Newbigin on Missionary Partnership with Indigenous Churches

Here is an important quote from Lesslie Newbigin, originally penned in 1958, on two principles that must govern the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. This comes after his very important section “The Homebase is Everywhere.” His argument is that the church has spread globally and that the church must be united in the task of global evangelization and that for this to happen the church itself must be seen “as the mission.” The kingdom spreads as the church embodies the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

A missionary may fully acknowledge that his work must be in complete fellowship with the church in the area and yet his vocation is to preach the Gospel to the non-Christian. Does the church – which may be but a tiny fraction of the total population – have the right to say that it needs no more missionaries, and that it is not prepared to make it possible for missionaries from abroad to work as evangelists in its area?

There are certainly no ready-made solutions to these problems; they need continued co-operative thought. But certain convictions may be recorded and certain suggestions for further action made. If we accept what has been said about the missionary responsibility of the whole Church for the whole world, certain principles will follow

  1. No part of the Church ought to be denied the right to take such share in the total missionary task as it is capable of. It ought never to have to be said to any church which is eager to engage in foreign missionary work: “We do not need your help.”
  2. Such help can only be rightly given if it is so given as completely to respect the integrity of the church in the area as truly the Body of Christ in that place.

These principles seem to be absolute. It is not, I think, an absolute principle that a mission should never go unless it is invited by the church in the area. It should certainly be a normal principle. To engage in missionary work in the area of another church in such wise as simply to by-pass that church is surely to take upon oneself an exceedingly grave responsibility. It must mean either that the church in the area is judged to be no true church, in which case the warnings of our Lord concerning judgement will have to be fully faced: or else that there is no understanding of what the Church is – in which case missionary work is likely to degenerate into mere proselytism.

From – One Body, One Gospel, One World: The Christian Mission Todaypg. 36.

Would principles of missionary partnership would you add?

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