Balance: Evangelism and mercy

From David Hayes’ absolutely spot-on article, Word vs. Deed:

If we consider it our calling only to preach the gospel, we may address people’s spiritual needs very well, but we miss an opportunity to substantiate the truth of our words through our actions. We miss an opportunity to glorify God by displaying another beautiful aspect of his mercy. I believe Christians need to become more comfortable with the fact that God is glorified through our merciful actions, even if they never lead to the salvation of the person we’re ministering to. If you faithfully care for a suffering friend or family member over a period of years, yet that person dies without Christ, you have not wasted your time. You have greatly glorified God through perseverant, merciful action! This may seem like a startling statement at first, but Scripture does not command us to serve the poor merely as a pretense for evangelism. We care for the poor as a means of reflecting the merciful character of God. As we faithfully do that, his name is glorified. The eternal results are his domain.

We must never confuse these two great mandates the Lord has placed upon us as his people. We can’t accomplish one by doing the other, and the absence or minimization of either represents a failure to carry out the mission God has called us to. Yet even as we distinguish between evangelism and mercy ministry, we recognize that the gospel is the common thread that binds the two together. We desire to take advantage of every opportunity to proclaim the gospel with our lips even as we are demonstrating its authenticity with our deeds. The gospel is central to everything we do. It is the hub from which and to which all ministry flows. Our hope is always to proclaim the gospel, even when our primary ministry activity is oriented toward physical mercy rather than evangelism.

The church is not in an “either/or” situation when it comes to preaching salvation and extending physical mercy. It is in a “both/and” situation.

I’m not very faithful at either one, unfortunately.

[Hat tip: Provocations & Pantings]

Balance: Us versus them, when them are us

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

– 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

I love the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, for several reasons. But I think this is the main reason:

. . . called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . .

If you’ve read this letter you know that the church at Corinth was messed up (the Internet Monk wrote something about this recently that’s worth reading). Corinth was a church that exasperated Paul, and that exasperation is reflected in 1 Corinthians. Paul was frustrated and angry with the Corinthian Christians. And he told them so.

But notice what Paul didn’t do. Paul didn’t disown them. He didn’t pretend that they weren’t family. Paul did not split the Bride into “us” versus “them”.

. . . together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . .

It doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t correct them. He did. Paul struck the right balance, spoke hard truth in love, and yet affirmed the Corinthians right at the beginning of his letter and confirmed to them that, no matter what, they were family.

If you are my Christian brother or sister, you are family. We might disagree on important but non-essential matters of theology. We might have wildly different ideas about what church is all about. We might disagree on music. To you maybe I’m a dork. To me maybe you’re uncool. Maybe I embarrass you. Maybe you embarrass me.

But if Jesus has redeemed you, you’re my brother or my sister. And there’s nothing that’s going to change that.

And because of that, as God is my helper, I will not poke fun at you, or act like I don’t know you, or try to wish you away. You are not a “them” to me. We are an “us”.

Like Paul, I may have need to talk to you about important matters of the faith. You might need correction. But, as God is my helper, may I always approach that task with courage and humility, being ready for needed correction in my own life, for the Word is a two edged sword.

My Christian brother or sister, I love you. We’re family.

. . . called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . .

Balance: Stay on the horse

There is a famous quotation of Martin Luther in which he compares humanity to a drunken man who has fallen off of a horse on the left-hand side, and then proceeds to get back on the horse and fall off on the right-hand side.

I don’t have the attribution for that quote, but it’s such a wise observation. I’ve noticed this scary human tendency often in movements within the church. For instance, if we think the church is emphasizing social justice at the expense of saving souls, we react to create a church that cares only for saving souls at the expense of social justice. If we think that church has gotten too traditional, formal and stuffy, we leap over the horse and create a church environment totally divorced from church history and where reverence often takes a back seat to relevance.

Arguments tend to be phrased as “either/or” when they really are “both/and”. And I don’t know why we’re this way (note: I’m this way too).

I’ve begun to post a series of my thoughts on “balance”. Now balance is a word that portrays, to some, a sense of the safe, of the non-committal, of the middle-road. I would counter that balance is, in actuality, exciting, dangerous and very hard work. Balance is not a bad thing: there are many times when balance is necessary and desired: when walking or running, for instance. Or when walking a tightrope. Or when riding a horse. Unfortunately, our natural tendencies have us dumping off to one side or the other.

