Paul Alms presents an intriguing perspective of the missional challenges facing the Christian church in North America in his published work, “The Mission of the Church in an Age of Zombies.” This is the second of a number of excerpts from Paul’s article. The first excerpt on “Go!” began August 5, 2013.
An age of epidemics, real and imaginary, suggests that the church see itself as living in a time of plague, spiritual plague. It must have protective walls around itself for the very sake of the mission. It is not unloving or parochial when the church seeks to ward off the world and guard the treasure of the gospel against charge or corruption. In a time of evil, when deadly plagues are ravaging the surrounding culture, the church must quarantine itself. It does this precisely for the mission, so that there is a place of safety and healing. But the church does not brick itself off completely. It also carries blessed medicine out to the folks who need it. This happens in utmost seriousness, as a matter of life and death. Mission is not an entertainment revue seeking customers or an audience. Rather, the church wishes to save the dying, to pull the infected, the diseased, the sinners all around her to where there is safety and salvation. The church’s mission is both centrifugal and centripetal. The church goes out to pull sinners in. The missionary impulse embedded in the church from the Ascension charge of Jesus to make disciples is a centrifugal outward movement. However, the church has also always recognized an equal centripetal movement, pulling disciples back towards the center, into the church. …
Differing models of outreach emphasize differing sides of these forces. An attractional model of outreach recognizes the centripetal logic of missions. It wishes to bring people into the church. However, an attractional model assumes that people “out there” desire to come to Christ and only have to be lured. They are hungry fish looking for food. It is the job of the churches to find the right bait. This is simply no longer the case in the Western world. The “incarnational” movement in missional thought recognizes this weakness of the attractional model in a hostile society. An incarnational model assumes that the non-believers will not come to the church, but that the church and individual Christians must go to them and engage them on their own terms and foster relationships with them. Such a model, however, has a problem with the centripetal impulse. If the church consists solely of “going out there,” to what place does the church bring non-believers? The popular, incarnational, missional model of the church risks having no center. It can become a trajectory that does outreach, that goes out into the world, but has no church to which to come home.
From: Paul Gregory Alms, “The Mission of the Church in an Age of Zombies,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 77 (2013), 176-177. (Note: Eventually this article will appear on the CTQ web page. You are encouraged to visit this site in order to read other interesting articles relating to the Christian faith.)