Monday, December 17, 2007

Missionaries Must Also Evangelize

It might seem self-evident that missionary work, by definition, involves proclaiming the Gospel. However social and humanitarian efforts can easily eclipse the normal focus of evangelization. Recently Religious News Service posted this brief note:

Vatican says missionaries must also evangelize
By Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY -- Roman Catholic missionaries should aim to convert people to their faith and not restrict themselves to humanitarian good works, according to a Vatican document released Friday (Dec. 14). The 19-page document tries to correct a “growing confusion” among theologians who argue that “it is enough (for missionaries) to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity,” and who claim that it is “possible to be saved without explicit knowledge of Christ and without formal incorporation in the Church.” The statement is a follow-up to Dominus Iesus, the 2000 document produced by Pope Benedict XVI when he was still a cardinal, which said that non-Christians are in a “gravely deficient situation” on the question of salvation.

What the Roman Catholic church has struggled with has also been a source of contention within the broader church as well. In an article entitled "Peace, Justice, Evangelism: The Mission of the Church," Peter Kroeker indicates the great variety of views within the Mennonite Brethren tradition, which is probably indicative of many others:

"William Richardson (26-37), for example, states that evangelism is social action. Others see evangelism as simply the proclamation of the gospel. Jose Bonino (3), at one extreme, identifies {19} the claim of some people that the gospel implies liberation and revolution. Maurice Sinclair (23-24) makes a case that the gospel of the Kingdom has a vital application to the task of development. Jacob Loewen (121-122) points to the need for defining the gospel in its broadest and deepest dimensions rather than looking for a “one chord” definition."

While serving our neighbor in acts of love and charity is an outgrowth of the Gospel, the actual proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified and risen can never be optional in the mission work of the church. Also, redefining the mission of the church as political liberation and justice is a horrible confusion of the different kingdoms and the true role of the church in the world. There is also a lack of understanding among the liberation gospel promoters regarding the call of the church to suffer and bear the cross of a calling that often involves persecution.

Many churches would do well to reexamine how they have redefined the mission of the church, and to embrace again the original commission of Christ to "make disciples of all nations" by "baptizing....and teaching" them about the only Way, Truth, and Life.

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