“Mission Not Evangelism”
Many have lamented that the Christian Church has been losing its influence in the world for decades. However, this stems from a foundational flaw in the understanding of the role of religion in society and our call to mission.
Jesus spoke much about the corruption of the Jewish religious leaders and called them back to their roots of caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens. People called him a prophet.
It needs to be noted that there is a historical document with Jesus directly claiming that he was the Jewish Messiah, which was often the practice of self-proclaimed prophets. There are a few places in the Gospels where the writer of the Gospel inferred that, in their view, Jesus was the anointed one they were waiting for, but they never directly state that either.
The new Jesus cult was a people’s faith movement until Constantine declared it the Roman Empire’s official religion, and the Roman military used it to control the oppressed. The Christian religion was used to claim the divinity of the emperor and their subjugation was the will of God. The Church always had an unhealthy relationship with the military, and during the dark ages, popes even had their own army that was lent out to various tyrants for land rights and access to new areas.
This continues to this day as the world uses Christian and American interchangeably. Christianity is seen as a white American militaristic, political and capitalistic ethos, not the faith of the people. The institutional Church also sees its role in society as the guardian of the power structure and demanded adherence to rituals with brutal consequences.
The Church had demanded that everyone worship in Latin, even though people had no idea what was being said because God can only hear Latin. In reality, this was the only way the priests could be sure as to what people were saying. People were even put to death if they had questions about the authority of the Church, much less disagreed with the teachings of the Church. In the US, the Church colluded with the government in the genocide of the First Peoples through mission schools.
The expansionism of Church’s structural power was mistaken for evangelism, and Jesus was lost in the process. When the First Century Church set aside some of its leaders for missions, they were sent to share the words of grace, not a theological treatise. The message was that God accepts all people, not just Jews, and Paul goes to a great length to point out that in God’s kin-dom, there is no second, or powerless, class.
In Galatians 3:28, Paul states that there is no privileged status such as Jew, male or free, nor an oppressed status such as Greek (non-Jew), female (non-male), or slave (non-free). He painstakingly points out that in Jesus, everyone is an heir to the promises of God’s grace.
Paul and Barnabas were sent out to make sure that people knew that they were accepted by God. The Early Church was persecuted because this message destabilized power structures in societies as the people rejected the oppressive systems. People found freedom in Jesus.
As the Church continues to practice evangelism and sees its role in society through the lenses of “winning” wars on forcing social norms, it continues to weaken the Church as it confirms the worst suspicion of the world; religion is the opioid of the masses.
We must rediscover the mission of the Church; we are called to share that message that everyone is accepted by God, just as they are. Let us be the Church of the mission.