Humble Thyself: The Imitation of Christ in Medical Missions
Missions have been a part of the Christian faith since its genesis. Various approaches to transmitting the faith through missions have been implemented over time, some with unforeseen and frankly negative long-term political, social, and even theological consequences. In medical missions specifically, the consequences include the potential of compromised individual and collective health. These vulnerabilities make it essential to consider the theoretical and practical approaches with which we as Christians engage with our neighbors.
Missiologists critically and theologically consider the motives, methods, and mandates of the Christian believer in the world. Efforts to reconfigure the role of missions from a past intertwined with imperialism to one that brings each party into partnership are ongoing. In medical missions, questions about how to assume a Christian posture are complicated not only by the sociohistorical context of the missions movement, but by the fact that medicine in and of itself engenders imbalances in power.
This paper puts forth a proposal for a posture in medical missions as understood through the lens of Philippians. In the context of Paul’s mission to this group of early believers, the apostle repeatedly encourages his congregation to imitate Christ. In his letter to the Philippians, he lays out what Christ did and how His followers might hope to be like Him. Paul describes Jesus’ wholly countercultural disposition and actions, giving his audience the opportunity to consider how this might inform their own lives. In so doing, he also provides a framework for understanding the ideal missionary. What follows is a Pauline construal of the call to imitation as a disciple, a discussion of how those engaging in medical missions might embody the same posture as the incarnate Christ, and a reflection on how a shift in posture might facilitate greater participation for both disciples and disciplers in God’s restoring work on earth.
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