mission shaped church
those to whom it is sent, and to exemplify the way of life to which those
who repent turn. Otherwise its call to repentance is reduced to detached
incarnation and cross a missionary exchange
St Paul describes Christ's work in terms of an `exchange'.
summarized by Irenaeus as `Christ became what we are in order that we
might become what he is'.
Paul uses this same pattern for his own work
of mission. He becomes what those he seeks to evangelize are, so that
they can share in the salvation he has found. Here, incarnation and cross
combine to provide a model for the practice of mission and the planting
of the Church.
The incarnation involves an exchange, the dignity and power of which
it is humanly impossible to grasp, only faith can give us a tiny glimpse
of its reality: God becomes one of us, even to the extent that he
accepts suffering and death . . . This exchange is relived every time
there is an act of inculturation. God in Christ enters more fully into our
human condition; we share more fully in his life. We die in Christ to
that which is sinful and we rise to a creative newness in human
relationships through the transforming power of Christ.
The concept of `incarnation' has tended to be used by Western Anglicans
to emphasize only one part of the dynamic of the Son's Incarnation. Usage
is mainly concerned with a vulnerable identification with others, being
accessible to them and accepting them. There is far less emphasis placed
on the radical cost to the Son.
This process of God's self sacrifice was a subject of early Christian worship,
celebrated in Philippians 2. Here, the eternal Son, who willingly takes
the form of a dying crucified servant, is both a subject of praise and is
commended as a pattern for relationships. While St Paul is primarily
speaking of relationships within the Church, the principle must extend
to that between the Church and the world beyond, for that is precisely the
relationship for which the Son took flesh. St John tells of the risen Jesus
commissioning his apostles, `As the Father has sent me, so I send you.'
This is also made explicit in 1 Corinthians 9.19ff. Here Paul uses the same
doulos word used in Philippians 2 to refer to his own practice as a
missionary. There is a real parallel in both the style of the passage and the
patterning of his own behaviour as a missionary after that of Christ.
gives up his freedom as Christ gave up his glory, in order to win people.
The practical result is the entering of another culture.