Chapter 20

Mission as Communication for Covenant
Solidarity with Suffering and Struggling Peoples

I. Sharing of the Good News:
God Is in Faithful Solidarity with All Peoples

According to our Christian faith, all the peoples of the world are to enter into covenant solidarity, that is, a solid, strong, faithful relationship with God. Jesus Christ is the ultimate communication of God’s faithfulness toward all human beings. The coming of the Spirit creates the miracle of communication among nations. The Church, therefore, becomes the communication center spreading the Good News among all peoples.

The task of mission today can be summarized as the sharing of the Good News with all peoples in the faithful relationship which we call solidarity. There are, however, many barriers preventing the Good News from being shared in solidarity.

The existing economic structures have prevented the justice of God from being shared. Political ideologies have separated people from each other so that they cannot share the peace of Jesus Christ. Social, ethnic and racial injustices have obstructed the sharing of shalom. Cultural structures of repression prevent the common celebration of God’s feast of koinonia. Religious differences cancel out the possibility of talking with one another about ultimate truths. All of these incommunicado situations are in symbiosis in the total mosaic of human culture, especially in the modern communication and information order.

How is it possible to share the message of God’s Reign in this situation?

Understood in the broadest terms, the fundamental mode of mission is that of communicating action in solidarity. Mission, therefore, is God’s communicating act among all peoples with their various socio-economic and politico-cultural structures and experiences. This communication of God has a subversive impact on the totality of history in the universe, penetrating all the socio-economic, political, cultural and religious barriers, creating the deepest level of koinonia and solidarity among the people.

II. God’s Self-Communication among Peoples for Solidarity with Them:
A Biblical Paradigm

God communicated with the Hebrew slaves under the bondage of the Egyptian Empire. This communication took place in the context of the covenant of God with the Hebrew people. Here covenant and communication are inseparable. The empire’s cultural matrix was pharaoh’s oriental despotism: a combination of mass slave labor, highly developed civil engineering technology, an efficient bureaucracy and a divinized absolute monarchy. This despotism challenged God’s covenant relationship with the people.

In Exodus 3:7-8, God communicates with the Hebrew slaves through Moses: "Then the Lord said, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites."’

The communication event between God and the Hebrew slaves involves God’s seeing the affliction of the people, hearing their cry and knowing their sufferings. It also involves the promise of their liberation and a new living place flowing with milk and honey, symbolizing a free and just socio-political economy in which the people are secure. This is the content of the divine covenant with the peoples there.

The communication event involved not only liberation from the Egyptians but also liberation of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites and other peoples who also lived under systems of oriental despotism. This was a revolutionary event, as recent Old Testament scholars have shown. Despotism imposes the pacts of imperial power upon inferior powers and their peoples. This is the counter-paradigm of God’s covenant with the peoples.

Here it should also be pointed out that the partners of God’s communication were the enslaved and oppressed peoples in Egypt, the Hapiru, as well as those in the Canaan area who lived in a definite and total cultural matrix. Often this partnership of the people in the covenant is underestimated through the glorification of God’s initiative in communication, which in fact does not nullify but rather establishes the covenant partnership with the people. Without the people’s partnership, even God’s cornmunication does not take place.

God’s act of communication with a people involves their whole life, including their political economy and their culture. God’s law, the covenant code (Exod. 21:1-23:33), was said to have been communicated to the Hebrews to guide their total life. The enactment of this legal code among the people represents the action of communicating an alternative cultural paradigm. The Exodus event took concrete shape through communicating God’s law among the people.

During the monarchic period, communication took the form of the prophetic movement among the people. The prophets, along with the priestly institutions, were the main channels through which the spirit of God’s law was communicated among the people. The prophetic movement represented a struggle against the whole cultural matrix of despotism, oppression and exploitation. The prophets were mediators of God’s communication with the people. Their message was God’s love of the people and God’s justice for them.

