Posted by: Titus Presler | February 16, 2010

Delhi Commitment by Church of North India strikes clear missional note

Confrontation with societal evil and solidarity with people pushed to the margins are strikingly clear in the Delhi Commitment articulated by the Church of North India at its 39th year anniversary celebration in Delhi on 29 November 2009.

In an era when provinces of the Anglican Communion typically both highlight mission as their central mandate and then define mission in broadly milquetoast terms, CNI by contrast seems clear that God’s mission focuses on the boundaries between church and society, draws  the church into prophetic denunciation of evil, and commits the church to working with and for those oppressed by the world’s greed and violence.

Equally impressive, CNI’s Delhi Commitment is probably unmatched in its level of theological complexity and sophistication among statements that articulate an entire Anglican province’s overall vision of its call from God and vision for mission.  The statement draws on advanced missiological thinking and, by implication, challenges church members to grapple with such thinking instead of watering mission theology down to where church members may already be.

“The celebrations marked by a national consultation on renewing the missional praxis of local congregations and a seminar on education and minority empowerment filled us with joy as we looked back to the inception of Church of North India, the movement of the Spirit that inspired its formation, and the visionary leaders who were inspired to accomplish this miraculous beginning,” the church said in the statement, which was read out by General Secretary Enos Predhan at the gathering, which was reported to have been attended by 10,000 CNI leaders and members.

After rejoicing in the tripling of CNI membership, from about half a million since its founding in 1970 to about 1.5 million today, the church states, “The richness of our congregational life is reflected in our passion for mission and our longing to reach out to the people pushed to the periphery.”  Thus, early on, the statement expresses a clear understanding that the church’s “mission” is not simply carrying on everything that a church should do – from opening the doors on Sunday to testifying before City Council, from having a fellowship hour to evangelizing the neighborhood – but the ministries of the church that take it beyond itself and outside itself to encounter and work with the other.

The Delhi Commitment then moves into a vivid rehearsal of the world’s realities that the church’s mission must engage:

We recognize also that we are gathered here at a time when the world has been plunged into global economic crisis, imposing a crushing burden on the poor and those at the margin, escalating violence and terrorism, making everyone cry for peace, a time of unprecedented pressures on subaltern communities to fight to preserve their very survival and identity, of unjustifiable marginalization and oppression of women and children, and raging ecological violence.

The negative effects of globalization, ongoing ethnic conflicts, civil wars, communal and political violence, unjust governance, failure of judicial systems, state terrorism and counter terrorism, religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, gross and systematic violation of human rights, growing authoritarianism, the menace of human trafficking, drastic impact of Climate Change and subversive economic interests stare us in the face as never before.

We also realize that in our region we have most of the poor and illiterates of the world and the worst victims of innumerable adversities, deprived of justice, peace, security, democracy and the fruits of development. The criminalization of politics, politicization of crime and massive corruption at all levels undermine the health and wholeness of the democratic culture and system we cherish.

The list is striking for its inclusion both of realities common to this time in the world community and of particular scourges experienced in India.  Outside observers will be interested to see that there is no hint of victimization by British colonialism, which ended over 60 years ago, but rather a mature assessment of where India is in its own cherishing of democratic ideals and the threats to those ideals.  Analysis of the statement in terms of “post-colonialism,” therefore, would be a form condescension in that it would view the situation in terms that Indians themselves have left behind.

In the face of the grim challenges the church says it faces, it then turns to declare that what it offers is gospel proclamation in terms that are simultaneously christocentric and trinitarian: “In the given context we understand that [the] mission of the Church is to proclaim the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended Christ present among us in the Triune God and taking us into His future by partnering his multifaceted ministry.”

“Mission is the participation of the Church in the liberating mission of Jesus,” the statement goes on to declare, placing CNI’s mission vision squarely in the camp of liberation theology.  Biblically, theologically and missiologically, a question can be raised whether liberation or reconciliation is more fundamentally constitutive of mission.  Is liberation an end in itself, or is God’s liberation of humanity from oppression in service of a reconciled state both among human groups and between the God and the human community as a whole?

At any rate, the liberationist focus of the church is clear in the particular bullet-point commitments it makes in concluding the statement, emphasizing that the church’s prophetic vision will be incarnated in specific initiatives:

·     Engage actively in prophetic ministry by being the voice of the voiceless.

·     Share God’s love to heal and restore broken lives.

·     Work towards affirming life in its fullness for the vulnerable.

·     Share the pain and agony of the victims of injustice and identify with them in their struggle.

·     Oppose the trend of free market, consumerism, materialism and commodification.

·     Rediscover the meaning of unity by sharing in the struggles of the common people.

·     Empower minority communities to serve and stand for justice.

·     Relive a contextually pro-active spirituality that is faithful to the Word of God and equips us for meaningful involvement in society.

·     Initiate spiritual revival of our educational institutions so as to make them agents of transformation.

·     Recommit towards social justice through educational excellence as priority.

Along the way, the statement decries various isms, including one, “diocesanalism,” that is yet another in the long list of neologisms that Indian theology has offered over the years: “We are today challenged to transcend diocesanalism, denominationalism and regionalism and to harmonize our lifestyle with the discipline of pursuing the mission for transformation.”

Unlike the Delhi Commitment, the “mission priorities” CNI lists on its website for the first decade of the 21st century are so broadly inclusive as to blur the meaning of mission.  Included are the truly missional initiatives that take the church outside itself into the dimension of difference in evangelism and in justice work for subaltern communities such as women, children, Tribals and Dalits. Yet the priorities include also the more purely internal ministries of the church, even down to support of presbyters and “restructuring the structure.”  These are all vital but should not be confused with mission.  The document would better have been termed “ministry priorities.”

The Delhi Commitment, on the other hand, is an excellent model of missional proclamation for the Anglican Communion and for other church bodies.

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