Sunday, February 24, 2008

Evangelism/Social Action within the Mission of God

I realise that it is not necessarily good blogging to just quite huge chunks of what other people have written, but I find Newbigin saying exactly what I want to say but can't. Here he is on the Mission of God, and the false dichotomy of evangelism and social action within that:

'It seems to me to be of great importance to insist that mission is not first of all an action of ours. It is an action of God, the triune God - of God the Father who is ceaselessly at work in all creation and in the hearts and minds of all human beings whether they acknowledge him or not, graciously guiding history toward its true end; of God the Son who has become part of this created history in the incarnation; and of God the Holy Spirit who is given as a foretaste of the end to empower and teach the Church and to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgement. Before we speak about our role, the role of our words and deeds in mission, we need to have firmly in the center of our thinking this action of God.'

Having this view saves us from 2 wrong concepts of mission :

'On the one hand, there are those who place exclusive emphasis on the winning of individuals to conversion, baptism, and church membership. The numerical growth of the Church becomes the central goal of mission. Action for justice and peace in the world is a secondary matter. It is not the heart of mission. The gospel, it is said, is about changing people, not about changing structures. (...this neglects the very important biblical teaching about the principalities and powers..) The emphasis here is exclusively on the salvation of the individual soul and the growth of the Church. The primary task is evangelism, the direct preaching of the gospel in words - spoken or written. Action for social justice and peace may be a way of drawing people to hear the gospel, but it is not an intrinsic part of the gospel itself. The preaching of the gospel of salvation from sin and of the offer of eternal life is the primary business of the Church.

On the other hand, there are those who condemn this as irrelevant or wrong. The gospel, they will say, is about God's kingdom, God's reign over all the nations and all things. At the heart of Jesus' teaching is the prayer: "Your kingdom come; your will be done, as in heaven so on earth." The central responsibility of the Church is indicated by that prayer. It is to seek the doing of God's will of righteousness and peace in this world. A Christian community which makes its own self-enlargement its primary task may be acting against God's will. In societies such as India where good men and women seek to overcome interreligious strife and to build up the common life, the Church's program of aggressive evangelism is threatening. What is needed -it will be said- is not evangelistic preaching but action by Christians along with all people of goodwill to tackle the terrible problems of the nation, to free the oppressed, heal the sick, and bring hope to the hopeless.

If I am not mistaken, the conflict between these two ways of understanding mission is profoundly weakening the Church's witness. The conflict continues because both parties have hold of important truth. And I am suggesting that both parties are inadequately aware of the central reality, namely that mission is not primarily our work - whether of preaching or of social action- but primarily the mighty work of God. What is true in the affirmation of the evangelical side of this debate is that it does matter supremely that every human being should have the opportunity to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour, that without a living Church where this witness is borne neither evangelism nor Christian social action is possible, and that the gospel can never be identified with any particular project for justice and peace however laudable and promising. What is true in the position of the social activists is that a Church which exists only for itself and its own enlargement is a witness against the gospel, that the Church exists not for itself and not for its members but as a sign and agent and foretaste of the kingdom of God, and that it is impossible to give faithful witness to the gospel while being indifferent to the situation of the hungry, the sick, the victims of human inhumanity.'

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