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Missions and Wholism

Missions and Wholism

Postby Steelwheels » Sun May 06, 2018 5:48 pm

I'm not sure if this has been around for a long time. It's new to me, but perhaps I just haven't been listening or reading the right stuff. There seems to be a push, or emphasis, within Christian missions to want to integrate the whole person into their missionary efforts. Whole person being: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. I'm still trying to wrestle through this, so I thought I'd post my thoughts and questions here.

I can see biblically, especially in Acts, where care for the needs within the body were a burden that the whole body should carry. But it seems to me this was within a local congregation. It seems to me missionary efforts should be primarily concerned with taking the gospel into non-Christian areas and then planting churches in those areas with believers that respond. It would then be the burden of those local bodies, and whatever connections to other congregations that may exist, to care for one another.

But I just came across this from a global missions organization:

Integration and Wholism: We are personally committed to complete obedience to all that Jesus commanded including compassion for the physical needs of people as well as their emotional, mental and spiritual needs. We recognize an integral relationship between the physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Our programs seek the total development of the whole person and community.

Commitment to the Poor and Marginalized: Jesus came to preach good news to the poor. As his Ambassadors, we are committed to the poor and marginalized. We affirm their worth, call them to be children of God and seek to release them from brokenness and despair. While we might want them to follow Jesus, our call is to love and walk with them as they are and let them respond as called.

Long Term Solutions: We concentrate our efforts on long term solutions that break the cycle of poverty and disease. We train, equip, and empower people to do for themselves. We focus on development rather than relief, and disease prevention rather than cure.

It kind of caught me off guard, especially the part about, "while we might want them to follow Jesus..." Well, I should hope so, but if they reject Him how much time and effort should a global missionary organization continue to put into the physical, mental, and social aspects of a non-believer? What good is it to "break the cycle of poverty and disease" if that can even be broken, when they've rejected Christ. It almost seems like a barter/gospel system. If they could break that cycle, and some come to Christ on account of that, what happens if/when poverty and disease returns? Seems to me we come to Him on His terms. It reminds me of Digory in The Magicians Nephew. Heal my mother and I'll do whatever you ask of me Aslan. Or heal me physically and I'll follow you? This almost seems like a missionary prosperity gospel. I may be wrong in all of this which is why any of your thoughts and feedback would be most welcomed.
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Re: Missions and Wholism

Postby mattrose » Thu May 10, 2018 11:33 am

Steelwheels wrote:

I just came across this from a global missions organization:

Integration and Wholism: We are personally committed to complete obedience to all that Jesus commanded including compassion for the physical needs of people as well as their emotional, mental and spiritual needs. We recognize an integral relationship between the physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Our programs seek the total development of the whole person and community.

Commitment to the Poor and Marginalized: Jesus came to preach good news to the poor. As his Ambassadors, we are committed to the poor and marginalized. We affirm their worth, call them to be children of God and seek to release them from brokenness and despair. While we might want them to follow Jesus, our call is to love and walk with them as they are and let them respond as called.

Long Term Solutions: We concentrate our efforts on long term solutions that break the cycle of poverty and disease. We train, equip, and empower people to do for themselves. We focus on development rather than relief, and disease prevention rather than cure.

It kind of caught me off guard, especially the part about, "while we might want them to follow Jesus..." Well, I should hope so,


I'm guessing that you might be placing the emphasis on the wrong part of that sentence and mis-interpreting the tone. The emphasis is probably not on the 'might'. It is probably on the "we". We are called to love people whether they become Christians or not.

but if they reject Him how much time and effort should a global missionary organization continue to put into the physical, mental, and social aspects of a non-believer? What good is it to "break the cycle of poverty and disease" if that can even be broken, when they've rejected Christ.


While I agree with you that a global missionary organization could become too focused on social services to the neglect of the gospel, I think you are wrong to question the 'goodness' of fighting against poverty and sickness. In my opinion, fundamentalist and/or evangelicalism has developed a sour taste for social justice unnecessarily because it equates social justice work with liberal theology. But this need not be the case.

Part of the problem is that we tend to think of the 'Gospel' as being individualistic and just about getting to heaven. But the Gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God and it's growth on this earth. Certainly that good news will include what it included during Jesus' earthly ministry. Poor people were fed. Sick people were healed. That's how we know the Gospel is being spread. That's how we know the kingdom is coming more and more.

It almost seems like a barter/gospel system. If they could break that cycle, and some come to Christ on account of that, what happens if/when poverty and disease returns? It reminds me of Digory in The Magicians Nephew. Heal my mother and I'll do whatever you ask of me Aslan. Or heal me physically and I'll follow you? This almost seems like a missionary prosperity gospel. I may be wrong in all of this which is why any of your thoughts and feedback would be most welcomed.


While I, too, am against the 'prosperity' gospel, I think your critique in this case could be off-base. After all, the statement isn't talking about prosperity in that sense (come to God and get rich). It's not about making the poor rich. It's about helping them not to be in poverty.

Personally, I think the statement has a lot of merit. It aims to provide a context in which the Gospel might best appear like the good news that it is. This is a far cry from missionary efforts that amount to little more than throwing a bunch of Roman's Road tracts out the tour bus window and at the feet of lost and hurting people.
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Re: Missions and Wholism

Postby Paidion » Thu May 10, 2018 2:08 pm

I see it just the same way as Matt has expressed.
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Re: Missions and Wholism

Postby Singalphile » Sat May 12, 2018 11:02 am

I also agree with mattrose (I like how he explained the "... while we might ..." part).

Steelwheels wrote: ... if they reject Him how much time and effort should a global missionary organization continue to put into the physical, mental, and social aspects of a non-believer? What good is it to "break the cycle of poverty and disease" if that can even be broken, when they've rejected Christ.


Comforting and enabling the sick and poor is a good end in and of itself, I think. I like to see non-believers have happy, fulfilled, good, healthy, quality live, as much as possible (as this may be the only life they have, after all). Of course we don't help people be sinful - greedy, gluttonous, idolatrous, cruel, adulterous, etc. But all truly good things are from God, and I think that demonstrations of kindness, peace, love, etc. in Christ's name will bring glory to Him (Matthew 5:13ff).

So I think it's a good idea to spread the gospel about Jesus and God's kingdom and to spread peace, health, and comfort wherever possible. I appreciate that approach.

But I agree that the primary missionary effort should be to spread the gospel, and of course we all reject a "prosperity" message or bribery or anything at all like that.
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