A subject I’ve read a lot about has been the American space program, and especially the Apollo program. The Apollo command module was equipped with a stable element, called the “eight-ball”, which had a set of gimbals that allowed it to maintain a stable, unmoving attitude relative to the stars, and thus gave the spacecraft a point of reference upon which to navigate. There was only one instance in which the ship’s stable element would cease functioning. This situation was called “gimbal lock“, and it occurred when the ship yawed too far to the right or to the left; the gimbals would line up, lock into position, and you could kiss any knowledge of which way you were pointed sayonara. We as humans tend to do that, don’t we? We yaw too far to one extreme, our internal “gimbals” lock, and the next thing you know, we’re passing Pluto and wondering how on earth we got there.

Balance is important, and it is something we learn. Scripture is described in Hebrews chapter 4 as being “sharper than any double-edged sword”. I don’t want to strain a metaphor too much, but the image that has always popped in my mind upon hearing that is of a sword that cuts both ways. Scripture balances against other scripture and drives us to the truth.

Unfortunately, balance doesn’t sell books or get people to read a blog post; if you really want to swing for the fences to make your point, straw-men riding hyperbolic steeds of rhetoric are needed (and, oh my goodness, is this sentence a mess! I think I’ll keep it 🙂 I think the idea is that by over-emphasizing one’s point at the expense of the contra, perhaps one can pull people into the middle-ground. And that does work, but the things sacrificed in that approach often include clarity, charity, and peace. It’s a lot harder to elucidate a position precisely in a way that makes people want to listen, and that’s why so often pendulum-swinging over-exaggeration is utilized instead.

I long for balance. And if the horse we’re riding is the Gospel, let’s maintain our balance, ride it well and not fall off, even if everyone around us is flinging themselves off into the ditches.

(previous post on the topic of balance: Balance: Heavenly minded, earthly good)


Scot McKnight, in his excellent blog Jesus Creed, is currently working on a series that will review Brian McLaren’s new book, Everything Must Change. As always, I am sure Scot will be fair, thoughtful, and thorough in this series, and I must say that his comments threads are some of the most civil in the blogosphere.

I haven’t read the book, and don’t know much about it beyond Dr. McKnight’s introductory remarks and this review by Tim Challies. But I did enjoy this comment, left by Robin Rhea in the thread on Dr. McKnight’s post. It’s a refreshing answer (albeit anecdotal) to some false dichotomies floating around out there.

I grew up Catholic, came to love Christ when I was 20, and have been in evangelical circles for the past 8 years, completely “conservative” and almost entirely Southern Baptist and Calvinist. The churches that I have been a part of have been heavily involved in medical, educational, and gospel outreaches to Uganda, Columbia, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, and Sudan, have operated numerous ministries to the homeless, medically needy, hungry, have cried with women considering abortion and offered them services regardless of the outcome of their choice, ministered to the hispanic community in a part of the country where they are not very popular, have numerous outreaches alternative lifestyle groups, I think so far I have covered about half of it. I submit that by far the most “popular” speaker in evangelical circles is probably John Piper who has made social justice a continued theme of his ministry for the past 20 years, especially racial justice and racial reconciliation. Others, who are theologically ultra-conservative include Tim Keller in Ney York, Mark Driscoll in Seattle, and Scotty Smith in Nashville, all of whom have tremendous “social justice” concerns …with all of that said, I get the feeling that MacLaren’s accusations that those of us that care deeply about theology and doctrine somehow have a flat theology that does not lead to social justice issues is false. Maybe it is true in the circles he encounters, but even a cursory look at church histroy would show that those that care about theology and doctrine the most tend to do a great deal to alleviate the sufferings of their fellow human beings. You could check out Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, Jim Elliot, etc. for confirmation. It could be that the “progressive” wing of Christianity is much more compassionate, but I have a hard time believing it.

The missing ingredient

Jared Wilson continues his glorious practice of taking nail, hitting with hammer:

The Missing Ingredient

I really think it may be joy.

I’m just speculating here.

When I weary of a doctrinal compatriot’s constant knocking of the Church to the extent that it essentially becomes their raison d’blog, I stop seeing “prophet” and start seeing “scrooge.” I see the pervasive unhappiness with the spiritual quality of fellow believers not as indication of the blogger’s properly calibrated prophetic barometer but as indication of their thinly veiled joylessness.

Remember: only God gets to vomit people out.

Read the whole thing.

