Just for clarity in light of recent posts here (and I reserve the right to change my mind after further learning):
- I do not believe that Scripture contains any mandate for social action by the Church.
- The emphasis of the texts that do refer to social action are at least consistent with if not directly related to meeting the physical needs of believers within the church.
- Christ's miracles of healing and providing food were distinct in their nature and purpose from modern social action.
- Social action is not the equivalent of "living the gospel."
- I do believe the gospel is ultimately (though indirectly) the solution to the social problems that exist in the world. That certainly doesn't mean I believe that the gospel will eradicate the world's social problems prior to the return of Christ. I also don't believe that solving social problems is in any way connected to the essence of the gospel message. The gospel is a spiritual message of reconciliation and deliverance. Although it does and must have implications for this world, that's not ultimately what it's about.
3. I think we do have a fundamental disagreement on the relationship of doing good to lost people and the gospel. As I said somewhere above, I believe we have an obligation as individuals to do both. We don’t merely do the one in order to do the other. We are obligated to love our neighbor as ourselves, which means we will do him or her good. Of course, the highest good we could do for him is to give him the gospel, but doing him lesser goods should not be viewed as a pragmatic project so we can witness to him. If I have helped my neighbor with his flat tire, I have obeyed God.What got this all started in my mind was the perceived state of fundamentalist isolation that leads to many Christians living in a Christian bubble with little or no interaction with unbelievers, particularly regarding spiritual things. If we conclude that the Church not only has no mandate but also has no right to employ "random acts of kindness" or other similar strategies as means of initiating redemptive relationships with unbelievers, then the Church simply needs to find a better way to do so. Unless, that is, we believe that buses and door-knocking alone will get the job done.
4. I will address this more fully in the next point, but I believe what we do to open a door is a matter to be thought through very carefully. Not all “door openers” are created equal. I doubt that any of us deny that. They way the door is opened has an effect on the message we proclaim. To use one extreme, when a church gives out Janet Jackson concert tickets in order to draw a crowd, they are setting up a conflict with the gospel message itself (the “bait” is the kind of thing that the gospel calls us away from). Doesn’t any “offer” along side of the gospel that appeals to man’s temporal needs run this risk? (I apologize for the indelicate description, but can’t think of any other way to say it.) I suppose, like Paul in Philippians 1, we can rejoice when the gospel is proclaimed, but I don’t believe that excuses unwise or pragmatic choices. The Lord and the apostles, as I understand Scripture, did not perform miracles which benefited people in order to open a door for the gospel. The Lord did them to authenticate His messiahship, and the apostles did them to authenticate their message. A seemingly inevitable result of these authentications was a spurious interest in the Lord and the apostles among some—people were attracted for selfish reasons (John 6; Acts 8). We face a double problem: (a) we can’t do miracles, so we aren’t really doing what they did nor do we have warrant to do it; (b) when we try to approximate miracles (food banks; medical clinics), we get the same problem they did of people wanting what we provide, not what we proclaim. (Dipping back into point 3 above…if we are doing these good deeds sincerely, then their response should not be factored into the equation, i.e., if it is right to do good deeds then there will be no strings attached to the good deed. People who come to eat the food or get treatment shouldn’t be forced to listen to a sermon in order to be “ministered” to, should they?)
Grains of salt have little effect while they're hanging out with other grains in the salt shaker. Lamps do little good when their light reflects inward because the shades on the glass are closed. One might think that would be obvious.