In a recent post, Scott McKnight sketched an outline of a lecture he gave on the Mission of God. I appreciated his attention to missional identity being rooted in the Trinity and in God’s sending. It’s a good foundation for understanding the grounding of our inclusion in God’s mission. From this foundation, Scott transitions to consider how to identify a missional Christian. It’s to these reflections on what it looks like to be a missional Christian that I have been reflecting this week. In all fairness to Scott, I have not heard the lecture nor is this post the only thing he has every written on being missional. Yet, what struck me about Scott’s sketch of God’s mission was what appears to be left out of his caricature of a missional Christian.
Scott focuses on the missional identity of individual Christians – how do you tell if an individual Christian is missional? – but his response leaves out any mention of the Church, the communion of God’s people. After reading his post, I have found myself wondering if it is possible to be missional without being engaged with some tangible expression of God’s people. From Scott’s sketch it would appear that a Christian can be missional without relating to other Christians. I would contend that an aspect, perhaps even a central aspect, of God’s mission is the formation of a new people (not simply new individuals) who together embody the Good News of God’s mission to reconcile all things to himself in Christ Jesus. While the other aspects of remaining within God’s mission that Scott writes about are important, they cannot be detached from the tangible context of being formed as Christ’s body.
Our communal life together is not merely incidental, tangential, or optional to God’s mission; the formation of a new people who in their communion with each other embody God’s mission is absolutely essential to the reconciliation that God is bringing about through Jesus Christ and the Spirit. How else do we understand all the commands given to love one another (think John 13:34-35, 1 John 4, or 1 Corinthians 13 for starters)? How do we comprehend the emphasis on forgiveness in Matthew unless it is to embody God’s character within a community of people? How do we relate the juxtaposition of the personal reconciliation with God expressed Ephesians 2:1-10 with the formation of a new people in 2:11 and following? To be reconciled with God is to be drawn into the body of Christ, God’s people, who will together embody God’s character in their relationships with each other and the world around them. We cannot separate personal participation within God’s mission from our engagement in the communal embodiment of that mission among God’s people anymore than we can separate the first two commands – love God and love our neighbors. Our personal engagement within God’s mission cannot be separated from our communal embodiment of God’s mission with others who are also being narrated into God’s story. There are no individual missional Christians.
In reflecting on this idea of communal missional identity this week, I’ve been drawn again toward Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and toward those who are engaging within some of the new monastic movements (the Simple Way and newmonastism.org come to mind). They have something to teach us about the essential communal nature of being God’s missional people.