Unconditionality and an inclusive approach


It is interesting to look at what should primarily drive an organization to respond to others in need.  Drivers may legitimately include inter alia:

 

  • to fulfil internal targets and goals;
  • to meet expectations of supporters;
  • to contribute to wider development or poverty reduction goals; and
  • to gain acceptance and support of recipients, of local authorities, governments and so forth.

 

These drivers, applied correctly, are compelling factor to help achieve vision at organizational level, and will normally be brought into the planning and action equations in the life of Christian organizations.  However, in the life and ministry of Jesus, his response to others in need, stemmed from his love for others: a self-giving, unconditional, undiscriminating love for others – whether a friend, a neighbour, the unappreciative, an enemy.

 

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 43-44)

 

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"  "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."  (Matthew 12: 28-31)

 

This also needs to be the primary driving force for a Christian organization; a relief and development response with total unconditionality, a response out of the love of others, even those who may reject the response, who may turn to persecute – those who may be seen as the enemy.   There needs to be a response of love and forgiveness, even when faced with the most severe circumstances.


Since forgiveness has profound political implications, we should not be surprised that the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation towards our national enemies will create new enemies of the Christian church.  Peacemaking lies at the heart of Christian mission, but so often peacemakers themselves become targets of hatred and violence.  But here, too, we learn from the example of Jesus.  Not only did he reject, right from the outset of his ministry, the militant ideology of both oppressor and oppressed, refusing to assume the role of the Qumranic Melchizedek and declare a holy war on Israel’s enemies, but when he himself became the object of collective violence he showed forgiving love both towards those crucified alongside him and the soldiers who drove nails into his body.
  (Peskett & Ramachandra 2003, p167)

 

When Graham Staines, an Australian missionary working among lepers and tribal peoples in Orissa, India, was brutally murdered, along with his two young sons, by a Hindu mob on 22 January 1999, many in that country and abroad were rightly outraged.  His grieving widow told a newspaper reporter, “I am deeply upset.  But I am not angry.  For Jesus has taught us how to love our enemies.”  Here the path of evangelical mission is displayed.  To suffer joyfully for the gospel, and to forgive and serve those who inflict that suffering, is to be taught by Christ to walk the way of the cross.  It is only the church, radical in its obedience, that makes known the beauty, truth and power of the Christian message to the world. (Ramachandra 1999)

 

It will only be through love that relationships will be restored, that transformation will take place:

 

The kingdom aims at transforming human relationships; it grows gradually as people slowly learn to love, forgive and serve one another. Jesus sums up the whole Law, focusing it on the commandment of love (cf. Mt 22:34-40; Lk 10:25-28). Before leaving his disciples, he gives them a "new commandment": "Love one another; even as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34; cf. 15:12). Jesus' love for the world finds its highest expression in the gift of his life for mankind (cf. Jn 15:13), which manifests the love which the Father has for the world (cf. Jn 3:16). The kingdom's nature, therefore, is one of communion among all human beings-with one another and with God. (Paulus 1990, section 15)

The mission of the church is to give visible evidence of the kingdom and its ethics within its own community and in its ministry to the world.  (Brussels statement 1999, p42)

 

To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is fountain of sending love.  (Bosch 1991, p390)

 

We often wonder what can make Christians distinctive in the world and allow people to see Christ.  The answer is loving people, especially the unlovable.  If poverty is rooted in broken relationships, then it is love expressed through practical works of service that will be the solution.  By loving non-Christians we have the chance to break out from patterns of rivalry between religions, and by loving Christians we can build family, so that all people will know that we are his disciples.  (Grant 2008, p149)

 

God’s calling to mission is a calling to service.  Again, service is not so much a function as a definition of the Church.  The community Jesus founded is diakonia (Mark 10:43-45).  God’s people are judged not by their formal piety but by the spontaneous compassion they show – or fail to show – to those in need with whom Jesus Christ identifies himself (Matt. 24:44; Acts 11:29; 12:25).  (Kirk 1999, p32)

 

There has been open criticism by some, of the witness of Christian organizations in disaster and emergency relief situations, with the suspicion that strings are attached to life-giving aid being distributed or services provided.  Such criticism prompted the following response from the Christian relief and development organization, Tearfund, UK:

 

But whether it is long-term poverty alleviation or emergency relief, making acceptance of our faith a condition of receiving aid is abhorrent. The poor people we meet in disaster zones (for the poorest always take the full brunt of disasters) are often distraught, always vulnerable. When giving assistance in Christ’s name in some of the world’s most tragic situations it is critical that we do not imply: “We will help you only if you sign up to our faith.”...  It would have been profoundly un-Christ-like to have offered aid with strings attached to the distraught and bereaved families I met on the beach in Sri Lanka in the days following the tsunami, or to women from Darfur violated by militiamen and driven from their homes whom I met trekking towards refugee camps in Chad. In such situations we are reflecting Christ to others simply through our very presence, our actions and prayers.

 

Which is far from saying that faith does not have a central place in humanitarian work. Humanitarianism and social reform have deep roots in Christian faith. Christian Henry Dunant began the Red Cross and the devout William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury led the campaigns against slavery and child labour.

And the fact that many people afflicted by disaster have a faith is recognised by Article 58 of the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949. It deems religious and worship items as legitimate relief supplies because they help to ensure the well being of those suffering.

 

Tearfund’s Christian partners in the developing world would be unsurprised by such a clause. They do not share a western approach to life that separates the physical and spiritual. They sensibly argue that as Christians we cannot divorce our acts of compassion from who we are as Christians. And that the role of the Church is one of ‘holistic mission’ - responding to the needs of poor people, while at the same time reflecting God’s love through relationship.

