Sunday, May 28, 2006

Missional – is orthodox Liturgy intended to be “missional”?

Reflections from The Revd Dr Peter Toon

The word “missional” is much used by some persons within the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) and in other Anglican congregations of an evangelistic and charismatic ethos. These persons are to be commended in that they wish to obey the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ (as stated in Matthew 28: 16-20). However, they may be using a word in a too restrictive way! Please read on.

My Concise Oxford Dictionary certainly has the noun “mission” but not the word “missional” and so I have to guess what it means from the contexts in which it is used. (My spell-checker in the Word program also does not recognize “missional”.)

I take “mission” as used in the AMiA to mean “the vocation of a religious organization to spread its faith [the Christian Faith]”. Thus “missional” means to be turned towards, to be committed to, to be active and engaged in this vocation.

So when it is said, for example, within the AMiA that “the services in the classic editions of the authentic Book of Common Prayer [e.g., of 1662, 1928, 1962] are not missional,” the meaning here, as I understand it, is this: that they are not services which by their design and content are intended to be used [or are not suitable to be used] for what is called today evangelization or evangelistic mission. That is, for the initial proclamation of the Gospel to the atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, seeker after spirituality, devotee of eastern meditation, lapsed Catholic or Baptist, and the like.

Let us be very clear. By its very nature – whether it be from the sixteenth or the twentieth century – a “Book of Common Prayer” is a Book of Services which the people of God are to use when they meet together for Daily Worship (the Morning and Evening Offices), for weekly Eucharist (the Lord’s people at the Lord’s Table on the Lord’s Day), and for such events as Holy Baptism and Christian Burial. It is a Christian Prayer Book and all its prayers and all its materials presuppose that those who are using it are either baptized, communicant members, or are on their way to being so. It is not a book for the world but a book of and for the Church of God. It is a book for “insiders” not for “outsiders” although the latter are encouraged to look at it as often as they wish, even as they are also invited to read a good translation of the Holy Bible.

Thus its services are not intended to be evangelistic, proclaiming the Gospel of God the Father concerning His Son, Jesus Christ, to those who are outside the membership of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, be they Jews, Muslims or pagans. Rather they are the means used by those who have already embraced the Gospel and are maturing in the Faith.

To say this is not to say that the services of Morning and Evening Prayer cannot be adapted and made the basis for a service in which church members invite friends, neighbors and family members to come and experience an act of worship and to hear at its end an evangelistic sermon. (I myself have taken part in many such services when in the Church of England Ministry working in parishes and college chapels.) Also to say the above is not to say that we should not devise special forms of service for evangelistic use outside the normal services of the people of God. This has been done often especially in parish missions, and outreach programs, so-called.

The substantial point I am making is that generally speaking the Services in The Book of Common Prayer are for the people of God and their purpose is twofold –

(a) to provide the means whereby they can worship the LORD, the Holy Trinity, in spirit and in truth and in the beauty of holiness. To adore and worship God is the highest and purest vocation of man, and this vocation precedes the vocation to engage in mission. And to do this in mutual koinonia is a taste of heaven on earth;

(b) to provide the means of edification, for maturing in the knowledge and service of God. Services that are well constructed and contain godly doctrine (as those in the classic BCP) build up the people of God for their service of God in his Church and world and send them forth as pilgrims and sojourners on their way to heaven.

The people of God are to go out from these services as the “sent” people of God, sent by the Lord Christ empowered by His Spirit in “mission.”

Now “mission” as used in sacred Tradition, solidly based upon the Bible, is a very large concept. Doctors of the Church have spoken of the Missio Dei. By this phrase they mean the Mission which begins within the inner life of the Blessed Trinity and leads to and involves the Mission of the Son, descending from glory to this earth, becoming Incarnate by taking our human nature and making it his own, and his work of revelation, salvation and redemption in this world. Into this massive and glorious mission the Church is called as “a co-worker together with God” as it is indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit; but it is always first and foremost the Mission of the Holy Trinity by whom the elect are being saved, sanctified and glorified and also by whom the whole cosmos is to be transfigured and regenerated.

In this theological and broad Biblical sense – and not in the restrictive “missional” sense of current times – the whole Liturgy both proclaims and serves the Missio Dei! In fact the biblical presentation of the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is that of one great mission of descent and ascent, of revelation and illumination, of salvation and redemption, of sanctification and deification, of glory and doxology.

So The Book of Common Prayer in its authentic and classic editions is wonderfully associated with the Missio Dei, and those who use it aright and in godly sincerity (in its classic English or in a contemporary English form) and become co-workers together with God will be missional in the modern sense but engaged also in mission in the larger and thoroughly biblical sense!

Ascensiontide, 2006. visit

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