Is Social Ministry Just a Distraction from “REAL” Missions?

This question is one of my favorite questions, and I have talked about it a few times. However, here are two other articles that are very informative on the topic… so I don’t have to write more.

Just Distraction: What does the Bible say about social justice? By Katherine Ladd (2019)

When John Stott Confronted Billy Graham by Trevin Wax (2013)

The Cheshire Church

The following is a quote from the book by James F. Engle and William A. Dyrness, “Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?” (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Who can fault legendary evangelist Dwight L. Footnotes: The Cheshire CatMoody, who captured the mood of evangelicals at the end of the nineteenth century in his declaration, “I look upon the world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.'” In other words, all hopes of transforming society with the gospel were dashed, in his eyes, until Christ’s return in glory, leaving only one option, the lifeboat— a single-minded focus on evangelism as the mission of the church.

While few would echo the words of Moody and his contemporaries today, we still hear a distinct but largely unrecognized carryover. Ever since the late 1800s, dominant evangelical voices have called for accelerated church planting to evangelize the maximum number of unreached in the shortest possible period of time. The return of Christ became the dominant motivation for missions— only this return would bring about the transformation that the gospel required. The only human effort required was an announcement of the message. ….

There never has been a dispute that evangelism is indispensable as the first step in making disciples in all nations, but now voices were heard calling for the first time for completion of world evangelization in this generation. It would almost seem as if the future world and the ultimate victory of Christ had become dependent on human initiative. Little wonder that evangelicals were quick to embrace the wonders of a technological age and to mobilize Christian resources in an unprecedented way. In the process, it became tempting to disregard the essence  of the Great Commission …. where it is abundantly obvious that human efforts are futile, or at least inadequate,without the convicting, regenerating and sanctifying role of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, among those who referred to themselves as evangelicals, there was almost total silence in response to God’s call for social justice to alleviate the burdens of ignorance, poverty and hunger, racism, the loss of cultural identity, and other forms of oppression (Amos 5:21-24, Luke 3:10-14; 4:18-21). Oss Guinness prophetically observed that the outcome of this silence is a church that has lost its impact by becoming “privately engaging, socially irrelevant.”

Guinness uses the analogy of the Cheshire Cat in the famous story Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. In this fable, the cat gradually loses its identity until all that remains is its famous lingering grin. So it is with the church, which by and large now has only the ‘lingering grin, ‘ a surface indicator of a privatized faith without moral and social impact. In so doing, the church has dug its own grave, while the smile lingers on.

(Pages 64-65.  Os Guinness quote is from “The Gravedigger File”)

The Church and “Pandemic Love”

Pandemic Love, by Charles E. Moore, is one of my favorite articles. I had found it a few years ago on It is the website

Image result for antonine plague
Antonine Plague

for the journal “Plough Quarterly.” But I can’t find the article there anymore. Then it was on But I can’t find it there either. FORTUNATELY, around 5 or 6 years ago I had asked permission to reprint the article from, and was given permission as long as I referenced them. Since it is no longer on their website, I can only reference their site as a whole. Although it was written a few years ago, and references historical events from almost 2 millenia ago, it seems especially relevant during this time in March 2020.

The avian flu, and the possibility of a world pandemic, is not only in the news, it is unnerving. One has only to recall history to realize that global killers have plagued human civilization. Gruesome details abound. But, surprisingly, so do acts of love.

Greek historian Thucydides describes the pandemic of 430 B.C., the world’s first recorded pandemic, as being characterized by sudden attack; inflammation of eyes; burning in the stomach and throat; bloody coughing; diarrhea; violent vomiting; livid, ulcerated skin; and then death. Those who survived were often left without toes, fingers, genitals, eyesight, and even with an entire loss of memory. One-third of Athens was killed.

Other plagues mar history. Under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, disease-ridden fleas killed 40% of Constantinople’s population and a quarter of the whole region’s population. Another outbreak occurred in France in A.D. 588, where an estimated 25 million lost their lives. Under a new name, the disease returned in the middle of the 14th century. Known as the Black Death because of a blackening of the skin due to hemorrhaging, people fled its path and in so doing aided its spread across the continent. A quarter of Europe’s population was decimated, and Asia and the Middle East were also hit. By the 18th century, an estimated 140 million people had died from the bubonic plague. Then in the 20th century, the Spanish flu came and went like a flash, killing an estimated 40 million people—more than were lost in the Great War.

