Missional Ethics

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about ‘missional churches’, outward looking communities that are able to interpret the gospel within an ‘emerging culture’. Less has been said about ‘missional ethics’. Some may think mission and ethics are necessarily separate, even incompatible, because one refers to the Good News of God’s grace while the other points to rules and regulations. Yet they were intricately interwoven by Jesus, who not only pronounced the Great Commission but also preached the Sermon on the Mount. And early Christians were enjoined to hold together morality and mission in their role as a ‘royal priesthood and holy nation’ (1 Peter 2:9), an affirmation that alludes to a much earlier part of Scripture where God calls and commissions his people (Exodus 19:6). In fact, the conjunction of morality and witness occurs throughout the Bible.

Living Witness: Explorations in Missional Ethics highlights how Christian ethical practice flows out of, supports and advances the mission of God’s Church. The range of topics discussed is wide, including, for example, creation, hope, politics, family and money. Yet missional ethics does have a characteristic form or shape.

First, missional ethics is shaped by God. It follows God, because God’s grace comes before the invitation or command to live in his ways. It is directed by God, because Christian ethics seeks behaviour in harmony with the way that the world was made, living the right way up, as it were, in a topsy-turvey, fallen creation. It is the way of God, who calls people to take up their cross and live faithfully for him. And it is enabled by God, who leads us into all truth, including moral truth. One crucial implication of this ‘God-shapedness’ is that authentic witness must be inspired by the knowledge of God: right at the heart of a God shaped-missional ethics is prayer and worship.

Second, missional ethics is story shaped. It takes seriously the biblical traditions of the Church and attempts to make sense of new experiences in the light of this narrative. In doing so the story is commended to those who do not yet identify with it.

Third, it is community shaped. Although the reality of a community itself testifies to the love of God, this does not entail homogeneity. Jesus’ command to love God and each other is general, able to be fulfilled in a multitude of ways. And so an important facet of community is assisting one another to perceive what is at stake in sometimes difficult situations: we live ethically well together.

Fourth, missional ethics is ‘other’ shaped. It accepts the other as a person rather than the ‘target’ of mission and so finds a place for others’ moral goodness. Yet it also recognises that the Gospel demands a response: namely, repentance.

Finally, perhaps perplexingly, missional ethics is shaped only in outline. We cannot completely describe its form. So we improvise our ethical and missional roles in the light of the hope set before us and according to our vocation.

The challenge of the stimulating essays in Living Witness is that morality is mission. Understanding the common life of the Church in this way is an exciting prospect, for it recognises that the whole life of the Church, not just verbal proclamation, testifies to her faith - or lack of faith - in her Lord.