Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mission vs. Mission

The above title reflects an observation on the different ways that churches define "mission" when it comes to the work of the church. As a Lutheran my understanding of "mission" always involved the active sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - his atoning death and resurrection - with those who had not yet heard this good news of salvation, or in reintroducing it to those who had drifted from the faith. Of course it could also involve charitable acts of kindness that reflected the Gospel, but these acts were reflections of the mission's primary emphasis - to proclaim.

In my recent efforts to travel the Net examining the beliefs and practices of other denominations, I stopped at the web site of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and saw their view of "mission" (see side link "U.S. and World Mission.") Under the question "What is Mission?" they include the first section called "Presbyterians express the importance of MISSION in various ways." Under this they list the following quotes:
  • “Mission is the ‘heart’ of the Great Commission. Christians are to GO into all the world sharing the love of Christ.”—Rev. Betty Crawford, Corvalis, Oregon

  • “Mission, to me, is ‘walking the walk’—an opportunity to be God’s hand extended to others, be they next door or on the other side of the globe. In mission, we demonstrate the love that has been bestowed upon us through Christ Jesus, not necessarily by our words, but by our very lives and actions.”—Kathie Sherman, St. Louis, Missouri

  • “Mission is worshiping God by helping people.”—Ladell Hemsworth, 15, Foley, Minnesota

  • “Mission is PEOPLE; people who love and serve the Lord.Glenice Johnson, retired missionary, Atlanta, Georgia
The second section is entitled "MISSION can be defined in different ways, such as," and then the following is also listed:
  • “bearing witness to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ”— (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Study Catechism, Question 63)

  • “the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world” —Turn to the Living God: A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ’s Way, page 4

  • “The life, death, resurrection, and promised coming of Jesus Christ has set the pattern for the church’s mission.”—The Confession of 1967, the Book of Confessions, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 9.32
Now, admittedly, the explanation is brief and cannot be said to be their last word on the theology of mission. However, it seemed to me that the emphasis here was predominantly on the act of showing love and concern with an obvious absence of any mandate to actually share the content of the Gospel itself. The last point does mention the actual life, death, resurrection, and coming of Christ as the "pattern for the church's mission." But does this include proclaiming the Gospel? We don't know. And therein is my concern in the more liberal mainline denominations today. Is Mission being defined more as an act of love and kindness, with or without the clear proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? I hope not....

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