Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Collective guilt and Collective salvation

I was preaching in Swaziland today on Romans 5:18: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”
This concept is not easy for people from a Western background to understand. We tend to think much more individualistically about matters. The question which many Westerners struggle with, is how Adam’s single deed of disobedience could influence our lives today. This would seem to be very unfair. We reason that Adam made a choice and had to bear the consequences of his choice. We, however, had nothing to do with Adam’s choice and therefore we cannot bear the consequences of his choice.
Within the Swazi culture (and this is probably true for all indigenous African cultures and I would guess for many cultures in places like South America and Asia as well) this concept makes absolute sense. (And these cultures, by the way, are much closer to the Judean-Greek cultures of Biblical times than our Western, individualistic culture.) In the traditional Swazi culture, one person’s conduct within a clan or a village can indeed influence the lives of every other person within the group. As people are moving away from their rural villages to cities and towns, the feeling of collective responsibility is definitely becoming smaller. But I get the feeling that, when these people return to the rural village where they originate from, even after a long time, that they are immediately seen once again as being part of the group with certain responsibilities which they cannot turn away from.
In these days with the high number of funerals taking place, we often find that someone in a homestead dies. A coffin needs to be bought and food needs to be bought for the people attending the funeral. So a message will be sent to one of the people of the homestead or the village, working somewhere in a city, to bring money in order to pay for the funeral. In our Western way of thinking this makes little sense. It is first and foremost the responsibility of the immediate family to pay for the funeral. But not so in Africa. There everyone is linked to each other and have to take responsibility for each other on a collective basis. And should that person refuse to help, then he or she (but mostly a male) would bring shame upon the family and on the other people within the homestead. And this fear of shame would normally be enough to convince the person to give the money he was asked for.
Seen against this background, it is not so difficult then to explain that we are all linked to Adam and that through his single deed of disobedience, we have all fallen under the curse of sin. But then again, it is also clear that one Person’s good deed could bring blessing to all.
Why then is it still so difficult for people in Africa to accept Christ as Saviour? I’m still struggling with this question. But it might be because a decision to follow Christ as Lord, has certain consequences in a person’s life. Not, in the first place, things like going to church, reading the Bible and praying. But certain moral implications, such as forgiving someone who has wronged you, turning the other cheek, and perhaps most difficult of all, making decisions that may go against the wishes of the clan or the village or the traditional leaders and which may even have the effect that such a person become an outcast – merely because God has a greater authority over the Christian’s life than the local leaders. And although I’m speculating about this, I believe that this has a great influence on people in Africa when they decide whether they will accept Christ as Saviour or not.
Easy to understand the concept. Much more difficult to accept the consequences!


Sunday, March 15, 2009 - Posted by | Africa, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Evangelism, Mission, Swaziland, Theology


  1. A few weeks ago we had diner with friends and were talking about our work in Swaziland. I told them that the country is 80% Christian, but that polygamy and having multiple sex partners remains very accepted, even sometimes among Christians. My friend asked “how can someone be a Christian and a polygamist?”

    I won’t say my response now, but I’m wondering if this problem is an example of collective guilt and sin? We western Christians have bondage and collective guilt too (idolatry to consumerism for example). Ours isn’t killing us (physically that is).


    Comment by Wendi Hammond | Monday, March 16, 2009 | Reply

  2. There may be some truth in this in as far as certain forms of conduct is culturally acceptable and then becomes something of a societal sin. Polygamy is an example. Ancestral worship may be another. In my own history Apartheid was definitely a societal sin. But of course, in Biblical terms, comparing Adam and Jesus, this is not quite on the same level.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, March 16, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’m taking a missions class called Perspectives. There was much discussion about how many (few) missionary efforts go toward clearly unreached people, and how much of our mission efforts and resources go to actually “reached” people, like the Swazi people.

    If our mission efforts should be primarily directed toward unreached people, why should any of us come to a country like Swaziland, 80% christian already?

    Comment by Wendi Hammond | Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | Reply

  4. Wendi. Thanks for that comment. This may be an excellent topic for a blog-post. My initial reaction would be to agree with what many are saying, on one condition: if we’re only in the soul-saving business. But as far as I can see, Jesus came to save the world, not only the souls. And if that is true, then I can think of many reasons why our mission efforts should be directed, not only towards the “unreached” but also towards those who have already heard the gospel. But watch this space for a post on my blog!

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | Reply

  5. […] any of us come to a country like Swaziland, 80% Christian already?” You can read my reply to her here, but I thought the topic was important enough to open it up for more discussion. I was listening to […]

    Pingback by Reaching the unreached: Mission vs Evangelism « Mission Issues | Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | Reply

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