Reverend Jan Scholtz
The most important issue in a mission is the element of word and action.
There are those who think that mission is primarily about preaching the Word of God but if we take a look at the biblical tradition, we will see that the sharp distinction which we are inclined to draw between word and action is not in fact there anymore.
Harvey Cox in his book God’s Revolution and Man’s Responsibility, when talking about the word of God, puts it this way: “When God speaks, something happens. He does something, He speaks and the world is created. His word brings light to the darkness.” Summing up his thinking, Harvey Cox uses the words of Rudolf Bultman, a German theologian, in saying “whatever Jesus says is a doing, and whatever He does, is a speaking.
For His actions speak and His words act…” From this we can see that within the Biblical tradition, God speaks through actions and then He speaks according to the Biblical tradition, those words have power and they act.
This is very important for the church to remember because churches can very often fall into the trap of bringing the ‘Good News’ to people only in words and not matching our words with action. Then we are not in fact being true to the Biblical tradition of proclamation, and we are not being God’s hands and feet in the world. Ultimately the mission of the church is to bring the ‘Good News’ to the poor, the disinherited, to the captives and to the oppressed.
The question often arises when talking about word and action. What then is this ‘Good News’? If the mission of the church is to bring ‘Good news’ to the poor; what is this ‘Good News’? Is the ‘Good News’ that God wills that they be poor forever? Will that be heard of ‘Good News’ by the poor? Or is the ‘Good News’ that it is not God’s will that they should be poor forever? That the structures which perpetuate their impoverishments are in fact, not God-ordained, but that things are in the process of being changed because Christ came to liberate and to save them.
What is ‘Good News’ to those that are oppressed? Is it ‘Good News’ that their oppression will continue? On the contrary! Again it is not God’s will that the level of oppression which they experience should be perpetuated forever.
Anything less than this to either the oppressed or the poor is in fact not ‘Good News’ it is bad news.
But if the church merely says to them that their oppression and poverty is at an end and in the mission as a church we are not actively involved in doing these things which actually work for the kingdom to ensure that the level of oppression is challenged and changed than the church are not bringing ‘Good News’ at all.
Elsa Tamez puts it very sharply in her book in this way: “The Good News takes a very concrete form. The central message is this: The situation cannot remain as it is. Impoverishment and exploitation are not God’s will. But now there is hope, resurrection, life and change. The reign of God which is the reign of justice is at hand”.
She goes on to warn us that the message contained in the ‘Good News’ cannot be reduced to a simple behavioural change at an individual level.
To reduce the ‘Good News’ in such a way, she points out, we are in grave danger of reducing the ‘Good News’ to simple moral code which amounts to nothing underneath, which she sees as oppression at the national and international the individual and collective levels.
Succinctly she puts this way: “The message of the ‘Good News’ is of the liberation of human beings from everything and everyone that keeps them enslaved. This is why the ‘Good News’ brings joy and hope.”
She also points out that the ‘Good News’ is not ‘Good News’ to some people. It was received by the poor and the shepherds as ‘Good News’ but to Herod, it was received not as ‘Good News’. In conclusion, the Bible states faith without works is worthless. (James 1:22, 2:14) Therefore, for the church to centre its mission solely on preaching without requisite action and service amounts to bare lip service.