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22 December 2017

Making the connection

Making the connection

Can we merge spiritual and social transformation together? Dr Rosalee Velloso Ewell, director of the Theological Commission at the World Evangelical Alliance and principal at Redcliffe College tells us how.

Mountains figure prominently in the gospel of Matthew. They are the place of drama, of battles between Jesus and Satan, of appearances and transfigurations; of hungry crowds that have gathered around Jesus with their sick for healing and feeding. Mountains are the setting for famous sermons and we are promised that even with a little faith one can move a huge mountain. Mountains are also places of silence, of recluse and prayer.

If we follow Jesus' ministry in Matthew's narrative, there is a clear pattern to his life of prayer and the ministries of healing the sick, feeding the hungry and challenging the structures of injustice. 

Signs of God's reign
His spiritual life was not disjointed or isolated from life in the kingdom of God, which he embodied. Rather, social transformation and spiritual transformation are both signs and ways of God's reign. Mission is the expression of our spiritual life in Christ. The call for social transformation is the call to mission and is the response to the Spirit of God's gracious presence within us. We are not just human activists. God actually sends us and as we are sent, we are partnering with the divine. This is the pattern we see in Jesus' life and ministry in the gospel books.

There has often been a struggle within strands of the evangelical world between how to hold together our missionary zeal – sharing Christ in word, deed and character – together with our convictions about promoting God's justice and peace in the world, and our convictions about personal sanctification – how God's Spirit works in us drawing us closer to Jesus. As evangelicals, our teaching about mission, about social engagement and about sanctification often happen separately, without much consideration of how one strand of our life is connected to one of the other strands. 

We don't grow in isolation
Spiritual growth in the biblical narratives does not happen apart from our participation in the life of God and the community. Why? Because as we grow closer to Christ we also grow closer to one another. We don't grow closer to Christ in a vacuum. We need one another for this spiritual growth. Sanctification is not an individualistic or separatist concept, but one which invites the crossing of boundaries.

Jesus calls Peter the fisherman and Matthew the tax collector to be part of the same community, to challenge one another, to learn from one another, to share together and to learn what it means to follow Jesus in a context where society says tax collectors and fishermen do not belong together. As Peter and Matthew grow closer to Jesus, they grow closer to one another. God's Spirit speaks to them both. Like the disciples and like Jesus himself, we need one another if we are to grow deeper in our faith and share in the transformation of our society.

In our zeal to see social transformation we need to remember that any love we show in the world must be animated by prayer and by the love and grace of God. Evangelicals need to be reminded of that source of our spiritual growth and of the divine energy that animates our mission. The faith that moves mountains is that faith birthed in prayer and in the community of the Church, where together we learn of God's love for all of creation. Through the spiritual life we enter into the life of joy and love of the trinity. We enter into that divine love to become witnesses to it in the world, and as such witnesses we live out the transformation that is made possible by Jesus himself.

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