Dr. Elias Rodriguez / Center for Biblical Leadership Instructor / Leadership Development and Discipleship Ministries
“When John,who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’”
(Matthew 11:2–5 NIV)
I believe that this passage describes the integral ministry of the church, as modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ. For many years, the Pentecostal church took a negative attitude toward integrative ministry, focusing only on the spiritual aspect of people. Our mission was to preach the Gospel to save people’s souls, and after the souls were saved, then our mission was to prepare them for the New Jerusalem. In fact, even today, when a person receives salvation, we say that “a soul was saved,” as if the body was not saved along with the soul. In this respect, we enter into a Gnostic dichotomy, in which we separate the spiritual from the material, assuming that the spiritual is good, and the material is bad. The truth is that salvation is integral. When Jesus saves us, He saves both soul and body, which has the promise of glorification, when it will be transformed into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:52–54).
My attention is called to the fact that when Jesus sent a reply to John the Baptist confirming that “the one who was to come had arrived and that they did not have to wait for another,” the evidence was based on concrete acts that Jesus did relating to people’s bodies and not their souls: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. It is as if the ministry of Jesus focuses first on restoring what is seen of people and then on what is not seen. Therefore, I believe that it is our duty to develop a holistic ministry, which includes not only the salvation of the soul but also the restoration and material well-being of people.
WHAT IS THE INTEGRAL MISSION OF THE CHURCH?
According to Pedro Arana Quiroz, the answer to the question of what the mission of the church was, especially during the 1970s, varied according to the different religious confessions: conservative evangelicals answered that the mission of the church was evangelization; liberal churches responded that the church’s mission was social service; some groups within the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches said the church’s mission was liberation; other Christian groups recognized the mission of the church as worship; and for other groups the mission of the church was to promote the material prosperity of its members. Each of these concepts has some truth, but they need to be integrated in order for the mission of the church to be complete. Thank God that, by the end of the twentieth century, the church had a more biblical understanding of what its mission was; therefore, there has been an openness to minister to the spiritual, emotional, physical, and material needs of people.
When we speak of the integral (essential to completeness; formed as a unit with another part; lacking nothing essential) mission of the church, we are referring to the ministry of the church that presents Christ as Lord of the whole of life, not only in the spiritual, but in the emotional, and in the physical or material. C. Rene Padilla affirms that every generation of Christians has been commissioned to preach the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, beginning in his Jerusalem, continuing in Judea, then in Samaria, and reaching to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8). Therefore, every church is called to be involved in the mission of God in the world—local, regional, and global in scope. For Padilla, if the church is not involved and committed to the integral mission of witnessing to Jesus in the world, then it becomes a religious club, or a group of friends, or a social welfare agency. This means that there must be balance in our mission. We must preach salvation of the soul, but also minister to the needs of people.
THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS FOR INTEGRAL MISSION
Jesus went about doing good (see Luke 4:18–19, 31–41; Acts 10). Integral mission requires the church to move from words to actions. This requires the church to learn from the example of Jesus. In the Nazareth Manifesto of Luke 4:18, 19 (NIV), in which Jesus sets out His platform for ministry, He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Since we are given to spiritualize all that is in the Scriptures, we may believe that the poor are the poor in spirit, the captives are the captives of Satan, the blind are spiritually blind (I believe that there is no worse blindness than not seeing the needs of our communities; many times we see even angels, but we do not see the needy around us), and the oppressed are those who suffer the oppressions of Satan. We cannot deny that reality, since Jesus freed the demon-possessed, opened the spiritual eyes of His disciples, untied the woman whom Satan had bound for thirteen years, etc. However, we cannot deny that this anointing of the Spirit was not only to meet the spiritual needs of people, but also their material needs.
After his speech, Jesus went from words to deeds, setting a demon-possessed man free, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and healing many others who were brought to him (see Luke 4:31–41). Throughout His ministry, when there was a need to feed the crowd, He fed them by multiplying the loaves and fishes (see Mark 6:30–44, 8:1–9). When the wine at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee was finished, He made miraculous provision (see John 2:1–11). He raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, and even calmed the storm of the sea to save His disciples (see Mark 4:35–41).
In his address at Cornelius’ home, Peter summarized Jesus’ ministry as follows: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (Acts 10: 36–39 NIV).
The integral church is the one that follows Jesus’ example, ministering not only to the spiritual needs of the people, but also contributing to their material needs. Wherever Jesus went, the situation changed. The church cannot turn a blind eye to the problems that afflict its communities. Therefore, it is imperative that the church know its community, discovering the needs and problems that afflict it and helping in the solution of these. Integral mission requires an identification of the church with its community.
The integral church is the church that will incarnate, insert, and contextualize its message and ministry in its community. The integral church is a church that will transform its community, following the example of Jesus, expressed by Peter in Cornelius’ house: “how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (v. 36 NIV).
As a church, we are often more concerned with numerical growth than with service to others. Harold Segura expresses concern about the gulf between “our numerical success, our economic and electoral achievements, on the one hand, and on the other, the tenuous impact we produce outside our communities.” He adds that “it is of little use for the church to be bigger and bigger if the world is getting worse every day.”
The church has an inescapable mission in the world as bearer of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The Good News of the Kingdom does not only have to do with the “afterlife,” but also with the “here and now,” in our neighborhoods, on our streets, and with our people. Many times, we know more about the golden streets of the New Jerusalem than we do about the asphalt, concrete, and dirt streets of our communities. Our temples are closed all day, we wait for the service at night; and after it is over, we return to our homes, while the community remains the same.
Although attendance at the services is necessary, when we present ourselves to Jesus, He will not ask us how many times we participated in the services. In Matthew 25:34–40 (NIV) Jesus says:
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
That is the integral mission of the church!