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The following article appeared in Missionalia, the journal of the Southern African Missiological Society.

For more articles from Missionalia, see the articles index.

Willem Saayman1


A time to take stock


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It is more than thirty years ago that the Second Vatican Council stated that the Christian church is/should be missionary by its very nature. This was no revolutionary new insight: one can make out a good case that this is precisely the message of the New Testament. In Shenk's words (1999:7), "The God-given identity of the church thus arises from its mission. This order of priority is foundational... If Jesus had had no mission, he would have had no need to gather and commission a group of disciples to continue what he had started."2 Yet the very fact that the biggest Christian church found it necessary as late as the 1960s to emphasise this self-evident truth, indicates the unpleasant state of affairs that in reality, in our everyday experience of the church in the world, this is not a self-evident truth. Unfortunately the everyday reality is that the Christian church, in its local and regional expressions, is mostly introvert, obsessed by the difficulties of its continued institutional existence, more concerned with ecclesio- political issues than with the concerns of the world at large and its continued existence in eschatological well-being (cf. Shenk 1999:7f).

For a part of the twentieth century the debate on a missionary ecclesiology seemed to take priority in missiological discussions. Indeed, some observers characterised the first five decades of this century as the period when church and mission truly encountered each other, especially on the basis of the discussions at Tambaram in 1938. It was perhaps over-optimistic to characterise this as a period when church and mission really found each other. I think it is more appropriate to say that churches and mission societies moved closer together and faced the reality that they could not carry out their perceived missionary responsibility in isolation from each other. It was, however, still an intra-Western debate: how could Western "sending" churches and mission societies co-operate more effectively to carry out the "Great Commission?"

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War the situation changed somewhat. At the two post-World War II conferences of the IMC, the disillusioned churches of the West ("La France, pays de mission") and the newly self-confident colonial churches ("There goes Vasco da Gama" after Indian Independence) gathered at Whitby (1947) under the slogan "Partners(hip) in obedience," in which the relation between older and younger churches was central, while at Willingen in 1954 the concept of missio Dei, concentrating on the missionary existence of the Christian community, grabbed the headlines. Could a promising concentration on the birth of a missionary ecclesiology in both "older" and "younger" churches at last be discerned? Apparently not. The concerns of Cold War polarisation, with its many overt and covert pressures on the churches to conform to one or other political-economic system, and the debilitating ecumenical/evangelical polarisation of the First World (which often carried many overtones of the Cold War polarisation), consumed the energies which should have been directed at developing a truly missionary ecclesiology for "sending" as well as "receiving"


For a while the debate continued in a rather desultory fashion, producing concepts such as interdependence, reciprocity, and partnership. But in the 1970s the call for a moratorium on the sending of Western missionaries (originating in the Third World, especially Africa) had burst like an unexpected bombshell, and since then there has not been any significant new development in the debate on missionary ecclesiology, and, indeed, the debate has basically stalled. Personally I consider this to be a regrettable development, and am writing this article as a call to missiological colleagues to apply their minds seriously once again to this all-important topic. The reason why I consider this to be such an all-important topic is my conviction that we are at the threshold of an exciting new era of importance for mission/missiology, especially in the South or Third World (cf. Saayman 1998). Unless the impulses of this important new era are caught up in a total revision of what had hitherto been considered adequate structures for a missionary ecclesiology, we will be missing one of God's most important missionary kairoi.


An overview

In order to keep this article within manageable length, I will confine myself to the modern Western (Catholic and Protestant) missionary movement.4 I will also generalise and summarise drastically. Having conceded that, I wish to suggest that we can discern at least three clear eras in this history with reference to a missionary ecclesiology. By this I understand a church – any church – as missionary by its very nature and therefore missionary in all its structures, institutions and relationships.

