The upheavals in present-day understanding of world mission expressed in the polarization between Bangkok ’73 and Lausanne ’74 present to us with new urgency the question: What is the abiding task of Christian missions in the rapidly changing scenery of the present decade? Let us quite elementarily define the foundation, content, and goal of mission according to the revealed Word of God.

1. The Foundation. Mission means sending. The most important person in this act is the One who sends. Determinative for mission, therefore, is not “the agenda of the world” but the commission that the sent one has received from his sending Lord. The basic motive of Christian mission is expressed in majestic simplicity in the Great Commission of the Resurrected One: “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Jesus was sent to take the decisive step in fulfilling the plan of salvation by accomplishing the atonement between the holy God and apostate mankind.

But the mission of Christ did not end on the cross. Rather, it was placed on a new universal foundation through his resurrection from the dead. This is his enthroning as king over the whole world, over all nations, and over all powers in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.

St. Paul, defining his apostolic call, refers to the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience to the faith for the sake of his name among all nations” (Rom. 1:5). The foundation of mission, therefore, is the fact that God has made his risen Son Jesus Christ the Lord and Saviour of the whole world. This means that all other powers have lost their former positions, and that all gods and idols that man is serving in his religions must give way for the one true faith proclaimed in the Gospel.

2. The Content. When people turn to the one living God and believe in his Son Jesus Christ, they receive the greatest gift that can be conceived of: salvation. It is God himself who saves, and the goal of his salvation is to restore the broken relationship between him and apostate man. For to be without salvation would mean to perish under his wrath, and to be delivered to the destructive forces of sin, devil, and death. All human sufferings, spiritual and corporal, individual and social, are nothing else but expressions of that separation from the fountain of divine life which is caused by sin and judgment. Salvation, therefore, in the deepest analysis, is always the reunification of lost man with God by means of the remission of sins.

This act of atonement has taken place once and for all through the death of Jesus on Calvary, and it is sufficient for the salvation of all mankind. But in order for this reconciliation to become effective fallen man must be informed about God’s offer in Christ and receive it in penitence and faith. Mission is nothing else but the ministry of reconciliation. This reconciliation is first of all the one between God and us, but from this results also the possibility of reconciliation between us and our fellow man. It is the most important task of the missionary, like St. Paul, to go to the still unsaved people and say to them: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

This reconciliation is offered through proclamation and is realized through the incorporation into the body of Christ by baptism. But in order to make God’s reconciliatory love visible, the word is accompanied by the deed of mercy. This cares for the temporal sufferings of man, both on the bodily and social and on the economic and political levels. All help in these spheres can be regarded as aspects of genuine Christian mission, if it originates from and aims at the central dimension of the Gospel, salvation.

3. The Goal. It is important to see Christian mission in the context of God’s eschatological plan of salvation. Christ’s Church is migrating on that route which starts from his resurrection and concludes with his second coming. Then his kingdom of grace shall be changed into his kingdom of glory. This means that during our present age his omnipotence over heaven and earth is still concealed. It is concealed by that power which the three enemies—sin, Satan, and death—are still exercising in this world, even though they have been conquered in principle.

The reign of Christ and the renewing power of his salvation are now seen only by the eye of faith. They become visible in the changed existence of regenerated man. They take social shape in the Church of Christ, which is the first-fruit of the renewed mankind. And they show their fermenting force in those social, cultural, and political changes that are achieved by Christians in obedience to their heavenly Lord. In this way it is possible to speak about the appearance of Christ’s kingdom even beyond the borders of the Church in the social and political spheres of this world.

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But we must also be aware that these processes are hindered and often destroyed again by man’s disobedience and by those metaphysical enemies that are not yet removed. This world will never become changed into Christ’s rule of glory through human efforts. Not even Christian efforts through evangelism, diaconate, or revolution can achieve this. For this is a promise that shall be fulfilled by no one but the returning Christ himself.

This means that our mission will not create universal mankind united in freedom, peace, and justice. For the answer to the Gospel will always be a double one: faith and unbelief, obedience to and rejection of Christ’s rule and grace. Therefore mission causes a decisive polarization within mankind: the confrontation between Christ’s obedient Church and the opposing rest of mankind. And out of its midst that apocalyptic figure will finally emerge, which is disbelieving mankind’s concentrated answer to the missionary witness: Antichrist.

But Antichrist will find his limit in the witness of the faithful Church. This will be the last form of Christian mission in a non-Christian world. But it will be rewarded by Israel’s eschatological turning toward his rejected Messiah. And this witness will finally be proven true when Antichrist meets his doom through the returning Christ.

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