The Original Mission of the Church

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Not long ago I had a conversation with an elderly missionary who had spent his early career in China. He had been among the six thousand missionaries expelled after the Communists took over. As in Russia, these Communists too strove mightily to destroy the church, which until then had been a showcase of the missionary movement. The government forbade house churches, made it illegal for parents to give religious education to their children, imprisoned and tortured pastors and Bible teachers.

Meanwhile, the exiled missionaries sat on the sidelines and wrung their hands. How would the church in China fare without them? without their seminaries and Bible colleges, their literature and curricula, without even the ability to print Bibles, could the church survive? For forty years these missionaries heard rumors, some discouraging and some encouraging, about what was happening in China, but no one knew for sure until the country began opening up in the 1980s.

I asked this elderly missionary, now a renowned China expert, what had happened in the intervening forty years. “Conservatively, I would estimate there were 750,000 Christians when I left China. And now? You hear all sorts of numbers, but I think a safe figure would be 35 million believers.” Apparently, the church and the Holy Spirit fared quite well on their own. The church in China now constitutes the second largest evangelical community in the world; only the United States exceeds it.

One China expert estimates that the revival in China represents the greatest numerical revival in the history of the church. In an odd way, the government hostility ultimately worked to the church’s advantage. Shut out of the power structures, Chinese Christian devoted themselves to worship and evangelism, the original mission of the church, and did not much concern themselves with politics. They concentrated on changing lives, not changing laws.

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What is the True Agenda of a Christian?

In recent history, the main leaders of the civil rights movement (Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young) were clergy, and their stirring speeches showed it. Churches black and white provided the buildings, the networks, the ideology, the volunteers, and the theology to sustain the movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. later broadened his crusade to encompass the issues of poverty and opposition to the war in Vietnam. Only recently, as political activism has shifted to conservative causes, has Christian involvement in politics caused alarm. …

Stephen Carter offers good counsel about political activism: To be effective, “gracious” Christians must be wise in the issues they choose to support or oppose. …

What about today? Are we choosing our battles wisely? Obviously, abortion, sexual issues, and the definitions of life and death are issues worthy of our attention. Yet when I read the literature produced by evangelicals in politics I also read about gun rights, abolishing the Department of Education … and term limits for Congress. … Too often the agenda of conservative religious groups matches line for line the agenda of conservative politics and does not base its priorities on a transcendent source. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Was Jesus a Politician?

The Gospel of Jesus was not primarily a political platform. In all the talk of voting blocs and culture wars, the message of grace — the main distinction Christians have to offer — tends to fall aside. It is difficult, if not impossible, to communicate the message of grace from the corridors of power.

The church is becoming more and more politicized, and as society unravels I hear calls that we emphasize mercy less and morality more. Stigmatize homosexuals, shame unwed mothers, persecute immigrants, harass the homeless, punish lawbreakers — I get the sense from some Christians that if we simply pass enough harsh laws in Washington, we can turn our country around. One prominent spiritual leader insists, “The only way to have a genuine spiritual revival is to have legislative reform.” Could he have that backwards? – Philip Yancey