These developments were the fundamental influences in my own basic definition of missional church as participation in the mission of the triune God. But what does this even look like in the life and practices of a local congregation? Take worship as an example. Does the fact that we are worshiping a triune God make any difference to both our practice of worship and our missional imagination? Or was Immanuel Kant right with his now famous statement, “the doctrine of the Trinity, taken literally, has no practical relevance at all….Whether we are to worship three or ten persons in the Deity makes no difference…no difference in rules of conduct”?
I’m in agreement with Gary Simpson when he says, “To my mind, it is no mere coincidence that we are developing a consensus regarding the dearth of missional imagination at the congregational level at the same time that some are deploring the non-trinitarian character of Christian theology, life, and practice.” Our abated apostolicity has everything to do with an inadequate view of God impoverished by a lack of trinitarian imagination in everything we do. The trinitarian implications of the biblical narrative shape our missional imagination in and through the life and practices of our congregations as we discern our participation in what God is up to.
Let me continue to take worship as one example. In the Meeter Center Lecture of less than two weeks ago, James K.A. Smith explored Calvin’s catholic faith by emphasizing (among other things) Calvin’s sacramental theology. Many scholars, such as Todd Billings, describe Calvin’s emphasis on “union with Christ” as a “theology of participation” undergirding his “sacramental metaphysics.” This sacramental emphasis of Calvin (which is also central to his theology of creation) not only describe the triune God’s mission in the world in terms of union and participation rather than more forensic metaphors, but also casts a sacramental vision quite different from what Smith calls a “flattened Zwinglian memorialism.”
By implication, says Smith, “worship and related practices of Christian formation are first and foremost the way the Spirit invites us into union with the Triune God” rather than instrumentalized “means to an end, nor is it to reduce worship to a strategy for moral formation; nor should it be confused with an activism which sees Christian action as some Pelagian expression of our abilities.” In this sense, worship is participating in the life of the triune God as the way in which we are drawn into the missio Dei. In the words of Matthew Boulton, we “perform these sanctifying practices,” but we “do it neither alone nor as the act’s primary agent.” We “participate in divine work.”
The implications for our worship services are profound. In Smith’s words, “Worship is not merely time with a deistic god who winds us up and then sends us out on our own; we don’t enter worship for ‘top up’ refueling to then leave as self-sufficient, autonomous actors. Instead, the biblical vision is one of co-abiding presence and participation (‘I in you and you in me’). In other words, our Christian action is bound up with the dynamics of incorporation.” Our participation in the missio Dei is indeed formed by the perichoretic dynamic of the triune God.
Therefore, our recruitment into the missio Dei is never merely “ours.” Smith describes it as co-mission-ing: “Christian worship culminates with a sending (‘Go!’) accompanied by a promise (‘And as you go, you go with his blessing’)—the benediction that is both a blessing and a charge, a co-mission-ing accompanied by the promise of the Spirit’s presence.” Our action is not motivated by worshiping the triune God; “we are caught up into the life of God, drawn into union with Christ, and thus recruited into this participation that generates Christian action as we ‘go’.”
There can never be a choice between worship or mission. As we are centered in Christ for the sake of the world, so we are worshiping for mission. As we “go” from our worship services, “mission” becomes just a shorthand for describing our continuous participation in the life of God.