Social engagement or evangelism-only?
What is the mission of the church?
Here are three factors that unnecessarily polarize the debate:
1) We think in terms of church programmes. We frame the whole debate in terms of how many of our 15 scheduled hours of church-run activity must be devoted to helping the needy each week.
2) We look for justification in the wrong theological doctrine. One crowd stresses the doctrine of creation, the other the doctrine of salvation - and then we proceed as though these are separate agendas, separately addressed by the Lord. We need to begin with a doctrine of God from which flows a single creation-salvation programme in the Gospel of the Son. Here's a paper where I attempt to do this.
From this approach I think it becomes obvious that evangelism simply is the mission of the church. But it also means that social engagement does get worked out on the basis of and from within that proclaimed gospel.
3) Even though I'm a believer that "the mission of the church is evangelism" I submit that our side is probably most to blame for unnecessary polarization. The sad fact is that many of the evangelism-only crowd are also middle-class-only. We don't really believe that the Good News is for the poor. (Which is not really a methodological problem - it's a spiritual and theological problem).
But the debate is not about who we should minister to! We should all agree that we must minister to the poor. And we can hardly deny that Jesus had a decided bias to the outsider! The debate is about what form that ministry takes and what makes it Christian. Well then let's have this debate while we all move onto the housing estates and with the love of Christ compelling us, let us all minister to the poor. You can knock on doors and lead off by addressing practical needs. I'll knock on doors and lead off with Jesus. I still think my way's much more faithful and I'll try to persuade you. But I also reckon that you will end up gospelling some of your contacts. And there's no doubt that I'll end up debt counselling many of mine.
But let's at least make sure we've got the same mission field in mind. Let's first be clear that we must reach the poor. Then let's discuss how.
0 thoughts on “Good news for the poor”
You've tickled two things about which I've been thinking with this post.
The first is ministry to the poor in a capitalist society with easy access to mood altering tools like drugs and television. It's been on my heart, and I'm vastly more confused about it than I was 10 years ago.
The second is that "the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." I see the kingdom of God expressed on earth in hospitals, orphanages, education, welfare, publicly provided drug/alcohol rehab programs, etc. There's real kingdom work in social engagement.
Those two are bound at the hip, because I don't believe we're going to be able to minister to the tv/alcohol/drug addicted without giving them the message of freedom from addiction. That message has made great headway in the past. The message of freedom through "a Higher Force," though, is a cloud that brings no rain. The only freedom is to be thoroughly in Christ, and to preach less is to err.
I love that this post is about a false dichotomy, and I wholeheartedly concur.
There's a third point that dominates, though, and this is the one that moves me. The fruit of the tree is what matters, and it's for the Lord and His own. There's a new fruit for every month of the year (Jewish months moved through the waxing and waning of the moon, not the solar calendar) and that gets zero attention. There should be a variety of fruit that the body shares with each other and with the Lord.
> We need to begin with a doctrine of God from which flows a single creation-salvation programme in the Gospel of the Son.
This statement is fundamentally flawed. There is no creation-salvation programme in the Gospel of the Son. There's a creation-kingdom programme of which salvation is a conditional adjunct. Had Adam not sinned, creation and kingdom would be unchanged in their essence, but salvation would be unrecognizable. Our mission is not saving the lost, but establishing the kingdom. Jesus didn't even teach us to pray for the salvation of the world, but for the establishment of His kingdom. And the fruit of His kingdom is for the church - only the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
I reckon every one has different strategies and methods based on their gifts, but combined altogether as a church it seems to work.
Peter's strategy was bold, direct and "scattergun"
Paul: he went to the Jews in the synogogues and reasoned from the scriptures. Pauls strategy seemed to systematically target a certain group of people and relate to them in a way that he was confident and skilled at. Afterall he was an expert on scripture. He also did other things as well but this particular aspect of Paul struck me. He even made tents.
We had a guest speaker at church the other week who is a chaplain who ministers to kids at schools and to the bushfire victims. She approaches it by going out to the community with a serving heart and a style that builds relationships and wants people to hear about the Lord in a softer inviting manner. She goes out to serve and leaves the rest up to God to organise. I love this approach but not all people, including me, could do what she does.
Joseph in the Gospel for Asia video tried just about every kind of evangelism but what finally came through in the end was a mixture of everything. But mainly through relationships. How tough did that bloke do it? Unreal!