In the context of imperial domination by Babylon, Assyria, Greece and Rome, God’s communication took place through the sharing of the Messianic vision with the suffering people, kindling powerful hope among them. Genesis I and 2, Isaiah 11, Ezekiel 37, the Books of Daniel and Revelation, etc., are some concrete examples of God’s communication of visions of the future for the people suffering under the imperial powers.

The event of Jesus Christ integrates the history of God’s communication with peoples and nations with God’s decisive act of Immanuel and incarnation, encompassing the whole story of God’s communication among the people. This is the New Covenant. It is called Immanuel (God dwells among the peoples), which is the act of establishing the household of God. In John 1:14, we have the reality of God’s communication: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth."

Jesus communicates the Good News of God’s Reign among the poor in Galilee and in so doing enters into an unconditional relationship of love with the Galilean ochlos. He shares the cross, that is, the destiny of the people under the Roman Empire. Philippians 2:7-8 clearly expresses Jesus’ sharing of their suffering: He "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of people; and being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." After all, "slaves of the Roman Empire" are new partners of God’s covenant in Jesus Christ, who is the supreme mediator of the law, prophecy and vision between God and peoples.

The movements of Jesus and His peoples bear the message of the Good News of life among all the poor and among all nations and of eternal life, beginning with His resurrection, which was God’s victory over all the forces of death. This is the movement of the Spirit, who gives life, erects the household of God and shares the vision of the Messianic Reign among all nations. This is also the miracle of communication against the dominant cultural matrix of the Roman Empire. In Acts 2:4-6, we see the great event of communication in the Spirit: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered because each one heard them speaking in his own language."

This is the counter-paradigm against that of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11:6-9, we read: "And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language that they may not understand one another’s speech.’...Therefore, its name was called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth, and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth." This is the incommunicado system of the Babylonian Empire under God’s judgment. There is no communication and no communion among the people under this non-communicating system. The early churches, on the other hand, were communities of communication and communion among the peoples who were suffering under the Roman Empire.

III. God’s Communication for Covenant Solidarity among the Peoples in the World Today

A. God’s Communication for Covenant Solidarity among Peoples in the Mesh of Different Cultures and Religions

i. In the history of mission in recent centuries, we can observe three syndromes in the relationships formed between the Christian faith and other religions and cultures of the world’s peoples. The first is the symbiotic accommodation syndrome, which is prevalent in Western and Eastern Christianity, perhaps with the exception of some orthodox traditions in Asia and Africa. The second is the syndrome of isolation from the people’s religions and cultures, which is prevalent in Asia and Africa, especially among the mission churches. The third is a syndrome of "dialog" with the people of the living faiths. This is a "syndrome" because the dialog am proach does not commit one fully to real solidarity with the people but often remains on an abstract plane among the elite of the religious communities.

In each of the above syndromes, we find that God’s initiative in communication for covenant solidarity has been distorted into a dominating, monopolistic and even repressive unilateralism in communication. Even in the "dialogical" models, the fundamental unilateral tenet is not overcome but only hidden or reserved.

ii. In recent years, we see a paradigm comprising a certain degree of religious and cultural pluralism: diverse religions can live in one human community in truth. This paradigm seems effectively to overcome the totalitarian ideology, dictatorial models of truth, the authoritarian monopoly of truth and the self-righteous exclusivism of one religion or one culture over others.

This paradigm has a certain strength in its creation of tolerance among peoples’ differing religions, cultures and ideologies. It facilitates a liberal atmosphere for the dialogical process in seeking truth(s). It recognizes mutual subjecthood and identity as well as openness for mutual correction. It gives importance to an open process for communication.

However, one must see that this paradigm can work only when liberalism is assumed as the predominant foundation in the world. If this is the case, one can assert that liberalism is a hidden ideology in this paradigm, which then becomes subject to the shortcomings of liberalism, such as inequality among partners and relativization of the other as well as oneself.

iii. In the Third World, liberation has been the focus of communication, taking the name "conscientization" among the peoples. The liberation of deprived, oppressed and alienated people from the dominant systems of power has been a paradigm of mission, especially in the ecumenical movements. Women are advancing cultural communication for liberation from various forms of patriarchy; and races, castes and ethnic peoples under discrimination seek to communicate racial equality, ethnic identity and caste liberation.