The transplantation era

The first of these eras was characterised by the conviction that the historic churches of the West (First World) were indeed ecclesiastical institutions which could give adequate expression to the missionary nature of the church. They were already "mission churches," lacking nothing structurally except a "mission field," and the new mission challenges could therefore be adequately met through established structures. This (mainly European) church, confronted by the stupendous missionary challenges of the discovery of the sea routes to the East and the New World, seems to have been primarily bewildered and confused. Over-generalising very dangerously, it is possible to say that the Catholics reasoned that "anything went" in the mission fields, as long as episcopal/papal control and "mother Rome" were not compromised. For the Protestants, mission was a dangerous detour, detracting attention and resources from the more important responsibility of wrestling control of Europe from "popish hands." The attitude in quite a few mainline Protestant churches was expressed admirably by the response of the president of the Baptist Assembly to Carey's call for "using means" in the "conversion of the heathen" (and I paraphrase): "Sit down, young man; God can convert the heathen without your help or mine. In any case, we would first need a new Pentecostal miracle of tongues".

Despite the strong conviction in the "mother" or "sending" churches themselves that they were structurally and institutionally well prepared for the task, many members of both the Catholic mission orders and the Protestant mission societies, generally activists all, went to the "mission fields" with a great deal of skeptical disillusionment about the fitness of the institution church to be indeed a missionary institution. The Catholics had little choice: according to their reigning concept of the church at the time ("ubi Papa, ibi Ecclesia") all they could do on the "mission field" was to implant the one, universal, Catholic church where it did not yet exist. At that stage there was no room whatsoever for any missionary impulses to be transmitted back to the planting church, decisively influencing its understanding of a missionary ecclesiology.

The Protestant missionaries seemed to have more room to maneuver. Some of those who went on behalf of interdenominational Societies such as the London Mission Society, went with the clearly stated objective not to plant a certain church denomination, but to do nothing else than "proclaim the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus." In some instances their disillusionment with the sending church in Europe was so strong that, for example, German missionaries such as Gutmann in Tanzania and Keysser in Papua New Guinea expressly decided not to build a church resembling the sending (or "mother" church), as they considered that church culturally and institutionally incapable of carrying out Jesus' command to "go to all nations."

This era was therefore characterised by the search in (Protestant) mission societies and (Catholic) mission orders to construct on the "mission fields" a more or less alternative structure to the traditional "sending" churches, without unduly ruffling the feathers of those in ecclesiastical control "back home," and with little hope that this would influence the "sending" churches in the West to any remarkable degree in their essential nature.

The partnership era

Then the context changed dramatically. Later generations of Western missionaries had to deal with many different and totally unexpected phenomena: the striving of colonial peoples for liberation, much hastened by developments related to the Second World War. Suddenly concepts such as "mother" and "daughter" church, "sending" and "receiving" church, voluntarist mission societies, etc., no longer constituted the natural vocabulary to describe missionary ecclesiology. With the benefit of hindsight, one can perhaps say today that if First World missionaries had listened more carefully, they would have recognised much earlier the call from Third World churches for radical changes to church/mission relationships. One is reminded, for example, of Bishop S.V. Azariah's call at Edinburgh in 1910: "Give us friends!" In any case, experiences during the Second World War greatly emphasised the need for a radical rethinking of these relationships, as well as of ecclesiology, not only on the "mission fields", but also in the "sending churches."

One example which springs to mind is the experience of Dutch missionaries in Japanese concentration camps. One of the best missiological reflections on these experiences from a Western mission perspective, is that of the well-known Dutch missionary-missiologist, Verkuyl, himself a prisoner in such a camp (Verkuyl 1983). The first important point to raise on this period, says Verkuyl (:109), is that it signified the "dethronement" of Western power. If one keeps in mind Stephen Neill's well-informed observation (Neill 1964:245-250) that the modern mission movement was inspired to an important extent by the West's intoxicating discovery of its own power relative to the rest of the world, one can evaluate Verkuyl's point in perspective. In the past structures transplanted from the West (such as the church) had an automatic advantage over structures indigenous to the Third World. Now, in the light of the "dethronement" of the West, this automatic advantage fell away and suddenly many questions could come out in the open.

The long-overdue debate on the relations between churches in general and missionary ecclesiology in particular could now move into a new phase. This must not be taken to imply that there was a general awareness of the sea- change which had taken place. The painful history of the stressful relations between the Netherlands and its former colony, Indonesia, and the ecclesiological struggle which Verkuyl and other missionaries faced to bring changes to the relations between Dutch "mother" churches and their Indonesian "daughters" bear ample testimony to the fact that the West was slow to realise how radically the situation had been changed.

