By Mark A. Taylor
Thirty or 40 years ago, many in Christian churches decried what we called the “social gospel.”
We criticized those who called themselves Christians but concentrated only on the commands of Scripture to seek justice, remember widows, and help the poor. We were especially critical of those who did not believe in the inspiration of Scripture or the reality of Hell and said nothing about sin or salvation to those they served.
Some of us decided benevolent ministries should not become ends in themselves, but only means to the greater goal of winning the lost. With such a mind-set, we often became insulated, serving ourselves more than the world around us.
But these days more and more conservative Christians are thinking afresh about social responsibility in our hurting world.
Some of them have written in Christian Standard. Indeed, search for “poverty” or “hunger” at our Web site, and each result shows 10 pages listing articles, news items, and other columns whose writers have addressed these subjects in the last few years. Regularly our “Buzz” column and weekly e-news updates feature the stories of churches reaching out to their communities with food, clothing, job training, addiction counseling, or family mentoring. This week we tell more stories of “missional” efforts to be the hands and heart of Jesus serving “the least of these” in local communities.
This is thrilling—and concerning.
Thrilling, because churches today—Bible-believing, Jesus-worshiping, hopeful-for-Heaven churches—are taking seriously the need and the opportunity to make a difference in Jesus’ name here on earth.
Concerning, because such pursuits must never distract us from the fact of eternity looming before us. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
As Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson say in Living a Life on Loan, “The Bible invites you to see beyond this moment. The apostle Paul observed, ‘We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:18).”
Rusaw and Swanson’s first book challenged churches to become “externally focused,” and many now use those words to describe their community outreach. These churches are no longer willing simply to talk about the love of Jesus. They’re committed to showing it.
This is good, as long as we don’t leave the first part undone. Forty years ago we may have spoken the gospel message without a strategy to demonstrate the love behind it to those outside the church. Maybe today we’re learning to do both.