The question is how to share the Good News among peoples across the barriers of class contradictions, religious differences and conflicts, cultural repression and domination, political hostilities, social injustices and racial, caste and ethnic discrimination. In the midst of complex conflicts and contradictions of exploitation, oppression, alienation, discrimination and injustice, how is it possible to have communication of the Good News that is inter-class, inter-racial, inter-ideological, inter-gender, inter-ethnic, intercaste and inter-religious?

Each different issue has its unique character and unique situation; and in actuality, at the same time, these different issues appear in combinations and may even constitute a webwork. Different issues are interconnected in actual life, and this includes the levels of analysis and action strategy.

It is in this context that we read Galatians 3:26-28: "In Christ Jesus, you are all people of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Here we can add sentences that reflect the reality of our times: There is neither upper class nor lower class, neither powerful nor powerless, neither wise nor foolish, neither high status nor low status, neither the Western-cultured people nor Eastern-cultured people, neither white nor black nor yellow, neither Brahmins nor dalits, neither ethnic majority nor ethnic minority, neither enemy nor friend, neither Christians nor believers in other religions; for you are one in Christ Jesus.

The people, who are under these historical conditions, whatever their conditions may be~, are one in Christ Jesus. Here, one is the most inclusive solidarity, which may not be possible in human terms, but it is the actual reality in Christ Jesus. This is possible through the mediation of the New Covenant with the people in Jesus the Messiah of the people. This we call covenant solidarity among the people. This is the basis of communication of the Good News across all the barriers among the people. In Jesus Christ, the barrier between God and the rebellious people has been decisively broken; nothing can stand in the way of communicating the Good News of God’s Reign among the people.

iv. I suggest that the communication of the Good News must be done in the context of the webwork of the world’s cultures and religions and undertaken to achieve covenant solidarity among peoples. This demands communication among the people of these cultures and religions in horizontal solidarity. The recent proposal of the Seoul Convocation on a Covenant for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation may be a good example of this approach.

B. God’s Communication for Covenant Solidarity among Peoples of Different Political Economies

We are to share the Gospel with people living under different political and economic systems and conditions. In recent years, the global constellations of military, political and economic power relationships are being drastically reshaped, and the direction and form of the future global order is unclear.

Christian mission has pretended that in principle it has no political stance in any situation. It has been said that God’s Reign does not belong to this world. This stance has allowed escapist tendencies, and furthermore, it has hidden political stances of opposition or accommodation. As long as the Good News is being shared with the people who live under concrete political economies, it has concrete political-economic implications. Therefore, communication of the Good News must distinguish these political-economic implications right at the point of communication. This is the Biblical paradigm.

i. The communication of the Good News in the context of despotic, authoritarian, military or totalitarian rule faces certain definite historical challenges: to make the truth free of dictatorial monopoly, to create a free process of interchange of truths, to make room for the free conscience of the people and to liberate the people themselves from oppressive rule.

The people, including critically minded "intellectuals," are subjects of this liberation struggle. Mission must take the oppressed people in this context as its partners in communication of the Good News. The message is that Jesus is the Liberator.

Most of the Biblical stories are set in the context of imperial despotic rule; thus, it is not difficult to interweave the story of the people and the Biblical stories of the people of God to effect communication of the Good News among the people.

