Mission, evangelism and social action – part 3

God is a Gospel-Alone God.  He is known only in the Gospel.  His very being is a Gospel Being.  There’s no use even conceiving of a God other than the Father revealed in the Son by the Spirit.  If you’re not convinced, read these posts which were digressions to bolster the point:

       The Trinitarian OT

       Oneness and Threeness

Now if this is true then the Gospel-Alone God is honoured in the world by a Gospel-Alone mission.  This is what I was trying to say with the first two parts of “Mission, evangelism and social action.” (part one, part two).

Here are some more thoughts on the topic…

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7)  Much talk in this debate is founded on false dichotomies.

Take as an example Dwight Moody’s comment:

“I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel.  God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.”

Many of the ‘evangelism-only’ advocates in this debate sound closer to Plato than Scripture as they forward an essentially dualistic world-view.  Here “this world” is pitted against a salvation that is clearly ‘out of this world.’  Salvation is from this ‘wrecked vessel’.  Such thinking is very common.  People play off against each other then and now, soul and body, heaven and earth, individual and corporate, internal and external, rational and physical.  In each case it is the former that is given precedence. 

Yet surely God’s purposes for ‘this wrecked vessel’ are to renew it not abandon it!  The new creation – the realm of salvation – is this creation renewed.  The spiritual realm is not anti-physical, the Word became flesh!  Any arguments for Gospel-alone mission must avoid such dualisms.  But…

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8) We must also maintain some Biblical distinctions.

‘Spiritual vs physical’ is more recognisable as a Greek dualism  But the Bible puts forward some right distinctions.

  • Adam vs Christ
    • Adam refined is still Adam.  “Flesh gives birth to flesh.” (John 3:6)
  • Works vs Faith
    • Even faultless legalistic righteousness is dung in God’s sight. (Phil 3:1-9)
    • “Faith comes by hearing.” (Rom 10:14)
  • Christ’s work vs Our witness
    • All authority is given to the risen Christ – the Church goes in a word and sacrament ministry. (Matt 28:18-20)
    • We do not redeem the world – Christ has done it.  As ambassadors, we bring word of this finished work (2 Cor 5: 18-21)
    • We are not the doers.  It is finished.  We bear witness to His once-and-for-all Doing.

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9)  ‘Service to the world’ does not co-ordinate our mission.  Mission co-ordinates our service to the world.

Often people conceive of ‘service’ as the umbrella activity under which evangelism sits (side by side with social action).  Yet, what does 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 say?  Apostolic ministry is setting forth the truth plainly – in this context we serve. 

It’s always perilous to claim ‘this is how Jesus did it’ but that’s what I’m claiming.  Ministries of mercy always accompanied Christ’s preaching of the word.  Praise God!  I mean, really, can you imagine a Christ who ignored the physical needs of those who came to Him??!  Not for a second! Yet His service was in the context of His Gospel (word) mission:

Think of Mark 1:

“Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:37-38)

His word ministry co-ordinated His mercy ministry. 

Think of Mark 2: the paralytic’s physical need was met but first Jesus pronounces forgiveness and then heals him as a witness to the reality of that forgiveness. 

Think of Mark 3:  Jesus appoints the 12 and sends them out to preach and to drive out demons.  Now whatever you think about this second task it surely functions similarly to the way it functions for Jesus (it is His authority He gives them to do it).  In Jesus’ ministry it functioned as authentication that the Strong(est) Man has come.  It can’t be interpreted today as sanction for elevating social action to the level of proclamation.  Jesus could easily have said ‘Go and campaign for social justice.’  Instead He said v14 and 15,

Think of Mark 4.  The Kingdom grows in the power of the word.  In fact the power to grow a world-dominating kingdom organically resides in this word alone.

Think of Mark 5. The woman with the flow of blood simply wanted a physical fix.  Jesus wants a personal encounter and to pronounce a word of forgiveness.

Think of Mark 6. Jesus identifies the people’s need – teaching (v34)!  Those who would sit under Jesus’ teaching were shown tremendous kindness – the feeding of the 5000!  Yet even this deed is a sign proclaiming Christ and Jesus uses words to explain it as such.  To those who come under the word, their every need is catered for.  Yet even these needs are met in Gospel-proclaiming ways.  No-one could doubt that here is a Gospel, Word-ministry.  But one in which the full, vibrant, physical life of the Kingdom is manifest.

We could continue in Mark, but let’s stop there.  Doesn’t Jesus’ example challenge our mission strategies?  We often put on a meal to attract non-Christians then tack on a Gospel talk.  Jesus puts on a teaching event and then, in costly love and in demonstration of the miraculous resources of the kingdom, He meets the physical needs of those who come.  What should be our response?

Should we put on a soup kitchen for the homeless and have a five minute ‘God slot’ in the middle?  Or shouldn’t we rather move into the deprived areas of our world on a Gospel-proclamation footing, and in that context offer food, clothing, shelter, brotherly-sisterly love to any and all who will come under the sound of that Gospel. 

