Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A (Rare) Comment Thread Worth Reading to the Bottom

I wish I'd been able to track this discussion of social concerns and evangelism while it was in progress, but several things kept me from it. Not that I'd have had any unique or valuable insight to contribute, but it would've been fun to try.

Just for clarity in light of recent posts here (and I reserve the right to change my mind after further learning):
  1. I do not believe that Scripture contains any mandate for social action by the Church.
  2. 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.
  3. Christ's miracles of healing and providing food were distinct in their nature and purpose from modern social action.
  4. Social action is not the equivalent of "living the gospel."
  5. 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.
Here are some comments from "Dave" to which I'll be giving further thought:
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.

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?)
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.

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.


Brian McCrorie said...

Wow, Chris, I couldn't disagree more strongly! I do think the Bible directly addresses the social responsibilities of believers and that they extend beyond the walls of the church and that it is living out the Gospel. Whew! I haven't disagreed with so much at one time in a while. ;)

I'll have to read that discussion. I have an article coming Friday over at SI that describes some of my thinking on this in more detail. Perhaps we can banter this idea around a bit more then?

Brian McCrorie said...

Sorry, Ben, I had Chris' name on my brain from his thread.

Just to be clear, I disagree with BEN and maybe Chris too. ;)

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

This is where God's people get into trouble. You're right. The Gospel, by its very nature, will affect society and its ills. But that is not the same as a mandate to reform societies on their way to hell. Christ calls them out of the World into the Kingdom of God. Social reform inevitably leads to involvement in the politics of the world when Christ has called us to the Politics of His Kingdom, dealing primarily with the care of His people. As Ambassadors of Christ, we are to give the message of reconcilation to a lost and dying world. When they receive Christ, they obtain a new citizenship and enter a new society, with its own political structure. There's definitely a dichotomy that many understand, but are unwilling to abide by. ANy affect upon the world is simply a by product of genuine salvation.

By the way, great name!