Mission-Shaped Church: A Critical Commentary and Analysis

2.3 Perception

What limits our effective mission to the de-churched and the un-churched is the perception of those who look at us as we approach them with our Apostolic intentions. We are part of the establishment, we are in a state of civil war and internecine contempt over issues which a majority of our population regard as readily soluble and in spite of our sensitivity we are necessarily planning to be invasive. By contrast, in spite of its weaknesses, our society aspires to being democratic, inclusive and private.

The Report, mostly implicitly but occasionally explicitly, is very strongly aware of the establishment point and is consequently sensitive to the charge that planting is invasive. It is, necessarily, silent on the issue of the civil war within the Church but to ignore this as a factor is to be naive, not least because much of the planting activity, completed and proposed, is the responsibility of those who tend to combat inclusivity. As a fundamental of Christian mission, but also as a tactic of proven worth, the church would be better off if it were to highlight the love of Jesus for all His people rather than caricaturing His Church primarily as an organ of moral judgment in general but, overwhelmingly, of sexual morality in particular. Many of the communities which most require fresh expressions are held together against enormous odds by women who would hardly welcome the message, no matter how theologically dressed, that they are not eligible for leadership. As to the reception of the sexually moral message, for most of these people the subject is either indifferent or a matter of individual choice.

As a church which wishes to remain faithful to its Apostolic roots, we have to make a stark choice between presenting an authentic picture of Jesus which will win souls for Him or presenting a derivative ethical, sexually dominated, prescription and proscription. If we must give expression to our ethical bent then social justice would be a more appropriate subject than sexual mores. The roots of sexual behaviour, bound up as they are with the God-given imperatives of the need of humans both to love physically and to perpetuate their race (but not necessarily to achieve both ends simultaneously) are so complex and so dependent on motive rather than outcome, that this is dangerous ground for a Church brought into being to promote love and to reserve judgment to God. Social justice, on the other hand, is much easier to understand, to promote and to achieve and that enterprise is profoundly New Testament based.

It has often been remarked that although institutional Christianity is weakening, that spirituality is not. Further, that spirituality has a keen need to be corporate, as shown in the pathetic caricatures of worship such as the mourning for Princess Diana and the response to both worldly tragedies and sporting triumphs. In other words, people want what we have to offer but they may not want us. Most would find it very hard to refuse the offer of Jesus but His Church and its language, its class and its outlook, are alien.