Missio dei

Missio Dei is a Latin theological term that can be translated as the "sending of God." is understood as being derived from the very nature of God. The missionary initiative comes from God alone.

In 1934, Karl Hartenstein, a German missiologist, coined the phrase in response to Karl Barth and his emphasis on actio Dei (Latin for “the action of God”).

When kept in the context of the Scriptures, "missio Dei" correctly emphasizes that God is the initiator of His mission to redeem through the Church a special people for Himself from all of the peoples ("τα εθνη") of the world. He sent His Son for this purpose and He sends the Church into the world with the message of the gospel for the same purpose. [Van Sanders, “The Mission of God and the Local Church,” in "Pursuing the Mission of God in Church Planting", ed. John M. Bailey, Alpharetta: North American Mission Board, 2006, 24.]

Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. "It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church." [Jurgen Moltmann, "The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology", London: SCM Press, 1977, 64] There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.The Church must not think its role is identical to the "missio Dei"; the Church is participating in the mission of God. The church's mission is a subset of a larger whole mission. That is, it is part of God's mission to the world and not the entirety of God's work in the world.

During the past half a century or so there has been a subtle but nevertheless decisive shift toward understanding mission as God’s mission. During preceding centuries mission was understood in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was interpreted primarily in soteriological terms: as saving individuals from eternal damnation. Or it was understood in cultural terms: as introducing people from East and the South to the blessings and privileges of the Christian West. Often it was perceived in ecclesiastical categories: as the expansion of the church (or of a specific denomination). Sometimes it was defined salvation-historically: as the process by which the world—evolutionary or by means of a cataclysmic event—would be transformed into the kingdom of God. In all these instances, and in various, frequently conflicting ways, the intrinsic interrelationship between christology, soteriology, and the doctrine of the Trinity, so important for the early church, was gradually displaced by one of several versions of the doctrine of grace …

Mission was understood as being derived from the very nature of God. It was thus put in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology or soteriology. The classical doctrine on the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit was expanded to include yet another “movement”: The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit sending the church into the world. As far as missionary thinking was concerned, this linking with the doctrine of the Trinity constituted an important innovation …

Our mission has not life of its own: only in the hands of the sending God can it truly be called mission. Not least since the missionary initiative comes from God alone … Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love. [David J. Bosch, "Transforming Mission", Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991, 389–390.]

The Scriptures teach that “the end result of such "missio Dei" is the glorification of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” [George W. Peters, "A Biblical Theology of Missions", Chicago: Moody Press, 1972, 9.]

Missio Dei as a term and concept became increasingly popular in the church from the second half of the 20th century and is a key concept in missiology being used by theologians such as David Bosch, Andrew Jones, Michael Frost and William Storrar.

References


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