Mission Bells at Mission San Juan Capistrano I took a break from writing about cultural relativism to read Ed Stetzer’s latest missional post, and recommend it as a good summary of part of the history of the meaning of missional. In this post, he discusses the IMC conference at Tambaram, which precedes the Missio Dei emphasis of the Willingen conference. He summarizes Tambaram’s emphasis that “church and mission are one”, but we note that it’s more important to understand how they are one, as it does make a difference. Tambaram focused on the “sentness” of the church. Tambaram’s focuses also included:

  • a shift from a focus on the atonement to a focus on the incarnation.
  • a renewed high view of scripture (based, partly, on Barth’s influence).
  • “Larger Evangelismâ€? became the focus of the mission. This was a compromise position between the evangelistic impulse of Edinborough and the more social gospel influence of the 1928 Jerusalem conference which had driven evangelicals away.
  • A focus upon the church as the hope of the world, if it would live, act, and be different for the gospel.
  • An assertion that indigenous expressions of church were needed and valued if the church was to be God’s missionary in every global context.

Tambaram was significant in that prior to this gathering in 1938, mission and church were essentially separate concerns — from there forward, they are linked. (Recall my quoting of Roland Allen last week.) Interesting to the subject of cultural relativity which I took a break from writing about Ed writes about indigenous churches in this post, linking them to “sending.”

This was really continued growth in the understanding of what it meant for a church to be truly indigenous. The language of the “indigenous church” became important here. A church had to be “rootedâ€? in its culture and context. (And, I actually quoted this in my first book, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age.) They wrote:

An indigenous church, young or old, in the East or in the West, is a church which, rooted in obedience to Christ, spontaneously uses forms of thought and modes of action natural and familiar in its own environment. Such a church arises in response to Christ’s own call. The younger churches will not be unmindful of the experiences and teachings which the older churches have recorded in their confessions and liturgy. But every younger church will seek further to bear witness to the same Gospel with new tongues. (From /International Missionary Council, “The Growing Church: The Madras Series,� Papers Based upon the Meeting of the International Missionary Council, at Tambaram, Madras, India, December 12–29, 1938. Vol. 2, (New York, International Missionary Council), 276.)

The significance of the shifts in focus brought about by Tambaram would be hard to overstate: The church was again recognized as the instrument of God’s missionary activity. But, this was an ecclesiocentric and mission focused approach, and was soon after criticized as such. Yet, it was still a missiologically informed and mission-focused emphasis.

Significant to my post on the missional definition earlier this week, Ed also quotes a paper by David Bundy which includes E. Stanley Jones’ criticism of Tambaram for connecting mission with the church rather than with the Kingdom of God.

I found it ironic that Francis Dubose chose the word “missional” over “missionary” (mission) largely because the latter was filled with baggage — yet we seem to have much the same baggage-laden situation developing now with “missional,” which is what has given rise to this recent concern to be more specific about the term, about which evangelical missiologist David Hesselgrave agrees with Ed Stetzer (and by extension, with me) about the necessity of describing this in more detail. Rooting his thoughts in a Tambaram concept, Dubose links missional with sending. (Ed provides links to Brad Brisco’s summary of Dubose’s God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest for Biblical Mission.)

I have commented only selectively (and out of order) on some of the points which Ed raises, and I recommend his post highly for its description of one aspect of the history of missional, the roots of the missiological concept of sending. The post also has passing reference to “Stephen Neill’s oft-quoted dictum, ‘When mission is everything, mission is nothing.'” which is an excellent observation to apply to the term missional, an application which I am feeling more and more necessary the deeper I delve into the subject.

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