Contend Earnestly: Evangelism for Today: Physical Aid

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Evangelism for Today: Physical Aid

Sometimes this form of the gospel goes by its more known name, "the social gospel." I figured I would try and title it as specifically as I could, because the social gospel comes packaged in many ways. Many adhere to this today, and rightly so, or so it seems. With the founding of the internet by Al Gore and the mass media that is available at our every turn, Christians can now see how badly we are being beaten in regards to loving our neighbor compared to our non-Christian competition for souls. Because of this noticeable lack of physical love for the world, many people are converting to the social gospel in trying to live out the biblical mandate to love our neighbors.

To know what I am talking about one only has to look around to see what local congregations and people are doing. It could be in the form of feeding the homeless, serving at soup kitchens, tutoring for free, supporting ministries like Living Water International or World Vision, etc. When one reads these things the first thing that will come is "What is wrong with any of these things?" The answer is, "nothing." But, I do believe that there is some positives and actually some negatives about the social gospel.

The Positives

This almost seems retarded to have to state the positives, but to be honest, there are a lot of people that call themselves Christians who never do any of these things. Instead, they hand out tracts and scream through bullhorns letting the starving people listening to them know that they are headed to hell. The problem is that if the dude yelling like an auctioneer for Satan's hellhouse doesn't feed the people in front of them, the people listening might die before they have the chance to repent.

The positive aspects of the social gospel is it does try and serve those people around them for what they need physically. So, if it is school supplies for their kids, the church buys them. If it is food to feed their families, the church supplies food. If it is new coats, then a trip to Burlington Coat Factory it is. This is good to do. It actually lives up to the billing we see in Christ's ministry as Christ continually supplied the needs of those who followed him around. He fed the 5000...twice and he healed many people. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as we do ourselves, James and John (James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17) both tell us that if we see a brother in need and do not help them we do not have the love of God abiding in us.

The social gospel definitely allows people to see our good works to glorify our God and it is easy for the secular world to see our good works if they are providing for the physical needs of those around us. The social gospel shows those people around us that we, in actuality, care about them specifically and desire their well being and see that they are truly image bearers of God. These aren't all the good things associated with the social gospel but these hit most of the high points.

The Negative Aspects

The negative aspects of the social gospel is if it comes packaged only in the ways we see above. If the gospel is never preached, never entered into the conversation, then it is not evangelism, it is only part of evangelism. Now, there will be times we just help people for the sake of helping them. But, if that is all we ever do, aid people physically, we are not being faithful to the Christ who bought us. When Christ fed the 5000 (really around 15000), it was after he was done preaching and teaching to them. Most of the time that Christ healed people it was in the midst of him teaching and preaching salvation to them. This is the whole of Christ's ministry. He both aided physically and preached to them spiritually. This is how you love someone like yourself, if you are a Christian. Love is not merely physical.

If the social gospel is your sole way of sharing the gospel, you have to ask yourself, "What makes you different than Gandhi?" "What makes you different than any other non-Christian who shows compassion to his fellow man?" Without the Gospel, the answer is nothing. If you only aid people physically and never tell them of the glory of Christ and that the provision is not from your hands, but His, then you have missed the point of helping people physically. What good is it to keep a man from dying in this life and allowing him to die in the next? This life is temporary, but the life to come is eternal. So, you might say that you are doing the work of Christ, but without the Word being made manifest to the people through words, you are just a philanthropist, not an evangelist.

I hate to say it but you might be one of the ones that Christ mentions in Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
Matthew 7:21-23

Notice the focus in this passage is what the person says they did, not what Christ did. The very next thing mentioned in Matthew is the parable of the house built on the rock. The question has to come, "Is your evangelism built on Jesus, or merely social action?" Another way to ask this is, "Would those you are helping know that you are a Christian and the gospel message or could they mistake you for just another person helping them for the sake of karma?" If you continually help people without telling them the gospel message, you are not evangelizing.

The absence of the name of Christ and the proclamation of His Gospel to those who are perishing is a very grave sin indeed. But, so it proclaiming the gospel to those who are starving without providing them with the bread that fills their stomachs.

As we see the work of Christ and his apostles, we must marry both physical and spiritual aid together to truly help those who are perishing physically and spiritually.

Is the social gospel totally wrong? No. But it is missing the central reason to do it: The message of the glory of Jesus Christ.


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