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Spring 1987 · Vol. 16 No. 1 · pp. 18–26 

Peace, Justice, Evangelism: The Mission of the Church

Peter Kroeker

What is the mission of the Church? If this question were asked in a survey of Mennonite Brethren members, church leaders, laymen, missiologists and evangelists, the answers would vary greatly even though all the respondents, presumably, support the Mennonite Brethren mission program. Perhaps all of them would find something to criticize about the program if given the opportunity. The responses would indicate that there is a lot of variety in how church members perceive the task of the church. I think they would indicate a certain lack of precision in the meaning and “baggage” we attach to terms which are frequently used but seldom defined.

Jesus must be central in every part of the ministry . . .

This imprecision does not stem only from lack of discussion and teaching but also reflects a great deal of input from outside the Mennonite Brethren constituency. And this input contains a great deal of diversity. William Richardson (26-37), for example, states that evangelism is social action. Others see evangelism as simply the proclamation of the gospel. Jose Bonino (3), at one extreme, identifies {19} the claim of some people that the gospel implies liberation and revolution. Maurice Sinclair (23-24) makes a case that the gospel of the Kingdom has a vital application to the task of development. Jacob Loewen (121-122) points to the need for defining the gospel in its broadest and deepest dimensions rather than looking for a “one chord” definition.

So, at the outset, I would like to discuss some definitions of terms used in the title of this paper so that problems of misunderstanding will be minimized.



The Hebrew word shalom has usually been translated into English as “peace.” But the meaning of shalom goes far beyond the narrow attributes Webster gives to this word. He describes peace as a state of tranquility, freedom from civil disturbances and harmony in personal relations. James Metzler’s (107) definition of shalom goes much further:

Saying shalom purposefully means to offer a peace treaty, a pledge to live for the other’s well-being, a covenant to desire and seek the good life of God’s favor together.

So peace, as translated from the biblical shalom, is not merely an absence of civil disturbances but an active pursuit of the well-being of others. It finds its expression in a sharing and caring community. It involves compassion for the needs of others and it extends to the second concept in the title of this paper, justice.


The message of Jesus, the reason for his coming as announced in his first public proclamation, was:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18, 19 NIV).

These words are a message of justice for the poor and the oppressed. The year of the Lord’s favor implies all the mechanism of hope for the poor as delineated by Moses in the year of {20} the “Jubilee.” Quoting Metzler (91) again:

Wherever poverty and riches exist side-by-side, there is lack of justice, fidelity and shalom. The will and rule of God, who has created enough for all, is being thwarted.

Again, the concept of justice as portrayed by Jesus goes beyond the justice of the courts and the punishment of criminals. It involves a positive response to the needs of the poor and the oppressed even though the poverty and oppression may be sanctioned by law. This justice goes beyond national judicial systems. Ultimately, it finds its parameters in the heart of God.


The definition of evangelism has sometimes been expanded to include everything that is done to build the Kingdom of God. Thus, social action when done in the Christian context has been described as being a part of evangelism. Webster’s definition of evangelism is more restrictive; it is a succinct statement which delineates what most people understand when using this term: “The winning or revival of personal commitments to Christ; militant or crusading zeal.”

A more descriptive definition is provided by Hans Kasdorf (631) when he paraphrases David Bosch:

Evangelism means to tell the good news that Jesus saves; it means to invite men and women in the world to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior; it means to inform them of the cost of following Jesus. Evangelism always aims at discipleship, which in turn requires commitment to his purposes of the Kingdom in history.

This definition of evangelism describes the meaning I accept for purposes of this discussion.


Webster attaches many variations of meaning to this word depending on the context of its use. In the context of this paper it is simply:

A ministry commissioned by a religious organization to propagate its faith or carry on humanitarian work.

This definition includes almost everything a church may want to do. It does not restrict the ministry to any specific aspect of its task. Kasdorf’s (631) definition is almost as broad:

. . . I have defined mission as the total redemptive task for which {21} the Lord has placed the church into the world. That task has to do with crossing frontiers of all types, frontiers that pose barriers between the people of God and the people of the world. Once those frontiers have been crossed, the church witnesses of God’s redemptive, healing, and helping grace on the other side of these frontiers. In this sense, “mission means being sent by God to love, to serve, to preach, to heal.”

