One of the great battleground questions of our day has to do with the mission of the Church. In one form or another this question is being asked, answered, thrashed about, and altered from older perspectives by theologians, sociologists, political scientists, students, the New Left, the Old Right, clergy, laity, and what have you. It may come in a discussion of the relevance of the Church to contemporary situations, or it may surface in a debate over race, black power, student revolts, grape boycotts, social action, or even secularization—not to mention the new and the old morality.

The discussions have produced a polarity in which the two sides join in vigorous opposition, each sending out verbal blasts designed to annihilate the other. We do well, therefore, to ask what the real issue is, and whether there is an adequate answer to the question, What is the mission of the Church?

In their extreme forms, the answers given to this question are: The Church’s mission is to change society through social action, and, The Church’s mission is to win men and women to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The president of the American Baptist Convention, Culbert C. Rutenber of Andover Newton Seminary, recently said that neither view is true Christianity. According to a Baptist news release, he lamented the “continuing polarization into two camps—the orthodox, historical Christians on the one hand who are concerned about winning others, praying, giving, and building churches; and the social actionists on the other who are concerned only about changing society.” Then he added that “it is a half-truth to say, ‘Only changed men change society,’ ” for he had seen men “who are not changed who are changing society, and many who claim to be ...

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