Last Friday evening, Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), gave a joint plenary address to the Assembly of World-Wide Partners and to the CRC Multiethnic Conference.

The talk was titled, “Partnering in a Global Context: Principles and Patterns that will Shape Us,” and focused on three main sets of issues. What is the meaning of being called to mission in partnership today? What are the characteristics of the global contexts that we find ourselves in? What are principles and patterns that can shape us for effective mission partnership, including challenges for our times?
First, asked Nyomi, what is the meaning of being called to mission in partnership today?

Mission is at the heart of the Christian church. We need to engage every aspect of this call to mission. The idea of “mission partnership” emerged as a corrective to an old way of doing mission, where one place “sent” and another place “received.” True partnership will not happen until Christians are very intentional about challenging and exposing the old ways.

In addition, we must see that mission is first and foremost a partnering with God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Our relationship with God is primary. Saved by grace we are sent out to be God’s agents of transformation, co-workers and partners with God.

Secondly, Nyomi asked, “What are the characteristics of the global contexts that we find ourselves in?” Nyomi outlines a number of characteristics. These include:

  • The decline of Christianity in North America.

  • The role of parents in pursuing the moral formation and faith character of their children has been reduced.
  • The church exists in the context of injustice and insecurity. Christians have a mandate to be salt and light. It is no wonder that when feeling comfortable has become normative taking risks has been welcomed less and less.
  • There is a lack of awareness of the universal, global church, a lack of ecumenical consciousness.
  • The material is valued over the spiritual, resulting in the modern problem of consumerism.
  • There is a pluralistic religious context. How can we hold together the need for evangelism and for dialogue in creative balance?
  • There is great material want and extreme poverty of the world. Global trade institutions and treaties favor the wealthy parts of the world and continue to impoverish the poorer nations.
  • There is the scourge of diseases, like malaria and HIV/AIDS.
  • Gender-based, age-based, and race-based injustice continues to persist, as there are culturally ingrained power relations in homes, churches, and public arena which are plainly unjust.
  • This is a time of increased global insecurity, which provides terrorism greater opportunity for growth.

No doubt there ought to be some prioritization of the importance and difficulty of these various characteristics. Should all of them concern the church equally?

Dr. Nyomi concluded by examining principles and patterns that can shape us for effective mission partnership, including challenges for our times.

The church often allows divisions over ideology rather than theology. The different perspectives on justice, gender, race, economy, and the environment are what define and separate us from each other. These ideologies often influence our hermeneutics.

There is a lack of clarity in our understanding of our mission. So long as we are thus divided, the church will be issuing mixed messages. We have a responsibility to seek peace and overcome our divisions, says Dr. Nyomi. If we dare to live above division, we can consider some principles to shape our partnerships. We cannot be divided and be partners.

This last point about political ideology separating Christians truly struck home. Indeed, it is apparent that on the one hand Rev. Nyomi is right, that questions about how and when to engage political issues can be a great power for division amongst Christians. At the same time, I found it quite odd that Rev. Nyomi can decry such ideological loyalties, while representing an organization that is rife with its own ideological machinations.

In the course of his own talk, Rev. Nyomi noted, “It is problematic when jobs leave this country and are taken to places where labor costs will benefit the wealthy few.” There’s no small amount of economic and political ideology wrapped up in that statement. Compare this to statements that come out of WARC proceedings: “Economic globalization has created job loss and grinding poverty, an unprecedented rise in crime and violence, ecological degradation, and the spread of HIV/Aids.”

There is an undisputable institutional political ideology at the World Alliance of Reformed Churches that serves to alienate and divide, rather than to unite. It seems clear that the “unity” that WARC seeks is unity in opposition to the vast “neoliberal empire,” despite Nyomi’s protestations to the primacy of theological discourse.