With this understanding of “mission,” the addition of “Services” to the name of Mennonite Brethren outreach program overseas is redundant. “Mission” includes all those areas of service to which we have been called.


Our Western system of thought is very prone to approach a task through an analysis of its components and a setting of priorities in getting the job done. As a business practice, this is very much in vogue as a method of maximizing profits. It is intended to isolate unprofitable components within an institution in order to bring them to profitability or to get rid of them. The business executive, inundated with myriad responsibilities, is encouraged to set priorities in order to get the task done. The less important tasks can be delegated to people of lower rank or, perhaps, dispensed with altogether.

The result of setting priorities is to dichotomize: to divide a task into separate components. By definition of priority, one component will be of greater urgency or of higher value than the other. If there are not enough resources to accomplish everything, then perform the task with the higher priority and leave the other. In discussing this concept within the mission of the church, Kasdorf (131) states:

. . . we are left with the impression that we have a choice to make; we can do one and leave the other undone.

At the Wheaton Conference held in 1983, Bob Moffit (379) addressed the subject of dichotomization as follows:

Western Christians understand man’s need for growth in physical, social and spiritual areas, but they have accommodated the influence of the Enlightenment by often separating physical and social development from spiritual. Unfortunately, this dichotomy is not limited to the church in the West. Third World churches have been {22} influenced by Western mission even when a dichotomized perspective thinking is not indigenous.

Some people in the Third World understand the dangers of dichotomies. Miriam Adeney (7) quotes Filipino Dr. Magalit who addressed the Urbana Missionary Convention:

Please do not send us missionaries who insist on a dichotomy between evangelism and social concern . . . In the long term, unless our love is demonstrated in practical terms of helping to meet the need for daily bread, our gospel of love will sound hollow and unconvincing.

How have Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services performed in prioritizing and dichotomizing? Kasdorf (630) researched mission reports and conference resolutions from 1954 to 1984 and found a consistent focus on priority of proclamation over social concern. Indeed, he found this theme to be prevalent in current promotional literature although he cites (p. 628) one pamphlet as stating:

Helping people in physical need has always been stressed by Missions/Services as integral to the church’s mission to the world.

If MBM/S adhered to the priority of evangelism in mission they were in step with the mainstream of evangelical thought. A press release given after the 1982 Grand Rapids Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility stated:

One issue that has caused misgivings in some evangelicals was a statement in the widely accepted Lausanne Covenant, which was adopted by the 4,000 evangelicals who assembled at the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization. After defining and acknowledging the necessity for evangelism and social outreach, the statement said that “in the church’s mission of sacrificial service, evangelism is primary.” Some evangelicals feared that, if taken in isolation, the words could be construed as minimizing social action.

The consultation in Grand Rapids faced up to the misgivings and heard from participants who voiced them. The conclusion was that everyone could endorse the conception of the primacy of evangelism when it was properly defined.

This group grappled with the problem of dichotomy. They recognized that both evangelism and social action were {23} needed in mission outreach. They recognized the interrelationships. But they could not agree to leave the components as an indivisible whole. Western thought is, indeed, deeply tied to the secular models developed in Greek thought and given impetus by the Enlightenment.

Although the Wheaton Conference in the following year categorically refuted dualism as heresy in Moffit’s (379-80) paper, the final statement, while emphasizing the integral relationship between evangelism and social responsibility (and while recognizing discomfort by some participants with the Lausanne Covenant statement that “in the church’s mission of sacrificial service, evangelism is primary”), nevertheless endorsed it, with qualifications (Sine 455).


I would now like to present my interpretation of the biblical mandate as it has developed from the discussions at Grand Rapids and Wheaton and, more particularly, from my reading of the teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospels.

In discussion of the mandate of the church in mission, the Great Commission is often cited as the basis for an evangelistic outreach overseas. It seems to me that the last verse of this commission is often ignored: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20a NIV). Similarly, Jesus’ words to his disciples as recorded in John 20:21b are inclusive of all his teachings: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” If Jesus’ commission to us is really so broad as to include the totality of his teaching and his relationships as these verses state, we need to examine them very carefully. The following sampling reveals some of the aspects of his teaching.

The proclamation of Jesus regarding his ministry as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (4:18, 19) has already been quoted. He proclaims the theme of shalom, peace and justice. He speaks of good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, healing for the blind, release of the oppressed and proclamation of the year of the Lord, generally interpreted as referring to the Year of Jubilee when debts are forgiven, slaves are freed and land is restored to the dispossessed.

