The problem with modern Christian missions, in particular missions in the evangelical community, is that we’re developing missionaries who are far more concerned about saving the soul of a man than about saving the man himself, who stress the Hell to come while ignoring the Hell that is, who preach about a heavenly afterlife, but neglect to bring a heavenly now. Not that the afterlife should be ignored or diminished, just that salvation involves both the soul and body; it makes no sense to preach that Christ came to save man as he is, that Christ took on the flesh of our flesh, if we’re going to simply act as though salvation is purely a spiritual act.
I hear talk all the time from people who want to go overseas and “save these lost people.” They want to bring the Gospel to unreached people groups, or help win a population to Christ. All of these desires are quite noble and well intentioned. The cynics who act as though these sentiments are simply neo-colonialism wrapped in the cloak of Christianity are simply being too judgmental. I would contend that many of these future missionaries have their hearts in the right place, for the most part. However, their fervency is misplaced because it’s been directed in the wrong direction. Ironically, in their love for these people and desire to see them go to Heaven, they act in a way that is quite unloving.
For those that wish to dedicate their lives to living in another land and spreading the Gospel, we are doing them a great disservice by raising them to believe that salvation is merely a spiritual act. In American Christianity, or what we can call evangelicalism, salvation is acquired through a prayer. The idea that works should accompany salvation is almost viewed as blasphemous, a belief that is anathema. Though there is no magistrate within evangelicalism, nor is there any Sacred Tradition, one will be met with great disdain, questioning, and cat-calls of heresy if one even makes the suggestion that works should accompany our salvation.
Yet, when I say that works accompany our salvation, I do not mean that works can accomplish our salvation. Salvation comes through God’s mercy alone, through His grace. The fact that salvation comes from God’s mercy, however, doesn’t mean that salvation is purely for the soul, something simply done with a prayer. To put it another way, salvation is not a pit stop, but a journey.
If this is the case, then when we go to these foreign lands, while we should concern ourselves with the souls of the people, we should equally concern ourselves with their well being. It is one thing to preach that God has given people salvation, but it’s entirely another to demonstrate that God has come to save the entirety of their being. We must preach that Christ has liberated them from sin, but we must also preach that He has liberated them from the earthly oppressors of hunger, nakedness, and the elements.
What made the original Christians so successful in spreading their message, even in the face of rampant persecution, is that they lived the Gospel. It wasn’t enough for them to put on a “Jesus Play” (an equivalent to a Jesus film I guess), to give out papyrus tracts, or to have their version of an “evangicube;” rather, their lives served as a Jesus film in that they lived like Christ, their lives were their own tracts put on display for all to see. Their lives were the proof of their evangelism. They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, gave money to the poor, took care of the widows, cared for the orphans. They became Christ to those who did not know Him. It wasn’t enough for them to preach about the Kingdom to come, instead they attempted to demonstrate what the Kingdom would be like, though all attempts were (and are) feeble and inadequate.
With that in mind, evangelicals need to change their approach to missions. They need to cease with the mass-evangelism, share the Gospel without living the Gospel attitude. They need to concern themselves with the lives of these people and, dare I say it, bring social justice to these foreign lands. They need to step outside of their Americanism and concern themselves with issues like free trade, foreign aid, and other issues that directly impact the lives of those overseas. Most importantly, however, is that American Christians need to actively help the physical lives of these people we’re reaching out to, otherwise we make the Gospel a vanity of words.