By Bishop Worlock of Portsmouth
We see how,it is through the works of creation that man recognises his creator and indeed how man is an essential clement in God's design for order in His creation. But we know also that through man sin entered the world and that God sent his own Son to redeem mankind through his life on earth, death and Resurrection. It is from that point in human history that we see man's Christian vocation, the mission of the Church in the world.
We recall the .Disciples with Jesus on the Mount of Olives on what we now call Ascension Day their growing excitement so that they asked him if the time had come when he would restore the kingdom to Israel. He answered by pointing out the true nature of the kingdom he would establish and by promising them that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit and he his "witnesses to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1, 8).
If we are looking for a basic concept of our mission, this is it and we must be clear that in those words Christ gave his mandate to teach to all his followers for all time — not just to Peter, James and John, but to you and to me, "to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth." That is the mission of the Church in the world today. Let us try to spell out more clearly what this means.
Applies to all
We must be clear first of all that this world-wide concept of mission applies to every baptised person, whatever his ministry or vocation — bishop, priest, religious or lay.
It is not something which is of relative responsibility or can be delegated to others, c.g., by sending subscriptions to foreign missionaries abroad or making supporting noises in favour of missions to seamen at home. The duty with which we have to respond to this mandate is absolute. It is the way and place in which we
have to give our witness which will differ according to our role.
In the simplest terms, our mission is to proclaim the Gospel and to give it effect at a particular place in a particular time. To carry this out, we had constantly to renew our understanding of the Gospel and to be reexamining the situation all around us in the light of the Gospel.
We must remember that Christ established his Church for the world: it is not an end in itself. It is a means of sanctifying the world, a means of bringing the good news of salvation to the world. It is a sign to the world: which is another way of saying that we are a sign of Christ's death and Resurrection, and for this reason a sign for contradiction.
It is part of our Christian mission here and now to be a sign of faith in the hereafter. We are also a sign of hope that Christ, who has overcome death, will bring us to eternal life with the Father. And we are a sign of the charity of Christ in the loving service we must give to our neighbours in whom we recognise the suffering Christ and who, we pray, will recognise some of Christ's compassion in the arms which we stretch out to them in his name.
The mission of the Church belongs, therefore, to all of us. It is towards all men and at all times. That sounds all right in theory. What does it mean in practice? It means that all of us, at our own places of work or at home, are being the Church and in all things — the hunt-drum and the important — we are engaging in the mission of the Church to shed the light of the Gospel on the things and ways of the world.
It might be much more exciting this eveninu to list some of the spectacular things the Church is doing today or ought to be doing today. The more profound truth is that the Church's mission-field is where we are; and that for most people, more often than not, the mission itself will be do-, ing "non-churchy" things.
Perhaps because learning and even the ability to read and write were in former centuries associated with priests and religious (who were to some extent absolved from the necessity to earn their living) there has from early times been a tendency to clericalise the Church. The layman was one who was a non-cleric, a supporter.
So almost inevitably, with the cleric as the chief executive in almost all things, there grew up a separation of the sanctuary from the world outside the church-building. The layman was, as a helper, a second-class citizen, the secularity of whose circumstances was either an occasion of sin or a no-man'sland in which a Christian must try to survive whilst not in church.
This is an oversimplification but its underlying truth has been of some consequence in the efforts to achieve renewal amongst Christian bodies in recent years. Seeing the Church as the people of God sharing responsibility and mission, recognising an equality of dignity between all ministries in the Church, attempts at declericalisation have inevitably led to sharing out certain previouslyclerical prerogatives amongst the more committed laity.
Sadly, this has often been to the neglect of the fact that the very secularity of a layman's condition indicates
his primary field of apostolate.
I am anxious lest, its our desire to ensure that the laity share with the clergy in the mission of the Church, we merely surrender •a number of liturgical and parochiallyadministrative tasks to regular churchgoers instead of seeing how they can effectively bring the spirit of apostolate to their lives as laity, in the home, in the field of work, in the service of the community, and in worship.
As was written in the recent report "The Church 2000" — "The renewal of the Church, from the layman's point of view, means more than a renewed participation in the structures of the Church. Rather is it the need to recapture the spirit of joy and adventure which filled the Church immediately following the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.
"It is in this spirit that lay people bring to all those they meet the good news of God's plan for the world. They do this mainly through living a good and happy life, but also by sometimes speaking directly to others about God, "about Christ and the Church" (Church 2000,
para. 1 12).
"To bring to all those they meet the good news of God's plan for the world"; there, surely, is the mission of us, the Church. For the priest it means the explicit proclamation of God's truth by word and by example.
For the laity especially it means being joined with Christ's redemptive work both in worship and by the way in whiCh they are involved in the social and economic life of the com
munity, by the extent of their commitment to Christ in their ordinary workaday life.
Indeed, their more important witness will be seen in what lay people are, rather than in what they do. It is in being baptised Christians that they take their place in the mission of the Church and this is of special significance in the Church's mission in the world today.
It means that they that you — bring to your work a certain humble confidence, and a stability of faith and hope which is born of your knowledge of the Resurrection and your trust in the promises of Christ.
This may leave us with a generalisation: being a witness is a vague term. The manner of witness is determined by circumstances and it will also be determined by the particular challenge or problem of the times. Each age has its own social and moral problems and there are obvious difficulties today in knowing how best in a pluralist society to proclaim Christ's truths.
The witness required of us today must be relevant to the world in which we live. It may well differ from that required of previous generations. It will certainly be an ecumenical presentation and by this I mean that in the moral challenges and issues of social justice facing some or all parts of the world today, Christian witness will be telling in so far as it is coherent.
(This is the principal reason why it has been thought desirable for Roman Catholics to have discussion with representative members of the British Council of Churches about matters of faith and morals which are likely to be at issue in this country in the foreseeable future: and this in advance of
a decision about membership. For all our
sakes it will be important that our witness under challenge should not be inhibited by having to seek a lowest common denominator in belief.)
So our mission is to all and for all. It must be suited to the places and times in which we live. Because we are dealing with truth it must be uncompromising, but for its adequate ecumenical expression there must he an openness where sometimes in the past there have been prejudice and mistrust.
It must be courageous and outward-looking at a time when the onset of secularism may tempt us to succumb to what the sociologists call "The Withdrawal Syndrome."
It must be full of faith, and yet also realistic in recognising how few Christians, even amongst churchgoers, are conscious of Christ's call to them to be his witnesses not just to support his witnesses.
In times of change which demand new ways of "giving expression to mission and ministry, we shall be confident of Christ's incarnate presence in his Church, deeply committed to the service of human society if we are to share his compassion on the multitude.
The followers of Christ may now be a small minority, but have courage. "If there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus" (Phil. IV, 6, 7).
The above is the text of last Sunday's a`ddress by Bishop Worlock at the Christian Unity Service held at St. Helen's (Anglican) Church, Abingdon, Berkshire.