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What is God's Plan for His World?

David Clegg reviews The Old Testament and Christian Mission by Chris Wright. His comments on the healthcare implications are in italics.
The foundations of mission: the creation platform
The teaching of Genesis and Paul's speech to the Athenians show how God meant human life on earth to be. This enables the bad news and therefore the good news of the gospel to be understood. The bad news is seen in our failures in the dimensions of ecology and economy as well as of human relationships in society and history. 'God will hold us accountable as much for our humanity as for our Christianity.'

The Old Testament (OT) demands social action on behalf the of the needy. The New Testament has not cancelled this demand. Providing health care for those needing it is a part of this activity. Much disease is the result of our rebellion against God, not just as individuals but also as society. We ignore the way we and our world are made and the price is paid in poverty and pollution, but often by our neighbours rather than ourselves. A partnership between medicine which heal, the body and evangelism which changes the lifestyle of individuals and society is holistic healthcare.

The manifesto of mission: the covenant with Abraham
God's goal through Abraham was and still is the blessing of all nations. The goal is universal and inclusive. The means of achieving this is exclusive and particular - through the people of God and the gospel of Christ.

The blessing of all nations demands a changed attitude of mind as well as a strategy for evangelism. Suffering now should result in as much caring now as the threat of a lost eternity results in evangelism. If it does not our caring is not genuine.

The agent of mission: Israel as the people of God
Mission is an ethical response to our being chosen and bought back by God. Israel was redeemed or delivered from Egypt in order to live in a covenant relationship with God. As a nation Israel had the two priestly functions of bringing the knowledge of God to the other nations ('teaching the law') and opening the way for them to approach God ('handling the sacrifices'). The people of God need to be holy or 'different, distinctive' outside the walls of their churches in their mission to the world.

Professionals who for the sake of Christian mission risk or abandon their place on the training and promotion ladders are distinctive. In addition they hold to ethical values which provide a sound basis for any community health programme, but which are often rejected by secular society.

The scope of mission: exodus and jubilee
Mission involves declaring the gospel of God's redemption. Two OT models are given to show the scope of this redemption. The exodus had political, economic, social and spiritual dimensions. The jubilee was a restorative mechanism especially for family life. The theological components combined with the social and economic components show a comprehensive concern for human needs. The jubilee was a strong influence on the ministry of Jesus.

The modern western way of practising biomedical healthcare is in danger of damaging family and social life and may cease to be a means through which God blesses the nations of the world. Poverty is a basic cause of population and family size imbalance as well as of disease. The modern move to a more multifactorial, cost effective and community centred approach to healthcare is appropriate.

The conflict of mission: gods and idols
Throughout the OT the one living God conflicts with the gods and idols of humanity. They are, very similar to the present day idols of 'money, sex and power'.

These idols are as responsible for the failure of rich nations and their churches to care for the poor as for all peoples to respond to the message of Christ.

The goal of mission: God and the future of nations
The nations were to benefit from God's work among his chosen people but must have found it difficult to praise Israel's God when they appeared to suffer from her conquests. Paul described their benefiting from Israel's salvation history as a mystery. Even Jesus saw himself primarily as sent to restore Israel but the vision of the ingathering of the nations was behind his teaching. Paul saw the gentile churches and the servanthood of Christ as fulfilment of OT prophecy and promise.

We cannot know what Christ gave up to come into this world as a man. But his servanthood was visible and his teaching irresistible to those wanting the truth. Medical mission can help break down the credibility gap between rich and poor and other human divisions, especially when practised in the name and spirit of the servant Christ.

Chris Wright is Principal of All Nations Christian College. His original article The Old Testament and Christian Mission appeared in Evangel, Summer 1996; 14.2: 37-43, published by Paternoster Periodicals. These edited extracts are used with permission.
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