Moltmann and the Missional Church

I’ve been preparing for next month’s Moltmann Conversation by reading The Church in the Power of the Spirit.  I read The Crucified God and The Trinity and the Kingdom in seminary, and posted some thought about them here, but given our current context with The Upper Room, I’m especially interested in Moltmann’s take on the nature of the Church.  Specifically for this post, I’m intrigued by a few insights he has into the missional nature of the church in The Church in the Power of the Spirit.

1) The Church is sent in mission because God is within Godself a sending God.  Not only did God the Father send the Son in the power of the Spirit into the world, but the Trinity has an inherently “sending” nature within Godself.  “The missio ad extra reveals the missio ad intra. The missio ad intra is the foundation for the missio ad extra” (p. 54).  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in love, and love necessarily must express itself.  Hence the mutual expression of love which the persons of the Trinity share for each other becomes the foundation for God’s expression of love to the world in the sending of the Son and in turn the foundation for the Church’s expression of God’s love for the world in mission.

2) The Church’s missional nature derives from eschatology.  Moltmann’s theology is done from the perspective of eschatology.  In light of Christ’s resurrection, he looks forward to the new creation of all things, and that hope becomes the foundation of other theological reflection.  Applied to the Church in mission, this means we look not just to the Cross and to Christ’s resurrection as the foundation of the Church; we look to the coming resurrection and new creation that will be the completion of Christ’s redemptive work as the future which determines the Church’s present.  “It is precisely for the sake of this futureof the immediate presence of God experienced by liberated and glorified man that the missionary movement must take the messianic Word to the ends of the earth and to the end of the world’s history of suffering,” (p. 85, italics added). 

3) The Church’s mission is inescapably political. While writing about the Church as the community of the crucified Christ, Moltmann writes, “As a crucifixion by the Romans, the death of Christ has an irrevocably political dimension” (pp. 89-90).  The Church in mission will be conformed to Christ’s sufferings, it will bear in its body the dying of Christ.  But that suffering does not take place in a political vacuum.  The martyrs of the Church are political martyrs, killed for refusing to submit to the lordship of Caesar.  Moltmann continues “Churches which forget the martyrs who were ‘political’ in this sense are in danger of adapting themselves to the political religion of the society to which they belong” (p. 91).  Applied to mission, this means that participating in Christ’s mission includes challenging political idolatry.  Thus one way in which Christ’s sufferings are manifest in the Church is the Church’s “public apostleship in public intervention on behalf of the lost and despised” (p. 93).

4) All who profess the lordship of Christ are called to participate in his mission.  Similar to Barth in IV.3.2 of Church Dogmatics, Moltmann argues that all who respond to the Gospel of Christ’s Kingdom are in turn called to be heralds of that Kingdom.  And the purpose of mission is not the building of the Church, but the proclamation of God’s reign and the coming Kingdom:  “As a call to freedom the gospel is an event of missionary calling.  Its aim is not to spread the Christian religion or to implant the church; it is to liberate the people for the exodus in the name of the coming kingdom” (p. 84).  Proclaiming the inbreaking of God’s future for the world, “all Christians share in the prophetic ministry of Christ and are witnesses of the gospel” (p. 85).

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