How does this apply to missions or ministry?
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” -Blaise Pascal.
This is a quote worthy of mulling over. Periodically, atheists (or “freethinkers”?) charge all sorts of evil to religion. That is not to say that the irreligious (or the pragmatic) have such a great track record. Delving into the true depths of evil seems to be in the realm of two groups of people:
- Truly Religious Atheists (“Evildoing should not only be permitted but even should be acknowledged as the most necessary and most intelligent solution for the situation of every godless person!” -View of Father Paissy, character of Dostoyevsky.) A person who truly embraces his own lack of ultimate accountability, can justify nearly any evil. And some do delve these depths.
- Truly Religious Theists. If morality is based on a divine standard, to believe that one is acting in the name of that standard, some can do the unspeakable with a calm sense of personal righteousness.
Missionaries are certainly at risk of falling into the trap of doing what is wrong in the name of right. That is because they have the following characterisitcs:
1. Are very religious. While most missionaries I know are not extreme in their religious fervor, they are often encouraged or expected to be intensely “radical” or “extreme” in their religious faith.
2. Are typically segregated. Missionaries are commonly cross-cultural, meaning they are often foreigners, of a different culture, and of a different religion to those they are ministering to. As such, it is easy, even natural, to have an US versus THEM attitude. After all, many of the locals will look at missionaries as THEM.
3. May be prone to spiritual militancy. Missionaries are often encouraged to embrace the metaphor of spiritual warfare or “power encounter” by (perhaps) well-meaning missiologists and religious leaders. Often other faiths are demonized, and it is easy to demonize the proponents of such faiths, or see them as willingly acting in league with Satan.
These tend to emphasize conflict. Therefore, there is a tendency to depersonalize. As we depersonalize, we empathize less and become more dedicated to task over people. If we are called to task first, that might be okay. But if the Great Commission is an application of the Great Commandment, our task is FOUNDED on caring more about God AND people, not caring so much about task, or mission.
Of course, there are principles that should mitigate this potential for misdirection:
1. We are really called to be Christ-like, not Religious. It is not that religion is wrong, but it is inadequate and is prone to abuse. We are to follow Christ’s example. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” connects His ministry with ours.
2. We are to be Incarnational, not “Segregational.” Paul was to be a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks. Jesus enculturated in the culture, challenging as an insider, not an outsider.
3. We are given better metaphors, such as servant, rather than warrior. The warfare metaphor has more relevance on a spiritual level or on the level of ideals, “not against flesh and blood.” The full armor of God is mostly defensive, and spiritual, not offensive and physical. Isaiah 53 and Philippians 2 (among others) focus on Jesus as one who came to serve, not to be served. His ministry is made powerful through being a servant, not a warrior.
I am not of the other faiths. If some feel they are at their best in projection of physical power, control, and coersion, I am not one to say otherwise. But Christianity is at its worst with these things. We are at our best as Christians, missionaries, and ministers when we care more about people (BECAUSE we care more about God) than we care about tasks. We are at our best as Christians when we identify ourselves with all people, not being quick to coming up with narrower and narrower designations of who WE are. We are all in this together after all.
We are humans first, more than we are male or female. We are humans first (precious creations designed by God) than we are Christians, or of some nationality, or sect, or race, or cultural designation. Christians are at their best when WE don’t reach out to THEM, because understand that THEY are also US.
We are at our best when we embrace our role as humble servants of Christ, seeking Christ as our model, than when we are radical, extreme, spiritual, religious, or any other description that is focused on tasks, programs, ideas, or missions, rather than people.