Pandemics are real, and we are not exempt. Our natural instinct is either to worry about what might happen and become obsessed with protecting ourselves, or to ignore the doomsday prophets all together by burying ourselves deeper into a life of distraction and diversion. Neither response prepares us.

The history books are full of horror. As it is today, death and the horrid get the headlines. But throughout history, there exist stories of hope, not just horror. I can’t help but think of the early church in this regard.

In the Roman Empire…

In A.D. 165, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a devastating epidemic swept through the Roman Empire. The mortality rate was so high in many cities that Marcus Aurelius spoke of caravans of carts and wagons hauling the dead from cities. During the fifteen-year duration of the epidemic, between a quarter and a third of the empire’s population died. Almost a century later, a second terrible epidemic struck the Roman world. From 251 to 266, at the height of what became known as the Plague of Cyprian (Cyprian was the bishop of Carthage), 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome. Two-thirds of Alexandria’s population most likely perished.

Pagan Rome was completely ill-prepared to help the sick or deal with mass death. People knew that their priests were clueless as to why the gods had sent so much misery to earth, or whether the gods were involved or even cared. Worse yet, the doctors, priests, and nobles fled infected areas in droves. Since pagans had no belief in immortality, and Stoicism demeaned any sort of heartfelt compassion, the plagues were meaningless and cruel. The basic response of pagans was one of flight.

The best of Greco-Roman science knew nothing about how to treat epidemics other than to avoid all contact with those who had the disease. And this they did, often evacuating entire towns, being afraid to visit one another. Hence, it turned out that the famous physician Galen who lived through the first epidemic during the reign of Marcus Aurelius got out of Rome as quickly as possible.

Christian response

In stark contrast to such hopelessness and fear, Christians showed how their faith made this life—and even death—meaningful. Cyprian, for example, almost welcomed the great epidemic of his time, knowing that it was an opportunity for the church to give witness to the hope that was within them. He was so overwhelmed by a sense of confidence that the members of the Alexandrian church were accused of regarding the plague as a time of festival.

Instead of fear and despondency, then, the earliest Christians expended themselves in works of mercy that simply dumbfounded the pagans. For them God loved humanity, and in order to love God back they believed they needed to love others. God did not demand ritual sacrifices; he wanted his love expressed in deeds of compassion on earth.

This love took on very practical, concrete forms. In Rome, Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for 1,500 poor people on a daily basis. In Antioch of Syria, the number of destitute persons the church was feeding had reached 3,000. Church funds were also used in special cases to buy the emancipation of Christian slaves.

During the plague in Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Emperor Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. His efforts failed, however, because for Christians it was love—not duty—that was their motivation.

The first Christians not only took care of their own, but also reached out far beyond themselves. Their faith led to
a pandemic (pan = all; demos = people) of love. Consequently, at the risk of their own lives, they saved an immense number of lives. Their elementary nursing greatly reduced mortality. Simple provisions of food and water allowed the sick who were temporarily too weak to cope for themselves to recover instead of perishing miserably.

Pagans couldn’t help but notice that Christians not only found strength to risk their lives, but they also noticed that in caring for one another they were much less likely to die. Christian survivors of the plague became immune, and therefore they were able to pass among the afflicted with apparent invulnerability. In fact, those most active in nursing the sick were the very ones who had already contracted the disease early on, but who were cared for by their brothers and sisters. In this way, the early Christians became, in the words of one scholar, “a whole force of miracle workers to heal the ‘dying.’” Or as historian Rodney Spark puts it, “It was the soup they [the Christians] so patiently spooned to the helpless that healed them.”

In the midst of intermittent persecution and colossal misunderstanding, and in an era when serving others was thought to be demeaning, the “followers of the way”—instead of fleeing disease and death—went about ministering to the sick and helping the poor, the widowed, the crippled, the blind, the orphaned, and the aged. The people of the Roman Empire were forced to admire their works and dedication. “Look how they love one another,” was heard on the streets.

What about us today?

