The gospel and global mission

Everyone yearns for a world of exuberant, joyful peace. And that, according to Scripture, is exactly what God intends to establish.

Charles Scriven, Ph.D., is interim president of Kettering College of Medical Arts, Kettering, Ohio.

Everyone yearns for a world of exuberant, joyful peace. And that, according to Scripture, is exactly what God intends to establish. The divine goal is blessed communion, the healing of the life we share with one another. God's pledge, as Jeremiah said, is to bring in a day of song when "there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness" (Jer. 33:10, 11).*

This is good news indeed. To affirm it is a wonder, and to diminish it a shame. Unfortunately, in our own Adventist circle we diminish it, as evidenced recently in the document on Global Strategy or as we are now saying, Global Mission approved at the 1989 Annual Council. Here good news is reduced, sadly reduced. I wish to explain what I mean and then, in love and hope, raise a voice of protest.

In large part, God's pledge of peace is about justice. "For I the Lord love justice," declares the author of the "everlasting covenant" (Isa. 61:8). Justice opens the doorway to joy for the oppressed, the hungry, the lonely; it gives rise to song and celebration (Ps. 146). In the Bible, justice is as basic as bread. According to Luke, it was the theme of the first sermon Jesus ever preached (Luke 4).

God's pledge of peace is also about partnership. In summoning Abraham, God said, "I will bless you," and added that Abraham himself would be a mediator of blessing to "all the families of the earth" (Gen. 12:2,3). When Zechariah sang his song, predicting that God would soon fulfill the covenant, he said this was in order that we ourselves might serve in holiness and justice (Luke 1:72-75). The idea is that we should be God's colaborers in the building of blessed communion.

God does not merely save souls; God saves life—the life that men and women share. It's also the rejuvenation of society to which God calls us.

Wholistic outlook

To me, therefore, it's alarming that we focus virtually our entire mission upon solitary souls. The document of Global Mission, meant to be our guide for the quinquennium now beginning, reflects and confirms this fact. Although this blueprint for evangelism affirms every Christian's obligation to minister wholistically to others, it never mentions justice and it never mentions peace. That may explain, too, why it never mentions joy. In Scripture these three are linked together; they constitute the fruit of God's redeeming action. A Global Mission in which they never figure diminishes the gospel.

In the Bible, God and the friends of God try to change everything for the better not just persons but also politics, not just the way we live alone but also the way we live together. For the Bible is wholistic, recognizing that the quality of personal life depends substantially on the quality of public life. When we recognize this ourselves and begin to speak of peace and work for justice, our joy in God will grow. Otherwise it will not.

My alarm at the church's refusal to work for justice would be matched, I realize, by the alarm of those who disagree with me. But the commonplace objections to what I'm saying will in no case bear up under biblical scrutiny.

Objection: You make the gospel social, and the social gospel has no place in the church. This is true only if the Bible has no place in the church. Under God, Moses changed the social world of his people. The prophets put justice social justice at the center of moral concern. Jesus made Herod, the political leader of Galilee, so nervous that Herod wanted to kill Him. None of this means the gospel is merely social. That would be heresy. But the fact remains that from beginning to end, the Bible challenges societies as well as individuals.

Objection: You preach liberation theology, but that's a call to violent revolution, and Jesus didn't believe in violent revolution. All the way through, the Bible is about the liberation of the oppressed. Read about the Exodus. Read about Jesus at the Temple. It's true that some (though not all!) liberation theologians sanction violence. But they are wrong, for the Bible is a story whose climax is Jesus and He says no to violence (Matt. 5). We can work for justice without hating or hurting the enemy, and we should.

Objection: You speak of justice, but that's a smoke screen for socialism. It's true that socialism upholds justice as a central principle. But the Bible upheld it long before socialism did. Moreover, the Bible spurns the massive pride, the re course to violence, and the abuse of power typically found in socialistic states. The point to be drawn from the gospel is that God works peaceably for the well-being of everyone, and He wants us to do the same. The Bible does not ask for social ism; it asks for justice.

Objection: You endorse a value that requires God's children to bear a witness to the state, but the church should keep itself separate from the state. It's true that the church should stay separate from the state. But this means the church must not identify itself with any state. It doesn't mean that Moses should have bent to Pharaoh's wishes or Jesus sidled up to Caesar. The great biblical heroes didn't bow and scrape before kings and governors, nor does God want us to do so.

