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Mission activists challenged to make a new community

Posted on: February 17, 2003 6:18 PM
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by Margaret S Larom

"Transformation and Tradition" is the theme of the Anglican Mission Organisations Conference under way in Cyprus, and some might think those terms, like change and continuity, are mutually exclusive. But a mission professor from South India used the Greek root word, "traditio," meaning to "hand over" or "hand on", to show that the dynamic essence of the word is essential to the transformative power of the Gospel. Think of the word "tradition" as a verb or process, he said - "traditioning" - rather than a noun.

More than 100 participants at the opening session on 12 February listened with appreciation to the Revd Dr Christopher Duraisingh, whose own missionary journey began with three years as a lay evangelist of the Indian Mission Society, subsequently included 10 years on the mission staff of the World Council of Churches, and now has him teaching at the Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts.

Using images of highway building, border crossing, and polyphonic speech, he challenged the international gathering to create a transformed community. He began by examining the word "traditio" as it connects with the story of Jesus.

Jesus was handed over to the soldiers, handed over to suffering and death. God handed over his own Son, Jesus Christ, to sinful humans. But in handing over, redemption happens. It is a continuing act of God, the gift of Christ for the redemption of the world.

In the Book of Acts, we see the disciples constantly handing over the Gospel, not guarding it possessively but letting it loose in the world. Jesus promised that transformation would be the result. Sharing the Gospel is a spontaneous activity in response to the Spirit, for the transformation of the world around us. "We're here to identify what sort of handing over leads to transformation and life, in all its abundance." Don't turn tradition into an object and forget its vitality, he warned. Don't imprison the Gospel.

"The world cries out for signposts that community is possible, across all divides," he declared. Citing the "lovely vision" in Isaiah 19 - "On that day there shall be a highway from Egypt to Assyria" (and later Jerusalem), he asked. "I wonder whether the transformation that God wills for us is highway-building! What would it be if people were drawn together, so they could walk back and forth in a transformed community of mercy, justice and peace?"

This can't happen unless, like Peter in the Book of Acts, we learn to cross borders and discover that God has no favourites. Mission activists come to see that a transformed community must be polyphonic and polychrome - like the women and men gathered for this mission conference. "What would it take for the Anglican Communion to genuinely speak multivocally, to be a sign and instrument of God's reign?" he asked. "How do we promote at this time a genuinely polycentric ecclesial communion that is a missionary movement?"

The missionary history is the story of the blossoming of the Gospel, in a thousand ways in all sorts of cultures and contexts. The de-centring process that leads to multicultural expressions can be a blessing, but also a bane (even a disaster), he said; a witness, or a betrayal. But, we can be charged with imprisoning or domesticating the Gospel if we are not enabling dialogue across cultures, he said. "Therefore, we need each other within the Communion for a decentred but committed relationship within which mutual challenge and enrichment of our faith, worship and missionary witness is promoted." Remember Max Warren's maxim, "It takes the whole world to know the whole Gospel."

For cross-cultural diffusion of Christian faith, for transformation in contemporary contexts, missionary movements are the conduit, he said. "When we travel, however, we tend to romanticize or demonise what we see - or I try to fit what you are saying into my grid, homogenize it and make it mine. That won't do! We must let each expression be, but dialogue within the community, to speak the splendid nature of the Gospel."

"No one place or culture can hold the Gospel or 'own' mission; different places become the heartlands and chief agents of mission at different times. We even speak of the 'post-Christian West' and 'post-Western Christianity.'"

The question is, he concluded, "Are those of us who are concerned about traditioning and transformation in mission within the Anglican Communion ready for the needed metanoia and kenosis?" The fifth World Conference on Faith and Order in 1993 in Santiago de Compostela, when faced with a similar challenge, pointed to steps along the way in these powerful words:

"As we strip ourselves of false securities, finding in God our true and only identity, daring to be open and vulnerable to each other [handing over if you will], we will begin to live as pilgrims on a journey, discovering the God of surprises who leads us into roads which we have not travelled, and we will find in each other true companions on the way."

"Are not the mission organisations called to be the signs and foretaste of God's intent, that people of diverse cultures and contexts be drawn into communion at God's table?" he concluded. "May God grant us the grace to "traditio" - hand over - the gospel in mission for the transformation of the world and the glory of the Triune God."