All this is part of what it means to have evangelism co-ordinate our ‘service’ rather than the other way around.

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In my next post I’ll talk about the costly, life-sharing, counter-cultural, need-meeting love we ought to be manifesting in our churches.  None of that is a betrayal of our mission of Gospel-proclamation.  In fact, Jesus thought it was the back-bone of it!  (John 13:34-35)

Posted on by Glen in Doctrine of God, evangelism, mission, social action

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

0 Responses to Mission, evangelism and social action – part 3

  1. jefe

    define ‘gospel’…

  2. Missy

    Glen, I hopped over from KC’s and was glad I did. Not only do I like and agree with much of what you say here, I really appreciate the way you express your thoughts. Very simple to understand, and I didn’t have to look up any words! To use 6 consecutive chapters in the Bible in one small essay is heroic. I look forward to more visits!

  3. glenscriv

    Hi Jefe,

    Good question. I really should put a ‘Gospel’ page here, especially for non-Christian visitors. You could visit the gospel page on my website:

    http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/gospel.htm

    I take it that the Scriptures set forward the gospel in many different ways because there *are* many ways of putting the gospel.

    ‘Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David, ‘ seems to be the most concise! (2 Tim 2:8)

    I sometimes like to take people to Romans 5 or 1 Cor 15 and speak of Adam and Christ. Adam has plunged humanity (and in humanity the cosmos) into death, judgement, futility and bondage. Christ has taken that humanity to Himself (and, in that humanity, the cosmos) and put to death the old. At the cross He summed up that rebellion in Himself, satisfied the divine anger it deserved, and put away the body of sin. In His resurrection He was vindicated by the Father and, as firstborn from among the dead, became the Head of the new creation which is beyond sin, death, and wrath. Just as we were born in that old humanity headed for hell, so we are summoned to be born again into Christ’s humanity. To be ‘in Him’ is to be saved irreversibly and unimprovably and headed for glory in the renewed creation. So repent and believe the good news!

    Sometimes I take people to Exodus 12 and explain the Passover. The blood of the Lamb shelters us from God’s anger at sin.

    Sometimes I simply speak of Christ’s identity as He speaks of it Himself – (you know, the whole CS Lewis ‘Is He mad, bad or Lord?’ thing). I direct people to respond to this One who clearly demands our allegiance.

    I think the bottom line is that the good news is a word concerning Christ and it should take the form of announcement and summons. It is not ‘good advice’ or ‘a good idea’ but *news* which demands a response. It should also be clear that the response is to despair of self and trust wholly in Christ (and His finished work).

    Anyway, that’s some thoughts off the top of my head. I’m trying to get better at my evangelism. How about you – how do you go about explaining the gospel?

    Hi there Missy. Very kind of you. Really like your blog. You strike a wonderful tone: cheerful and wise. Particularly like your **sarcastic** post on starting a blog. (Being an Australian living in England, I’m well placed to detect irony – it’s the air we breathe!) Hope I don’t fall foul of your criticism!
    Anyway, hope to see you again.

  4. jefe

    Hey Glen… sorry to be so long getting back to this discussion. I’ve not had much computer time, recently.

    You asked, “How about you – how do you go about explaining the gospel?”

    Upon hearing the word ‘gospel’, my first thought goes to the teaching of Chtist in the temple, in Luke 4:18-19…

    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to release the oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    I’ve always found the manner, in which, this passage is divided, to be interesting. In reading this, we tend to want to read this as a list, starting with the poor, then the prisoners, then the blind…etc. But the translators’ punctuation indicates a slightly different interpretation.

    Jesus said He was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor. Then, it seems as if He goes on to list who “the poor” really are. In the KJV, this is even more prominent, as the word “poor” is followed by a semi-colon, as if to denote a list of characteristics of poverty.

    Granted, I don’t disagree with your explanation. But I do believe there is a VERY practical side to the gospel… a “least of these” kind-of thing.

  5. kc

    Glen, this is another great article I totally agree with your main point though I do have some off-topic questions I’ll save for later. ;-)

    Jeff, do you think it’s possible that the poverty, imprisonment and oppresion in those verses is spiritual or am I creating the dichotomy that Glen has highlighted?

  6. jefe

    Sure, I think it’s spiritual. But I also think it’s natural.

    Christ, while on earth addressed these issues in both the spiritual realm as well as in the natural realm. In Luke 4, He stated what He was here to do. Then in the rest of the gospels, we see Him doing it… healing real people, meeting real needs, but also quenching spiritual thirst and satisfying wanting souls.

    Quite simply, Christ acted physically AND spiritually. I believe we are to do the same.

  7. Mikel Best

    Great blog.
    I’ve found a militant atheist if you want to try and help him; he’s at:

    http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/

    GBWY, Mikel

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