I like the systematic approach Christianity Explored offers. You can advertise in the paper, announce it and invite people from the community meal or some other type of needs based ministry you run, invite your friends and family after giving them a booklet to read, do a letter drop etc etc. I'm not big on door knocking in my area though. Its counterproductive here. I like relationships and systematic approaches.
To say that there is one silver bullet would be restricting and to say that a person must do activities outside of their gifts would also be false and counterproductive.
You do your door knocking and I'll do my thing thanks. But yes we agree on the mission!
The gospel is for rich and poor alike.
Speaking of Him (baptizing, preaching and teaching) is job#1.
Everything else is great and ought also be done. But never at the expense of the message of the free forgiveness of sins for Jesus sake.
Agreed on the mission. So how? How do 20 or so middle-class 20s-40s get alongside and minister to the poor (programmes excluded)?
Find someone (anyone), talk to them a bit. Get to know them a little.
Find out where they are 'being had' by this world. (we all are in some way)
Into their suffering, their grief, their losses...inject some of your own. Let them know about the rough times in your life, too.
Then speak of the One who has died for you and for them and has promised to make "all things new" someday...including them.
Give them an open invitation to come to church with you.
The Lord will use that Word.
It's not a hard thing to do, it's just that we are often too busy to do it, or that we don't want to push our Christ onto people. It's hardly pushing, but it is giving Him away...freely.
Hey Code, good to hear from you.
A couple of verses are springing to mind:
'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom.' (1 Cor 15:50) The kingdom is always established on God's side through resurrection from the dead.
'The kingdom is at hand, repent and believe' (Mark 1:15) The kingdom is always entered from our side by repentance and faith.
I'm the sort who's forever thinking about Rev 13:8 - the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world - and John 10:17 - the reason the Father loves the Son is that He lays down His life.
Jesus and His cross are central to my thinking and, I reckon, central to God's purposes in creation. Those kinds of convictions imply some head-spinning moments but one thing it means is that salvation is not a conditional adjunct but the very centrepiece of God's own life. The trinity has an evangelical being - we just can't strip the gospel from the creeds and be left with the same God.
That's why point 2) in my post is quite dear to my heart. It's doctrine of God that should drive mission. And when we study the very missionary being of God - that He goes out to draw the other to Himself - what else can we be.
I think you've hit on the most crucial point of my position. And that's where we disagree. For me the kingdom can be built in no other way than a transferance from death to life, from Adam to Christ, from flesh to Spirit, from old creation to new. Hence, for me, kingdom building is irreducibly and necessarily calling people to repent and believe.
Hey Gav, nice to hear from you.
That video from Gospel for Asia is amazing huh? I think they're a great organization for going in with the gospel and then addressing practical needs within that work.
I'm glad to hear you're using CE. We're starting a course here in 2 weeks. How's it going for you?
Hi Paul - yeah, that's the question. I asked Steve Levy about it the other day (he's great at reaching out in evangelism only to all sorts in Swansea) and he said - number one you've just got to believe and preach a "really raw gospel". He kept using that phrase - 'raw gospel'. And he said you've got to be able to preach in such a way that the drunk and the businessman are convicted of sin. Preach for tears of repentance. Model absolute transparency and brokenness. And don't be afraid to engage the poor on a gospel footing. You seem incredibly primitive and you become very aware of how fundamentalist you're coming across but we need to believe in the power of the gospel.
Rick McKinley's written some great stuff (somewhere) on starting his church plant in Portland but then being very aware that none of them actually loved the city. They prayed together for 6 months for the Lord to make their hearts break for the neighbourhoods around them. Some amazing things started to happen. but they started to happen in the hearts of the Christians first.
I dunno. I need to go and try it out...
I love that Lutheran emphasis on giving away Christ freely. I think that's so key in spreading the gospel, and doing so (as you say) to poor *and* rich. But the freeness of the gospel has tremendous implications for reaching the poor.
I think I see your point.
In any case, they certainly can be more receptive. Those that have it all don't really God.
Our church is located is in an upscale area. My pastor calls the people there 'the up and outer's'.
This is our first course......very exciting!!
We are starting on Oct 12
The response from a community meal we run is positive. We are also running some colour paper adverts in the local rag.
> Jesus and His cross are central to my thinking and, I reckon, central to God’s purposes in creation.