However, especially within the circles of the International Missionary Council (IMC), for example, there was indeed a new sensitivity, as evidenced in the Whitby slogan, "Partners(hip) in obedience," with which I would like to argue that the second era dawned. The inequality which had hitherto been openly pronounced or indirectly implied, had to make way for a new (theoretical) equality which implied that both "older" and "younger" churches or missions were equally in need of developing an adequate missionary ecclesiology. It was no longer automatically accepted that Western churches were already "mission churches," with an adequate missionary ecclesiology. The new equality between "older" and "younger" churches, between "sending"' and "receiving" churches, existed mainly on paper and in theory, though, as the inequality of especially economic power relations would not change overnight. No wonder, then, that a Third World delegate remarked that the Whitby slogan should be interpreted: "The partnership for you (Western churches); the obedience for us!"

Again, I do not wish to imply cynicism with regard to conference deliberations and recommendations; on the contrary, these deliberations and slogans not only embodied some of the best missiological reflection, they also often played a very important conscientising role. It would be difficult, for example, to overemphasise the importance of Mexico City's rallying cry, "Mission in six continents." Never again would it be possible for Western missionaries to pretend with impunity that they had the innate right to be "missionaries" in any Third World "mission field" they might choose.5

The development era

The 1960s turned out to be the "decade of Africa's first independence," a development which had significant influence on missionary ecclesiology – and here I think the third era dawned.. With development becoming the main catch phrase in social, political and economic matters, the church also jumped on the bandwagon. If a specific need had been identified in a Third World church, and brought to the attention of the ecumenical Christian community, should this need be dealt with under the rubric of "mission," or rather of "inter-church aid"? In some ways this development contributed to the ever-growing suspicion that mission ultimately was an anachronistic relic from the colonial past, something that could be laid to rest now that the real need (inter-church development aid) had been identified. There was, in other words, no pressing need for a missionary ecclesiology. There were scattered attempts by some missiologists to capture the impulses of this new era in a more encompassing missionary ecclesiology. The best example of this is, to my mind, the meticulous study report on reciprocal assistance of churches in mission perspective compiled by the Dutch Inter-university Institute for Missiology and Ecumenics (IIMO) between 1970 and 1976 (Jansen Schoonhoven 1977). This report seems partly to have inspired the development of concepts such as reciprocity, mutuality and interdependence in the debate on missionary ecclesiology during the late 1970s and early 1980s (cf. Bosch 1978; Ramseyer 1980) – where, to my mind, the debate is still stuck today.

A brief review of the debate thus far

It may be useful to attempt a very brief review of the debate thus far. I think it is correct to say that there was a greater interaction between church and mission in the first six decades of the twentieth century than in the whole of the nineteenth century, Western mission's "great century." I think it is also safe to say that this interaction took place because of the urgency of the ecclesiological problem in Christian mission. Unfortunately, I think that this problem is probably as urgent today as it had been in 1938 (when it was so trenchantly identified at Tambaram). Have we moved closer to a solution? It would be very arrogant to answer that question with a blunt No. Undoubtedly the application of some of the best missiological minds of this century, in forums provided by some outstanding missiological structures, has helped us make progress. Still, by and large, I think that the quest for an authentic missionary ecclesiology is no closer to a solution than forty years ago.

One of the main reasons for this state of affairs, in my opinion, is that the debate so far has been mainly a Western debate. This is not to say that there were no Third World participants in the debate, or even that their concerns were neglected. Much rather I want to say that the same general Western tendency was at work that Sugden (1996:149) points out at work in Bosch's Transforming mission: "...a pattern of the way in which the West gathers information, packages it, and reprocesses it as its own." In terms of my topic this implies that Third World participants did take part in the debate, and did state their concerns. However, Western church leaders and theologians often listened to their concerns, but responded to those concerns in a basically Western way, in such a way that the concerns of Western churches and mission organisations eventually again took priority. I would suggest that frustration with this very pervasive habit at least partly contributed to the one authentic African/Third World contribution to "grab the headlines" in the debate: the moratorium call.

