And as I thought about it, I realized that while I have had people (in some cases dozens) come to faith in Christ by the Spirit as He spoke the Gospel through me, I've yet to see even one person come to faith in Christ through material assistance. And so, while I don't think Christians have no calling to improve the culture and society around them through material assistance and similar ministries, I do think that Gospel proclamation (in all of its forms!) take precedence and should do so even in "compassion ministries."
And since this is my last post on this topic (at least for a while), let me conclude it with a few stray thoughts about the whole interplay between Gospel proclamation and "good deed doing."
- The Gospel is primarily a message not an act or even a lifestyle. While the Gospel certainly has implications for our lifestyle and our actions toward others, it is not seeing/experiencing those things which saves people, but believing the words of the Gospel. Thus, where the message is not proclaimed, the person draws no closer to Jesus and saving faith.
- There are far more people who will take our money than will hear our message. This is perhaps a somewhat crass way of putting things, but most of the people who have ever approached one of the churches I have served are simply looking for "any port in a storm," and aren't interested in the beliefs of the people who offer such ports. There is far more of a sense of expectation (i.e., "You should help me, because you're the Church") than there is gratitude, nevermind any curiosity about why strangers should be so generous and kind. Compassion ministries are good in themselves, but let's not deceive ourselves into thinking they are good substitutes for meeting people's deepest needs, or even particularly helpful in getting them to recognize them.
- Many Christians use money to assuage their guilt over their lack of evangelism. Okay, no here's where I know I'm going to step on some toes. But my observation is that there are far more people happy to pay their "atonement money" to a foreign missionary who will go overseas and share the Gospel with a distant people group than there are people willing to walk across the street and befriend their non-Christian neighbors in hopes of leading them to Christ. I suspect the same is true of a great many young evangelicals who are now championing compassion ministries (at least in part) to soothe their guilt over the fact that they've never personally shared the Gospel with anyone.
- "Woe to you when all men speak well of you" is still true. Jesus knew that being approved of by society and cultural leaders was not the highest goal. A lot of evangelicals lament that we are not held in higher esteem by the wider culture. I wonder if that's as much a problem as we think it is, and if getting that approval should ever be a goal. I am not willing to compromise Scriptural moral standards ("Be holy as I am holy" along with all that is involved therein) nor Scriptural mandates ("Preach the Gospel to all creation") in order to win the temporary applause of the crowd. Yet increasingly, that seems to be the direction that the evangelical church is leaning, to its shame and detriment.