 

Such a holistic approach is perhaps most strikingly evident in long-term development, rather than the emergency relief which is often focussed on saving lives in the short-term. (Aid and Evangelism, Ewing 2007)

 

An inclusive approach

When working in non-Christian environments, it is important to recognize that God is present and working.  There is no place on earth where God has not gone before others, there is not one person in this world who God does not know and does not love.  Christians can’t claim to possess the whole truth, but can point to the One, Christ Jesus of Nazareth who is the Truth.  When developing mission plans and strategy, there is a need to build on the reality that God already has a relationship with all people, and that the aim of witness and proclamation is to help those individuals who don’t know him have a relationship with God.  This needs to be carried out with a sensitivity embracing cultural differences, with an understanding of other faiths, philosophies and viewpoints, and in the knowledge that they are all created in the image of God, known by him from the beginning of time:

 

If there are no churches, God has nonetheless been working in the community since the beginning of time, with God’s story being hidden or only partly known or recognized.  (Myers 1998, p111)

 

Inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church's evangelizing mission. Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes; indeed, it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions. This mission, in fact, is addressed to those who do not know Christ and his Gospel, and who belong for the most part to other religions. In Christ, God calls all peoples to himself and he wishes to share with them the fullness of his revelation and love. He does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression, even when they contain "gaps, insufficiencies and errors." (Paulus 1990, section 55)

 

Christian mission must therefore treat all human beings with dignity, equality and respect.  When we look at any other person, we do not see the label (Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, secular atheist, white, black, etc.) but the image of God.  We see someone created by God, addressed by God, accountable to God, loved by God, valued and evaluated by God.  So while we affirm the validity of reaching out in mission to all people everywhere, we must also think critically about the methods, attitudes and assumption with which we do so. (Wright 2006, p423)

 

For Indians, God is more involved in day-to-day life than most Western Christians' theology would allow. The average Hindu need not be introduced to God in that sense. They need to be introduced to the name of that God-Jesus. I've said many times that we do not need to break our heads in India convincing any Indian about the existence of God. The challenge is, "What is the name of this God who is involved with the poor?" That's where Christian distinctiveness-and divisiveness-is felt. Jayakumar Christian, Christianity Today, 2007 (www.christianitytoday.com)

His kingdom is not to be identified with the church.  Much more than that, it is the establishment of God’s rule over the cosmos, the whole creation (Eph. 1:21-22). Even though the church is a sign of God’s rule, his plan to govern all things established in the Old Testament is not fulfilled in the church alone.  Its fulfilment is a universal one, as his rule extends over all creation and all nations.  (Samuel & Sugden 1999, p176)

 

The Bible appears to teach that the prayers of those outside the covenant-community can be heard by God.  (Nazir-Ali 1995, p102)

 

Common values within the great religions can be used as a starting point for dialogue.  Knowledge of both your own and about the others beliefs make dialogue easier and are a prerequisite for the recognition of common values.  (Bondevik 2008, p258)

 

The challenge is how to acknowledge that God is at work in all nations and in their histories and yet that what he has done in the history of Israel, a history that reaches its consummation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not only paradigmatic (of his work elsewhere), but decisive for the future of the whole world.  How do we relate that “once-for-all” sense of God’s saving action in Jesus to what God has been doing and continues to do among people who have never heard of Jesus?  This calls us to discern, in our missionary engagement, whatever is compatible with the gospel in all cultures and societies, affirming and nurturing their growth, but also exposing and confronting those things that are incompatible. (Peskett & Ramachandra 2003, p111,112)

 

In all of our programs and actions we should remember that God in His sovereignty and love is already active in the communities we seek to serve (Acts 14:17; 17:23; Rom. 2:9-15). Agencies, therefore, should give adequate priority to listening sensitively to the concerns of these communities, facilitating a two-way process in communication and local ownership of programs. The guiding principle is equitable partnership in which local people and Western agencies cooperate together. Many models for development have originated in the Two-Thirds World. Christian aid agencies should in every way encourage these local initiatives to succeed. In this way the redeemed community of the Kingdom will be able to experiment with a number of models of transformation. (Wheaton Statement 1983 Section 46)

 

Through the sending of the Spirit the mystery becomes accessible to all, the world over, because the mystery has opened itself up to the world to that end, so that the world may partake of it. The world may, can, should believe. Access to God is open to all. (Sundermeier u.d. p560)

 

So the whole earth belongs to Jesus as Lord.  The missiological, ethical and (here) practical implications of such a worldview are staggering...  For if the whole earth belongs to Jesus, there is no corner of the earth to which we can go in mission that does not already belong to him.  There is not an inch of the planet that belongs to any other god, whatever the appearances.  A Christ-centred theology of divine ownership of the whole world is a major foundation for missional theology, practice and ultimate confidence. (Wright 2006, p112)

 

The ministry of the church must be to all people because all have been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).  Because God bestows human dignity on all people, everyone, regardless of their status in life, deserves the church’s full attention.  (Brussels statement 1999, p43)

 

If, however, God’s whole work in the world is related to the death and resurrection of Christ, we may look for the pattern of redemption at work where God is at work in the world beyond the church.  We can say that God does more than preserve and judge the world outside the church; he works to change it into conformity with his redemption plan.  (Sider 1981, p54)

 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things and in him all things hold together.  (Col 1:15-17)

 

   
 

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