What do you think the primary mission of the church should be? Here are a few statements I’ve heard recently from church leaders. Maybe they sound familiar to you:
“Let the Church do what only the Church can do.”
“Our church focuses only on preaching the Gospel and church planting.”
“We don’t get distracted by things that any secular NGO can do.”
These statements sound so reasonable. The pity is they don’t line up with the teachings of Jesus.
When I was living in Vancouver, a local church was threatened with legal action by the city for feeding homeless people. As a registered church they were supposed to stick to the things the government thought churches should be doing: preaching, worshipping and having potlucks. In other words the church should stay in a little corner, not disrupting the status quo in the city.
Instead, this church took the city to court, and won with the argument that feeding the poor and advocating for their well-being is central to the mission of the Church. As central to the mission of the church as singing praise songs is eating potato salad made by lovely old ladies.
I’m glad they did because they stand on the side of Jesus and the early Church. In fact, in my understanding, caring for the poor is one beautiful way to worship Jesus, especially when we do it in His name. Didn’t He say whatever you do for the poor, you do unto me? (Matthew 25:40)
So, for those who are not yet fully convinced, here’s why the Church should never be suckered into reducing its mission to “spiritual” things alone.
Jesus didn’t stick to only “spiritual” things.
Jesus never limited his mission on earth to the “spiritual” realm. (I put the word “spiritual” in quotes, because everything has spiritual implications. But this is not the way many church leaders use the term.)
Jesus was deeply interested in transforming every aspect of people’s lives, from the relational, to the economic, to the deeply personal and the systemic. Here are a few examples (although there are many more):
– He called out church leaders for exploiting the poor. (Luke 20:47)
– He challenged societal and religious rules that excluded people. (John 5:8-10)
– He taught widely on the use of money and encouraged his followers to give generously to the poor. (Mark 10:21)
– He spoke frequently about welcoming the marginalized into our homes. (Luke 14:13)
– Jesus and His disciples even had a special Poverty Alleviation Fund, a purse in which they saved coins for the poor. (John 13:29)
In one infamous incident, not widely practiced by Christians today, Jesus tipped over the tables of sketchy money-changers in the temple because they were exploiting the poor. That doesn’t sound like someone who was limiting himself to merely “spiritual” things.
I mean, Jesus was passionate about justice. That’s why He told church leaders to stop neglecting justice and mercy towards the poor which He claimed were the more important aspects of the law. (Matthew 23:23)
The early church didn’t stick to “spiritual” things.
So Jesus didn’t limit Himself to spiritual things, but maybe He did those other things to get people’s attention for the main show—preaching the Word! And that’s what we, the Church, should do. Right?
Acts of mercy and justice should never be used as a manipulative way of getting people’s eyeballs to focus on our presentation of a spiritual message. Jesus doesn’t want to be reduced to Secretary of Afterlife Affairs. He wants to be King. Of everything. Here and now. I submit to you that the early church, the ones who had received their teaching directly from the Big Boss Himself, did not understand their mission in this limited “spiritual” way. In fact, they were so serious about their radical new way of life that they sold their possessions—their actual investment properties and townhouses to redistribute cold hard cash to the poor. (Acts 2:45)
They actually managed to eradicate economic poverty in their midst through this commitment to overcoming injustice (Acts 4:35). When the early church leaders sent Paul and Barnabas out to do cross-cultural church planting, they sternly reminded them NOT to neglect the poor, something Paul would never have done:
“They only asked us to be mindful of the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10) The first act of subversive redistribution started with some tuna sandwiches.
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Source: Relevant Magazine