What is the Mission of the Church? – Jürgen Moltmann

What is the Mission of the Church? – Jürgen Moltmann February 10, 2014

A few years ago, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert published the book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. At that time I wrote an extensive review of the book on this blog. The general premise of the book was that the church’s mission is singularly to make disciples. Not all of Jesus’ commands, they contend, are part of the mission of the church. Not all that God is doing in the world is in the purview of the church’s mission. They restrict the mission of the church essentially to the so-called great commission(s) of the NT. I noted the significant problems with their view.

Recently, I read a passage from  Jürgen Moltmann’s book The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theologywhich not only reveals the weakness of DeYoung and Gilbert’s argument but also robustly articulates the mission of the church as both proclamation and procurement.

In many Christian churches, similar polarization have come into being between those who see the essence of the church in evangelization and the salvation of souls, and those who see it in social action for the salvation and liberation of real life. But in Christian terms evangelization and humanization are not alternatives. Nor are the ‘vertical dimension’ of faith and the ‘horizontal dimension’ of love for one’s neighbor and political change. Nor are “Jesuology’ and christology, the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. Both coincide in his death on the cross. Anyone who makes a distinction here, enforces alternatives and calls for a parting of the ways, in dividing the unity of God and man in the person, the imitation of and the future of Christ.

These alternatives are equally absurd from the point of view of practice. Evangelization would lead either to a crisis of relevance or to an inevitable involvement in the social and political problems of society. Beginning with preaching, one is then faced with questions of community organization, the education of children and the work for the sick and poor. The humanization of social circumstances leads either to a crisis of identity, or inevitably to evangelization or pastoral care. Beginning with the improvement of social conditions in the poverty-stricken areas and liberation from political oppression, one is then faced with the question how the wretched and oppressed can be removed from their inner apathy and given new self-confidence, that is, with the question of how to arouse faith and conquer the structure of servility in their minds. Of course one cannot do everything, but at least everyone must recognized the other charismata in the body of Christ and the necessity for other work by other people to relieve misery.

‘Change yourself,’ some say, ‘and then your circumstances will also change.’ The kingdom of God and of freedom is suppose to have to do only with persons. Unfortunately the circumstances will not oblige. Capitalism, racism and inhuman technocracy quietly develop in their own way. The causes of misery are no longer to be found in the inner attitudes of men, but have long been institutionalized.
‘Change the circumstances,’ other say, ‘and men will change with them.’ The kingdom of God and of freedom is suppose to be a matter only of circumstances and structures. Unfortunately, however, men will not oblige. Breakdowns in marriage, drug addiction, suicide and alcoholism continue undisturbed. Structures which make people unhappy can be broken down, but no guarantee is attached that men will be happy.

Thus both must be done at the same time. Personal, inner change without a change in circumstances and structures is an idealist illusion, as though man were only a soul and not a body as well. But a change in external circumstances without inner renewal is a materialists illusion, as though man were only a product of his social circumstance and nothing else. (22-23)

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