Reaching and Reconciling

by Gary Corwin

There are few concepts as central to the task of missions as reaching and reconciling. The tip of the spear in mission endeavor is to see that unreached peoples are reached with the gospel so that “all the families of the earth” are blessed through Abraham, and those described in Revelation 5 and 7 do indeed represent some “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” 

There are few concepts as central to the task of missions as reaching and reconciling. The tip of the spear in mission endeavor is to see that unreached peoples are reached with the gospel so that “all the families of the earth” are blessed through Abraham, and those described in Revelation 5 and 7 do indeed represent some “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” 

At the same time, God’s people are called to a “ministry of reconciliation.” They are to be reconcilers of the lost to God, and reconcilers of all kinds of people to one another through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. But what do you do when reaching and reconciling seem to work against each other?

All would agree that it is wonderful when Christians play a key role in facilitating reconciliation between parties harboring long-term animosity—whether based on race, ethnicity, social class, religion, or anything else. Sometimes, that comes through simply reminding people of who they are in Christ, and the values they share because of that. Other times, it comes through modeling love and acceptance with those whom the world would consider their natural enemies, or at least their competitors. 

The most pronounced gaps between people, however, are usually in contexts where few are experiencing a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Reconciliation then ideally involves reconciliation with God first, but very often it does not. In such contexts, it is often the visible reconciliation of Christians from groups that don’t normally associate with one another which shines like a beacon to those who are not currently people of gospel faith. This becomes the catalytic agent to show the way forward. 

That being the case, how far should the homogeneous unit principle or HUP (very loosely defined as “birds of a feather flock together”) be held as missiologically sacrosanct? I am speaking as one who believes that strategic application of the HUP is good missiology. Good because the object in outreach to least-reached peoples (both ethnic and otherwise) is to remove as many unnecessary obstacles to faith as possible. Only then can people confront head-on the only important stumbling block that is the cross and, drawn by the Holy Spirit, come to faith.

The challenge that remains, however, is at what point does the evangelistic power of the HUP need to give way to the maturing and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people so that reconciliation as the unique product of the gospel can shine forth? This is a particularly important question for the sake of those for whom it is the very lack of reconciliation in the Church that is their chief obstacle to faith.

Looked at in more theological terms, when does “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22) as an evangelistic stratagem morph into “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18) as a product of our sanctification.

The bottom line is that horizontal reconciliation, like reconciliation to God by grace through faith, must start with the Church. When does relaxed homogeneity become slothful and/or disobedient sanctification? Are we working hard enough to break down barriers of division as Christ’s Church through our ministry of reconciliation, or are we blindly perpetuating division through our neglect of this calling?

It should come as no surprise that pulling off deep-seated and visible reconciliation is not easy. Cultural preferences don’t change just because we desire a higher level of reconciliation with those whom we don’t naturally associate. It takes work, and it takes a looser grip on our own preferences and scruples. It also takes creativity. 

It’s not necessary to be something that we are not in order to be an agent of reconciliation, but it is necessary to appreciate what makes others who they uniquely are, and to find ways of showing it. We are brothers and sisters of all people as creatures created in the image of God, and we are brothers and sisters at an even deeper level with fellow members of the household of faith. As members together with everyone in at least one of those ways, and in both ways with many, we must spend time with those to whom we desire to be agents of reconciliation. Obviously, no one can do that with everybody, but we can all do it with some. 

Let us not, therefore, neglect our calling as agents of reconciliation out of a too shallow understanding of sanctification or the HUP. The world is watching, and the world desperately needs a ministry of reconciliation that none but the Church is able to provide.

….

Gary Corwin is staff missiologist with the international office of SIM.

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 4 pp. 356-357. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.


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