Pastor Richard's Blog

We Should Never Have To Apologize For Helping Others

Why is it that evangelical Christians (of which I am one) are often so apologetic about meeting the physical needs of people?  Why is it that we think we have to justify social ministries by appealing to something I presume is thought to be higher or more noble?   How often have I heard Christians say, “Well, yes, we’re running a soup kitchen but we’re trying to use it as a bridge to evangelism.”  Or, “Yes, we’re supporting the food bank; after all, people can’t hear the gospel on an empty stomach.”  Or, “Our church has opened a clothing depot for homeless people; we hope to let them know we care about them so we can share the Gospel.”   It’s as if meeting the physical needs of people is not a valid mission of the church; somehow, we have to justify social ministries by appealing to evangelism.

Where did we ever get this idea into our heads?  It certainly didn’t come from Scripture!   Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for evangelism.  There is nothing more wondrous than seeing people turn their lives over to Jesus Christ.  Churches need to take advantage of every opportunity to share the Gospel.  I’m not against evangelism—I’m simply challenging the idea that social ministry can only be justified by appealing to evangelism.  

Let me elaborate.  In fact, let’s try a little experiment with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).   Find an old Bible and a pair of scissors.  Now, cut out every reference in the Gospels to the Kingdom of God.  It’ll take you awhile and, when you’re done, you’ll find holes on just about every page.  Why?  Because Jesus’ entire ministry was intricately connected with the Kingdom of God.  When Jesus began His ministry, we’re told that He came into Galilee preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus, Himself, described the preaching of the Kingdom as the reason He entered the world: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom, for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).  Over and over again, Jesus talked about the Kingdom, saying, “The Kingdom of God is like this . . .” or “The Kingdom of God is like that . . ..”  As I said, references to the Kingdom of God are on virtually every page of the Gospels.

So, what is the Kingdom of God?  The key to understanding what Jesus meant by the Kingdom is found in, of all places, the Lord’s Prayer.  In this prayer, Jesus actually defines the Kingdom of God.  Do you remember how the prayer begins?  “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.”  Now, note the next part: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  There you have it!  In a nutshell, that is a definition of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God exists wherever God’s will is done!  So, Jesus came to bring in His Kingdom and, as His followers, we are called to make His agenda our own.  We are called to seek to bring in God’s Kingdom—that is, to bring about God’s will in this world.

So, what is God’s will?  The answer to that question is found on every page of the Scriptures.  Is it God’s will that people live their lives alienated from God and lost in their sins?  Of course not, so evangelism is part of our mission.  Is it God’s will that men and women and children go to bed on empty stomachs?  Of course not, so feeding the hungry is part of our mission.  Is it God’s will that people wallow in poverty or drug addiction?  No!  So, helping the needy and the addicted is part of our mission.  Is it God’s will that people spend years languishing alone and isolated in prisons?  No, so ministering to the incarcerated is part of our mission.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  Both evangelism and social ministry are part of building God’s Kingdom.  They are both parts of bringing about God’s will “on earth as it is in Heaven.”  Each is valid.  Each stands on its own.  Neither needs the other to justify its existence.  Let’s not fall into the trap that so many churches do of prioritizing one over the other.  Let’s recognize them both for what they are—equally important and valid expressions of God’s Kingdom.

Things To Consider When Evaluating Candidates

Well, the American election is safely behind us (thank God!) and we have, I hope, at least a few months before candidates start campaigning for the 2020 American election! Further, Justin Trudeau is less than two years into his mandate so he probably won’t be calling an election anytime soon.  This slight reprieve may be our window of opportunity to address a very important issue for Christians before political emotions blind us to reasoned arguments.  As a sociologist and armchair theologian, I was amazed at the disparity among evangelical voters in the 2016 American elections.  Never in recent memory have American voters had two candidates who were such polar opposites.  The contrast was stark which should have, hypothetically, made the process of choosing between them relatively simple.  Yet, in the States, evangelical Christians, who hold to the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, as “the sole and sufficient rule for faith and practice,” were arguing vociferously with one another.  Each side maintained that no “right-thinking Christian” could ever vote for Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump.  Each side backed up their views with Scripture and maintained that the clear choice was obvious.  How, I wondered, could sincere Christians read the same book and reach such starkly different conclusions as to who was the better candidate for the nation’s top office?

I suspect part of the reason is that with a book as big as the Bible it is very easy to miss the forest for the trees.  Sometimes we get so focused on specific verses here or there that we miss the broader themes of the Bible.  Let me, therefore, suggest a few areas of concern to consider when choosing a candidate to vote for.  Oh, and incidentally, these points are as valid for Canadians as they are Americans and as valid in municipal and provincial politics as they are federal:

1.    The Poor:  Throughout Scripture God makes clear His “preferential option for the poor.”  This simply means that God cares greatly for the suffering and hardships of those for whom the American (or Canadian) dream has become a nightmare.  What policies are the candidates putting forward to help the poor?  What do the candidates have to say about the growing income gap between the wealthiest 1% and the very poor?

2.    The Refugee:  No one who reads Scripture with an open mind can miss God’s concern for strangers in the land.  The Scriptures command us to welcome, embrace, and care for immigrants to our land.  What policies are being put forth to encourage refugee sponsorship and to support immigrants to Canada?

3.    The Vulnerable:  The vulnerable include people of all ages such as the unborn, children, the mentally and physically handicapped, and the elderly to mention just a few categories.  How a society treats its most vulnerable citizens is the best indicator of that society’s justice and righteousness.

4.    Racial minorities, women, and religious minorities:  The “big 3” prejudices are unquestioningly condemned in Scripture, at least in the New Testament.  In evaluating candidates, it’s important not just to look at their words while running but to evaluate their record of inclusion throughout their professional careers.

5.    Creation care:  The Bible makes clear that God is the owner of the earth itself and everything in it.  You and I are simply stewards of what God owns and are, therefore, called to care for it.  Do the candidates display a spirit of responsible stewardship or would their policies be environmentally destructive?

6.    Marriage and family:  Marriage and family are the bedrock of cultural stability.  As families go, so goes society.  Do the policies the candidates espouse support family stability or undermine it?

7.    International peacemaking:  As Christian citizens we have a responsibility not just to our own nation but to other nations as well.  We are all part of one international community.  Do the policies the candidates espouse promote peace, justice, and democracy internationally or do they promote our own country’s narrow interests at the expense of the well-being of our greater international community?

This list is far from exhaustive.  What other items would you add to it?   One word of caution:  When considering items to add to the list make sure you’re not simply picking “pet issues” but ones that are truly major themes of Scripture.  Our goal should be to have Scripture determine our politics rather than our politics determining our interpretation of Scripture.

Voting is one of the most important functions that people perform in a democratic society.  And God cares about whom we vote for.  Let’s truly seek God’s priorities in Scripture as we seek to discern who are the men and women He would have lead us at all levels of government.