Professor D. Swamiraj is Principal of Bishop Heber College in Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, South India; he is a member of the Church of South India.
This paper was presented at the Conference on World Mission and the Role of Korean Churches, held in Seoul, Korea, November 1995.
The church discovers that it cannot truly evangelize, that its message is unconvincing, unless it lets itself be transformed and renewed, unless it becomes what it believes it is. The church must exhibit what it proclaims. But religious fundamentalism is on the rampage and has led to violence and bloodshed in several countries of Asia. It has also led to opposition to the Gospel and persecution of the church. The rise of religious fundamentalism has led to the politicizing of religion and the religionizing of political life.
World mission is the relation between the church and the world. Mission denotes what God sends his people into the world to do, and of primary importance within this mission of sacrificial service is ‘evangelism’, the sharing with others of God’s good news about Jesus.
Mission is also the loving service which God sends his people into the world to render. It includes both evangelism and social action, for each is in itself an authentic expression of love and neither needs the other to justify it. Yet because of the appalling lostness of man there is an insistent urgency about our evangelistic task. The nature of ‘evangelism’ is a faithful proclamation of the good news. ‘Dialogue’ is its necessary preliminary in as much as listening must precede proclaiming, and the ‘salvation’ which is its goal is personal freedom through Christ, though with unavoidable social implications in anticipation of the eschatological ‘freedom of glory’ when God makes all things new.
Western missionaries brought the Gospel to Asia and did phenomenal sacrificial service in preaching the gospel to these poorer sections of Asian society; the Western missionaries discovered the need for socio-economic upliftment of these people so that an element of human dignity would be brought into their life.
As the Lambeth Conference perceived it, mission has the following five clear components:
1) Preaching the Gospel.
2) Baptizing and nurturing new believers.
3) Helping to transform unjust structures of society.
4) Striving to preserve the integrity of the creation.
5) Responding to human need, e.g., in the fields of education, health care and social ministry.
Viewed comprehensively through this pentagon outlined above, the responsibility that devolves on the missionary or the missionary church is quite stupendous. Thus, in the words of John Stott, “The church which would call the world to order is suddenly called to order itself.” The question which it would throw into the world: “Do you know that you belong to Christ?” comes back as an echo. The church discovers that it cannot truly evangelize, that its message is unconvincing, unless it lets itself be transformed and renewed, unless it becomes what it believes it is (quoted by Philip Potter in his 1967 address to the WCC Central Committee in Crete).
The church must exhibit what it proclaims. Dr. Radhakrishnan, Hindu philosopher and former President of India, is said to have commented to some Christians: ‘You claim that Jesus Christ is your Saviour, but you do not appear to be more “saved” than anyone else.’ Our message of salvation is bound to fall on deaf ears if we give no evidence of salvation in a changed life and life style. This applies to nobody more directly than to the preacher of the Gospel. ‘The most effective preaching’, writes John Poulton in his ‘A Today Sort of Evangelism’ (Lutterworth 1972), comes from those who embody the things they are saying.
“They are their message… Christians… need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas… Authenticity gets across from deep down inside people……….. What communicates now is basically personal authenticity (pp. 60, 61). And personal Christian authenticity is an authentic experience of salvation”.
In the end missionary effort leads to the fulfillment of God’s promise in (Rev. 21:5) “Behold, I make all things new”. This means the change and conversion of the human family into God’s family, the transformation and renewal of all creation into new creation which will constitute the Kingdom of God and the reign of God which Jesus Christ came to inaugurate 2000 years ago proclaiming, ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel for the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mark 1:14-15).
MISSION IN THE ASIAN CONTEXT
1. The continent of Asia has nearly two-thirds of the world’s population and the largest segment of unreached peoples in the world.
2. Asia is a continent of many religions, ideologies, languages and cultures. This poses a great challenge for missions.
3. Asia is the place of origin of many religions of the world such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, etc.
4. Asia is where human history began and will reach its consummation. The church began here and the Gospel went from Asia to other countries. It has reached full circle, and now once again it will go out from Asia to the rest of the world.
5. Asia has the largest number of restricted access countries.
Religious fundamentalism is on the rampage and has led to violence and bloodshed in several countries of Asia. It has also led to opposition to the Gospel and persecution of the church. This rise of religious fundamentalism has led to the politicizing of religion and the religionizing of politics.
When we think of Asia, we should not limit ourselves to East Asia and South Asia. Our brothers and sisters from the struggling churches in West Asia are also a part of the church in Asia. The challenge of Asia is very obvious there in the unreached and inaccessible masses of people held under the control of Islam. It is also obvious in the communist lands of China, Vietnam, Cambodia and North Korea.
As Asian churches face the challenge of world mission, let there be a quality commitment, a sensitivity to the needs and realities of the people, an utter dependence on the Lord, and a daring faith to blaze a new trail in the cause of mission. As we do that, our confidence should be in the sure victory of Christ and in the sure consummation of God’s redemptive purpose (Rev. 11:15, 7:9, 10).