Why Do Good? Or Why Not?

We (me and my family… I am not talking about myself in first person plural) do a number of different ministries here in the Philippines. This includes church ministries of different sort, some church planting, and seminary teaching. But our biggest work has been more what is often called social ministry. This includes medical missions (more in the past than the present) and pastoral care and counseling. Recently, due to the typhoon and earthquake disasters in Philippines in the last few weeks, we have been pulled back into disaster response. This brings back a question that Evangelical Christians often wrestle with… Why do (social) good?  It might seem obvious why we should do good. Jesus did good and we are suppose to have Jesus as our example… so it shouldn’t be particularly difficult. 

William Wilberforce by Sir George Hayter - Fer...
William Wilberforce by Sir George Hayter – Ferens Art Gallery, Hull – Accession number: KINCM:2005.5020 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The difficulty seems to come when we pull in certain theological presuppositions. These presuppositions create different attitudes about social ministry. Ballard describes five common attitudes that Christians have regarding social ministry. 

@page { margin: 2cm }
P { margin-bottomJerry Ballard, “Missions and Holistic Ministry.” In World Missions: The Asian Challenge: A Compendium of the Asia Mission Congress ’90, Held in Seoul, Korea August 27-31, 1990. 342-344.

The first is avoidance. It assumes that Christian ministry is to be “spiritual”. Evangelism and discipleship are the center of Christian ministry. Other work distracts from this.

The second is convenience. It also is focused on the spiritual, but accepts that doing social ministry is okay as time and resources allow. Those with this attitude will likely be more involved in social ministry than those with the first attitude, but it is not viewed as their “real” ministry.

A third attitude is focus on the social gospel. The view equates Christian ministry with social ministry. Proclamation of the gospel and spiritual conversion/transformation is not really valued.

A fourth attitude can be described as “ulterior motive”. It assumes that social ministry is valued to the extent that it positively affects spiritual ministry. This is sort of a variation on convenience. Spiritual ministry is again “real” ministry, but social ministry is no longer viewed simply as a nice thing to do (as long as it doesn’t distract. Rather, it is seen as a open door or lure to real/spiritual ministry.

The fifth attitude is wholism. It says that both social and spiritual ministries have inherent value. Christian ministry and mission should draw its inspiration from the life of Christ—who appeared to care for the whole person, both spiritually and socially.

Among Evangelical Christians, the last two attitudes are the most common. Personally, I believe that the Gospel of Christ is transformation on all levels of human and social condiition. As such, it should not be narrowly defined in terms of “soul” issues. So I believe that a wholistic view is most in line with the Bible. But it is true the the Bible does give priority to spiritiual concerns (generally, but not universally). All in all, however, Evangelical Christians do need to come to the point that they are comfortable with both spiritual type ministries (evangelism, church planting/growth, discipleship, and such) and social ministries.


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