Our time is not unlike the twilight years of the Roman Empire. The god of materialism provides no hope; the structures and institutions of society that are meant to address social needs are indifferent and cold; and the current adversarial atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion, and violence breed fear and loneliness.

In an age of impersonal medicine, fear of death, social isolation, and mounting catastrophe, today’s church has the opportunity of going beyond the precautions of quarantine and vaccine
by trusting in the ultimate protection: love. Instead of retreating from the onslaught of pain and death, the church has the chance to demonstrate that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Instead of fear, which makes it difficult to look beyond the precautionary, followers of Christ can show the world that it is in giving our lives away that we find life. How we live and how we die is our message. If we would but dare more in faith in the here-and-now, then perhaps, as with the early church, an outpouring of new life and real hope—instead of terror and flight—will sweep the earth.

Tertullian, Love Feast, and Social Ministry

Excerpt from Tertullian’s 39th Apology

The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honor not by purchase, but by established character. There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God. Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.

Much of the context of this quote is on the Love


Feast. At the time, the Love Feast (think perhaps “Sacramental Potluck”) was a normal part of Christian worship and some were charging Christians with being wild drunken folk. Tertullian is making the point that the love feast was shared, charitable, chaste, self-controlled and started as well as ended with a prayer. But further, moneys gathered within the church were done to help those in need. The love feast was an act of worship, but it was also an act of charity since the sharing was equal, not based on what one had to give.

The Love Feast was referred to by Paul, by the Didache (by implication), Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, and others.

Raised a Baptist, we have a lot of potluck dinners. And many other churches have similar things. Sadly though, we tend to do them with a bit of a chuckle— a bit of pride and embarrassment. But perhaps, we can see it (or make it):

  • An Act of Worship
  • An Act of Charity
  • An Act of Brotherhood

But I hope it would be all three. It has a sacramental role in terms of worship of God. It is an act of giving to and caring for the needy. It is an act to remind ourselves of our spiritual unity in Christ.


Blessing to be a Blessing

I guess I have a temperament for being task-oriented. In missions, that shows itself in trying to squeeze the last bit of ministry out of the money, and being as efficient with ministry time as possible. In teaching, I like to pump out as much information as I can, and not do too much in class that could be labelled (by people such as myself) as “frivolous.”

But then I have to remind myself of things that I have learned– things I now know are true, even though they go against my temperament.

A few years ago we did a 10-day mission trip to Palawan. It was a medical mission trip. We flew to Puerto Princesa (1), and then began a seven hour drive to Sicud (2). The next day we did a medical mission with close to a thousand patients. Then we traveled to Quezon and did a medical mission there as well (3). This one and the third were smaller medical mission sites but still handled several hundred patients each. But the day after, we take a day off and visited Tabon Caves, the local historical museum, and did some snorkeling. We then traveled back to Puerto Princesa (4), and we had another fun day snorkeling in Honda Bay. The next we preached in various local churches (I preached at Honda Bay Baptist Church… at little church for fishermen and their families… that meets on Sundays at 6:30am). The next day, we went to Concepcion barangay (5) (part of greater Puerto Princesa), and did our third medical mission. After that we returned to Puerto Princesa and flew home. palawan_map

Overall, I would consider this a successful trip. We worked effectively with local partners in Palawan (actually, this was a regionally driven short-term mission trip- I was actually the only foreigner in the group). I would like to think that the work done there was leveraged for greater work afterwards. To some extent I feel that this did occur… but I also know that some leadership changes in Palawan hampered that work as well. But one thing that made it successful was the balance of blessing and being blessed.

This was not “religious tourism.” We worked HARD, and sought to be a genuine blessing to the people in Palawan— partnering with the hosts in so doing. At the same time, we as team-members were not abused. We had fun activities, and good food, and time to socialize. We needed that as well. We need to “charge our batteries” for the rigors of the travel and the work. It also need to connect joy with serving. We may recall the hymn “There is joy in serving Jesus,” but when we work and work and work, without time for rest, recreation, and reflection, the joy can slip away. In more extreme cases, the team-members can come to believe that they are simply being used by the teamleader or the mobilizing organization.

