For those interested in thinking a little deeper about God's mission and why in the world a team of young adults is traveling half-way across the planet on a 'mission trip', I offer you an excerpt from a recent paper I wrote on the priority of mission. Basically, the question at hand is, "What is more important, social justice and bringing physical relief from suffering, or proclaiming the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ and the salvation from sin and death that He offers us?
"The priority in mission is to fulfill the purpose of mission, namely the glory of God among the nations. If the priority of mission were as a marriage, I submit that gospel proclamation and the pursuit of justice submit to one another as spouses, with gospel proclamation acting as the ‘head of household’, ultimately holding authority in the relationship and responsibility for decisions. Both collaborate to join God on his mission to reconcile the world to Himself in order to make Revelation 7:9-10 a reality,
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb [. . .] They called out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.”
This is referred to as a “doxological orientation” to mission. Both evangelism and justice are essential in mission, yet are not identical, and neither can be substituted for the other. After all, there can be no true justice without Jesus, nor can philanthropy or the betterment of society provide any remedy for the plague of deep-rooted unrighteousness from which Christ came to rescue humanity. Until creation is completely restored and the full glory of God achieved, we live in a kingdom that is now but not yet; a kingdom that has begun, yet is not complete.
Upon sending out the seventy-two as recorded in Luke 10, Jesus gives them instructions to speak peace, heal the sick, and proclaim, “The kingdom of God is near you” (Luke 10:9). It seems as though there are times when actions of peace and healing serve as a platform from which to proclaim that the kingdom of God is in fact here; then “they will see your good works and praise your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5: 16). Again it is evident that marriage between gospel proclamation and justice brings about the glory of God.
In his response to Christopher Little’s essay, “What Makes Mission Christian?”, Ron Sider says it well, “Again and again throughout history, Christians have profoundly transformed societal injustice—whether poverty, slavery, or neglect of the dignity of women—precisely because they believed that accepting Jesus as Savior also required them to accept Jesus as Lord of every part of their life.” I suggest that disciples are not made by relieving human suffering, but relieving suffering is commanded of those who are disciples.
We cannot ignore that there is a real enemy among us, seeking to devour whom he may. Satan cannot be defeated by mere acts of human generosity or kindness, noble as they be, but only by the blood the Christ as the pure and blameless sacrifice. This is the heart of the gospel. In his defense before King Agrippa, the Apostle Paul recalls Christ’s words to him,
“I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).
In the final analysis, the purpose of mission is to glorify God. The devil will be defeated, God glorified and creation restored to wholeness. The pursuit of justice and gospel proclamation are essential in achieving that mission, with the weightier being the latter."