This frustration was also rooted in the reality that slogans such as "partnership in obedience" and "mission as two-way traffic" did not find practical expression. The traditionally "Christian" continents retained an explicit or implicit sense of superiority throughout, and remained mainly "sending" continents, not necessarily because of the superiority of their mission witness, but because they were generally accepted to be "Christian" continents, and because of superior financial and training facilities. Despite promising theological debates, no qualitative change in the relationship between church and mission, between older and younger churches, followed. To put it in other words: it became clear, not only that the missionary ecclesiology of the "older" churches was inadequate for transplantation to the "younger" churches; it was even inadequate for facing new missionary challenges in the countries of the "older" churches themselves. And despite a few very good congresses, even with acknowledgement that the contemporary paradigm was inadequate, no superior missionary ecclesiology had developed. This seems to me where the debate got stuck, and that, to my African mind, is the main reason why this debate needs seriously to be revisited.


I think the first requirement for finding a way out of this obvious impasse, lies in a very typical call often raised by missionaries: a call to metanoia, a truly thoroughgoing repentance and conversion on both sides. I understand repen tance and conversion here in two ways: as a resolute turning-around, but also as a resolute change in mindset. This change in mindset I wish to describe specifically as a decolonisation of the mind (cf. Saayman 1991:96-103). What this should entail is that older and younger churches should see each other with new eyes and accept each other with new hearts. I realise that de/colonisation is a boring subject in many circles. Some readers may feel that I am flogging a dead horse. Please bear with me and accept my point of view, if only for argument's sake. I do not raise the topic of de/colonisation in an accusatory sense, in order to once again point ungrateful fingers at the West and Western churches. Western churches, mission organisations and Christians have a proud mission record in Africa.

It is impossible, however, for Africans to separate this history from its ambiguous entanglement with colonialism. The idea that there had been active and planned collusion in the process has been thoroughly debunked by scholars in various social science disciplines – and African theologians (like myself – cf. Saayman 1996 ) and church people are aware of that. The call for metanoia in the older churches is therefore meant as a call for them to hear the criticism of Western missionary ecclesiology (decisions about sending and support of missionaries, relations between older and younger churches, the influence of African theology in general and missionary ecclesiology in particular in the daily life and theological practice of Western churches themselves, etc.) in a new way.

Moratorium – decolonisation

The call for a moratorium, for example, was never meant to be an ungrateful denial of history, nor (heaven forbid!) a call to stop existing evangelistically – the African Christian community would be denying its very raison d' etre if it called for an end to evangelisation! Calls such as the call for moratorium express much rather the realisation that the older churches missed a golden opportunity to radically renew their own ecclesiology in the light of their mission experiences and history. It is an undeniable reality that throughout the epochal years of the "golden century" of Christian mission as well as during the years of Africa's independence, the ecclesiology in the older ("sending") churches remained largely immune to influences from the "mission fields."

The call to moratorium must therefore, in my opinion, be understood in the first instance in the sense which Burgess Carr (then General Secretary of the AACC) indicated: as a prophetic call (Carr 1975). The crux of Carr's argument was that church relations at the time served to mask "the essential inter-relation that binds both the dominated and the dominating in a vicious cycle of alienation. It further obscures the need of both to be liberated" (Carr 1974:65). African church leaders wished to say, therefore, that without moratorium as a process of liberation for both, the old pattern of sending/receiving, dominance/dependence, oppressor/oppressed, donor/recipient, would simply continue in new forms. And that would be bad not only for African churches, who generally were all too aware of their status as perpetual recipients, but also for the Western churches, who generally were not so aware that their (albeit unintended) status as perpetual donors enslaved them to the same extent that it enslaved younger churches. The call for moratorium was therefore a prophetic call as it was aimed at the liberation of both older and younger churches from their immature, unchristlike relationship. And I would argue that this was essentially a call for a new, interdependent and mature missionary ecclesiology for the world church.

Many younger churches are in equal need for decolonisation of the mind. Especially in Africa the exciting sense of self-confidence experienced in the 1960s and 70s has been severely dented by experiences of brutality, corruption, even genocide, visited by Africans on other Africans. In some cases African churches gave courageous witness against these abuses, but in too many cases there was a reverberating silence. As a result of the serious economic decline in Africa many churches are also worse off and often more dependent on assistance from the older churches than thirty years ago.

