Friday, November 17, 2006
What is the mission of the Church?Three short months ago, I stood in a parking lot at NC State and prepared to say goodbye to my son. This was a crucial moment, a chance to wrap up years of experience in a few pithy sentences. What was the most important thing I wanted him to know? Would my words make a difference in his newly independent life?
Two thousand years ago, Jesus stood on a mountain in Galilee and prepared to say goodbye to his followers. He would, in just a few minutes, be leaving them for a very long time. What was the most important instruction He could give them? These friends were going to build His Church on the foundation he laid. His last words to them would confirm the church's primary mission. We all know those parting words as The Great Commission: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them...and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." [Matt.28:20]
What He chose as His parting words affirms a saving gospel, not the social "gospel" a counterfeit "Christianity" is promoting to a world eager to reject a redeeming Savior. Proponents of social ministry misuse Christ's words in His parable of the nations where He blesses the "sheep" nations and curses the "goat"nations: "For I was hungered and you gave me meat... whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." [Matthew 25: 41-36]. In context, this dialogue takes place after Jesus returns with His saints to reign in His kingdom on Earth. The nations have been brought before His throne and He is judging them according to their treatment of His brethren, the nation of Israel [Matthew 10:6, John 1:11]. For as God vowed in Genesis 12:3, "I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse."
Nowhere does Jesus command His followers to dedicate their lives to providing for the physical needs of the less fortunate. Instead, when John the Baptist questioned why he should believe that Jesus was the Messaiah, Jesus provided proof: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." Not one word about how many hungry families He served at the soup kitchen or the amount of clothing He donated to the local thrift shop. But He did command his disciples to follow his example and: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,drive out demons.[Matt. 10:8]" So why isn't the Church following that command?
Genuine charity is a natural response in a life guided by the Holy Spirit. We Christians should absolutely care for the truly needy, but our charity must be accompanied by the saving gospel. Feeding the hungry belly, while starving the soul, is cruel and selfish.
As the holidays draw near, if you have a chance to serve in a soup kitchen or to open your home to the less fortunate, please do so. But make sure you share the true gospel: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35"