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:
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…
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…
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.
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.
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)