Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 1, Number 2



Andrew Gordon
Abilene, Texas

The most striking feature in the debate concerning the role of a missionary in revolution is the lack of theology in the discussion. Among those who propose social, political, and economic revolution as the goal of mission, very little responsible biblical theology has been done. The same can be said of those who propose personal conversion as their goal. The former group begins with an invalid philosophical assumption and proceeds to take scripture out of context to buttress its position. The latter group has overlooked the concern of God for the poor and oppressed and has focused almost exclusively on converting the masses.

The stance of those who advocate revolution in mission seems to originate from two different sources: (1) A genuine concern for helping those who are poor and oppressed which leads to viewing the Bible through the eyes of the underprivileged (Gonzalez and Gonzalez 1980:11-19). (2) Religious pluralism, or a belief system advocating the presence of a "Christ principle" in every religion which leads to believing all men are saved whether they know it or not. Hence, supporters of revolution see the goal of mission as the attainment of "shalom," namely, the restoration of all aspects of life: righteousness, truth, fellowship, communication, peace, etc." (Hoekendyk 1966:43). Proponents of this view have not developed a biblical theology to support their position. They are forced to claim that today's world is in a unique situation that cannot be addressed by the Bible (Hollenweger 1966:57).

Therefore, advocates of liberation are free to say that "the Church's mission is relation to (the) revolutionary process" (Nash 1984:viii). They re-interpret history in terms of God's opposition to those who oppress others (Wentz 1978:67, 68) and even go so far as to say that "all men are potentially saved," especially those who are active in political liberation (Henry 1984).

Those who advocate evangelism to the exclusion of social concerns, on the other hand, are primarily among those who have not known the type of oppression addressed by liberation theology. Because oppression has not been a factor in their lives, and because to them salvation has nothing to do with the relief of oppression, they concentrate on the "spiritual" aspect of salvation (Stott 1971:104-106). They seem to overlook the significance of Jesus' ministry (Luke 4:16-21), which included the setting at liberty those who are oppressed (verse 18). They tend to over-spiritualize these words, interpreting them as referring solely to those who are spiritually oppressed by Satan. They neglect the many Old Testament passages that condemn social, political, and economic oppression and that promise relief from such oppression (Amos 5:10-15; Isaiah 1:27-28). The focus is on man's relationship with God, while little attention is given to man's relationship with his fellow man. According to this school of thought, the only responsibility that a Christian has toward man is to proclaim the gospel to him (Jackson 1986:4,5).

It is obvious that the two preceding points of view are one-sided. They do not take into consideration the entire scope of God's word concerning the social responsibility of the Christian missionary or of the wider Christian community. What attitude, then, should the Christian missionary take toward revolution?

First, it is noted that the stance of the missionary should not be different from that of the church. God has not given one set of standards to missionaries and another to the church. However, because of the unique situation in which the missionary may find himself, God's teachings on this subject may be of greater immediate interest to the missionary than to his supporting congregation.

Second, it is wrong to begin from the point of view of a particular segment of society when considering the Christian missionary's role in revolution. God did not reveal His word only to the poor and oppressed, but to all mankind whom He wants to redeem. Nobody has the right to set his own agenda and then read that agenda into God's word.

The Bible does indeed condemn the oppression of the disadvantaged, but this is almost exclusively within the community of God's people, either Israel in the Old Testament or the church in the New Testament. The Lord is primarily describing willful, active oppression by those who are supposed to be just and righteous. In spite of His frequent condemnation of such oppression, God never called for a physical revolution by the people against the established religious or political rule of Israel. David who was being oppressed by King Saul, had two opportunities to kill his majesty but refused to do so because God had made him king of Israel (I Samuel 24:1-7; 26:6-11). While it is true that Jehu was commended by God for eliminating the house of Ahab (II Kings 10:30), this was done only at the command of God through Elisha (II Kings 9:-10) for the purpose of retribution (II Kings 9:7) rather than liberation of the people. And although Jesus condemned the Pharisees for oppressing the people and practicing false piety (Matthew 23:13-36), He never encouraged the people to revolt against them (Matthew 23:1-12).

The modern theologian, however, must address not only oppression within the community of God's people, but also oppression of the poor by people or institutions outside of this community. Often Israel did revolt against the nations that oppressed them, but one important point must be made. God was only pleased with such efforts if Israel relied upon Him alone, and not on other gods (Isaiah 44:14-20) or other nations

(Isaiah 20: II Kings 20:12-19) or even their own strength and wisdom (Isaiah 22:8b-14). This means that those who espouse revolution on the basis of the Old Testament must rely only upon God and not on outside forces or their own efforts for this revolution. Furthermore, Paul (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1-2) and Peter (I Peter 1:13-15) both taught Christians to submit to, and not to rebel against, "every human institution," even though they were at times subject to fierce persecution by these institutions. The apostles did at times defy the authorities, but only when it came to teaching about Jesus (Acts 4:18-21; 5:17-32).

The goal of mission is to bring the light of the gospel of Jesus to those who are in darkness so that the people will place themselves under the sovereignty of God and be added to His kingdom (Mark 1:14-15). The command to "repent and believe in the gospel" was given to the oppressed as well as the powerful. Jesus sent the twelve "to preach the kingdom of God and to heal" (Luke 9:1-2), and He sent the seventy to do the same (Luke 10:1-9). Jesus Himself healed many and fed many. But His primary task and message was concerned with bringing people into the Kingdom of the sovereign God. The Christian missionary must do the same if he is to be counted faithful. He must both proclaim the kingdom and demonstrate God's compassion for the poor and oppressed, but God does not call him to encourage or take part in any type of worldly revolution.


GONZALEZ, Justo and GONZALEZ, Catherine
1980 Liberation Preaching: The Pulpit and the Oppressed. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

HENRY, Carl F. H.
1984 "Liberation Theology and the Scriptures," Liberation Theology. Milford, Michigan: Mott Media.

1966 "Notes on the Meaning of Mission(ary)," Planning for Mission. New York: The U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches.

1966 "Christus extra et intra muros ecclesiae," Planning for Mission. New York: The U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches.

JACKSON, Matthew D.
1986 A Symbiosis in Missions: Seeking a Balance Between Evangelism and Social Responsibility. Unpublished Master's Thesis at Abilene Christian University.

NASH, Ronald H.
1984 "The Christian Choice Between Capitalism and Socialism," Liberation Theology. Milford, Michigan: Mott Media.

STOTT, John, et. al.
1971 Christ the Liberator. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press.

WENTZ, Frederick
1978 Getting into the Act. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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