Friday, May 21, 2010

Soup Kitchens and Salvation

Christian people of my generation have "rediscovered" Christian social action. This is particularly true among a certain subset of evangelicals, most of whom describe themselves as "missional" Christians. They have become convinced that a true understanding of the Gospel, rightly applied, will inevitably lead Jesus' followers to feed the poor, clothe the naked, care for the downtrodden, etc. Moreover, a whole lot of them criticize their brethren for being too focused on mere proclamation of the Gospel itself without any accompanying relief of people's physical needs.

So far, so good, especially in a country with 17% real unemployment. But a part of me still worries. Maybe it's the amateur church historian or maybe it's the part of me which is sympathetic to warnings of the old fundamentalists like J. Gresham Machen and Lewis Sperry Chafer, but I get the distinct feeling that we in the church have been here before and the results weren't good. Please understand: I am not saying that churches shouldn't feed the poor or care for the widow and the orphan. But what I am saying is that what we define as the central and primary "mission" in all of our "missional" activity matters, and that if it isn't the spread of the Gospel which gives eternal life, then we are deeply in error. Being "missional" without being about that which Jesus defines as our central mission in Matthew 28:18-20 is to be successful at the wrong things. And church history does tell us that where the Gospel is assumed rather than actively proclaimed as the primary part of our mission, then it soon is not even assumed any more. Organizations like the YMCA and Goodwill are just two examples of formerly para-church organizations, and what used to be called the mainline denominations trod a similar path, to their own destruction.

So to my brethren who want to start soup kitchens and similar ministries, I offer this a final word: Be blessed, my friends, and save a place for me to come and serve from time to time. But don't forget that "Man does not live by bread alone." Don't forget to give the Living Water even as you offer a cup of cold water in Jesus name. And don't forget which one comes first.

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