Coming up next: A great idea for Easter Outreach — stay tuned!
Okay, I am going way out on a limb here because I am tired of the social gospel vs. evangelism debate. And I know the history — the social gospel emerged at the turn of the twentieth century (1900s) because the dominant theology was that the world was getting better and better. Then, along came World War I and blew that theory. Evangelicals divided into fundamentalists and social gospellers, and parted company. Obviously, it was more complex than that, but you get the picture.
Jesus Defines Kingdom Work
Now, put all the history aside for one minute. Look at Matthew 25:31-46. Matthew 25 is Jesus telling what the kingdom of heaven is like. He says it’s like 10 bridesmaids, half of whom prepared for its coming and the other half didn’t. It’s like a man going on a journey who entrusts his estates to servants who increase his wealth and some who do not. And then Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…” a clear indication of the kingdom coming.
And what is the criteria for entrance into the kingdom? “In as much as you did it unto the least of these, my brethren, you did it unto me.” Period. Kingdom work is feeding people, clothing people, visiting the prisoners, comforting the sick — period. Why? Because in the Kingdom of God all the fallenness of humanity — all that creates poverty, disease, and loss of freedom — is done away with. Until the kingdom is fully come, we, the church, are the light in the darkness, the salt that makes flavorful, the witness of the work of God who is calling this world back to Himself.
Repenting of My Past Sin and Failure
This is Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, so here’s a confession: I used to say (and I can’t believe I said this) that God had called others to “social” work, but I was called to build churches. I am surprised that I lived to get those words out of my mouth. I saw helping and evangelism as opposites, and I thought I had the option of choosing one or the other. Of course, we went through the motions at Christmas of helping families, but it was Christmas, after all. I was interested in spiritual work, not social work. As if the two could be separated.
The Good News: God Keeps His Promises
But if you read the words of Jesus with new eyes, the good news is God keeps his promises. If you don’t believe me, see Acts 13:32-33. God keeps his promises. And that is good news in the midst of a world where the news is mostly bad, and few can be trusted.
Do you know what God’s big promise is? “Behold, I am making all things new!” And, right before that John records:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” — Revelation 21:1-4 NIV
The New Order in God’s World
We are witnesses that the old order has passed away — not completely, but it’s started. We are the heralds, the forerunners, the new John-the-Baptists, crying in the wilderness, “make way” for the kingdom of God. But the only way we are heard is by loving the least of these in ways they need and understand love.
There is no social gospel. There is one gospel and it is good news for every person in this broken world that God is fixing. Our job? We get to make the deliveries. We get to live life according to the new order. We get to bring help, hope, and healing — physically, spiritually, emotionally, economically, environmentally, and every other way possible — to those who need it. That’s the work of the kingdom. Here. Now. And in the age to come.