Mission communication is directly affected by the political communication of the dictatorial powers, which seek to monopolize truth and to use their communication channels to make the people into objects of communication. The monopoly of truths, values and symbols, along with control of the media and education, is the customary practice of the dictatorial power. Mission cannot say that the communication of the Good News concerns only spiritual matters, for spiritual matters are affected by the communication of the political powers; communication of the Good News itself has definite implications for the freedom and liberation of the people. The communication of the Bible by the Korean Christian churches during Japanese colonialism and the reading of the Bible among the basic ecclesial communities in the Third World are definite examples of this point.

ii. The communication of the Good News in liberal democratic societies, which have become secularized, is a quite complex matter. At first, the churches became defensive; next they tried to present the Gospel in a secularized form. The question was how to present the Gospel in nonreligious languages. The authoritarian mode of communication of the churches could not be maintained without discrediting the Good News.

The modern industrial powers, such as transnational corporations (TNCs) and the powers of the State with its bureaucratic and military technocracy as well as the nexus of modern communication, information and education with its research and study apparatus in Western (or Westernized) societies, have their own way, however, of determining truths and controlling channels to make the people the objects of communication. The secularized form of language used to proclaim the Good News is not the solution for mission communication. It is not a question of only tools and media but of the fundamental nature of the Good News and its communication among the people.

This situation could be very dangerous as the people are deluded into believing that they have the freedom to enjoy truths of their own and that they have open channels to truth. Once we look at the international order of communication and information, however, it is clear that the media in liberal societies are closely linked to the nexus of power at the industrial, political, military and university levels.

We begin our communication of the Good News with the victims of liberal societies as our partners in solidarity. Here we need to think of the churches and missions as the network of communication of the Good News among a nexus of power that dominates truth in liberal societies.

iii. The socialist states in recent years are going through dramatic changes in their internal life and in their relations to the global order. The question of freedom has arisen, for their preoccupation with socio-economic justice has objectified the people in the social process, particularly in the political process.

In some mission quarters, the freedom of a liberal society is considered a precondition of free communication of the Good News. Recent changes in these countries are seen as pointing towards liberal models of society. This is not yet clear, although these countries are accepting market mechanisms for the exchange of goods and services.

In my view, it is important to learn from the churches in socialist countries about the ways in which they have shared the Good News among their people, for they did not intend to work for a liberal society even though they sought freedom.

iv. The above three kinds of contexts are often combined in a given situation and in the world as a whole, forming a definite order of communication with strong repercussions against communication of the Good News.

Korea is one example of this. Our life contains traditional, despotic and authoritarian factors. The modern military and transnational corporate language and values have penetrated the fabric of our society. We have totalitarian "heritages" on the right as well as the north Korean socialist state with its own way of communication. The social and cultural life of the Korean people is being eroded by the imperial powers - traditional and modern - by ideologies and by transnational industrial powers. The people are victimized materially and spiritually. it is in this context that we are to communicate the Good News among the people.

There is no other way to communicate the Good News among the people except in solidarity with them. I believe that the Minjung churches in Korea have begur~ such a process of communication, although this must evolve further in the coming generations. This process will spur imaginations in the network of communication for justice, peace and the integrity of Creation.

C. God’s Self-Communication in the Midst of the Life of Earth and Heaven

The technocratic paradigm of modern society threatens the life of the world in four modes that ate outlined below.

i. The advanced science and technology of industrial production, whether capitalist or socialist, is threatening to destroy the ecosystem that sustains life on earth. The instrumentalist view of science and technology is no longer tenable, being based upon a monopolistic and authoritarian view of truth. The uncritical application of science and technology with the aim of unlimited growth of the industrial economy has brought about the present ecological crisis.

If the communication of the Good News among the people has anything to do with life and creation on earth, this situation concerns us deeply.

ii. Modern science and technology have enabled production of military weapons systems that can destroy human life and the life of the world as a whole. The present change in the global ideological framework will not stop the process of continual development towards even more sophisticated and more destructive weapons systems, although there could be some relaxation of the process in the absence of global conflict.

