As was to be expected, my article on Raising the Moral Standard of Missionaries to that of Wal-Mart earned me some criticism. Understandably, when you are criticizing an established model, you will get some pushback. Some of the criticism was not very informed, like the comments that I should go there and do it myself: I’ve been there, done that, and I keep doing it. Some of it raised an important objection: We should first preach to save souls, and then hopefully in the future the saved souls will change the culture.
While this objection sounds reasonable, it is unrealistic. In my many years of missionary work I have never seen a convert moving naturally from a personal, pietistic mindset to do culture-changing work. Where new Christians have been evangelized with the truncated gospel of “saving souls” they have never by themselves moved up to challenge the evil practices of their society and its institutions. I takes a new effort of presenting to them the comprehensive message of the Bible in order for them to start practicing it. And by that time they are already so entrenched in their pietistic mindset that it takes almost a new conversion experience to grasp the Biblical worldview.
To quote Dennis Peacocke: “You only get what you preach.” Or, if you don’t trust Dennis, trust Paul: You reap what you sow (Gal. 6:7).
There is a reason why this never works. And the reason is that such an approach makes an artificial separation between righteousness and justice.
Righteousness and justice are never separated in the Bible and they should never be separated in the preaching and teaching of our pastors and missionaries. Search your Bible software on verses that contain “righteousness” and “justice” and you will see how many times God insists that those two go together. Psalm 89:14 says: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before you.”
There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that our preaching should cover righteousness first and justice later. They are both equally important in the foundation of God’s throne. We can’t separate lovingkindness from truth and have a complete Biblical message. What makes us believe we can separate righteousness from justice and have a Biblical message?
Let’s apply the argument in specific institutions, for example, the family. Can we say that we preach to save souls without preaching to them institutional justice in their family? Can we have a righteous man who refuses to be a just father in his family? Can we have a righteous employer who does not pay his employees on time? Or a righteous employee who steals from his employer? How can a person be righteous and vote for policies that violate the Ten Commandments? Or actively promote such policies?
How can we even begin to preach righteousness if we don’t preach justice in the institutions where the righteous are involved?
When we separate righteousness from justice in our preaching, we are not preparing the way for justice in their hearts: We are only giving them a dualistic worldview that declares one of the foundations of God’s throne to be more important than the other. This is exactly what the Social Gospel has done for the idea of justice. Once they divorced their justice from righteousness, they divorced it from the Word of God. The same thing happens to the pietistic message of modern missionaries: by divorcing personal regeneration from social justice, they eventually divorce it from the Bible and its Law.
A missionary cannot set a priority of personal righteousness over social justice in his preaching. He must preach the whole counsel of God. He must admonish individuals and their institutions, and he must denounce the sins of both individuals and institutions. He must lead individual souls to Christ and he must lead institutions to Christ. He must declare the crown rights of Christ in every area of life, and he must never limit his message to personal salvation only. Family, church, business, education, sports, media, science are as much a part of the Kingdom of God as are the individual souls of the believers, and leaving them out of the missionary’s message is doing injustice to the Gospel.
So let’s not create a dichotomy between individual and institutional. Let’s make our missionaries ambassadors for a King and His Kingdom, not just sellers of cheap emotions.
Article from Americanvision.org.