Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 2 (August 2011)

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Thoughts on the "Missional Manifesto"

Mark Parker

The Missional Manifesto1 is a statement from one group of Christian leaders describing themselves with the term missional. I have read works by several of the authors, for whom I have great respect. They are each thought-leaders in their own spheres of influence. The Manifesto comes as welcome clarification of what this significant group of leaders means when it uses the term missional.

The term missional can be confusing because of its similarity to the terms missions and missionary. There is much overlap and shared theology and history with overseas missions. Both, for example, see Christians as entering a non-Christian culture to spread the Word of God. But overseas missions is not the focus of the Missional Manifesto.

Those aligning with the Missional Manifesto do see themselves entering a non-Christian environment, but that environment is North America as much as any place else. Whereas overseas missionaries are sent abroad, the Missional Manifesto says Christians are sent on a mission from God wherever that leads, whether in one’s home country or abroad as a missionary.

The key phrase in the Manifesto, but not original to it, is this:

Although it is frequently stated “God’s church has a mission,” according to missional theology, a more accurate expression is “God’s mission has a church.”

By inverting the relationship between God’s mission and God’s church, mission is larger than the church. God’s mission includes his work in the world outside the church, such as nature itself. The church is a tool for achieving God’s mission.

For those from the heritage of the Restoration Movement, such an inversion is both startling and welcome.

We may find the Manifesto startling because Restoration Movement thinkers, ministers, and members have often equated the kingdom of God with God’s church. If one is in the kingdom, one is in the church; and vice versa. The church for us—and the restoration of church worship and organization to what is seen in the primitive church of the First Century—was the climax of the story. Our goal was to restore the church.

Now the Missional Manifesto challenges us to think that God’s purposes are larger than the church. Which, if true, means our vision has been narrower than we thought. We thought our focus on matters of ecclesiology were all encompassing. The Missional Manifesto suggests our focus was important but not ultimate.

But even with its challenges the Missional Manifesto can still be refreshing to those of Restoration Movement heritage. It roots its theology in God and his work in Christ. It is a clarion call to seek the truth in the Bible, not in our experience alone. These have been flagship doctrines of Restoration churches, and the Manifesto affirms them clearly.

The Manifesto also affirms what we have typically called evangelism, a notion that has always played a vital role in our self-understanding. The missional view of evangelism is broader than mere baptizing of individuals. This, too, should be welcome to Restoration churches because we have (with notable exceptions) typically sought to grow members in their faith after their initial conversion.

And I think the Restoration Movement has a word of advice for the authors of Missional Manifesto. Our heritage has been anti-creedal. For good reason. We expect every individual to explore the Bible to find God’s will. Creeds, in our experience, typically begin as rallying cries around a noble cause (read: manifesto). However, creeds over time exclude as much as they include. Creeds, by their very nature, can be used to draw people together or push people away. As long as the Manifesto remains an attempt to clarify, it has great value. If and when it becomes a measure of faithfulness, then it has become something it does not currently want to be.

Mark Parker is the Director of Admissions of Harding School of Theology. He was a missionary to Zagreb, Croatia from 1991-1996. Mark has completed an MDiv and an DMin (ABD) at Harding School of Theology. He is married and is currently raising two dozen rose bushes and two boys. His personal website is http://realspirituality.org. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/themarkparker.

1 “Missional Manifesto,” http://www.missionalmanifesto.net.