– The Book of Acts 4:33-34a (ESV)
Right now the rage for evangelical churches is to engage in more social causes – global poverty, slavery, children militias, etc. What had been the agenda of theologically liberal mainline denominations for the past several decades has now been adopted by the wider ecclesiastical crowd.
Before I go any further let me say that I believe engaging these causes can be a very worthy endeavor. As a matter of fact I have good friends who are leading the way in a few of these causes (Fair Trade Sports, Tom’s Shoes, Invisible Children). One would do well not only to look at what they are saying but consider if he or she should dig in and help. But as church upon church jumps on the social cause bandwagon I humbly suggest they should pause and ask a question: Will these become a means or an end for us?
To discover the mission of the church is to look at the Book of Acts. Page after page describes how followers of Jesus went into all the ancient world declaring that the kingdom of God had come in the person of Christ. Their strategy was quite simple – share what you have heard, seen and experienced in Jesus. Listen to the Commander-In-Chief giving the orders in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The initial call of nascent Christianity was clear: go into the world and proclaim who Jesus is and what he has done through the Cross…be a witness. That was, if you will, the end toward which Christians were working, a soulish-end where people received forgiveness by grace through faith in Jesus as Lord (cf., Acts 2:41). Everything else the church did – healing diseases, making the lame to walk, giving sight to the blind – only served as a means towards this end. Like their Master before them, they saw these causes as supporting the greater purpose of proclaiming the Word.
We would be wise to keep this in mind today as more and more churches go for the land-grab of cause after cause. As far as the church and her ministry is concerned, these social justice endeavors should be understood in light of the Gospel and not the other way around. Is helping feed the hungry important? Yes. Is clothing the naked? Yes. Is giving aid to the sick? Absolutely. But they are important tributaries that flow from the very powerful and preeminent river of seeing others give their heart and life to Christ Jesus and his saving work of the Cross! I’m not arguing we can’t give a blanket to someone who is cold unless they first read a tract we shoved in their face; I am arguing that all the blankets in the world won’t mean very much for anyone’s soul a thousand years from now unless, like the Book of Acts, we connect our causes to the great cause of repentance and faith in Jesus.
When the weight of what a church says and does devolves to only (and I stress only) dealing with AIDS in Africa, eliminating the debt in underdeveloped countries or building a fresh-water well minus the framework of the Cross then we’ve made ends out of means. Frankly, we’ve been there and done that – it’s called the liberal church who gutted the Gospel in favor for social issues. Should it surprise us that they are drying up as quick as spit on a summer sidewalk? To embrace social causes at the expense of the Gospel is like quitting a journey halfway into it because you’ve convinced yourself you’ve arrived. This won’t do. With our apostolic and ancient forbears as inspiration, the church should engage in causes because of the Gospel not in addition to it.
To do so is to confuse the means with the end…and possibly those wondering what the church is all about.