Interaction with AICs

Apart from this, the African church also suffers from a serious discrimination problem in its own ranks, in that for far too long members of the "mainline" or "mission" churches quietly or openly despised members of the African Initiated Churches (AICs)6 and ignored their vital contribution to African theology in general and missionary ecclesiology in particular. The vibrant evangelism and grappling with African cultural customs which generally characterise the AICs were therefore not allowed to interact with the serious theological, and especially ecclesiological, reflection taking place in theological faculties and seminaries dominated by "mainline" churches. According to a seasoned observer such as Daneel (1992), AICs are indeed structured as indigenous African mission institutions. If one keeps in mind that African "mainline" or "mission" churches generally follow Western ecclesiological structures rather faithfully, it becomes more obvious what damage has been done by the lack of serious interaction. The totally different ecclesiological structures and customs of especially Spirit- type AICs could have contributed much long ago through questioning the adequacy of traditional Western missionary ecclesiology in Africa.

Exporting Western polarisations

Radical metanoia is also necessary in terms of the tendency, especially strong in Western churches, to export their own theological polarisations to Africa, and, indeed, to turn Africa into a major theological battleground where Western battles are fought. It is not too much to say that especially the ecumenical/evangelical controversies have done, and continue to do, untold damage in the African Christian community in general, and in the development of an authentic African missionary ecclesiology in particular. This can be illustrated vividly with regard to the evangelistic and liberatory dimensions of Christian mission.7

The African church can be characterised as truly Evangelical in the sense in which the term was used before the ecumenical/evangelical polarisation narrowed the definition. This implies that the African church is at the same time joyously evangelistic and joyously socially involved. This is of course more or less impossible in terms of the Western ecumenical/evangelical polarisation – at least as it reveals itself in Africa. It seems to us as if a Western "ecumenical" finds it either impossible or at least very unsophisticated to rejoice in evangelistic success and evangelistic fervour. On the other hand, a Western "evangelical" seems to find it blasphemous, if not damnatory, to recognise the gospel imperative for social involvement, either as Christians or together with adherents of other faith or of no faith.

I know that these statements may be rejected as grossly generalising and universalising. Yet I can quote numerous examples from my own experience where Western missionaries stymied holistic efforts and campaigns by African Christians (at local and national level) because they were either "too narrowly evangelistic" or too overtly "political." My conviction was also strengthened by a remark made by a Western colleague when I addressed the missiological teaching faculty at a venerable (ecumenical) European university last year. On hearing me making the statement that the African church is both joyously evangelistic and joyously socially involved, he commented in his response, "I felt an involuntary shiver run down my spine when I heard you use those two terms together, especially linked to 'joy.' I cannot remember when we were last able to do that."

It would obviously be nonsensical to claim that this polarising tendency should be ascribed in its totality to the influence of Western missionaries and theologians. Eastern churches, for example, also know these polarisations. I have been arguing since the early nineties, though, that if this polarisation was no longer stoked from outside, especially by North American "free-lance" evangelists and missionaries, it would die a natural death in the African Christian community (Saayman 1990). The reason why I embroider on this issue is my conviction that an authentic African missionary ecclesiology can only be developed fully by leaving behind stale Western theological polarisations.

In looking for a way forward, we should also be looking back, outside of both the First and Third Worlds, to the Second World, to two very neglected mission traditions: that of the Eastern church, and that of Anabaptism.

Eucharist – recovering a liturgical missiology

One can characterise the ecclesiology of the Eastern church as eucharistic, considering the eucharist as the central motive, force and event in church life, and therefore regarding mission as the liturgy after the Liturgy (Saayman 1984:90-104; Bria 1980)8. In most (if not all) Third World countries, certainly in all African countries, symbol and ritual have always been the centrepiece of religio-cultural life. The kind of intellectual argumentation and eventually Enlightenment rationalism which characterised the Western church at least (for argument's sake) since Thomas Aquinas, are foreign to the everyday religious reality in Africa.

