Thursday, September 25, 2008

missionaries and social workers

If you're anything like me, you have a conflicted opinion when the subject of missions and missionaries arise. On the one hand, you may be challenged by the commitment and passion of those who have chosen to pour their lives out for total strangers in a foreign land. Yet on the other hand, you may be repulsed by past exploits built on Western arrogance. You may see missions as an extension of colonialism, and therefore a veiled attempt to transform the Third World savages into our civilized image. For you, missions may conjure up images of lilly white Americans forcing pamphlets down people's throats, only to end up with a poisonous quill lodged in the side of their collective neck.

Because Laura and I are often classified as missionaries, these are things I think about. As much as I hate it, and as much of a throwback as I like to consider myself, I am a part this current generation. And ours is a generation obsessed with accommodating those God calls us to. We like incarnational ministry. We like relational evangelism. We like to focus on the questions, and pretend as if there are no definite answers. We like our preaching to be conversational, and we'd rather not speculate on who may or may not be going to hell. This, combined with our insatiable appetite for social justice makes us more comfortable with the mantle of a social worker over that of a missionary.

With all of that in mind, ladies and gentleman, here's my advice to myself and anyone who shares my struggle.......Stop whatever you're doing, and remember your calling. Put aside whatever author you happen to be reading. Do not be swayed by the intoxicating glare emanating from his retro lenses. Pick up the Bible and read the book of Acts. See that along with sharing all things together, and caring for the poor, the early church was emphatic that submission to Christ was the only option for salvation. Then, go read the history of the social gospel. See how its proponents sought to replace the supernatural grace of God with the vanity of human effort. After you're done, go pray for somebody's soul. Don't change any of the other things you're doing. Keep feeding people. Keep speaking out against sweat shop labor. All of these thing are vital, seeing as how we are called to reach the whole person, and to promote life wherever we can. But never forget that a persons greatest need is that they submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Missionaries may have been wrong on some issues, but they were right in their insistence that it's ultimately all about a relationship with Christ. In our postmodern world of communal living, human rights, and environmentalism, that's still what it's all about.