Speaking on the topic of Christian faith formation Andrew Root, with Charles Taylor as his guide, charted the trajectories of secularism from the medieval period to the present. Prior to the formations of the secular Root said that the church really did not need to think of formation because all of life and culture was shaped by a Christian imaginary. As Christendom shifted through the Enlightenment to secular modernity Christian beliefs became contested and in time all beliefs (including unbelief) became contested leaving personal (un)belief precarious and fragile in our present age.
At the Mennonite Church Manitoba gathering on March 5th we watched a video describing the report of the Future Directions Task Force (FDTF). This report details substantive changes in the structure and work of Mennonite Canada, Area churches, and congregations. While I am broadly in support of the structural changes (or at least don’t have some other great idea) I want to focus on one element of the guiding theology in this report (and in the general communication of Mennonite Church Canada).
One line from the video crystallized this element for me. While explaining the various proposals of the report the narrator said, “Mission is the tone for everything we do.” Mission is the tone, the animating stimulus and identifying frequency of everything we express as the Mennonite church. This is a theological misstep.
Until we have done the explicit work of understanding and acknowledging the abuses of historic Christian missions then I simply cannot see how it can be helpful to think of mission as that which animates and identifies everything. While much has been done addressing abuses in missions one crucial component remains almost completely neglected. In nearly every official document of Mennonite Church Canada what is good moves from the church into the world. There is no accounting for how the Christian and how the church can receive good news.
For this reason alone I cannot support mission (that is, sending, the moving from church to world) as that which animates all we do. And even if we had adequately addressed the issues related to Christian missions I still wouldn’t think it is the right way of orienting ourselves as a church.
The beginning, way, and end of faith is worship.
Perhaps this goes without saying but if this is the case then there is all the more need for it to be understood and articulated well. Perhaps there is a concern that such a statement would reflect a culture of narcissism or navel gazing. This would be to misunderstand worship.
Worship is the practice and context in which we direct our attention, determine our values, form attachments, and express devotion.
If this is our understanding of worship then it necessarily forms a dynamic relationship with the rest of the world. For instance our worship will put us in conflict with our current economic system. Advertisers attempt to direct our attention, money is used to determine an equivalent for nearly any value, debt and wage-labour form our attachments and call us to express devotion. Worship, understood in the broad strokes I have outlined, has profound implications in relation to the world around us (in ways that we would have typically called ‘mission’).
Worship nurtures a form of offering and receiving which can help disentangle ourselves from the supremacist elements of missions that work explicitly or implicitly in our theology.
Worship provides a more interactive understanding of formation and witness which have functionally operated as silos in our current structure.
I understand that worship is a term that can quickly become vague and nebulous taking its shape from our various contexts and practices. But this is the case with any term we offer as providing some larger context or understanding. I would still maintain that it is difficult argue against the statement of worship being the beginning, way, and end of our faith and so it should be articulated as such in this time of change. Worship is a practice and context that pulses in our gathering and spreading. The circulation that worship offers is necessary for a healthy church near and far.