I agree. You quote Rev 13:8, which is also one of my favorite verses, but you seem to overlook a core implication of the Lamb being slain from before Adam sinned. The Lamb must be slain whether Adam sins or not. The cross is central to creation and kingdom whether there is sin to redeem or not. If Adam never sins salvation does not suddenly become unnecessary; regeneration changes character in drastic ways, but is unconditionally necessary. Sin is conditional. The presence of the reprobate is conditional. Regeneration is not.
> Hence, for me, kingdom building is irreducibly and necessarily calling people to repent and believe.
I'm not sure exactly where you believe this is the core disagreement. You've said a mouthful here, and I'm pretty sure you know that I agree with a lot of it.
Calling people to repent and believe is good, right, necessary, and a work to which the church is called. Kingdom building is dear and valuable to my heart. So the only word in your sentence that stands out as our possible place "where we disagree" is the word "irreducible."
If you mean "the smallest possible building block" of the kingdom, then I'm not sure we disagree. If you mean "the only possible building block" then, yeah, we disagree, but I cannot imagine you mean that.
Imagine little Johnny is sent to a boarding school and contracts spinal meningitis. He's sent to the infirmary, where every resource of the school is bent to keeping him alive. Absolutely necessary to keeping Johnny in school is keeping him alive, but keeping him alive is not the core goal of the school. It's a primary goal, but not the fundamental one.
The church must first evangelize, but the kingdom is not fundamentally about evangelism. You're rereading the old testament. How many evangelists to the gentiles do you see there? I count one off the top of my head, and he was sent so God could wipe 10 tribes off the map a couple generations later.
The church is directly commissioned to evangelism in a way Israel never was, and the church must evangelize. Still, evangelism is a mission of the church, not the mission of the church.
If you're not already running away screaming, I'd also say if the church focused on "the" mission, she'd evangelize much more easily and effectively.
Maybe the 'what if Adam never sinned' line is a rabbit trail? Seems like we both believe regeneration is necessary anyway.
Whether Rev 13:8 leads us in a supra or infralapsarian direction (sounds like you're more the latter while I'm more the former) then we're both agreed that the cross and resurrection is a non-negotiable reality. But if that's true then Christ, humanity and creation itself needs to pass through death to new life. And there is still an announcement to make about the marvellous deeds of the LORD - we would still be proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. And we would still be insisting that people must be born again through Him! In fact without this - the kingdom just isn't happening - 1 Cor 15:50. In fact it seems like Matt 28:18-20 could come out of Jesus' mouth whether Adam sinned or not. So I don't think our disagreement lies here.
I wonder whether replacing the word 'evangelism' with the word 'gospelling' might help a bit. I gospel the unbeliever to bring them in (it's the only way in). I gospel the believer to build them up as members of the kingdom (it's the only way they will grow). In this way the kingdom grows. And perhaps as one consequence 'the leaves of the tree' may grow and gospelled believers may establish hospitals and schools, etc. This is to be rejoiced in. But I'd want to limit the term kingdom to the sphere in which Christ is proclaimed and known as King.
Perhaps our disagreement is whether kingdom basically equals church? I guess for me it does.
Gav - Exciting stuff. I'll pray for you guys.
> supra or infralapsarian direction
I'm supra on the elect and infra on the reprobate. Had Adam never sinned, Cain would never have been conceived or what does God's declaration that Eve's conception and sorrow would be multiplied mean? God predestined Abel to everything attending to salvation, and He never knew Cain. Adam sinned, and that opened the gate to the enemy who sowed tares later.
> Matt 28:18-20 could come out of Jesus’ mouth whether Adam sinned or not.
Absolutely, but because conversion is never mentioned in that passage. No one on Earth would have needed to be restored from death, and no one would have needed to repent of dead works, but baptism and teaching would still be necessary. The primary work, though, would be regeneration and that would look very different. The operative means of regeneration would have been to eat from the Tree of Life, and that moment would have been a treasured celebration in every parent and child's life.
> Maybe the ‘what if Adam never sinned’ line is a rabbit trail?
Absolutely, but you're an NFP, so rabbit trails come as easily to you as they do me. The point of this one is quite narrow-band for me. The day is coming on which there are no more lost people to convert, and the kingdom goes on. I am asking you to consider a church for which that day is only about a 50% change in activity.
The day is coming when gospelling and social activism both end. There are no more sinners and no more addicts and no more poor. What will we do then? I'm asking you to fix an answer in your mind to that question. Spend a minute imagining what those eons will look like. And then ask yourself why we can't do that now.