Objection: You would divert energy from evangelism when that is the church's true business. I agree that the church's business is winning converts. The gospel commission is a summons to enlarge the circle of disciples, and even if the theology and methods of evangelism need review, this fundamental imperative re mains intact. But it's a mistake to think that winning converts is the church's only business. God's wish is to heal all of life, building a blessed communion. Moses and the prophets understood this. So did Jesus, who challenged Herod, among other things, and even rode a colt into Jerusalem announcing a peaceful revolution (Luke 13:31f.; Mark 11:15-19; cf. Zech. 9:9,10). No part of Scripture, least of all the New Testament, limits our mission to the saving of souls.

Objection: You put attention on peripheral matters instead of on salvation, where it belongs. On October 22, 1990, the San Bernardino (California) Sun quoted a Seventh-day Adventist as saying that gender and racial discrimination are relatively unimportant. Both "consume" time better spent on other matters. Neither has anything to do with salvation. But in the Bible, salvation includes the rescue of individuals and the transformation of social life. For Moses and his people, the God who rescued them from Egyptian slavery was precisely the God of salvation (Ex. 15:2). In the Gospel Of Luke, the Jesus who announced liberty for the oppressed was precisely the agent of salvation (Luke 4:15; 19:10). Biblically, salvation and justice are inseparably bound together.

Objection: You overlook the fact that God makes all things new at the Second Coming and we are presumptuous to try to do so now. This is a half-truth. James Watt, U.S. secretary of the interior under Ronald Reagan, once told environmentalists not to worry about the environment because Jesus would soon be here. Watt won no respect for that remark, nor did he deserve to. Confidence that Jesus will return does not entitle us to abandon the partnership God announced to Abraham and affirmed through Jesus. It's true that God will awaken joy by building peace and justice. But God's "I will bless you" does not negate our job of mediating blessing. The prospect of Christ's coming helps us to imagine a better world and to be dissatisfied with the present one; at the same time, it gives us confidence and energy to work today as God's colaborers for peace and justice.

The Adventist heritage

All these objections are well-worn and threadbare. By diminishing the gospel commission, they diminish the God who gives the gospel. In Scripture, God offers not only forgiveness of sins and empowerment for growth but also peace, replacing want with plenty, bigotry with justice, fear with fellowship. And the fact is that important elements of the Adventist heritage actually suggest this. I will mention two.

The first is the idea of a great controversy between Christ and Satan. This is prominent in Adventist consciousness for the priority given it in the writings of Ellen White. It is prominent, too, in the New Testament. First John 3:8 affirms, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." But this controversy, or battle, motif bears the tidings, unmistakably, of peaceful revolution. According, to Colossians 1:13, God "has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son." First Corinthians 15:24 tells us that Christ's work of deliverance goes on until the destruction of "every rule and every authority and power." God's purpose in Christ, the same letter declares, was "to bring to nothing things that are" (1 Cor. 1:29), or as f he New English Bible puts it "to overthrow the existing order."

Ellen White's own treatment of the great controversy suggests that the whole world, not just private individuals, under goes healing at God's hand. The lyrical ending of her last work on the series of books referred to as the Conflict of the Ages series imagines a universe finally cleansed of sin, in which a single "pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation."1 This assuredly is the fruit of the undiminished gospel.

The idea of the remnant is a second element in our heritage that supports what I am saying. For in Scripture the bond between the remnant and the renewing of society is never broken. According to Amos 5:15, the true remnant "hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate" establish, that is, what we today call "social justice." 2 This is the will of the God who hates mere ritual and tells the people, "Take away from me the noise of your songs.... But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (verses 23, 24).

In the latter part of Isaiah the remnant is the house of Jacob, the servant of God. A comparison of Isaiah 46:3 with Isaiah 44:1 will show this, and a look at Isaiah 42:1, 4 reveals the mission of the remnant: to "bring forth justice to the nations" and to establish "justice in the earth." This latter, according to Mat thew, is the very prophecy that Jesus brought to fulfillment (Matthew 12:17- 21, where Isaiah 42:1 -4 is loosely quoted).