The Gospel of Peace is diametrically opposed to the design of any weapons system for total destruction, even if that system is not being used. The communication of the Good News has definite implications in this environment of mass destruction, violence and death.

iii. Science and technology dictate the mode of human organizations in economic, social, political and international life. The political economy is highly organized as a technocracy in which the scientific and technocratic elite determine the course of socio-economxc and political processes on the domestic and international levels. State, economic and military organizations are basically technocracies - a fact that seriously affects human life, subjecting it to the dictates of science and technology. Communicating the Good News of shalom and koinonia among the people calls this model into question.

iv. Modern culture has accepted science and technology as its highest value. The Enlightenment ghost is haunting modern philosophy, science and technology, dominating the question of truth. Modern culture has made information its powerful resource, technology its almighty tool and the communications media its most powerful channel of truth.

Some influential Western theologies have tried to interpret the Gospel using the categories of modernity. This has created many problems in our communication of the Good News among the people who are the victims of science and technology.

Could it be that oriental despotism is being remanifested in the present technocracy? Is it possible that scientific truths and technologies have been serving modern technocratic despots who have substituted these forms of control for traditional authoritarian and absolutist dictatorships over their peoples?

What are the implications of this for communication of the Gospel among the peoples of the world today? God has made us partners of communication with these peoples, these victims of technocracy, and our solidarity with them will direct us to find ways of proper communication of the Good News among them.

D. Some Missiological Issues of Our Times

The sharing of the Gospel among the people of today’s world requires effective communication within the context of the webwork of contemporary cultures of peoples everywhere. Ways of communicating the Good News must be sought in solidarity partnership with the peoples with whom the message is to be shared. The people determine the way in which the communication is to be done, and the people ultimately decide the content of the message in the context of their own intercultural situation. It is not so much the medium as it is the people who decide the communication of the Good News. Those who communicate or who have control over the media seem to control communication, but ultimately the people are the subjects of communication, being partners in God’s covenant solidarity.

The reality of Jesus the Suffering Servant means the total rejection of any form of triumphalism in our missiological thinking, as is clearly stated in the words of Jesus in Mark 8:31 and 9:35: "And He began to teach them that the Son of humanity must suffer many things, must be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again"; and "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."

Being rejected by the circle of the masters means the assumption of the role of the Suffering Servant serving all. The Christological confession in l’hilippians 2:5-11 says:

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of people; and being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God ha~ highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

The total identification of the Church with the suffering people is the beginning of the breaking of the barriers of communication of the Good News, whatever they may be. This means that God’s covenant solidarity with the suffering people is the basic context and framework of the communication of the Good News.

The most serious problem of both evangelical and ecumenical mission today is that the language and communication of the Good News is monopolized in a triumphalistic, authoritarian and even piously chauvinist manner in relation to the suffering people. Theologies often defend and serve the churches "ideologically" - not in the struggle against the powers-that-be, the masters of the dominant communication system, and not in the service of the suffering people - but in defense of the Church, the "owner" and "preserver" of truth and salvation.

The Suffering Servant who is in covenant solidarity with the suffering peoples is the bearer of the Good News. He is not the master of communication of the Good News. How can the churches bear the Good News without entering into covenant solidarity with the people who suffer under the dominant cultural webworks of our day?

Three important cases should be examined: first, when the powers become barriers to the communication of the Good News among the people; second, when different webworks of religions and cultures become barriers to communication; and third, when modern science and technology block the communication of the Good News among the people.

We may explore these three problem cases in relation to concrete experiences where covenant solidarity was decisive in breaking the barriers to communication. The Korean church has had to identify with the powerless during most of its history, and thus, it has been able to communicate the message of liberation as the Gospel. The Korean churches, by and large, however, have failed to deal with the reality of different interacting cultures and have identified more with Western culture, including Western church life and theologies. Now our churches are making some progress in this area, particularly the Minjung churches. The Korean churches are confused over the question of science and technology that dominates modern life, just as churches elsewhere in the world are unsure about this issue.

Let me close my remarks by quoting a Biblical passage, Revelation 21:1-4, that is read often by our Korean Christians living under colonial domination:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying. ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with people. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."’