The target of mission in ecumenical mission theology: a critique.

Author:An, Seung-oh

Setting a target in mission is crucial for effective mission. Different target groups may require different goals and methods. For example, in traditional mission, the target tends to focus largely on saving souls through evangelism and church planting; the target group is nonbelievers who do not know Jesus Christ. In ecumenical mission, however, the target group is much broader and the focus is generally on social justice for the poor and oppressed and shalom for all creatures in the world.

This article examines the target group of ecumenical mission, compared to that of traditional mission. We will investigate how the differences came about, under what circumstances, with what kind of backgrounds, and how it affects the outcome of mission. By doing so, we will appreciate the contributions and limitations of the ecumenical understanding of the targets of mission. This will provide us with insights for clarifying the right targets for effective and dynamic mission.

Major Targets in Ecumenical Mission

  1. The Poor

    It is legitimate to claim that, among various concerns, the foremost target in ecumenical mission is "the poor." A document of the World Council of Churches (WCC), "Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation," says: "This implies that evangelization to the poor, with the poor, for and by the poor, must be considered one of the church's highest priorities." (1) The reason that ecumenical mission is so deeply concerned about the poor is because Jesus Christ, the role model of our mission, himself came in human form among the poor and accepted their way of life. Jesus Christ came to make all people enjoy "fullness of life" (John 10:10) and, in particular, he revealed and subjugated the powers that deny the right of the poor to life through his death and resurrection (Luke 4:16-21). Also there is the claim that God, the master of mission, is the one who shows favoritism toward the poor. God's love is seeking the poor above all else, and God does not forget the people who are sacrificed by the exercise of power. (2) Ecumenical mission thus highlights that mission needs to put the first priority in mission on solving the difficulties of the poor.

    Today the life of the poor is worsening as they are being oppressed and exploited by the rich. The gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider. Observing this phenomenon, one Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) conference asserts that "Absolute poverty, frailty, and suffering are increasing. Unemployment is increasing. Whereas burdens are largely on the poor, the benefits are mostly distributed to the rich." (3) This kind of penury does not end just as an economic poverty, but results in the poor being alienated, vulnerable to living in despair day by day. This kind of unfairness is the result of policies which are advantageous only for the rich, and in this sense, poverty is a crime and disgrace. (4)

    Recently voices in the ecumenical movement have been concerned about "healing," viewing healing from the perspective of poverty as well. According to a document of the WCC titled "The Healing Mission of the Church," the major cause of disease is nothing other than poverty. It thus asserts: "It is an acknowledged fact that the number one cause of disease in the world is poverty. ... Providing immunizations, medicines, and even health education by standard methods cannot significantly ameliorate illness due to poverty." (5) In this sense, ecumenical theology considers viewing poverty as God's will is nothing other than profanity. (6)

  2. The Oppressed and Alienated

    The second major target group of ecumenical mission is the oppressed and alienated. The Uppsala report of the WCC describes these people as "... the defenseless, the abused, the forgotten, the bored," and JPIC describes them as laborers, immigrants, foreign students, refugees, natives, and so on. (8) Their hope and humanity are systematically plundered by defective education, law, medical service, religion, and deeply rooted taboos. Thus the church should stand beside these people, giving high priority to them.

    Having deep concern for these people, the ecumenical movement is on the front line of addressing these problems. For example, the Uppsala document announced: "We should work to vindicate the right of the poor and oppressed and to establish economic justice among the nations and within each state." (9) The Vancouver document also states: "The spiritual struggle of the Church must involve it in the struggles of the poor, the oppressed, the alienated, and the exiled. The Spirit is among struggling people." (10) With these emphases JPIC announced its resolution: "We will protest against all systems and regimes which encroach human rights and refuse the potential of individuals and groups." (11)

    Behind these concerns there is a Christology that understands Jesus as...

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