highlands of Kenya in 1987 set the missional context for a pioneering life of church planting and sustaining – a life readily and sacrificially adopted by Archbishop Anastasios and held out, by him, to others as the clear calling of the gospel.

This book brings together within its 400 pages an amazing variety of material which reflect the polyglot lifestyle of this academic turned missionary bishop. Not once, but twice, in his long career has Archbishop Anastasios set out on a pioneering missionary journey – once in Africa to rescue an embryonic Orthodox community from schism and decline and then again to Albania to witness the ‘resurrection’ of a Church once dead under communism. This book tells only the first of these stories, but probably the least well known. The story is told partly in the words of Archbishop Anastasios himself and partly through published reports of his work in Africa. There are deep insights into anthropology, traditional religion, missiology and mission praxis, all set in a wonderfully gripping narrative. We travel on potholed roads, feel the ravishing humidity, and listen to the wonderful African chant. They we find a bishop exhausted by constant ordinations, liturgy, confessions and meetings, sometimes beset by illness (which once forced his return to Athens), then almost blinded in a car accident – but always rejoicing in His Lord and feeding hungrily on scripture.

Internationally known as the foremost advocate of Orthodox mission during the second half of the twentieth century, Archbishop Athanasios is sometimes forgotten as an academic. The depth of his academic work is readily revealed by two early chapters on ‘African Religions’ and ‘Types of Sacred African Kingdoms’ whilst his sensitivity to the issues of discipleship and church growth are revealed by the earlier chapters on the founding of Orthodox communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

I reviewed this book as a Protestant and sometimes found Archbishop Anastasios’ critique of other denominations, and their mission, in Africa rather harsh, if not, at least to a degree, deserved. In one passage, reprinted from a 1987 report in Panta ta Ethne, he writes, “African Orthodoxy … is called to convey to Africa the entire experience and tradition of the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church” of twenty centuries. It must do this so that this continent will no longer be tormented by the confessional divisions transmitted there by the various Western missions, transplanting onto Africa soil the theological conflicts and national-social wilfulness of Western Europe during the last five centuries.”  His lifelong commitment to building positive relationships with other Christian traditions and his work with the WCC and its Conference for World Mission and Evangelism however suggest that Archbishop Anastasios’ main concern in this passage is with division and divisiveness not with opposing other denominations.

At least half of the text comprises a gripping tale of travels in Eastern Africa with an exhausting tally of deacons and priests ordained, churches built, monastic communities established, schools started and funds raised for salaries, cars, roofing tin, and much more. One would be tempted to skips some of these passages if it were not for the fact that they are woven through with wonderful spiritual insights. One of my favourites comes the 1987 report of a visit to Nyeri in Central Kenya where Archbishop Anastasios writes, “It is in the grace of repentance that good decisions are reinforced and vocations for commitment to the Church mature”. Worth stopping to think about!

In place of an epilogue we find five very short documents which wonderfully sum up this African chapter of the Archbishop’s life and allow him to challenge the whole Church to the mission which is its very essence. The book closes, in the last of these five documents, with a reminder to “pious Orthodox Christian” [ and I would add, all those who follow Jesus Christ ] that they “cannot enjoy either material or spiritual goods alone, in the closed circle of their race” and to warn them “that they are beginning to lose many of the spiritual attributes precisely because they did not care – as much as they should have – to pass these on to others, to the most deprived.”

For anyone wanting to understand what drives an Orthodox Christian into a truly missional and pioneering life in Christ this is a ‘must read’.

S Kurt Andrewson

 

Mission textbook launched

CWMEMetropolitan Geevarghese Coorilos (pictured second from right), who is a regular supporter of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative and will participate in the next regional consultation in Ethiopia, took part last week in the launch of a new ecumenical textbook on mission. The launch was part of the Central Committee meeting of the World Council of Churches in Norway.

Ecumenical Missiology: Changing Landscapes and New Conceptions of Mission, which is designed for use in theological seminaries, claims to be the first to offer a comprehensive overview of church mission work since the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1910.

