John R. W. Stott, pictured above, in his renowned work Christian Mission in the Modern World, says that there are basically three options when it comes to understanding the relationship between evangelism and social reponsibility:
Social Action as a Means of Evangelism–By this, Stott means that some see social ministry, such as medicinal helps, education, food, etc, as a means to an end. One helps the poor native physically in order to lead them to Christ. He charges that this leads to “rice-Christians” namely because we are being “rice-evangelists”.
Social Action is a Manifestation of Evangelism–Here, Acts of service are the “sacrament”, the visible sign, of evangelism. They are “signs of the kingdom” in NT categories. In other words, in helping the poor natively physically one is preaching Christ to them. However, Stott finds that even this motivation is a cloaked “means to an end” motivation. The one doing the service still expects conversion in return.
Social Action as a Partner of Evangelism–This is Stott’s perferred option. Based on a renewed sense of Christian vocation (see especially Gene Edward Veith, Jr.’s God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life), Stott argues that “As partners the two belong to each other and yet are independent of each other. Each stands on it own feet in its own right alonside the other. Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other. For each is an end in itself. Both are expressions of unfeigned love.“
My questions to you are the following:
Which of these three best represents your understanding? Or do you think there is another option?
You have been placed in a South Asian village as a missionary, and your mission board strictly prohibits giving money or food articles to nationals. Lately, you have seen a growing harvest of new Christians, but a severe famine strikes your region. You have plenty of financial resources to keep you and your three children fed. Additionally you have the financial means to easily care for the needs of your growing church and possibly the whole village, but to do so would risk you losing your appointment. What do you do? Why?
If you are interested in reading more on this topic see the following:
David Hesselgrave, Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today, Chapter 4 “Holism and Prioritism”
David Bosch, Transforming Mission, Chapter 12 “Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm”–Toward a Constructive Understanding of Evangelism.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, Chapters 8 and 9 “Mission as Action for God’s Justice” and “Church Growth, Conversion and Culture”
Jonathan Bonk, Missions and Money: Affluence as a Missionary Problem…Revisited.