For me, the positive experience helped me gain an appreciation for the medical mission ministry, and I eventually became a teamleader. However, I did have to remind myself more than once not to simply focus on “getting the job done.” I had to remember to ensure that the teammembers feel blessed in the experience so as to be effective channels of blessings for others.

Is Social Ministry Missions?

A. Scott Moreau noted in his book, “Contextualization in World Missions,” that social ministry as a part of missions has been a matter of controversy among Evangelicals for 80 or 90 years. With William Carey, there seemed not to be a strong problem with seeking social justice along with evangelizing and disciplining. William Wilberforce, a noted 19th century British statesman, found his Evangelical faith fully in line with his active opposition to slavery, as well as other causes supporting the oppressed (even laws against animal abuse).<Consider watching the 2006 movie “Amazing Grace” if you are unfamiliar with Wilberforce.>

But with the Liberal-Fundamental debates of the 1920s, Liberals drifted towards social ministry only or mostly as missions, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals tended towards spiritual ministry only or mostly in missions.  This tendency against social ministry in missions was enhanced with the argument that that because Christ is coming soon there is no time for social ministry, only direct proclamation. I don’t recommend basing a methodology on reacting to what someone else is doing. Likewise, to argue for a Biblically doubtful methodology based on a equally doubtful interpretation of Scripture is, well, doubtful. Moreau goes on to note that with the Millenial generation, the nervousness of combining missions and social ministry is fading away. I believe that is a welcome thing… although that does not necessarily mean that the result would be good missions.

But that is not the question. The question is whether Social Ministry is still Missions. On one hand, since the term “Missions” is largely a modern construct, Social Ministry can be considered legitimate or illegitimate legislated by definition or common usage. But legislation is not the only criteria. Two other criteria include the Bible (as canon) and Effectivity.

I would rather not start from the analogy of  wings of a plane, or the two blades on a pair of shears, where one said is “spiritual ministry” and one is “social ministry.” This begins from the paradigm that they are separable and comparable. I would rather start from the view that spiritual ministry (proclamation of the gospel message, leading to conversion, discipleship, and churchplanting) is built on a foundation of social ministry.

Biblically speaking, this seems to be a strong point. A number of the prophets including, but not limited to, Isaiah, Micah and Amos, place a higher value on righteous acts and social justice over mere piety. James does the same thing noting that talk (as well as faith) is cheap without action. However, that does not necessarily speak regarding missions. But when we get to Jesus, the connection becomes stronger. The John 20:21 version of the Great Commission seems to suggest that the model for carrying out God’s mission is that of Jesus. So while the Matthew version of the Great Commission sounds as if limited to proclamation of the Gospel, baptizing people into the church, and discipling, the John version appears to expand the concept. Jesus linked his missional ministry with acts of compassion for the poor and oppressed. This is reinforced in Matthew 25 where serving Jesus is tied to serving people in need. Additionally, if one accepts the idea that the Great Commission is an application of the Great Commandment, then missions is an application of expressing one’s love to God via demonstrating love to others. Failing to demonstrate compassion through tangible acts for those in need (materially, physically, socially) is not loving— and if not loving, can hardly be said to be missional.

Effectively, the case is even stronger. Proclamation that is not tied to visible actions in caring has a shaky track record. In fact, one of the greatest hindrances to response to the gospel message is the living testimony of uncaring or unrighteous Christians. The early Church without the financial means of modern Christians, and without the weaponry of the spread of early Islam, grew at a sustained rate over nearly three centuries that was simply amazing.

For the role of the common people in the spread demonstrated by their faith and actions, as much as their word, I would point to the quote by Von Harnack HERE. It is worth noting that Von Harnack in his book “The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries” made the case that the roles within the Universal church that most correspond to the present idea of Missionary– that of Apostle, Evangelist, and Prophet– generally faded out as the church moved into the third century. And yet to Harnack, many roles in the church (teachers, apologists, martyrs, for example) could be seen as active in missions. Then he goes on to see all members of the early church as having a missional role… and often embraced the role of missionary within their own spheres of influence.

Now we can combine that with a bit more of early church history as described by Charles Moore (you can read it HERE) who notes not only that missions in the early church was dominated by laypersons, but were strongly empowered by acts of love and service to unbelievers in their vicinity.

