Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The danger of making "mission" too broad

This continues my series on missional church.

An early wrong turn in missional church thinking was the radical secularisation of God's mission. The kingdom of God was tightly connected with secular well-being. Bodily health, freedom from oppressive political structures, and the like, were identified as the kingdom advancing.

The church has always been positive towards social action – witness the establishment of missionary schools and hospitals, and the political activity of people like William Wilberforce. But, these matters have been seen as an outworking of love of neighbour, not ‘mission’. Traditionally, ‘mission’ has been identified more closely with activity akin to the New Testament apostles: the verbal proclamation of Christ’s person and work, an explanation of the claims of Christ upon the hearer, and a summons for the hearer to respond to Christ.

In contrast, this radical secularisation meant mission lost its redemptive edge and became indistinguishable from social, environmental and political renewal. Dissatisfaction with this secularisation of mission led conservative evangelicals to form the International Congress on World Evangelization in 1974 - now known as the Lausanne Movement - and to adopt the Lausanne Covenant, which affirms that:
Our Christian presence in the world is indispensable to Evangelism. But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God.

1 comment:

Roger Gallagher said...

Hi Kamal,

During my year at Moore, I reviewed John Stott's 1975 book Christian Mission in the Modern World, which flowed out of the work he'd done for the Lausanne Conference in defining the words mission, evangelism, dialogue, salvation & conversion for the conference. Such definitions were needed after the 1968 World Council of Churches Assembly in Uppsala, Sweden, where proponents of the "social" gospel dominated. One delegate even claimed that there was no need for continued mission to mainland China because "they had Chairman Mao".

However, Stott's definition of mission, adopted by the Lausanne Conference, included both evangelism and social action, although evangelism was to take priority. This was based on Stott's interpretation of what he saw as the gospel of John's version of the great commission:
"As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" [John 20:21]. My argument was that Stott had got John 20:21 wrong - Christ's miracles, which Stott saw as proof that Jesus' mission included social action, were better understood as signs, pointing to the fact that the Messiah had come.