A liturgical9 emphasis in mission and ecclesiology can therefore be expected to carry more weight, as more and more researchers in Africa are indeed finding (cf. Karecki 1995:54-55). This is so, argues Karecki (:2) because "both liturgy and mission have the kingdom of God as their concern; both are epiphanies of God's presence... liturgy brings the church in regular contact with the very source of its life by celebrating through ritual the kerygma of faith. In this way the church is formed as a witness to the world." Unfortunately, this integral connection has been largely neglected, with missiologists tending to view liturgy as "cultic introversion," while liturgists (as well as systematic theologians and other theologians) often regard mission as little more than "extroverted activism" (:6). In (especially) Protestant circles there is therefore a sense of the liturgy being a "closed" event, even with "the right of admission reserved," where the established members of the church withdraw to celebrate their leitourgia in separation from the "world."

This becomes clear especially in, for example, the Reformed practice of the Lord's Supper (cf. Saayman 1985). I would argue that this fundamental misunderstanding has had detrimental effects on the development of an authentically African missionary ecclesiology – which may, in turn, be related to the growing effectiveness and popularity of AICs (cf. Daneel 1984). In this respect it is interesting to note the growing interest and involvement of Orthodox Churches in mission in Africa at present (cf. Hayes 1998). In any revisiting of the debate on missionary ecclesiology the ancient Eastern tradition, with its emphasis on being a missionary church in liturgical celebration in the midst of the world, as well as its present embodiment in Africa, will have to play an important role as a matter of priority.

"Lifestyle witness"

Interesting dimensions of the Anabaptist tradition have come to light since perestroika in Russia enabled the Free Churches to function more openly. This is true especially in the contribution made by the so-called "Baptomennonite churches" (Reimer 1992; Klassen 1998). These churches (together with all other Christian churches) were severely oppressed during the Soviet era, with no public witness, organised mission campaigns or theological education permitted (Klassen 1998). Yet they managed to survive and in some instances even to grow stronger. How was this possible? Klassen's contention is that this was possible because the Baptomennonite churches chose to fulfil their mission vocation through a "lifestyle witness" (1998 passim). This he links directly to the basic Anabaptist understanding of theology, and especially its willingness to explore new ways of being Christian in the world (:223). This is in line with the Anabaptist understanding of becoming a new creature through faith in Christ, being in a totally new relation not only to God, but also to all people and the whole of creation (Reimer 1996:110).10 As Anabaptists refused to recognise any distinction between salvation and discipleship (Klassen 1998:233-234), and as the community of faith exists solely for witness in the world, this was bound to have important implications for their ecclesiology. Every member is a witness, and the execution of the missionary witness of the Christian community cannot, indeed, may not be delegated to a special class of clergy or a special section of the church (:235).

The credibility of this lifestyle witness is grounded in a local congregation celebrating its faith in God in communal worship (:239). Indeed, according to Reimer (1996:125), Menno Simons himself taught that verbal proclamation should mainly take place in answer to questions put by people attracted by the witnessing lifestyle. The church is, indeed, missionary by its very nature and this is embodied in a truly missionary ecclesiology, where God's compassion is expressed both in soteriological and ecclesiological terms (Klassen 1998:239)11, in being rather than in doing (Reimer 1996:125). This emphasis on being the church in the world, on taking the real world totally seriously without capitulation or conformation, on insisting that an authentic alternative humanity is possible despite all evidence to the contrary, can be very helpful in structuring an authentic African missionary ecclesiology.


Another important issue I wish to address is that of suffocating clericalism. This is of course no new issue. In my view, the missiological problem around clericalism has been best stated by Roland Allen.12 The phenomenon of a church functioning mainly through the ministrations of a "class" of paid clergy is, as we know, one of the consequences of the so-called Constantinian dispensation. It is characteristic of this phenomenon that spreading the Christian faith is regarded as a responsibility which the Christian community can delegate to a specific group of privileged people. I think this has much to do with the fact that in many churches, especially in the First World, but not exclusively so, there is a very clear distance between "ordinary" church members and the mission of the church. I would go so far as to say that the institution of a paid clergy has contributed greatly to a parting of the ways between church and mission, and therefore contributes to our struggle to rediscover an authentic missionary ecclesiology. Roland Allen (quoted in H.B.J. Allen 1995:142) put the case with his usual brilliant clarity when he wrote,

The familiar custom of "one man, one parish" (Allen) has of course long ago been proved unworkable in the Third World, yet in our ecclesiological thinking that is still the usual point of departure. As Allen (:143) never tired of pointing out, we have to think of ministry (and mission, I would add) being given to the whole Christian community, not to a single man (nowadays, less regularly, a single woman). If the church is indeed "missionary by its very nature," then the call to mission comes with its very being, and is not something which can be obeyed only later when other, more urgent matters (one of which is the provision of a paid clergyman/woman) have been taken care of. The concept of a communal mission and ministry, as found in some Anabaptist churches, must be considered very urgently in both First and Third World churches.

Mutuality and interdependence

Finally: we need to develop the concepts of mutuality and interdependence missiologically in terms of our understanding of the structural relationship between mission and church. Since the start of the period under discussion in this article, mission and church were basically regarded as two separate structures which Christians had to link together in some way (is that not why we could so easily speak about "church and mission parting company," and later of "church and mission finding each other?"). The logical implication is that a "sending" church can in some way be left untouched in its very essence by its "mission."

This understanding has to do with what I would like to call a linear under standing of the progression from church to mission to church. Such a view may be based on a specific understanding of the well-known injunction of the risen Messiah to his disciples (Acts 1:8) to wait in Jerusalem for the anointing with the Spirit, after which they would become his witnesses in Jerusalem þ Judea þ Samaria þ the ends of the earth. This has been translated, for example in Southern African mission history, as a totally linear process in which the church in Europe sent missionaries to the Cape, from whence they penetrated further and further into the interior, eventually as far north as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi. The thinking as well as the process was strictly linear, always from here to there. In such an understanding the "sending" church acts only as starting point and provider of personnel and resources. The "sending" church in its essential nature, though, can be left totally untouched by the process.

A very limited understanding of mutuality and interdependence is possible in terms of such linear thinking – the kind Bosch brought to our attention (Bosch 1978). I would like to argue that an adequate missionary ecclesiology demands a rethinking of the concept of linear process in mission. I think the process and progress from church to mission to church should rather be seen as cyclical, and specifically as an ascending, never-ending spiral. From the very beginning, therefore, the progress is not in a straight line away from the "sending" church to some far-away unreached "mission field," but rather curving back to it throughout. If we stick to the injunction of Acts 1:8, I would argue that the movement is from Jerusalem to Judea and back to Jerusalem, to Samaria and back to Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth and back to Jerusalem, etc. Such an understanding, to my mind, better expresses the role of mutuality and interdependence as essential preconditions for the churches to carry out their missionary responsibility. This implies that the evangelisers must always be evangelised anew; to use a well-known metaphor: the missionary chickens must always come home to roost. Or, to change my metaphor: this is the essential "boomerang effect" of Christian mission.13 The "sending" church(es) can and may never be left unchanged by its mission, not if the church is truly missionary by its very nature.


Having rambled my way through quite a few centuries of Christian mission, I owe it to my readers to propose in more manageable form at least the outlines of what I consider to be an authentic missionary ecclesiology. I have decided to do this by listing what I view as some of the essential characteristics of such an ecclesiology, without any further debate. I am convinced that all these characteristics are sustained by my analysis above.

1. A truly missionary church is structured in such a way that every structure and relationship contributes to its living together as a community incarnating the good news of Jesus Christ demonstratively and attractively, so that it can witness freely, honestly and with integrity in response to the questions and challenges raised in everyday life both by its members and by people outside the faith community.

2. This attractive, witnessing lifestyle is in the first place nurtured by and expressed in the communal liturgical life, especially baptism and the eucharist.

3. The encompassing ministry of a truly missionary church is a calling in which every member of the community participates. The ordered14 ministry in such a church is embodied in a team of community members identified and nominated by the community itself, not on the basis of some isolated and individualistic "calling" claimed by any individual.

4. A truly missionary church lives in mutuality and interdependence with other missionary churches throughout the world. It is therefore a community continually sending out and receiving missionary impulses to and from "Jerusalem" as well as "the ends of the earth," simultaneously evangelising and being evangelised, healing and being healed, liberating and being liberated.


