Here are some thoughts on the inter-relation of mission, evangelism and social action. I have written a longer essay on this on my website here. Here are some abridged thoughts… In part one I will flag up the doctrine of God issues which ought to be the very foundation of our missiology. But first, a word of warning…
1) I lavish exhorbitant amounts of money and time on my own ‘non-spiritual’ blessings
Before we say anything else, let’s admit this. I will argue strongly that the mission of the church is to proclaim the Gospel and that to add social action as a separate component is confused and confusing. BUT… before we get into all that let’s come clean: I love myself by spending many resources on my own health, comfort, recreation, food, clothing, shelter etc etc. If I am to love my neighbour as myself, will I really with-hold such blessings from others – those blessings which I indulge myself with on a daily basis?? If someone refuses to feed and clothe the poor let them never claim justification in an ‘evangelism-only’ missiology. It is greed pure and simple.
2) Mission is God’s work first, then ours
“It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world, it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father which includes the church.” (Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution of Messianic Ecclesiology, London: SCM Pr., 1977, p64).
3) Mission is founded in our doctrine of God
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21
“Must not even the most faithful missionary, the most convinced friend of missions, have reason to reflect that the term missio was in the ancient Church an expression of the doctrine of the Trinity—namely the expression of the divine sending forth of self, the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit to the world? Can we indeed claim that we do it any other way?” (Karl Barth, quoted in Norman E. Thomas, ed., Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity, Orbis, 1995, p105–6.)
In evangelical circles we are accustomed to thinking through this question from the perspective of certain priorities. That is, we begin with “We’re on the Titanic! Get people to the life rafts, don’t re-arrange the deck-chairs!” The urgency driving such thinking, the priority of the gospel task that this engenders, is completely admirable. If you’re proclaiming Christ from the roof-tops out of this understanding of mission, I stand with you, shoulder-to-shoulder! Evangelism is my passion, my gifting and my job! But is this really where we should begin?? Such a perspective often leads to the following assessments:
We highlight the priority of then over now, of soul over body, of heaven over earth, of individual over corporate, of internal mental acts, over external physical acts.
If we start here, we’re defeated before we’ve begun. First of all, so much of this dichotomous thinking is closer to Plato than Scripture. But more importantly, our first thoughts should be about our God, not our plight. We must begin with doctrine of God. We should be asking: “What do we learn from the Father’s sending of the Son? (a mission constitutive of the divine being). “What is His mission in creation and redemption?”
As we do so, we will see that there is a tremendous urgency to proclaim the Son, yet it springs from a different well. More in part two…
The rest of the series: