The Church’s Mission in Liberation Theology

Author’s Note: This is the second post in a short series on The Nature and Mission of the Church. You can read the first post in this series by clicking here.


National Cathedral interiorIn liberation theology the focus is not on sins of commission, but rather on sins of omission—standing by and not doing anything about the state of the poor is considered sin.[1] Liberation theology also puts focus (rightly so) on the resurrection of Christ and in conquering the “ultimate enemy” of man: death.[2]

By understanding and overcoming sins of omission and death, the believer is liberated, not to dream of a future life in heaven, but in order to actually do something right now for that future life by taking care of the poor.[3] In liberation theology God liberates humans to join him in fighting oppression in the world; oppression by the rich and by governments of the poor.[4]

In this context, liberation theology puts the church’s mission into the camp of socialism.[5] In citing Moltmann, Rueteler writes:

The presence of human greed temps political and liberation theology to support ideologies which would disastrously affect political freedom. Succumbing to this temptation, they exchange one demon for another. In its support of socialism, the church must be careful not to yield to this temptation. If socialism is the best way to achieve economic justice, then democracy is the best path to political freedom.[6]

He is in no doubt speaking of the dangers of socialism leading to communism, which the history books of the world can testify to. We all know from history the destruction and death that comes with such a political system.

As part of liberation theology, the mission of the church is political, and the church cannot remain apolitical because liberation theology affirms democracy as the right political system to advance the kingdom of God. However, liberation theology recognizes that such a political system is not found in the New Testament, nor is there any political system that is advocated for in the New Testament. Nevertheless, liberation theologists do recognize socialism in the New Testament, and as has already been stated, a democracy is the current political system that is right for socialism to advance.

The church’s mission, in liberation theology, is to be involved in political institutions to bring about taking care of the poor. However, Rueteler acknowledges that the reason the church does this “is that it is fearful that the Gospel does not have the power it once had to attract people on its own and therefore stands in need of these political and social alliances to carry on its evangelical task.”[7] He goes on to say that the reason for the church to be involved with social institutions has come under much criticism because the church “frequently supports the wrong side—the elite and those in power who are oppressing others.”[8] In liberation theology the church leaves behind the Gospel in order to focus on taking care of the poor.

In contrast, conservative Christians see in the Scriptures the more important issue that exists in the world—the reconciliation of the sinner to his or her God. Eternity takes precedence over temporary material things. Taking care of the poor is a natural outworking of being reconciled with a God who cares for the “least of these.” However, ultimately the Gospel is front and center while working to take care of the poor and should never be set aside or left behind.

[1] James T. Reuteler “Reformulating the mission of the Church.” Missiology 8 no 4 October 1980, p 418.

[2] Ibid., 418.

[3] Ibid., 418.

[4] Ibid., 419.

[5] Ibid., 419.

[6] Ibid., 419.

[7] Ibid., 421.

[8] Ibid., 421.


About Peter van Brussel

Peter is the Director of For His Glory Prison Ministry. Peter holds a BA in Pastoral Studies from Southwestern College, a MA in Theological Studies, and a M.Div. from Liberty University. Peter is married to Niki, and has two children. He has been saved by grace and seeks to share the Gospel with those who have been forgotten.
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One Response to The Church’s Mission in Liberation Theology

  1. Dr. Samuel Inbaraja Sundar says:

    I agree. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” – Jesus. This is the true liberation theology.

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