Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Institutional Failures

"Church" as we know it is not producing disciples of Christ. The question is why not?

To view the full 13min video visit the Reveal website.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Theology of Humanitarian Missions: Kingdom Lifestyle

A basic definition of Humanitarian Missions is when Christian witness and goodwill meet human needs. Christian witness is the heralding of the good news to which we are called in the great commission, starting with people we are in daily contact with. (Acts 1.8) Purposefully making it a point to preface evangelizing by developing relationships, in doing so being a character witness to the hope we have in Jesus. Goodwill is how we are called as disciples of Christ to engage the world through service and love. The driving force at the heart of the missio dei is God’s boundless and unconditional love for His creation; particularly humankind who, being made in the very image of God, reflect the essence of God. I believe love should be at the foundation of anyone’s theology of mission. As such we embody the very nature of God in our human relations, purposefully striving to avoid the narcissism caused by humankind’s sinful nature. When we become a follower of Christ we are brought into the covenant God made with His people. In doing so, we partner with God in His mission. Paul talks about being heirs with the father, calling us into relationship with Him in the redemption of a fallen world; as though God were making His appeal through us.

In the last two hundred years “missions” was redefined as going somewhere meeting the spiritual needs of the heathen world. In most cases, even to this day, this salvific approach focuses on the conversion of souls. The chief goal is to meet the spiritual need in humankind for redemption, salvation through Jesus, reconciliation with the father, and/or sanctification. All are very important aspects of missions but foolishly reductionistic, sometimes to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting the missio dei. Because of this distortion of the term “missions”, missionary work is sometimes seen as the destruction of indigenous cultures and the implantation of foreign ones. Sadly, mission work has become the westernizing of the heathen world, which even in the church is debated as a positive or negative strategy. In His book What is Mission?: Theological Explorations, J. Andrew Kirk says, “Mission is quite simply, though profoundly, what the Christian community is sent to do, beginning right where it is located.” Again an (Acts 1:8) reference that we are ambassadors of Christ, this “Christian community” is to share the ministry of reconciliation entrusted us. When in fact the three year ministry of Christ is an example of what holistic missions, humanitarian missions, should look like. His stint as a humanitarian missionary divinely balanced meeting not only the need for the redemption of the soul, but also the physical, emotional, and social/economic needs of His fallen creation. This is the life God has called us to as followers of Christ: to go, live, love, serve, engage. If we are truly to pursue a Christ like life we would be humanitarian missionaries every day, wherever we are. The missio dei flows directly from the nature of who God is, making Gods calling to mission a calling to service. “As the father sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20.21)”Go and do likewise”, (Luke 10.37) this verse is shown in the context of mercy towards the outcasts of society.

Humanitarian mission is daily having a kingdom mindset in all relations, both with God and fellow humankind. This kingdom living of following in the way of Christ quite simply (and yet with many obstacles to overcome) requires communicating the good news of Jesus and the kingdom (Acts 28.30) (evangelism), insisting on the full participation of all people in God’s gifts of life and wellbeing (justice), and providing the resources to meet peoples needs (compassion) and never lethal violence as a means of doing God’s will (the practice of passive resistance as a means of change). Kirk then says that the Church’s mission ‘in the way of Christ’ “is thus to be an instrument of God’s righteness and compassionate governance in the world.” The story of the early church’s evangelism begins and ends with a declaration of the kingdom of God. (Acts 1.3; 28.31)

Most of us know our “purpose” as Christians and when called upon can give a good answer with scripture references. Though when it comes to the application and integration of these principles exemplified in scripture into how we live our lives, we often segregate our spiritual life with our work, family, or school life. Because of this segregation we (all of us) have marginalized brothers and sisters throughout cultures, including our own, which are less fortunate. Sachs says, “The greatest tragedy of our time is that one sixth of humanity is not even on the development ladder.” What he is saying is that about a billion people on the shit basket we call earth, live in extreme poverty. While the other five billion aspire to earn their first million by the age of thirty, have a television in every room of our over priced homes, and plan for retirement in Jacksonville with season tickets to Jaguars home games. In his book, Rich Christians in an age of Hunger, Ronald Sider said, “In an age of affluence and poverty, most Christians, regardless of theological labels, are tempted to succumb to the heresy of following sociality’s materialistic values rather than biblical truth.” That is an indictment on the “church.” And the real sad part is that we (the body of Christ) are in such disagreement over how to address this pressing issue. Christ, being in the very nature of God, became flesh, and exemplified the way in which we are to address social injustice (to use a common buzz word). I truly believe one of Satan’s most effective tactics against Christians to be the busyness of our lives, even in ministry. (programs, programs, programs) Oswald Chambers said “Sometimes the greatest competitor to true devotion to Christ is the service we do for Him.” Sider later says that he is convinced “that the overwhelming majority of Western churches no longer understand or experience biblical koinonia to any significant degree….The essence of Christian community is far-reaching accountability to and liability for brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.” This rarely happens and is best suited for small communities of believers like the house churches of first century Christians.

What the world needs is willing Christians fully committed to the mission of the Father. By that I do not mean balls to the wall spring break campaigns or short summer missions trips in which we come back and gush over how it affected me and how it changed my life. Do not get we wrong, these are good these. I myself went to Croatia for eight weeks one summer while in college, and i am a different person, but I am also an optimistic realist. More often than not in our own short-sightedness and western “results” mentality, the real answer to the why question is lost. Our humanitarian missions efforts “must be matched by a personal level of commitment to meet the needs of people and worthy of the seriousness of the need."

So as Christians how do we use the example Christ gave us and apply that example to how our humanitarian participation in God’s mission? In looking at the story of Jesus ministering to thousands in Mark eight and Matthew fourteen, He admonished His disciples when they wanted Him to send the hungry crowd away. He told them, “they do not need to go away, you feed them.” Well if the disciples thought they could feed them all I would think that they would have done so the first two days, and not asked Jesus to send them away in the first place. These are just one of many examples of Jesus meeting the physical needs of people while not yet making known that he was the Son of God. People receive the gospel better on a full stomach.
Cultural values play a central role in fostering poverty and creating wealth and yet in an attempt to reach a lost and dying world it is cultural values that we shape our idea of “missions”. It just goes to show how much our worldview, I’m sorry, Christian worldview, is shaped by our culture and not always biblical principles. In a perfect world there would be no children dying from starvation, but we live in the realm of the evil one, all humankind subject to our own sinful nature. There will always be poor and oppressed peoples, (Mark 14.7) (Deut 15) the good news is that we are already redeemed. The question every believer should ask oneself is how I, as a follower of Christ, called to a life of humanitarian mission, reach out and engage those around us positively, as salt and light? I believe the answer to be relationally. God is by nature missional, he is also, by nature, relational. He desires to be in relationship with everyone of His creation. That is why He provided a way to do that through His son Jesus Christ. God does not separate the two, they can’t be, were not meant to be. But somewhere along the line we did. If we are the body why aren’t His arms reaching, why aren’t his handing healing, why aren’t His words teaching, why aren’t His feet going, why is His love not showing them there is a way? Jesus is the way.”

Works Cited

What is Mission?: Theological Explorations. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, J. Andrew Kirk, pg 61

The End of Poverty: Economic possibilities for our time. Penguin Books: Jeffrey D. Sachs. Pg 19

Rich Christians: In an age of Hunger. W Publishing Group, Ronald Sider, pg 122