Ten Reasons to Appreciate the “Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” Theory (10th of Ten )

LOCAL CHURCH AND MISSION SOCIETY—WHY BOTH NEED EACH OTHER. An Essay by the Director of the Anglican American Council

Ralph D. Winter

Our guest writer today is Canon Phil Ashey, Anglican theologian and director of Global Anglicans.

Ralph D. Winter (1924-2009) was an American missiologist who raised the debate about the relationship between the local church and mission structures. In 1973 Winter delivered a groundbreaking lecture in South Korea at the founding of the Asia Missions Association, The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission. Ralph Winter describes the forms that God’s two “redemptive structures” for mission take in every human society and have taken throughout history. His technical term for these two structures are the modality and the sodality, but they are in fact the local church (modality) and the mission society (sodality). Winter argues persuasively that what we call “God’s people, the Church” in the New Testament and throughout history has always been represented by both the local church and missionary societies/movements. He also contends that both are legitimate and necessary for the sake of world evangelization, making disciples of Jesus Christ of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20). Within our own global Anglican context, I’d like to take Winter’s thesis one step further with the help of Acts 15. We need both a missionary movement (such as Global Anglicans) and local churches (modalities or ecclesial structure) to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission as Anglicans, especially in the face of increasing secularization and false teaching from the West.

Canon Phil Ashey

From the beginning: The local church and missionary “bands”

Winter points out that the first structure that emerges in the New Testament is the local church (modality) which was built along Jewish synagogue lines. The local church embraces the community of the faithful in any given place. The defining characteristic of this structure is that it is a body (cf. I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4), organized around the way the Holy Spirit birthed it to function on Pentecost (see Acts 2:42-47), including old and young, male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free.

But the second, quite different structure to emerge in the New Testament as “the Church” was what Winter calls “the missionary band” (sodality). This was Paul and his companions or “team” who evangelized the known world. It was modeled along the lines of Jewish evangelists [The Hebrew word for these Jewish bands is hevrah—Blincoe] who had already gone out and “preached Moses in every city (of the Roman Empire)” (Acts 15:21). The defining characteristic of this structure is that it is a society organized around a purpose, Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:16-20). True enough, Winter notes, Paul was sent out by the local Church in Antioch. “But once away from Antioch he seemed very much on his own…it was not simply the Antioch church operating at a distance from its home base. It was something else, something different.”  Winter goes on to describe Paul’s missionary band as

“…a prototype of all subsequent missionary endeavors organized out of committed, experienced workers who affiliated themselves as a second decision beyond membership in the first structure.” Note well this additional commitment of Paul and his companions, and as well the different, more mobile and autonomous structure they operated under in order to fulfill their missionary purpose.

Within Roman culture, the local church (modality) assimilated into the Roman context by gathering the local faithful into territorial jurisdictions (dioceses) overseen by bishops (episcope) having authority over more than one congregation not altogether different from the pattern of Roman civil government. Meanwhile the “mission societies” carried forward a disciplined structure borrowed from the Roman military, which allowed Christians to make a “second-level choice”—and additional specific commitment that emerged through monastic structures whose membership was limited by a shared rule of life, age, sex or marital status.

Collaboration rather than rivalry and conflict

Winter borrows heavily from the history of the Church of England to demonstrate how evangelism, mission and church growth increase when the local church and the mission society collaborate together. He cites the collaboration between Pope Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury as “the most outstanding illustration in the early medieval period of the importance of the relationship between modality and sodality.”  Gregory, as Bishop of Rome, was the head of a modality. But he had no structure to call upon to plant Churches in England where Celtic Christianity had been deeply wounded by Saxon warriors from the continent. Both Gregory and Augustine were products of the monastic houses (sodalities). So Gregory called upon his friend Augustine and other members of the same monastery to go to England on mission to plant churches through a diocesan structure. Augustine’s missionary society rebuilt the Church and expanded it—as did other monastic movements throughout Europe. People were converted, and churches, dioceses and provinces were planted. The mission society “was almost always the structural prime mover, the source of inspiration and renewal which overflowed into the papacy and created the reform movements which blessed diocesan Christianity (modalities) from time to time.”

Sadly, the monastic societies themselves became corrupted as they gained wealth and secular power. They lost their moorings and their mission, as did the local church. So, the Protestant Reformers abolished them for good reasons. But, as Winter points out, this left the reformed Church without the mission structures to carry on world evangelization for almost 300 years! John Wesley effectively launched a missionary movement within Anglicanism, calling people to new beginnings and higher commitments as followers of Jesus Christ without conflicting with the stated meetings of the existing local churches of the Church of England. But the established leadership of the Church of England viewed Wesley and his movement as a rival and opposed it. Sadly as well, his mission society was rejected. In doing so, Anglicanism missed an opportunity to recover its Reformational roots and its mission.

It was not until the 19th century when strategic thinkers within the Church of England re-created the sodality or mission society by launching the Church Missionary Society and others to evangelize the world. The Church of England blessed the Church Mission Society (CMS), The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and others to carry the gospel to the rest of the world, and so were birthed the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

Both mission society and local church are legitimate and necessary. Both need each other.

Read more about the Anglican American Council here.

Read more about Global Anglicans here.