Mission and Evangelism
I’ve just published our latest Swaziland Newsletter. You will find it under the blogroll if you wish to read it.
In many Christian circles, speaking of evangelism is not a very popular topic. Mission is acceptable (up to a certain extent) but evangelism is a no-no! The debate between the so-called Ecumenicals and Evangelicals highlighted many of the problems. In a nutshell one could probably say that the Evangelicals erred on the side of concentrating so much on the life hereafter, that they did not care enough about what was happening in this life. This complaint may be true to a certain extent, but one day I was in a discussion with a friend of mine who is a professor in missiology and, if I had to classify him, I would say that he was probably slightly biassed towards a more Ecumenical viewpoint. At one point, however, I asked him who had done the most for social reform in the world, the Ecumenicals or the Evangelicals. Without the slightest hesitation he answered: The Evangelicals of course.
While this debate was going on in the world, the church where I come from had another debate going: the relationship between evangelism and mission. Somewhere in my theological training (more than 25 years ago) we discussed the church’s mission policy and there it came out that mission was seen as work done amongst those who had not yet repented and evangelism was work done amongst those had repented but who had stopped serving the Lord. On paper this sounds a fair way of making a distinction, but in practice these words obtained a whole new meaning: Evangelism was work done amongst White non-Christians and Mission was Christian work done amongst people of colour, regardless whether they were Christians or not! Shortly before I was ordained as minister I preached in a church and during my sermon I challenged this traditional view of mission. Oh boy, did I have trouble! Fortunately, I can say that in the meantime our church had revoked their old viewpoint and, at least on paper, this distinction does not exist anymore.
However, the question remains: Is mission and evangelism one and the same? David Bosch opened my eyes many years ago to a more Biblical distinction. Later he articulated it as follows in his Transforming Mission (p 10): “Mission includes evangelism as one of its essential dimensions. Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion…” Mission, if seen in this way, becomes a much greater entity than mere evangelism. Social upliftment programs, medical assistance, home-based caring and many other things being done in the name of Jesus Christ (done, merely because I am a Christian and because God has done and will do the same for me) to assist those suffering from some kind of problem, could fall under the description of mission.
I still find people who consider social support as unimportant and not part of the church’s duty. Fortunately more and more people realise the truth of what James wrote in 2:15-17: Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.