This article was originally published by www.micahsingapore.org and is republished with permission.
Integral mission started with the apostles but we are indebted to our Latin American brethren for naming the theology which responded to their dire social problems. Evangelical theologians, recognising that their theological studies in Western seminaries were unable to provide a response they needed, produced a contextual theology called mission integral or integral mission which emphasised, and provided equal weightage for, both the social action and proclamation of the gospel. It was also in response to the Liberation Theology that had several shortcomings, chiefly on the unbalanced emphasis on political action, without offering the gospel that brings hope and transforms people.
It is common to acknowledge that there is a social dimension to evangelism but the relationship between the two is a point of controversy between evangelical Christians. On the one hand, it is common to treat social improvements as a result of successful evangelism. A cause following an action. Hence, a priority of evangelism over social action and this has shaped much of theology in churches over the course of history. On the other hand, social action can also be seen as the means towards evangelism. In both cases there is the primacy of evangelism with social action being the result of or the means to evangelism. Neither describes integral mission adequately which emphasises evangelism and social action being both sides of the same coin, to be expressed equally.
Unfortunately in too many circles, the prevailing understanding of the role of the church in missions is producing faithful followers with only one goal in mind – to proclaim the gospel and save as many souls as possible. There is little concern for the lived reality of people. However, salvation must not be viewed from an individualistic nor spiritual dimension only but from a Christological framework encompassing Christ’s incarnation, early life, death, resurrection, parousia such that the praxis of Jesus provides us a model for our mission. Jesus’ mandate in Luke 4:18-19 serves as a reminder how physical, social and spiritual transformation is the goal of the Kingdom.
Evangelism and social responsibility must be held in tension such that one doesn’t dominate the other leading to a spiritualised faith on the one hand and a humanistic philosophy on the other. They are not mutually exclusive. Our evangelism has social consequences and our social involvement has evangelistic consequences. The latter is especially true in areas antagonistic to Christianity, where the only opportunity to bear witness is borne out of responding to the need of others. Bryant Myers asserts that our social involvement provokes questions to which the gospel is the answer.
Christian love cannot be reduced to evangelism alone, but must find concrete expression in the midst of the sociopolitical realities of life. Both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the Lord’s command to love God and neighbour are to be lived out simultaneously. With social activism on the rise, we must avoid repeating mistakes of the past by not introducing the Good News to others. And in our enthusiasm to evangelise, we must not neglect the physical needs of others and to do ‘good works such that others may glorify God.’