The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. I don't understand why you're nervous about referring to those leaves as benefits of the kingdom. God promised Abraham He would bless those who blessed him. Those nations who willingly submitted themselves to Israel rather than be destroyed benefited in the kingdom. In the same way, those nations which have hosted the church kindly have received healing in the form of dozens of compassionate institutions. The modern concept of a hospital was mandated by one of the ecumenical councils, and all the blessings of social compassion can be similarly traced back to the blessing of God attending His church whereever it's planted.
It seems to me that seeing the blessing of God attending His kingdom is nothing but the flipside of the way you see Christ clearly in the Old Testament. It's seeing the Trinity working in the world in the New Testament. There's no slight to the work of Christ in seeing how the kingdom blesses the world, especially when such blessing was directly prophesied. To draw a line in the sand and say such blessings are not the kingdom is accurate only if you are equally clear that they are blessings brought by the kingdom - perhaps like leaves of a tree rather than its fruit.
But that brings me back to the fruit of the tree.
The fruit of the tree is not for the world. It is for the kingdom and her King to share. The only thing we are specifically told about the fruit is that it comes in varieties as the moon waxes and wanes. Every time the "Lesser Light to Rule the Night" cycles through a month, there is a new fruit. Do you see anything like that in the church? Don't you think you should?
Take a minute and check this out.
(If you don't listen to Michael, he's really got some interesting stuff going on over there.)
I believe this video is a direct assault on the value of the church. And I believe talking about door to door evangelism is "planning to fight the last war." The enemy has a new tool, and it's phenomenally effective. The questions I'm asking and the answers I'm considering are all contra this video.
'raw gospel'. That is something I'm slowly learning.
Often as middle-class graduates we like to come into things cleverly... sideways. We like to siddle up to people and say 'did you notice this'. This is good, but it is quite exclusive, especially to people who have not been trained to think in the way that graduates in academic subjects are trained to think. We forget how people just structure their thought processes in entirely different ways.
Spending time with the poor, working class and lower-middle class is not enough. We have to be quite reflective too.
Very interesting video. I keep remembering your words to me the other week - blogging is only multivitamins. It's not a meal.
We need face to face for meals.
Do you think though that social media will necessarily starve us rather than supplement our diets? What are some of the answers you're considering?
Thank you, Glen, for your graciousness as I've hijacked your excellent thread here.
I'd say social media is a multivitamin plus apetite suppressant; it keeps people from feeling the hunger to engage with anything, much less something so difficult as real church relationship. It will not starve us, but we just might decide to starve ourselves. Entertained social medi-ites are already starving themselves of f2f and touch every day.
Your post asserts the unsaved need Christ, and nothing less will do. The same is true for the saved and churched. But inside the walls of our churches, we need to be giving so much more variety of Christ. We need the demands of Christ on His servants (holiness, labor, giving money, giving self), the eminence of Christ (holiness, service, authority), the ongoing work of Christ in the church and the world, and the ongoing work of the church in loving Christ (direct praise, support to His people, knowing brothers and sisters intimately).
I do not believe Christianity can be done correctly without being in each others homes frequently. Jesus was constantly visiting, and He still stands at the door and knocks (point of irritation - Jesus is knocking at the door of His own servant in Laodicea, not that of some unsaved person. Whoever first preached that verse as a salvation sermon did us ALL a huge disservice.)
If we are in each other's homes two, three nights a week specifically because the reality of the kingdom is more important than overtime at work, missing our favorite show, or "just chillin'" I think things will start happening. If the pulpit begins calling for shared meals and shared lives on the basis of the shared Food and given Life we've received in Christ. If the pulpit will denounce a life of entertainment, and give people a way to be satisfied by doing the works Christ did in giving Himself to others. If the pulpit will call for the holiness of our lives to match that given to us in Christ. Then we will be different from the world around us, and "differentiating" ourselves with finely tailored messages will be pointless.
I've never heard you preach, but I respect everything I've heard from you. That's why I make so much noise on your site, and I hope you'll take my verbosity as a compliment. I am probably beginning to feel a little bit of a bug to write on my own site, though, and might give you a break. ;-)
Glad to be stirring up bugs. I look forward to their full flowering.
Shared life. Yes. Boy do we need that. Perhaps the most wonderfully mystical prayers of Paul's is that "Together with all the saints" we might grasp the love of Christ.
There are many reasons for a privatised Christianity though - our entertainment culture is a significant one. But only one. It's interesting that our evangelical definitions of spirituality were privatised before our cultural definitions of leisure were!
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