What mission guides our proselytizing?

By A. Wayne Schwab — April 17, 2009

I read about persecution of Christians for proselytizing in countries where other faiths dominate. Just what is the message coming across from the Christians? How do we understand our mission?

What is our mission as the church? To make disciples; to reconcile people to God; to convert people to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

All are accepted ways to describe our mission. But how full a description of God’s mission are they? It’s not that they are wrong. It’s that they do not go far enough.

Jesus proclaims “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15). God is present and at work among us. Jesus is proclaiming God’s power present and working. What is the purpose guiding God’s power? To make the world more loving and more just. “Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 19:29) and “. . . the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor . . . to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). God’s mission is make the world more loving and more just. That is the church’s mission as an agent of God’s mission.

Good Friday tells us we all need help — even Jesus’ disciples. We all need God’s help to be loving and just. The Easter tells us God’s power prevails. Jesus is victorious over evil, sin, and death. His constant call is to be loving and just. His healings, the power of his teaching, and his besting of his opponents that last week in Jerusalem — in all he triumphs. Finally, in his passion and cross he does not hurt back but conquers such evil in himself and is raised victorious.

His greater commission — as John Stott puts it — is “As the Father has sent me, I send you . . . receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20: 21-22). We are to join Jesus in his mission, God’s mission, to make the world more loving and more just. That we can do only with Jesus’ help. To join Jesus’ mission involves all those descriptions of the mission as to know Jesus and to believe in his power, the Holy Spirit, as Lord and Savior and to make disciples. All are part of and enable joining the mission — making the world more loving and more just with God’s help. Our call is to be sure we have gone all the way to joining the mission!

Evangelism is calling people into Jesus’ mission. When that mission is making the world more loving and more just, we have common ground with both the religious and the secular anywhere. This sense of our mission will lead to a different kind of proselytizing.

We will join with anyone of any faith for whom love and justice are primary. For us, whoever champions love and justice is doing God’s work already for the marks of God’s work are love and justice. When, as coworkers do, we get to sharing what motivates us, we can talk of Jesus Christ and his teaching. When we and our coworkers tire, we can share how Jesus helps us. We can share that we find the guidance and the power we need in our worship. At that moment, why not suggest we visit each other’s places of for guidance and power?

That is a “proselytizing” that flows from our mission to make the world more loving and more just with God’s help. We gladly work and share with any for whom love and justice are central.

Yes, we have a distinctive message. Jesus both tells us how to live and helps us to do it!”Receive the Holy Spirit” — receive the power by which I work says Jesus. Is there such a parallel in other religions? While we have much to learn from other religions, we have much to bring to the dialog.

The church does not have a mission. The mission has a church. Any who work for love and justice are already on God’s mission in our eyes of faith. We rejoice to find and to work with them. “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35).

God is most concerned about how we live from Monday to Saturday; Sunday — all of church life — helps us to do it better. Recently, a 40-year-old said, “How much I wish I had heard that when I was 20! My path would not have been nearly so difficult to follow.”