the social gospel?

you would have to be living under a rock to not feel/see the change in the local church.  it’s become pretty fashionable of late for churches to expand their local missions opportunities and to develop a greater social conscience. it’s not necessarily a bad thing, i’m just not convinced yet that it’s a God thing.

i do believe that we should be compassionate and extend a loving hand to everyone we come in contact with  – not just the least of these.  however, let’s admit it, it’s easier to be compassionate to somebody who is poorer or less fortunate. extend that same compassion to your next door neighbor, coworker, or colleague. go ahead try it. i dare you. it ain’t easy. 

so to make ourselves feel better, we work at the local soup kitchen for an hour, or write a check to an organization that provides clean water or clothes people we don’t know. and we fool ourselves by thinking we’ve made the world a better place. but we haven’t  because we have focused on the temporal (hunger, thirst, nakedness) and not the eternal (salvation). 

in John 6 we hear about a story in which Jesus and his disciples feed a bunch of people. who knows how many exactly, but it was several thousand (more than five thousand to be sure). most of the time the story stops there.  it’s what comes after that i find most interesting.

the day after this miraculous event, Jesus tells the thousands of people who now have a full stomach that they are following Him for the wrong reason. see, they were hungry and he gave them food and now they are not hungry. but they know they will be hungry again soon and he can do magic and make food – so they must follow Him around in case they get hungry again.  Jesus is just a meal ticket.

here’s what He says to them:

47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

see I believe Jesus was not just interested in being a nice guy by turning 5 loaves and 2 fish into a meal for thousands. He was not just interested in keeping people from starving. He was concerned about their well being, but more importantly their eternity. the miracle he performed was about earning the right to be heard. about creating an opportunity in which He could share the gospel and tell them about eternal life with the Father.

so, if all we do is feed and clothe people, then all we have is fewer starving and naked. again, not a bad thing.  just not necessarily a God thing.

if we are not telling people about Jesus and the eternal life that He offers when meeting the needs of others, i would suggest to you that we are not following the example set forth by Christ.

am i wrong?


7 responses

    • bobby, that’s a great verse that i’ve definitely contemplated – and exactly why i didn’t use it as an example in the blog. the difference as i see it, is taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves. as you know, we support 3 different shelters for women and children in Austin, Mexico, and Brazil. this is great work that we should be doing.

      but i wonder if having a bbq for the homeless, without any intent at ever getting to the gospel conversation, is what Christ would have done? it doesn’t appear that he was just in to giving people bread without giving people the BREAD of life.

  1. Looks to me that the church is supposed to do both: help the poor and preach the gospel. That seems to be what Jesus did and what the ancient church did.

    Is that what you’re getting at?

    • steve, i think that’s what i’m getting at. i think i might be suggesting that helping the poor and preaching the gospel should be inextricably linked. maybe preaching the gospel is the end to the means of helping the poor? just wrestling with this stuff. trying to make sense of Jesus’ example. he didn’t just walk around and help everyone.

  2. I think James 1:27 is appropriate and makes it clear as to what we are called to do, but I also think of the “Great Commission”(Matt 28:19). My answer, much like yours, is that it has to be both. I believe that a church needs to have a very deep social conscience, and it has to be of and for God. But, what scares me the most, and I think is consistent with your point, is that a lot of churches and/or christian organizations have morphed this “greater social conscience” into a more “socially acceptable” conscience. The organization has to be trendy(meaning cool logo,website,t-shirt, & wristbands, etc.) and it can’t be too offensive (meaning it can’t truly preach the gospel) because we want everyone’s help(money) and we want everyone to like our organization. To your other point concerning serving & evangelizing, I think as Christ followers, we are planting the gospel seed WHEN we serve the poor and hungry…but we have to proclaim and identify ourselves with Christ to actually plant it…otherwise, we’re simply feeding them food just like anyone else could do and putting a band-aid on their soul rather than acknowledging God as THE SOUL PROVIDER. We have to meet their temporal needs in an effort to earn their trust/attention-or else we won’t be in a position to preach….you already know that. Jesus pretty much does it perfectly by saying (paraphrasing) “allright, now that I have fed your temporal needs, let me tell you about the one thing that truly satisfies”. I do also feel that folks tend to serve these causes(myself included at times) to satisfy some level of guilt about their own personal well-being in light of another’s suffering or misfortune. They go through the motions, check it off the “to-do” list, and go on about their business. But who I am to question their motives or think that God can’t overcome those motives to work for His glory. I have to think that He can because I tend to believe that, as sinners, our motives are never entirely pure; and, even when we serve the poor, we are all looking for something in return whether we are willing to admit or not. Look at the disciples when feeding the 5,000, there had to be some level of doubt and/or impure motives on their part(i’m guessing) and Jesus still used them to perform a miracle. God can use our doubts, inabilities, impure motives for his glory, and even a person feeding the poor out of guilt could be the miracle that causes someone to seek & find God. The beauty in this is that His grace makes it possible for us to be used by him even when we aren’t clean. I’m not saying you don’t know or agree with all of this, I’m just responding to your blog because I thought it was very provocative and I enjoyed the mind exercise. Take care bro.

    • Mike, you really unloaded some good stuff there. you are right, as sinners, it’s difficult at times to have pure motives – but we are striving for the ideal and that’s a life patterned after Jesus. so glad you stopped by and commented.

  3. Alex,
    I’m tempted to write a rebuttal on my blog cause I fear this may be too long. I affirm what you and steve have established above. The gospel simply must be holistic. Works and Words. Neither stand alone. Neither are optional. I personally believe that the social movement in recent years has been one of balance, taking a gospel characterized largely by what is said and making about what is said and done. There are certainly those who may have taken it too far, but the church needed this. One thought I had today after reading your post was that I find it troubling that many would deem it completely acceptable for the gospel to be only words, leaving out the social aspect partially or even completely. Yet, when the words are removed, the same group labels and ridicules. It seems to be the pot calling the kettle black. The two simply cannot be disconnected. Words need actions. Actions need words. I’m reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement, “the medium is the message.” We have to get this in the church. Jesus two most profound statements contained few words, but still speak louder than anything he said. The cross and the resurrection must remind us that actions can never be disconnected from the gospel, because on some level, they are the gospel.

    There’s much more to be said about the Kingdom and Jesus’ affinity for right actions at some points in the gospel without any mention of words, but that’s all for now.

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