The Orthodox lay theologian, Kyriaki Avtzi, who is responsible for the WCC programme on evangelism and edited chapters on issues such as proselytism, evangelism in multi-faith contexts and the intersection between gospel and culture said, “The question before us on these issues is how to highlight the good news of the Gospel for today? What does this imply?”  She went on to suggest that discipleship is emerging as an important lens for conceiving evangelism in contemporary missiology saying, “We still are unpacking what discipleship means in evangelism where lay people are often dominant”.

Ecumenical Missiology: Changing Landscapes and New Conceptions of Mission is jointly published by Regnum Press and the WCC. 

Mission – On the agenda for the Great and Holy Synod

?????As the long anticipated pan-Orthodox Great and Holy Synod approaches discussion is building up around the draft documents which have been issued on the six key areas of discussion. It has been agreed that participants will focus their deliberations on:

  • The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World
  • The Orthodox Diaspora
  • Autonomy and the means by which it is proclaimed
  • The sacrament of marriage and its impediments
  • The importance of fasting and its observance today
  • Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world

With its focus on the Mission of God, LOI is particularly interested in the first of these. The full text of the draft document on The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World is available here in English, French and Russian.

To access the full set of papers in five different languages go to the Ecumenical patriarchate website.

Reading the Bible in Ethiopia

K-S AnAs the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative prepares for its next major consultation in Addis Ababa this coming October we recommend a very interesting book on the contextual reading and understanding of the Bible.

In An Ethiopian Reading of the Bible: Biblical Interpretation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church Dr. Keon-Sang An argues that all interpretations of the biblical text are both contextual and theological. Despite the claims of the exponents of historical criticism to be ‘uninterested’ or objective analysts of historical documents, An claims that it is impossible to read any text outside of a particular context and that no one can approach a religious text without their own theological presuppositions coming into play.  In fact he goes on to say that the only faithful and practical way to approach scripture is theologically, in context, and with an expectation that it will inform religious practice and daily life.

Taking the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church and its interpretative traditions of almost two millennia as his example An demonstrated both the strengths and the weaknesses of an interpretive tradition so heavy influenced by tradition and a particular, sometimes restricted, theological viewpoint. He ends his fascinating exploration with the real hope that a new openness within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church to the wider global community of Christians, not least those of a different tradition within Ethiopia, will not only help that Church to extend its biblical interpretation to new contemporary life issues but also enable other churches, often entrapped by Enlightenment historical critical approaches, to embrace a more theological and contextualised approach to the interpretation of scripture.

This mutual learning from scripture and our respective interpretive traditions is exactly what the LOI is seeking to foster as together we receive the Holy Scriptures as a gift which makes sense of our contemporary world.

LOI co-chair receives Cross of Nails

10 Presentation of Cross of NailsBishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, who is one of the co-chairs of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative (LOI) was given the prestigious Coventry Cross of Nails at Coventry Cathedral, UK, during the Easter Sunday service last month.

 

The Coventry Cross of Nails is recognised throughout the world as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. Although it has been awarded to hundreds of charities and organisations over many years, it is only rarely presented to individuals.  It is identical to the cross regularly worn by the Bishop of Coventry, the Dean and Canons of Coventry Cathedral, the Bishop of Warwick and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The gift of this cross is in recognition of Bishop Angaelos’ extensive advocacy work and his particular focus on dialogue, conflict-resolution, and reconciliation.

The Rt Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, said:

‘It will be a great joy to welcome Bishop Angaelos to Coventry Cathedral as our Easter Day preacher. I’m thrilled that he will become a bearer of the Coventry Cross of Nails. I know that the Coventry story means a great deal to Bishop Angaelos and I am sure that it will be an aid to his own remarkable efforts to speak words of speak and to encourage words of reconciliation in a world of violence where the innocent, including vulnerable minorities, are victims of terrible cruelty’.

Russian Orthodox mission work continues in the Philippines

timthumbAs the Russian Orthodox Church continues to develop its mission work and the establishment of the Orthodox Church in the Philippines, a meeting of those involved was held in Moscow on 24 March 2016. The working group for organizing, coordinating and supporting the Russian Orthodox Church’s missionary work in the Philippines met for its second session at the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations (DECR). The working group has been established by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. A full report can be seen here.