Neither the Biblical argument nor the Effectivity argument is here covered in detail. And if you find them less than compelling, that is not a problem. The goal is not to compel belief, but present a thesis that can be analyzed further.

My thesis is that Missions should have loving acts/social justice/felt needs-meeting, as foundational to gospel presentation. mission-houseOne can look at my drawing of an overly simple and ugly house. If the house is Christian Missions, then loving acts is the foundation, and gospel proclamation is the primary structure of the house. Without gospel proclamation, one cannot say Christian missions is occurring any more than a house can be said to exist without its structure. On the other hand, a house can be said to exist without its foundation, but such a house is unstable and prone to collapse. It is not that social ministry is equal in importance to gospel proclamation. In fact, comparing the two is a bit inadequate. So is Social Ministry Missions? Yes and No. Gospel proclamation is essential to missions, but social ministry is foundational to that proclamation.

<By the way, please don’t  send a comment that says something like “Christ” is the foundation of missions, or that the Bible is the foundation of missions. This analogy is self-contained to make a point regarding the relationship of social ministry and gospel proclamation. I have no intent to extend the analogy beyond the confines of this relationship.>

Wings versus Springs

I have been reading Christopher Wrights’s book “The Mission of God”… I am a slow reader. But I was also reading a review of that book by Trevin Wax… actually a very good review… but there was a part that got me thinking. 20130809105526u20220dTrevin was noting some disagreement (or apparent disagreement) with Wright’s focus on holistic missions (as opposed to “spiritualistic missions”).

But if eternal suffering in hell is one of the motivations for evangelism, then it should follow that evangelistic outreach is of the utmost importance. Political and social activity will be of eternal significance only insofar as they demonstrate the truth of that evangelistic message.

In other words, the weight of eternal suffering ought to make ultimacy pulse with passion for proclamation and demonstration – not as if they are two equal planes that need to be kept upright (one temporal and one eternal), but in seeing everything related to mission as ultimately designed to proclaim the gospel that relieves all suffering, especially eternal hell.

Therefore, it is not enough to say that mission is deficient if it does not contain gospel proclamation. We ought instead to say that mission is non-existent if our deeds are ever disconnected from the motivation and intention of proclaiming the gospel verbally.

John Stott would describe spiritualistic (or proclamation) ministry and social (demonstration) ministry as being two wings on an airplane (or a bird), are two blades for a pair of scissors. But the reviewer is suggesting that the implied symmetry is misguided. One is clearly more important than the other.  So for him, the plane model is inappropriate, and scissors (symmetrical) should be replaced with shears (that are typically assymetrical).

But I like the metaphor generally but there are clear problems with the metaphor.  Let’s elaborate problems and value associated with the metaphor. (Don’t get me wrong… every metaphor fails on a certain level… knowledge of the limitations of a metaphor is needed for the metaphor to be useful.)

1.  Two wings gives to impression that proclamation evangelism and demonstration evangelism are connected (in the middle) and aid each other but are otherwise independent of each other. For example, I think few of us could imagine a bird (let’s use a falcon as an example… why not?) that could fly if it only had one wing. We probably are pretty convinced that a one-winged falcon could not fly. However, we probably can imagine a falcon with only one wing. A one-winged falcon would still be a falcon, even if it could not fly. But I would suggest that proclamation without demonstration is not evangelism and is not missions. One is reminded of the “gospel bombs”– paper gospel tracts dumped into people’s back yards in the short story “The Gospel Blimp.” This, and other forms of “evangelistic littering,” is something… but it is not evangelism and it is not missions. Donating money to a secular charity is nice and it is kind and it is loving… but it is not evangelism and it is not missions. Prayer walking may or may not have value… but it is not proclamation and it is not demonstration. It is not missions or evangelism. It is now something else.

2. The two-wings metaphor suggests that holistic missions can be discretized… disconnected into two separate things. The term “holistic” (I do prefer the spelling “wholistic”) fights against this. It suggests an integratedness, a gestalt, a synergy, that defies dividing them into two camps. Successful missions is neither really proclamation nor demonstration….. but RELATION. Relation cannot be broken down into words and actions… they join together inseparably. While I understand that from a taxonomic standpoint, one could possibly separate mission/evangelism into two categories… the question is, is there any usefulness in such categorization (functionally speaking)? I think the usefulness is often lost in the confusion it creates.

