The article I posted on May 20 summarized some legitimate reasons why Christians still engage in, and support, global evangelistic missionary activity. (I encourage you to check out the comments made, here, about that article.) It is now fitting to consider what the ultimate goal of missions is.
Three Problematic Goals
In the history of Christianity there have been various goals for mission work, and while not equally problematic three such goals can be negatively stated as follows:
(1) The goal of missions is not primarily the expansion of Christianity.
It cannot be doubted that from the time of its beginning as a small Jewish “sect,” for centuries Christianity expanded greatly. Much of that expansion was clearly due to missionary activity.
That does not mean, however, that expansion was, or should have been, the primary goal of missions. Nor, certainly, does it mean that that expansion through the centuries was always done by legitimate or admirable means, even by missionaries.
Much of the expansion of Christianity in the seven hundred years between 300 and 1000, for example, was due to the military and political activities of powerful kings and emperors.
The expansion of Christianity, especially for political reasons, should in no way be considered the primary goal of missions.
(2) The goal of missions is not primarily the spreading of Western civilization.
To some Christians in the past few centuries, missionary activity was linked to the spread of “civilization” to the “benighted” lands of the world.
European civilization was considered superior to that of the indigenous cultures of the other parts of the world, so spreading that civilization, seen largely as the fruit of the Christian faith, was considered a legitimate and praiseworthy activity for many Christians, especially in Great Britain and then in the United States.
There were, of course, important contributions made by missionaries, along with others, who took “civilization” into “primitive” societies. The introduction of Western medicine, for example, was a great benefit to multitudes of people.
But local cultures, societal structures, and religions were sometimes trampled underfoot in that process, and that type of missionary activity has, justifiably, come under intense criticism.
The spreading of Western civilization cannot legitimately be recognized as the major goal of Christian missions.
(3) The goal of missions is not primarily the planting of churches.
During the last decade of my missionary career, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention began to place almost complete emphasis not only on planting new churches but on the “church planting movement,” which was said to be the “rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment.”
While planting churches certainly is a commendable activity, still, that should be one means of reaching the proper goal of missions, not the goal itself.
The Proper Goal
As stated in the title, the goal of missions is the Kingdom of God, and as I emphasized in the article posted on Feb. 28, the main characteristic of the God’s Kingdom is shalom (peace and justice).
This matter was well presented by E. Luther Copeland, my former missionary colleague and good friend in Japan. His 1985 book is titled World Mission, World Survival: The Challenge and Urgency of Global Missions Today.
In his last chapter, “The Kingdom and the Mission,” Copeland (1916~2011) elucidates that the goal of mission(s) is the kingdom of God (p. 139).
That often overlooked point was made more than 100 years by Christoph Blumhardt. He wrote to his missionary son-in-law, “[T]here is no other purpose in your mission work than to proclaim God’s kingdom.”
Yes; true then, true now.
[Christoph Blumhardt (1842~1919) was a German Lutheran pastor. His letters to Richard Wilhelm are presented in the 2015 book Everyone Belongs to God, compiled and edited by Charles E. Moore.]
[The 14th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), which includes much more than could be presented in this article, can be found by clicking on this link.]