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Monday, January 17, 2011

Social Gospel or Gospel Evangelism? Is there a difference?

I often get asked by many who hear how we're starting our church with engaging our city & world by serving and volunteering if I, therefore, believe in a "social gospel." Now, usually when I get asked that, what that really implies is "where's the evangelism?" If we are volunteering at our local school, helping our community host events, help clean up the park, partner with members of other faiths for the good of the city, then that must mean I do not believe in "evangelism" and only in helping fix society's problems.

I often seen this phrase posted or have heard it many times: "Evangelism is not a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, it's a beggar taking another back to the place where he can eat Daily Bread." Proponents of this phrase say that a person's greatest need is to be saved and rescued from their sins so therefore the only thing the church should be concerned about is their salvation.

However I ask, will a beggar believe there is actually "daily bread" if he knows no existence of tangible bread? Will a world believe in an unconditional, everlasting love if they've never been shown it by the people who claim to have it (the church)?

This is why I do not think you can separate Gospel into "evangelism" & "social" because they are one and the same a part of a whole process: Gospel. Therefore, I holistically believe in the Gospel. The full, encompassing Gospel that Christ wants to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1). That means that He wants the whole person, the whole city, & the whole world reconciled into His name and we are to be "minister's of reconciliation." What better way to show my neighborhood the love of Christ in that I love them by serving them? Isn't this the example of Christ? He came not to be served but to serve. He healed the sick, spoke up for the poor & oppressed. Told us to take care of the widows & orphans & He fed the hungry. BUT that's not all He did. He casted out demons, preached HIS news to the people, forgave sins and died for us that we might have life. He did both because the Gospel is both. When we focus on one & neglect the other we are missing part of the Gospel and missing on part of the ministry of reconciliation.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I wanted to give you an excerpt of what he said in a "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to white pastors who were criticizing him. Not only are his words about the church and gospel powerful, but also prophetic. He makes no distinction between "social problems" & "gospel":

"In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular. I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"
Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."

What if the church stood beside Dr. King and showed the love of Christ to all people instead of saying, "Well social issues have no real concern of the gospel." Would the struggle have ended sooner? You notice it even made Dr. King ask who was worshipping in those churches and what God they believed in? Why? Because He saw no action to the love they were preaching and the"gospel" they believed in.

Look at that last prophetic phrase. Has it come true in America? Are we irrelevant to our world & society because they see no love & service from the Church? I am afraid we are, but the whole, real Gospel can change that. That's why we serve not to convert, but because we are converted. Go and preach the Gospel and let's change our world, as we serve, tell others about His love and Christ saves and reconciles.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, Scott! Thanks for the challenge... continuing to pray that we are all moving that direction, with God's grace, at FBCD. Blessings on you guys.