3.  As noted before, there is a huge inequality between the two wings. In the quote above, Trevin noted that if one views eternal destination as more important than present circumstances (an understandable viewpoint) than proclamation must be seen as the more vital. But one can reverse it pretty easily to suggest that the other side is greater. Consider the argument used. One side is proclamation… but what does that entail?

  • Wing 1:  “verbal communication of adequate facts/data to allow another to make an informed decision whether or not to follow Christ.
  • Wing 2: Everything else.

If that is how the two wings are divided, Wing 2 would take up most of the activities of any evangelizer or missionary no matter how much one tries to focus on Wing 1. One may seek to prioritize Wing 1, but in the end, Wing 2 is likely to be dominate in one’s time and effectiveness. The question is whether one does Wing 2 well or does it poorly. The two wings are unequal in various ways. As such the model is challenging.

An additional assymetry is effectivity of separation.

  • Wing 2 (Social ministry) without Wing 1 (proclamation) is clearly inadequate. However, behaving in a loving manner to those who need such love, but without proclamation of the gospel), while (again) inadequate, at least can serve as a preparation for the gospel.
  • Wing 1 (proclamation) without Wing 2 (social ministry or demonstration) may be effective in some circumstance. However, it is also quite likely to lead to rejection. How many non-Christians have been turned off to the gospel by people who preach up the love of Christ, but are not able to live out the love of Christ.

The first scenario is inadequate but neutral to somewhat positive. The second scenario ranges from negative to positive. On the other hand salvation comes from a response to a message, not to demonstrated love without the object of that love presented.

4. Talking about which is more important is ultimately foolish. Looking at point #3.  In terms of adequacy, proclamation is more important… the message is adequate for response, while this is not true of demonstration not linked to the message. On the other hand, in terms of size of ministry, social is greater. And in terms of effectivity, social is greater (in the sense that proclamation is more harmed by divorce from its partner than is demonstration).

The two wings suggests, incorrectly, that one can do one or the other or both. In the quote above the reviewer rightly noted that demonstration without proclamation is not missions. But he needed to go further. Proclamation without demonstration is not missions either. Doing one without the other is not Christian missions. Trying to do proclamation without demonstration is difficult, and likely to backfire. Arguably, it is impossible since to proclaim without focusing on demonstration (“social ministries”… everything on Wing 2) simply means to demonstrate poorly. To demonstrate God’s message poorly is to effectively preach against one’s spoken message. And to demonstrate God’s love without God’s message of hope is so incomplete as to arguably not ultimately be missions.

Ultimately, I would suggest a different metaphor… not to replace the wings, but to supplement them. I would suggest the metaphor from James of a fountain. or a spring. James 3: 11-12 suggests that we cannot use our mouths to both curse and bless. After all can a single spring bring forth both fresh and salty water or both sweet and bitter? Of course, we know that people both bless and curse with one mouth. The point is that it is unnatural… a violation of how things are suppose to be.

Let’s bring the idea of a spring 2over to evangelism or missions.

A. A spring has a source… which in this case is God and God’s mission.

B.  It has an outward flow from a place of abundance to a place of lacking. I would argue that this flow is love… relational. God loved us first, and we respond with love for God and love for who and what God loves. The reality of hell, for example, may inform the message, but should not compel the action. Likewise, the Great Commission may inform our methodology, but it should not be our motivation… one simply of duty. Love compels word and action.

C.  To love halfway… such as loving with word that is disconnected from deed, or deed disconnected from word… is unnatural… and a violation of what it truly means to love just as it would be unnatural for the spring to be both salty and fresh.

Ultimately, I believe the reason we have these arguments is that we don’t truly love those around us (yes, I am including myself here). Therefore, we find ourselves playacting… guessing at… how one is supposed to act if one loves. Does one focus on words? Does one focus on doing nice stuff? Does one focus on programs, formats, or anything else?

If we did not playact loving God and loving others as we love ourselves… we would not have to figure out all of this stuff… working out methods and priorities. It would flow… like a spring of cool pure water for a parched land. (see Isaiah 58:11)

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.