There was a time when the Church saw her mission primarily as that of ‘saving souls’, and of world evangelisation (i.e. saving souls from all nations). After being saved, one was to ‘do church-y stuff’, and live a quiet life with minimal fuss about the ‘secular affairs of the world’.
At some other time, the mission was expanded to that of making disciples. We shouldn’t just be saving souls, but we should also bring them up to spiritual maturity. Still quite ‘churchy’, rather personal (i.e. not social), but closer to the truth behind the Great Commission.
There was also a time when the Church looked at the awful mess of the world all around – the poverty, injustice, violence, and concluded that it could not just sit there and do nothing about it; That the gospel can’t be good news if it does not compel people to serve the tangible, material, this-worldly needs of others. There was a social dimension to the gospel, they said. Some called this social holiness.
Along the way, some got dissatisfied with what they thought was an insular and uncaring church. They abandoned the need to evangelize, and focused only on social concerns. This has been called the social gospel. (This, I think, is where the church got seriously lost.)
In some places, Christian thinkers pushed the limits of social holiness to say that the Church ought to be concerned not just with meeting the needs of individuals, but to also challenge the systems and structures that led people to get trapped in poverty cycles, or oppressed by systemic injustice. That the Church ought to speak against racial discrimination and unjust governments. To use biblical language, this was the kingdom of God confronting the powers and principalities. The gospel had a political dimension as well.
To cap it off, others have argued that the mission of the Church includes creation care and the proper stewardship of the environment. From saving endangered species to lobbying to fight the deleterious effects of climate change, this span of activities falls within the ambit of God’s all-encompassing mission of redeeming all creation to Himself.
So, what is our mission? All of the above? What takes priority? How do we hold all of these together?
I’ve seen churches in Singapore lean in different directions, and am convinced that we need one another to keep each other from falling off the tight rope. We need to listen to how one another makes sense of this, and talk it through on the basis of shared Christian tenets. What are some of them?
I’m a military man, and so when I think of mission I think of the Authority who gave the orders, the One whom I serve. That is the Christ.
I also think of the mission orders that Christ has issued, as found in the Scriptures. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) there isn’t a single all-encompassing mission statement found in the Bible. We have instead a story, a drama in a sequence of acts, told in various forms, of God at work, of God on the move, with Christ as the Central Person of the story. Our understanding of Christian mission is figured out within these parameters – Jesus at the Centre, understood under the authority of His Word. Do not be surprised by how easy it is for the church to lose sight of this.
I could say more.
We could talk about the Story themes that frame the drama:
Creation and New Creation.
Idolatry and Injustice.
We could talk about Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, of the Kingdom of God which comprises (at the very least) the people and the land, and how this Kingdom is breaking into this world, with the decisive victory secured at the Cross;
Or of the grand scheme of how God in Christ is reconciling the world to Himself, drawing individuals into a deeply personal knowledge of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and sending them out to be His witnesses, image-bearers, and a royal priesthood into the world.
Can we hold all of these together and live our lives as fully wrapped up in (INTEGRATED into) God’s Big Story, such that our deeds and our words speak the same message which echoes into eternity?
That is the business of integral mission, and it is a life-long enterprise.
Clearly we have to care about this.
Let’s work this out together.
Under the Word.
Jesus at the Centre.
Zhiwen worships at Zion Bishan BP Church, and has been seconded to Singapore Centre for Global Mission (SCGM), where he serves in the area of missions research and missions mobilisation. He is the Mobilisation IC for the GoForth National Missions Conference, and co-founder of TeamZero, a group of young adults passionate about the church's mission in the public square. His passion is to see a church united for God's mission.