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Religion Library: Christianity

Vision for Society

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

The Gospel of Matthew reports that just before his ascension to heaven, Jesus instructed his disciples in the "great commission":

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

Although Christians agree that the mission of the Church is to bring the Gospel to the world, different traditions have distinct understandings of this call to mission. For some, life in this world is viewed as a preparation for the life in the next. In this view, Christians have no special duty or responsibility to the social, cultural, or political arenas of human society. Although encouraged to improve the lives of their community as good citizens, their primary concern is eternal salvation in the life of the world to come. For others, the call to mission means actively seeking to reverse the effects of sin in the world. This requires transforming the world. Those who share this view are active in liberation movements such as the civil rights movement in the U.S. or the resistance to military tyranny in Latin America. They are also active in peacemaking, in improving the economic and social fortunes of historically oppressed groups such as women and minorities, in working to improve education or health care, and in recent years have become increasingly engaged in creation-care, caring for the environment.

Spread of Christianity to AD 325 Spread of Christianity to AD 600 Source: Public Domain

The "great commission" includes teaching others about Jesus and giving them a Christian baptism. In the early years of the faith, evangelists traveled great distances to spread the message of Jesus. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380, the mission of the Church was merged with the imperialistic goals of political power. By the late 15th century, European powers undertook a wave of sweeping conquest, a culmination of the intermingling of religious and political goals, which had devastating effects on indigenous communities in European colonies around the world. Aware of this Christian legacy of conquest and genocide, many contemporary Christians are seeking new ways to bear witness to their faith in a dialogue characterized by humility and respect.

Study Questions:
1.     Why is the Christian vision for society bound to the future?
2.     What is the final judgment? When will it happen?
3.     What is the role of the Church in the Christian vision for society?
4.     How has the Christian call to mission been interpreted within Christianity?


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