Thursday, February 15, 2007

"What Is Missions?"

During WW2, an island native in the South Pacific showed a Bible to an American soldier. The soldier said "We've outgrown that sort of thing." The island native smiled back & said "It's a good thing we haven't. If it weren't for this book, you'd be supper by now."

I hear a lot of people, especially young people, talk about "mission trips" they have participated in. They usually tell how they spent a few days in a poor area of America or perhaps in a poor foreign country. They usually talk of how they helped build a home, cleaned up a neighborhood, or some other similar project, and they often come back excited about "missions".

But is this all "missions" is supposed to be - - - building someone a house or picking up garbage? In our rush to "broaden" missions to include all kinds of social action & projects, we have changed the fundamental nature of missions from verbal proclamation of the gospel to active involvement in changing society. Several times, I have asked those who have gone on these "mission trips" at what point did they proclaim the gospel to those they were helping. Usually, the gospel was never mentioned or brought up. Supposedly, the "good works" of the "missionaries" lets their "lifestyle" proclaim the gospel.

What these well-meaning, enthusiastic "missionaries" forget is that the way you change society is by proclaiming the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone. Even though certain pastors who preach in glass cathedrals don't like the word "sinner", building someone a home won't change their status before God as a sinner. Yet proclaiming the gospel of Christ will do just that. The gospel transforms lives. And transformed lives lead to a transformed society, one person at a time. In a few decades, the early church spread from Jerusalem to all over the known world because of the verbal proclamation of the gospel, not because of social action.

One reason so many emphasize the social aspects of "missions" is because they no longer have any gospel to proclaim. They long ago abandoned belief in the necessity of trusting Christ's death on the cross as totally sufficient for forgiveness and redemption. "Missions" is no longer freeing from the penalty, power, and (eventually) presence of sin, but instead "missions" is freeing from the injustices and hardships of society. This "social gospel" has infected many churches to the point that the true, Biblical gospel would be unrecognizable (and unwanted!) to them.

All four Gospels (Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15; Lk 24:46-47; Jn 20:21) and the book of Acts (1:8) emphasize sending, witnessing, and proclaiming. Although social works may be helpful ("faith without works is dead", James 2:17,20,26), social works can never replace or dominate missions. The mission that Jesus Christ has given His church can only be fulfilled by the proclamation of the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Anything else is not the gospel and certainly not missions.