The book of Revelation takes up the questions of hope and faithfulness. The author describes unsettling and even precarious circumstances: the "powers that be" caught up in blasphemous self-worship, stooping to violent persecutions, abetting flagrant economic inequalities (Rev. 13, 14, 18). Against all this the "remnant" (Rev. 12) must persist, confident in Christ's victory, loyal to Christ's way. Indeed, according to the three an gels of Revelation 14, collaboration with these powers is the road to eternal damnation. The true saints risk disadvantage and even death in public loyalty to Christ, repudiating the religious, social, and political evil around them. The true saints keep the commandments of God and bear the testimony of Jesus the very Jesus who upheld the prophetic vision of peace, joy, and justice for all. The true saints anticipate a new society, a new city, where the voice of gladness sings and the sound of mourning dies away.

Adventist example Not only do these two examples from Adventist belief suggest concern with the healing of society. Ourpractice does so as well at points. Consider, for example, two of the greatest of all Adventist missionaries. In the year 1909 Fernando and Ana Stahl set foot on South American soil. What they found in the highlands around Lake Titicaca was a social system that kept 92 percent of the people in near total subjection. Over them were the landholding families, a minority who saw themselves as superior for being White or partly White instead of Indian. The Stahls at first sold magazines, but soon realized how few of the people could read. Spurred on by an Indian convert and visionary named Manuel Camacho, they turned from selling magazines to building schools and clinics and markets. The privileged minority fought against them with bribes and beatings and imprisonments. Literacy was a threat, for it gave new powers of understanding and imagination. With these powers, exploited people could resist the suppressive system. But against the disapproval of landowners, town judges, and local priests, the Stahls persisted. They had a lively feeling for the wide embrace of God and for the goal of joy and justice.

Scholars from around the world have been drawn to the region where Fernando and Ana Stahl did their work. They agree that the Stahls awakened the highland people to their rights and changed the social structure for the better. It's a story that Charles Teel, Jr., of Loma Linda University, is beginning to tell.3 The story is full of risk and care, hope and loyalty. It shines like the light of Isaiah's remnant.

Or consider two little-remembered documents of witness. One is from the year 1921. That is when the Autumn Council of the church's General Conference authorized the sending of a letter to United States president Warren Harding, expressing, from loyalty to "Him who is the Prince of Peace," the church's sup port for "a limitation of armaments." The letter affirmed the hope that "the vast sums spent for armaments of war may be devoted to the amelioration of human woe and to the advancement of peaceful pursuits." 4 Another is from 1985, when the church's Annual Council produced a statement asking Seventh-day Adventists to help "remove underlying causes" of social discord, build respect for "human rights," advance "social, cultural, and economic justice," and urge nations to "beat their swords into plowshares." 5

Yet despite these signs of concern for justice, peace, and joy, the dominant ethos in our circle seems to overlook these things. None of these words appear in the document on Global Mission. Even in the statement of fundamental beliefs adopted in Dallas in 1980, the word "peace" never appears, nor does the word "justice," except once in remarks about the vindication of God. By such neglect good news is reduced, sadly reduced.

The quest for personal conversions has always driven Adventist mission. It is crucial that we persist in this quest. Ellen White was surely right when in a famous paragraph she said that the cure for social and political abuses "must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart." 6 She was also right in denying that Jesus sought "temporal dominion" as a means of establishing His kingdom. But it's still the case that Jesus addressed questions of government and politics. Even though He did not act as many of His fellow Jews expected the Messiah to act, He certainly condemned social and political abuses. And He sought the exuberant, joyful peace that can be found only in blessed communion, the healing of the life that men and women share.

Let us enter full partnership with God and the Son of God. A Global Mission without justice and without peace can never build the joy that the undiminished gospel promises for all. A quote here or a text there can never invalidate this point.The overall witness of Scripture is unmistakable.

Viewpoint is designed to allow readers an opportunity to express opinions regarding matters of interest to their colleagues. The ideas expressed in this feature are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church or the opinions of the Ministry staff. —Editors.

* Bible texts in this article are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

1. Ellen White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 678.

2. On this see Gerhard Hasel, The Remnant (Berrien Springs, Mien.: Andrews University Press, 1972), pp. 174, 197.

3. See, e.g., Charles Teel, Jr., "Missionaries, Visionaries, and Revolutionaries," Adventist Heritage, summer, 1988, pp. 3-14.

4. A copy of this letter may be obtained by writing to Bert Haloviak of the Department of Archives and Statistics at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904.

5. Adventist Review, Dec. 5, 1985, p. 19.

6. Ellen White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1940), p. 509.

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Charles Scriven, Ph.D., is interim president of Kettering College of Medical Arts, Kettering, Ohio.

May 1992

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