Get ready to be ‘turned inside out,’ says noted theologian

Mission is the church’s raison d’etre, says The Rev. Dr. Christopher Duraisingh, an eminent South Indian theologian. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Mission is the church’s raison d’etre, says The Rev. Dr. Christopher Duraisingh, an eminent South Indian theologian. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published November 21, 2012

The Anglican Church of Canada should be prepared to be “turned inside out” and to be a church that gives birth to a Spirit-led “people’s movements at all levels,” said the Rev. Dr. Christopher Duraisingh, a noted South Indian theologian.

Duraisingh, who is a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., spoke about mission at the meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) during its meeting Nov. 15 to 18.

Duraisingh was invited to help CoGS members reflect on what direction the church might take in response to its ongoing challenges with diminishing revenues and declining membership. He will also be the keynote speaker at the July 2013 Joint Anglican-Lutheran Assembly in Ottawa.

Mission is not a choice but the church’s raison d’etre or reason for existence, said Duraisingh. “Mission is not a function of the church…Church is a function…an instrument in the ongoing mission of God in the world.”

Therefore, the church must move from having “church-shaped” missions into being a “mission-shaped” church, he said.

The singular purpose of the church “is to be broken for the life of the world,” said Duraisingh, and that the Anglican Communion’s five Marks of Mission are examples of how “the body of Christ is broken for the life of the world.”

But he cautioned against turning mission into law or “a duty to do.” Rather, it should be seen as “a spontaneous result of the leading of the Holy Spirit.”

He urged the church not to be fixated with defining success in mission in terms of the quantity of programs or resources, saying it smacks of “ecclesiastical decadence.” The church should not to be afraid of loss and inaction, he said, noting how even Jesus couldn’t do his healing at times. As the church tries to figure out which road to take as it embarks on a new beginning, “failure is possible,” said Duraisingh. “It is not success but faithfulness to the God movement and stepping behind it that should ultimately take place.”

Duraisingh also reflected on the nature of baptism, calling Jesus’ own baptism as his “solidarity plunge” into the ministry of the world. It was not a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, he added, but a sign of being listed in God’s movement. But churches have often turned baptism into a sin-management rite, he said.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said Duraisingh’s remarks encouraged him to think about “the labours with which we are called through the vows of our baptism.”

In a homily during the Sunday Eucharist at CoGS, Hiltz urged members to reflect on such questions as, “What is the plunge into which we are being called as a church? What do we need to let go of? What do we need to embrace? For what new things do we need the grace and strength of the Holy Spirit?



  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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