1. We live as broken and sinful people in a broken, sinful world. Our conference touched on several major areas where that brokenness intrudes:
• the negative effects of globalisation (alongside its acknowledged benefits);
• continuing global poverty and economic injustice;
• the challenges of population growth and the huge urban centres;
• the destruction of the natural environment and human-generated climate change that is already affecting the world’s poorest;
• the scourge of HIV-AIDS;
• the cultures of violence that pervade society from domestic to international levels;
• the threat of nuclear disaster;
• the dangers of terrorism and its underlying causes;
• the stoking of ethnic and religious dividedness.
Comments on some of these are included below – not as profound theological reflections, but simply to acknowledge that any theology of mission must take such global realities into account in discerning what it means to address the whole gospel to the whole world. When we talk about ‘the world’, we cannot only think numerically about ‘all the people who live in the world’. We must think contextually about all that is in the world that impacts the lives of individuals, the social structures that shape them, and the physical environment upon which they depend.
2. Most non-Christians would acknowledge the brokenness described above, and many are involved in efforts to mend it – from secular NGOs to local neighbourhood associations. However, as Christians we bring two elements to our analyses and our solutions that are not there in all such efforts. On the one hand, we bring a radical biblical understanding of human sin and rebellion against God, in collusion with forces of spiritual and satanic powers. ‘The world’ is an interlocking web of systems and structures that perpetuate the effects of our fallenness and sin. And on the other hand, we bring the gospel – the good news of redemption, accomplished by God through the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We have hope, not in the eventual success of what we can do to fix the world, but in the accomplished victory of God through Christ, guaranteeing the new creation in which all that is broken will be made anew.
3. The church as the people of the creator and redeemer God, therefore, also live with the ambiguity that we ourselves are fallen people who share in, and often contribute to, the brokenness of the world; and yet we are redeemed to live redemptively within the world. We bear witness to the accomplished fact of redemption (in the message of the cross); we bear witness to the ongoing redemptive power of God through his Spirit constantly at work in our own day; we bear witness to the hope of ultimate redemption of all creation.
4. The church, therefore, does not become political when it enters the arena of what the world defines as “politics”. The church already is a political entity in the world. It stands as an alternative – as the gathered people of God – proclaiming and living gospel life to the world of violence and death in all its facets and dimensions. As such, the church challenges the powers that govern the many types of injustice, violence and poverty in our world, both seen and unseen. We highlight some of these:
5. Globalization – by “globalization” we refer to the intensified level of interconnection that we experience today. It brings with it both benefits and problems. On the one hand, there has been increased potential for job creation in many countries, increased communication and a greater possibility for understanding the rich diversity of cultures and peoples around the world. On the other hand, asymmetric relations of power undermine the promise of transcultural understanding. Powerful nations make decisions which affect less powerful nations who have no say in the decision-making process. Trans-national corporations (TNCs) “patent” nature, negatively impacting possibilities of subsistence at the local level, and damaging God’s creation in the process. While some of the world’s poor have benefited from globalization the poorest of the poor are now even more destitute.
The simple affirmation “Jesus is Lord” points to the idolatry of any one nation, trans-national corporation, school of thought, or church that presumes to speak or act on behalf of the whole world.
As faithful disciples of Jesus, we affirm the need for the church to be present among those who suffer, are exploited and oppressed. The presence of the people of God as peacemakers and truth-tellers, advocates and prophets is inherent to the church’s missiological calling.
The church is called to model a different kind of global community that emphasizes contentment and generosity, and is not driven by ongoing consumption. As Paul said to Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). Christians must confess our complicity in practices and attitudes of exploitation of other human beings and of nature, and we recognize the constant need for prayer and upbuilding one another in the spiritual battle against our tendency to be lords of others.
