When Missions Becomes The New Legalism

One of the key questions that I wrestle with is how to develop a missionary worldview that integrates international, cross-cultural action with the spirituality and theology of the local Church.  For most people there is a disconnect between the “over there” and right here.  That disconnect is often a pre-supposition to the comment that we need to focus on local issues, like feeding the poor or caring for the homeless first, and then when we have the time and money, we can consider the needs of those who have no access to the Gospel in other parts of the world.  The international missions, especially to the least evangelized, is an optional effort for the few–rather than a natural corollary to loving our neighbor.

This article by Dr. Anthony Bradley seems to address how that dis-connect can become spiritually dangerous.

The New Legalism: Missional, Radical, Narcissistic, and Shamed | Acton PowerBlog.

Missional activity, defined usually as engagement with local concerns, in Bradley’s mind is as much about Christian narcissism as it is about loving your neighbor.  That narcissism is the pursuit of becoming a sold-out, radical, super Christian.  Given that I resonate with the call to an all-in faith, I am cautious towards Bradley’s critique of the call to a missional faith.

However, his observation that many young Christians in their twenties are facing a fatigue and what amounts to a new legalism is worthy of attention.  God’s missionary heart (and yes, I do move away here from the word missional) is about the luxurious generosity of his grace ( Ephesians 1:7, 8 cf. 1 John 3:1).  Missions, whether cross-cultural and international, or local and near-cultural, should never be a duty, obligation, or requirement to prove our obedience, but rather it should be an expression of that grace which we have received and now desire to share with others (Genesis 12:3, blessed to be a blessing).

Dr. Bradley’s article only pushes me further to give more thought to weaving together the missionary heart of God with the daily routine of loving God and neighbor, and receiving his love in our own lives.


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