Evangelical christianity in the 20th century tended to see its main task as making converts for Jesus. Sure, we ran mission hospitals and schools, but doing much of that at home smacked of the “social gospel”, which only ‘liberals’ did. There was little need to care for the environment because this world is only temporary, and Jesus will surely be back soon to take us all somewhere better.
But did God create this vast universe just so earthlings could be “saved”? Do animals not matter? Does God not care about caring for those suffering and justice for the downtrodden?
There is a revolution happening in evangelical christianity, as, belatedly, evangelicals discover God’s bigger picture.
It was staring us in the face all along
It’s there in the New Testament. In Romans 8, Paul gives us a big picture – the renewal of the whole of creation, which is presently decaying. In Revelation, God promises a new heaven and a new earth. God’s plan is certainly bigger than just saving people.
And it’s there in the Old Testament. The Law shows God is concerned for justice and for a peaceful society. The prophets show that God is especially concerned that widows and orphans be treated with compassion, and the rich don’t exploit the poor.
The mission of God
Relationships between people and (i) God, (ii) each other and (iii) the creation are so often characterised buy faithlessness, hopelessness and lovelessness. But God is acting in this world to restore these relationships and bring wholeness (shalom) everywhere.
We are called to join God in this mission, in all our actions to bear witness to, and embody God’s character.
Words without character and actions?
Speaking out the simple message of personal salvation without embodying God’s character (or at least attempting to) and living in ways that bring justice and wholeness, is a travesty. But if we join in God’s mission of wholeness, our character will begin to look like this:
- gently prophetic
Taking God’s mission outside the church
We are called to minister to the whole person and to care for the whole creation. What will this look like? What values will we embody?
“All will be well”
As we work to care for the broken, heal distorted political systems, share the good news of God’s kingdom, restore broken relationships and share the good things we have in abundance, people will be healed, encouraged, restored, welcomed and renewed.
Their relationships with God will be restored through receiving forgiveness, just as we are experiencing too. Old relationships will be rebuilt and new ones formed. Health and wellbeing will be restored. We will learn together to live sustainably and so care for God’s creation, including the people he created who are living in need (which includes ourselves!).
Wouldn’t you want to be part of a movement like that?
Change the church, change ourselves
Too many churches spend too much of their efforts on themselves and their properties, too much time on activities designed to get people into their buildings and into membership. Too much time is spent by people sitting passively in rows while pastors tell them things they’ve heard before, and should already know and be acting on. And passive people don’t do very much.
Instead, our churches need to be mobilising every member and equipping them to take God’s mission in to the world.
If your church isn’t helping you do that, is there some way you can do it anyway, or help your church to change?
Thanks to Peter Archer of World Vision Australia for many of these ideas.
Photo: Part of the former Mission San Juan in San Antonio, Texas, which I was fortunate enough to visit in 2009. The mission was one of many founded in the 18th century by the Spanish Catholic Church. I have mixed feelings about the motives and methods of these missions, but I can only admire the priests who saw their mission holistically and carried it through in harsh conditions, and they did help protect the native Coahuiltecan people from ill treatment by new settlers.