6. Consumerism – Consumerism is a core cultural expression within our world today, especially in the west, saturating every aspect of individual lives and the communities in which we live. It is a meaning-making ideology which locates meaning in self-absorbed gratification, making material “goods” objects of veneration and worship. Consumption is no longer linked to sustaining life but is itself the reason for living: supposedly the more one acquires the greater the quality of one’s life. It is meaning-making in the sense that personal identity is found in the act of consumption. Consumerism is the impulse of self-creation and therefore, it is the sin of the Garden of Eden and a rejection of our createdness. To consume is not bad in itself (we do so every time we eat); it becomes bad when it takes the form of a pervasive cultural idol. All other idols become subject to the comprehensive belief system of consumerism, which comes complete with obligations to acquisition, capitalism, religiosity and sacrifice.
We must name and unmask consumerism for the idolatry that it is – as Paul does twice in calling greed idolatry. It is critical for consumerism’s own success that it remain invisible as an idolatry with many features in common with religions. The secular world wants ‘religions to look colourful in their robes and rituals, but there is a real but hidden power of consumerist ‘religion’ underlying the destructive brutality of some forms of commercialism and exploitation – even if it would not be defined as ‘a religion’ by accepted standards. Consumerism has greatly affected our calling to be witnesses and has led us to think of people and creation in terms of consumable products or mere numbers. As Christians we confess our participation in the idolatry of consumerism and the enthronement of self at the centre of our human existence and social orders. With the biblical prophets we cry out against the oppression and the injustice caused by this idolatry and affirm that ‘human life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’ (Luke 12:15).
7. Violence – from domestic violence to the violence of wars, we confess our own complicity and failure to address the whole gospel to such brutal disorders. We affirm and lift up as models those persons and communities who are working for peace and bearing witness to the redemptive concreteness of God’s love amidst the evils of human trafficking, of the arms and drug trades, of the growing threat of nuclear disaster, of terrorism and its multiple roots and causes, and of intractable civil wars. Special attention should also be paid to the astronomical expense of military build-up, totaling $1.464 trillion USD in 2008 (http://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2009/05).
We also recognize the violence of sickness and disease, especially the pandemic of HIV-Aids, that ravages families, communities and entire nations. We repent of actions and attitudes of prejudice, apathy, lack of compassion, and double standards in relation to sexuality, recognizing the suffering of millions who are affected directly and indirectly by this disease, many through no fault of their own. But we also recognize that the spread of HIV-Aids is strongly (though not exclusively) correlated to forms of sexual activity that sadden our Creator, including multiple heterosexual partnerships. As part of our Christian witness to the world of HIV-Aids we affirm the necessity of advocacy and education at individual, communal and national levels. We further affirm the need for counseling and instruction for pastors and their congregations affected by the HIV-Aids pandemic, urging them to challenge male domination, to be courageous in making clear the Bible’s teaching on sexual behaviour and consistent in living by it themselves, to encourage gender justice and to stand firm in the Christian practices of love, patience and compassion.
8. Poverty – in God’s world of plenty and God-given human creativity, 20% of the world’s population consumes 80% of the world’s resources. Meanwhile 1/3 of the world’s population can barely feed and clothe itself adequately and 1/6 is daily on the verge of death. Poverty is not the result of lack of resources but a product of personal and institutionalized injustice and greed, ethnic prejudice and consumerism.
In God’s grace, the followers of Christ are being shaped into a community of mutual concern and responsibility for the well-being of the whole world and particularly for the most vulnerable. This calling demands more careful and critical consumption, creative production, prophetic denunciation, advocacy for and mobilization of the victims of world injustice. While we stand with the Micah Challenge in holding our governments accountable to its commitments to reduce poverty, we also dedicate ourselves to “making greed history” in our own lives, churches, communities, countries and world. We must face up to the scandalous fact that the majority of the poorest of the world’s poor live in countries that are predominantly Christian. And the wealthiest of the world’s wealthy also live in a country that calls itself Christian. What does this say about horrendous inequality within the worldwide body of Christ?
One thought on “The Whole World – D. The World of Sin and Redemption”
excelent piece of work!!