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Indeed, the mystery of the incarnation testified how in becoming a human being, and through his life, death and resurrection, all of creation will one day be renewed (Revelation 21:5).
What this means is that evangelism and mission is not just about people entering into a saving knowledge of Jesus as Lord, but the total transformation of society for the better. Faith, despite what many think, is not just a private matter or conviction. The Kingdom of God is much bigger than our individual salvation, it is the ultimate restoration of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10, Acts 3:21, Romans 8:20-21).
Recently, researcher Robert Woodberry published an article entitled “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.” His research asked why some developing nations are more economically advanced than others with comparatively better health, lower corruption, greater literacy and lower infant mortality. His conclusion is that the impact of Protestant evangelistic efforts have been the “the single largest factor in insuring the health of nations”.
He admits that protestant missionary history has had its share of mistakes, failures and unfortunate outcomes; more importantly that democratic expansion was never their primary goal. Nevertheless the outcome of their efforts transformed societies. Woodberry found that it was not any efforts that made the difference, but what he calls “Conversionary Protestants”. Missionaries that focussed on seeing people come to accept Jesus as Lord. He says, that in “trying to spread their faith, CPs (conversionary protestants) expanded religious liberty, overcame resistance to mass education and printing, fostered civil society, moderated colonial abuses, and dissipated elite power.” In doing so they laid the foundations for “democracy and long-term economic growth.”
In many ways Woodberry’s research reminds us what the Bible teaches. Great social and cultural transformation comes not as a result of social programs, although they are important, but as a result of people knowing Jesus as Lord. As Jesus said, “‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad” (Matthew 12:33).
A quick look at the sad plight of our world, even in this past week, reminds us this world needs changing. Although we are all part of the problem, thankfully God is gracious and has not left us alone to change the world, but has gone ahead of us and done it himself.
We have a job to do. To help those we know to both hear the news that Jesus is Lord and see our good deeds, and to praise God for them.
Stephen L Baxter
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