ALLEN, Roland. 1930. The case for voluntary clergy. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode.

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1 Willem Saayman, an emeritus professor of missiology, taught at the University of South Africa (Unisa) from 1978 to 1998 and was the head of Unisa's Department of Missiology from 1992 to 1998.

2 In this article I do not argue the point that the church is missionary by its very nature. I simply work on the assumption that it is so. My interest is to analyse missio-ecclesiological structures and practices (which I call missionary ecclesiology) that enhance or obscure this reality. I consider it necessary, however, to state that my assumption is based mainly in the tenets of the (Dutch) Theology of the Apostolate, and more specifically in the works of Kraemer, Van Ruler and Hoekendijk. A brief but very honest summary of their thinking in this regard can be found in Kampen 1954:98--117. For more recent bases for my assumption, I wish to refer to Bosch (1991:372f) and Legrand (1990 91-106).

3 It is enlightening to note Wilbert Shenk's evaluation (1999:20) of the kind of dualisms in the church which culminated in the ecumenical/evangelical controversy: 'In spite of the fact that this is a non- issue on biblical, theological, historical, and practical grounds, it has been the center of intense debate in the present century.'

4 This limitation should not be interpreted as a denial of the important missiological contribution of Orthodoxy. I have elsewhere (Saayman 1984) analysed this important contribution, and will indeed in my conclusions indicate important corrections to both Catholic and Protestant thinking originating in Orthodox missiology.

5 Of course, many still did and do so in actual fact, working on the blithe assumption that where they go and what they do concerns only them and God. All Third World Christians had to do, was to bow in gratitude. I am stating, instead, that the self--evident theological justification for mission as one-way traffic had been destroyed forever.

6 I do not enter the whole debate about the Christian authenticity of this wide array of churches and religious movements. In general I follow Anderson (1992) and Daneel (1987) in their descriptions and typologies. My unspecified reference to AICs must therefore not be understood as an acceptance of anything and everything which is practised in AICs.

7 I have worked out my understanding of Christian mission in terms of integral dimensions of evangelisation, healing, and liberation in Saayman 1991.

8 The Roman Catholic Church also has a strong liturgical tradition, but for various reasons I would not categorise their tradition as eucharistic, at least not to the same extent as the Orthodox tradition. As this is not germane to my point here, I will not argue this further.

9 I mainly follow Karecki (1995:1-2) in her definition of liturgy as 'the public worship of the church.... Liturgy is ritualised, symbolic action which is done by the whole body of Christ, Head and members....It does not include scripture sharing sessions or other prayer services which do not follow a liturgical rite.'-

10 My brief references here are not meant to provide a fully-fledged Anabaptist mission theology. I am dealing only with ecclesiological issues as they seem to impact on my topic of mission ecclesiology. For a fuller discussion of Anabaptist theology and missiology in general, see e.g. Klassen (1998), Reimer (1996), Kasdorf (1991).

11 It must be noted that in choosing for a 'lifestyle witness,' the Baptomennonite churches did not choose for passivism. Neither can the ground for their choice be found in a dualistic view of world and church. They chose to be witnesses in the real world although they considered themselves not to be part of the world, a choice which often led to much suffering exactly because they chose not to sit passively by (cf. Klassen 1998). A dualistic view of church and world, on the other hand, issues in a withdrawal from the world which leaves the world fundamentally unchallenged.

12 For brevity's sake, and because Allen's work is so widely known, I refer here only to his biography, written by his grandson, Hubert Allen (1995). The book in which Roland Allen himself most trenchantly addressed the problems around the clergy, is Roland Allen (1930).

13 I have worked out my understanding of mutuality and interdependence in terms of a 'boomerang effect' in Saayman 1997.

14 I use this term in preference to the more customary ordained ministry. I first came across this term through contact with the United Church of Canada, where it is the established term. I prefer it because it seems to me that the terms 'ordained' and 'ordination' have developed what can perhaps be termed sacralistic implications among 'lay' Christians, which impact negatively on the church 'being missionary in its very nature.'

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