by Michelle A Vu, Christian Post
Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2008, 8:05 (BST)
WHEATON, Illinois – One of the world’s top missiologists reminded thousands of missionaries on Tuesday that evangelism and social action must go hand in hand if Christians are to fulfil their responsibility of bringing people to salvation in Jesus Christ.
Dr Ralph D Winter, founder of the US Center for World Mission, says the biggest trend in world mission is the polarisation occurring among mission agencies that either focus exclusively on personal salvation or, in contrast, physical needs when they should be doing both.
Christians have the responsibility to not only share the Gospel and help get people into heaven, the renowned missiologist said, but also “getting God into this world” and glorifying God on Earth.
“Evangelism is the highest priority, but it becomes weak and lacks credibility if it does not generate committed believers who will tackle the world’s problems,” Winter maintained in his presentation at the Korea World Mission Conference 2008.
“What is the use of evangelism if it produces Christians who don’t act, who don’t do, who don’t follow God’s will? All they do is sing in church,” he passionately declared. “It is what happens in the world that is at least as important as what happens in church."
He added, “We are getting fancier and fancier at church worship. We know how to do church, [but] we don’t know how to be the church.”
Drawing from history, Winter laid out how confusion in the reformation, in mission today, and among Christians in the 20th century led to the loss of glory for God and disrespect for evangelicals.
Following the Reformation, Christians became confused with the role of faith versus works in relation to salvation, Winter explained. The reformation fought against the idea that works alone can get someone into heaven, but then many people began to only focus on faith and ignored the Bible’s teaching of faith-inspired action.
Winter pointed to the Scripture passage James 2:20 where it “plainly” states, “Faith without works is dead.”
In addition to the confusion between faith and works, the Reformation is also often misunderstood as a division based on theological differences when it is more a cultural breakaway movement, Winter argues.
The Reformation saw German-speaking churches breaking away from a Mediterranean/Roman Catholic culture. Winter likened this to present-day mission field breakaways as “[attempts] to resist a foreign missionary culture” with national believers wanting to start their own churches.
The confusion today is with some groups that only do relief and development work and do not lead people to a personal relationship with Christ, whilst others do only the opposite.
“The biblical record shows that Jesus accompanied his work with his deeds, works of mercy,” Winter emphasised.
He cited 19th century Presbyterian missions to Korea and Africa where the foreign missionaries not only brought the Gospel message but also made major contributions to the nation. He called for a return in mission to spreading the Gospel while participating in social action.
Besides the confusion in mission today, Winter said there was also confusion in 20th century Christian history where evangelicals started to focus on prophecy and eschatology. These evangelicals were mostly non-intellectuals and lacked influence in society and thus retreated from the public square.
There were some evangelicals in the 20th century, however, that retained the earlier concern for society but lost the concern for repentance and faith in individuals.
As a result, the United States “inherited and still receives” from the 20th century a “huge and serious” polarisation over primacy of evangelisation over action.
Winter argues that evangelisation and action must go together to respond to people who ask why there is so much evil in the world. Christians must fight the huge evil in the world or risk having people think there must be no God or if there is a God He is not all-powerful and loving, since there is so much evil in the world.
Critics wonder why Christians are not out there fighting the problems and thus question the validity of their faith. Some might see the inaction of believers as as a sign that they do not care or that they do not make a difference.
The famed missiologist predicts the eve of a new era of Christianity and mission where more evangelicals sense the need and have the influence to fight the evil in the world. The number of evangelicals in Congress, for example, is larger than ever before, Winter pointed out.
“God wants his will to be done on Earth and not just in heaven,” Winter reminded the conference audience. "If we cannot unite words and deeds we will continue on the polarisation characteristic of the 20th century," he added. "We need to go back to 19th century where evangelicals were wealthy, influential” and made social impact," Winter said.
The biggest trend in global mission today is the polarisation of some doing good things and some saying good things when the two need to be put together, he said.
“We are saved as individuals, [but] we must serve in teams," the USCWM founder concluded.