Then we need to consider the marvelous dialogue Jesus entered into with Nicodemus as recorded in the third chapter {24} of John (vv. 16, 17):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Another purpose of Jesus’ coming is stated very clearly in this passage. It is unequivocal. He came to save man from the consequences of sin and give eternal life to those who believe. Bringing this message of God’s love to people is evangelism. If we follow the mandate of Jesus to teach “all things,” evangelism must always be a part of the mission of the church.

The longest sermon of Jesus recorded in the Gospels is Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7). In it Jesus explains the new relationship between God and man and how we should order our spiritual lives. But he also calls attention to the relationship of people to one another. He teaches that we should love our enemies, give to the needy, forgive and not retaliate against those who do evil. He identifies evil not only in actions but also in thoughts. The implications of the sermon are that people should practice shalom—peace and justice between people and between people and God.

Jesus, in discussing the Great Commandment with an expert in the law (Luke 10:25-37), uses the example of the Good Samaritan to illustrate how we should relate to our neighbors. This example illustrates peace and justice under the wider definition of shalom. Jesus told this expert to “go and do likewise” (v 37).

It seems to me that a discussion of the integrated nature of Jesus’ teaching regarding peace, justice and evangelism would be incomplete without reference to Jesus’ graphic description of the judgment day when the sheep are separated from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Here the righteous, the sheep, are the ones who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, invited the stranger, clothed the naked, looked after the sick. And these “righteous” ones were not even aware of having done anything for God! But the King said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (v 40). Then those who failed to help the needy, who failed to practice shalom, were sent to eternal punishment.

With these examples of Jesus’ teachings for consideration, {25} I would like to present my conclusions:

  1. There is a danger of selecting any aspect of Jesus’ teaching and setting it up as a priority over others. For example, one might make a case that the Matthew 25 parable shows that Jesus placed a priority on helping people in need rather than verbal proclamation. But Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus could be used to emphasize that Jesus came, first and foremost, to save people from their sinful condition.
  2. It is evident to me that Jesus’ ministry to the people he met was not bifurcated. He addressed the physical and spiritual needs of people as he perceived them. He emphasized shalom. He emphasized a right relationship with God. And his sharpest criticism was reserved for the Pharisees, people who professed a correct relationship with God but did not practice peace and justice with their neighbors.
  3. Jesus must be central in every part of the ministry of the church. He must be central in proclamation (evangelism). He must be central in our response to physical needs of the poor and oppressed. Our mission, our being sent, comes from the King. We are representatives of that King. Mission is concerned with the building of his kingdom.
  4. Jesus’ ministry was to the whole person. He brought physical healing; he addressed social needs; he recognized and healed people in spiritual distress. He modeled the role of servanthood. Each aspect of the ministry of the church loses substance, loses credibility, when done in isolation. Any setting of priority of one over the other implies a dichotomy; it implies that the one of the higher priority must be done and the one of lower priority may be done if resources permit. This was not the teaching of Jesus. This was not the way the Father sent the Son. Jesus said, “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”


  • Adeney, Mariam. God’s Foreign Policy. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1984.
  • Bonino, Jose Miguez. Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.
  • Kasdorf, Hans. A Century of Mennonite Brethren Mission Thinking, 1885-1984. Unpublished doctorial dissertation, 1986.
  • Loewen, Jacob. “The Gospel: Its Content and Communication.” Down to Earth. Eds. John R. W. Stott and Robert Coote. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.
  • Metzler, James E. From Saigon to Shalom. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985. {26}
  • Moffit, Bob. “The Local Church In Development.” The Church in Response to Human Need. Ed. Tom Sine. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1983.
  • Richardson, William J. Social Action vs. Evangelism. South Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1977.
  • Sinclair, Maurice. Green Finger of God. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1980.
  • Sine, Tom, Ed. The Church in Response to Human Need. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1983.
  • Webster, Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Meriam Company.
  • World Evangelization Information Service. Evangelicals Affirm Evangelism/Social Responsibility Commitment (Press Release). Rexdale, ON: LCWE 1982.
Dr. Peter Kroeker is an anthropologist who serves as Consultant on Development for the Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions and Services.

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