The other day I wrote a blog on preaching memorable, life changing sermons that drew a slew of controversy. It wasn’t about the preaching that was at odds, but a passing statement I made on my way to teaching how to make a sermon life changing. That statement was this:
One might have thought I’d made some heretical statement by the way my Facebook notifications lit up. But instead, I apparently bruised the sensibilities of a theological tenet thats locus is found in social justice.
However, my statement wasn’t made in a vacuum; instead it’s grounded firmly in scripture. The whole conversation, in reality, is rooted in a biblical understanding of the mission of every faithful “missional” church.
In the New Testament the church isn’t charged with solving society’s shortcomings. We’re not charged with eliminating poverty, legislating morality, or raising the standards of living. The New Testament is pretty clear who we’re responsible for: “One Another” and our “Brothers and Sisters.” A non-culturally biased answer shows that the ones the church is responsible for caring for are other Christians.
Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not to be about doing good – we are. But the good we’re charged with doing has but one purpose: to make disciples, starting out by making more of them (which is the mandated mission of every single follower of Jesus).
Jesus set the example. Let’s face it, he was pretty unsympathetic with the poor; he healed a limited number (not everyone … indeed, he was quite selective at times); and he raised no one’s standard of living. He didn’t address any social ills of his day, including racism, slavery, foreign occupation, the role of women, poverty, to name a few.
Instead, Jesus was clear that his task was to make faithful followers who would make faithful followers. And he made it clear that was the church’s task as well.
Would that bring about social change? Only if the church got busy with Job #1 rather than trying to solve all the systemic problems by legislation, protesting, lobbying, etc.
Heart change is the only way to change society. And that’s the only task the church was given. Change hearts. If we’d put our energy and focus on that for the past 2000 years, the world would be in a very different place.
But we keep thinking our job is the fix the world.
I couldn’t reply on FB for some reason, so will do here.
So here’s the question: If the church isn’t charges with solving societies short comings, then why do we need relevant sermons. After all, I think some would say that some of the most relevant sermon topics would most naturally focus on various shortcomings in society that in turn create “real world” issues for people. Are relevant sermon topics that focus on real world problems differ from societies shortcomings?
Great question, Luke. As I see it, it is an issue of what is the foundation and ultimate intent. My sense is that the Western Church has often lost its way where social justice has become the end rather than a means to the end. I was taught that the purpose of preaching is to speak to people’s life issues in order to show them their need for a Savior. So, yes, we absolutely speak to contemporary issues, but for the purpose of showing people that their lives are better – now and eternally – by following Jesus. And as a result of being so powerfully convinced, they will desire to go out into the world to invite others to do likewise.
I could not disagree more with this article. It shows a thorough lack of understanding of both Jesus and the Bible. The bible tells us of a few miracles Jesus performed, and the vast majority were for the poor. He told his followers to give to the poor and that wealth was a burden and indeed a curse. He regularly fed people because he understood that you must first show people you are good and worthy of trust before you tell them you are good and worthy of trust.
Regarding your theory about only wanting us to care about christians, I cannot believe that a Christian could honestly say that. Reread the story of the good Samaritan and Jesus’ call to evangelize to the world. Paul would not have take such great pains to promote pacifism, charity, and agape to non-christians. He also would not have trifled with social arguments, ones that were groundbreaking like not requiring circumcision or eating kinds of meat. Jesus also called for social justice when he made every son equal, see Jesus saving the adulterer woman.
It is true that Jesus did not interfere with the Roman government, but he did have scuffles with religious elite over RELIGIOUS laws. And he had problems with people that claimed to be righteous Jews, yet wanted to impose their will on others, I.e. social justice. Jesus wasn’t annoying or over the top able it. He was logical, compassionate, and collected. There is a line we must find to be more like him in our fight for equality for all of our brothers and sisters, the rest of the world included. The fact that I am american or white or any other thing doesn’t come close to the cross I bear as a Christian. That means no border, skin color, or religion will stop me from being the most loving man I can be to everyone.
There is often a lot of confusion between a “Christian’s” response and the “Church’s” response. They’re not concomitant.
Christians are called to love God, love one another, love their neighbors, love themselves, and love their enemies. That leaves no one out.
On the other hand, the church wasn’t designed to be the world’s policeman, legislator, arbiter, or welfare agency. It was created to make disciples. And in the making of those disciples, caring for those disciples was priority #1. The church in Acts took care of its own first and foremost. The collection for the poor that Paul recommended, collected, and delivered was not done for the Roman poor or the Jewish poor. It was for the Christian poor in Jerusalem. The feeding of the widows in Acts was Christian widows. The sale of Barnabas’ and others’ property went to support those in the church, not to alleviate poverty in the streets of Jerusalem.
Again, if the church is committed to changing the world, it will only do so by making disciples. As a church we’ve been abject failures in trying to change the world in any other way over the past 2000 years. It’s time to stop trying to “fix” the world by thinking we have the resources to do it via lobbying, protesting, legislating, and addressing systemic issues and to focus on what we were equipped and mandated to do: make disciples.
Bob, you (and I and everyone who claims the name Christian) are called to be the most loving that we can be. But that doesn’t change the reality that your and my responsibility as Christians includes more than just relieving suffering. And rather than trying to be a relief agency, the church’s primary job is to equip you and I so that when we do good things for others, we are well equipped to do so with the primary intention of doing our good works so that “all may see and give glory to God” (Matthew 5:16), which is to say, our good works have a particular end … to make disciples. Because that is ultimately what a Christian does.
Ugh. That’s so wrong. Don’t even know where to start. Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable destroys your conclusion.
The parable of the Good Samaritan was given in response to a specific question: “Who is my neighbor?” Culturally, the Jewish religious factions had been too narrowly defining “neighbor” as someone who was not a member of their family or tribe. The primary purpose of the parable was to shatter that notion to indicate that one’s neighbor as “everyone else.”
But you’re correct in suggesting there is an additional layer of meaning in how people, not just Christians, are to treat our neighbors. However, the mandate to render assistance when you come upon one whose life is in peril can hardly be extrapolated into a command upon the church to fix society’s ills. To do so in this instance would open the door to use Jesus’ example of rescuing a sheep that’s fallen into a pit on the Sabbath as a mandate for the church to become the world’s Humane Society.
Finally, the parable of the Good Samaritan cannot be legitimately applied as a mandate for the church to address systemic societal issues such as poverty or racism for two other reasons. First, the parable wasn’t given to the church, but to individuals – indeed, to a specific individual in this case. We are indeed personally responsible for our personal actions. But “I” am not the church. What “I” am called to do cannot be extended to the church as the church’s mission. Second, once again Jesus addresses only an individual’s plight and opts not to teach a lesson or make a command about the prejudices of the Jews versus the Samaritans.
There’s a difference between the mission of the church and individual responsibility. Jesus personally treated women with respect, but did not address women’s rights. Jesus had compassion on the Roman soldier’s servant, but never addressed slavery. He resurrected a widow’s son, but didn’t address the plight of the widows. And, as the article points out, Jesus healed some, but not all.
The mandate of the church is, and always has been, to make disciples. And, as the article points out, when the church gets clear on its mandate, puts all its eggs in that basket, only then will we see society’s ills begin to be healed. Not because the church got involved in repairing a fallen society, but because there are so many faithful, practicing Christians that the social ills melt away because of the personal behaviors of the redeemed.