“Love his wife”

Now, let me say that the church is not the center of God’s plan. Jesus is. But, the church is central to God’s plan. Jesus places the church in a position of great importance…

If you claim to be a disciple of Jesus, then love his wife. Don’t be guilty of going to great lengths to show your love for Christ while ignoring, marginalizing, or attacking the Bride.

Ed Stetzer

[Hat Tip: Provocations and Pantings]

“We say that Christians are different . . .”

Jollyblogger nails it:

We say that Christians are different, and we are, and one of the main ways we are different from the world is that we don’t take offense at offensive behavior or treatment. We are the people who love our enemies, who bless when cursed, who pray for our persecutors. We follow the one who only wanted forgiveness to be shown to those who crucified Him.

May this be the mark of the church. Amen.

[Hat Tip: Transforming Sermons]

Theodore Dalrymple on good and evil

Theodore Dalrymple, a non-believer, writes of both some some very good and some very bad people he has known. Many of the most admirable souls he recalls here were people of faith. It’s an interesting piece, with a balanced feel and a final paragraph that I think is tremendous. The article is excerpted below:

I met other nuns in remote parts of Africa who seemed completely happy in humbly serving the local people: a community of Spanish nuns whose cheerful and selfless dedication caused to the ill, the handicapped and the young caused them, rightly, to be loved and revered. In Nigeria, I met an Irish nun, in her mid-seventies, who was responsible for the feeding of hundreds of prisoners who would almost certainly have starved had she not brought food to them every day. In the prison, a lunatic had been chained for years to a post; many of the prisoners had been detained without trial for a decade, the files of their cases having been lost, and they would never leave the prison, even when a judge ordered their release, unless they paid a bribe to the gaolers which they could not afford. They believed they would spend the rest of their lives in detention, seventy to a floor-space no larger than that of my sitting room.

The nun moderated the behaviour of the prison guards by the sheer force of her goodness, It was not a demonstrative or self-satisfied virtue; one simply would have felt ashamed to behave badly or selfishly in her presence. She is almost certainly dead now, forgotten by the world (not that she craved remembrance or memorialisation). I sometimes find it difficult, when immersed in the day to day flux of my existence, to credit that I have witnessed such selflessness.

. . .

I once made the mistake of writing an article in [a] left-wing publication saying that, in my experience, the best people were usually religious and on the whole religious people behaved better in their day to day lives than non-religious once: and I wrote this, as I made clear, as a man without any religious belief.

As a frequent contributor to the public prints, I am accustomed to a certain amount of hate-mail, and can even recognise the envelopes that contain it with a fair, though not total, degree of accuracy. Of course, e-mail has made it far easier for those consumed with bile to communicate it, and on the whole it exceeds in vileness what most bilious people are prepared to commit to paper. I don’t think I have ever hated anyone as much as some of my correspondents have hated me.

Suffice it to say that I have never received such hate mail as when I suggested that religious people were better than non-religious in their conduct. It seemed that many of the people who responded to me were not content merely not to believe, but had to hate.

. . .

Perhaps one of the reasons that contemporary secularists do not simply reject religion but hate it is that they know that, while they can easily rise to the levels of hatred that religion has sometimes encouraged, they will always find it difficult to rise to the levels of love that it has sometimes encouraged.

[A clang of sword against shield to Lars Walker of the excellent Brandywine Books]

Holding aloft the 3-cent candle of hope

I’ve got lots of post ideas. I just haven’t found the time (or the guts, frankly) to post them. But here are some thoughts and links while I while away my lunch hour.

Remember the old cliche’ “it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”? My candle is not that bright and I feel sometimes that I’m walking through the inky-black darkness of the blogosphere holding aloft one of those little sparklers you find on a cupcake. But, doggone it, I’m going to grit my teeth and continue to do so. Yes, we need our Jeremiah’s, our weeping prophets. And, of course, all is not well, in our country or in our churches.

But sometimes I think people can’t see the light of hope for the darkness they’ve chosen to focus on.

Maybe I’m wrong. But, for those of us living in the western world at least, we live in an age of unparalleled material blessing and freedom. Even our poorest are rich by history’s standards. And, if that wasn’t un-PC enough to say, though the church in America is badly in need of reform, discipline, and a re-focusing, it is also full of some very, very fine Christians and some brave, stalwart pastors and leaders. And many churches are holding onto the truth, while simultaneously doing honorable work among our poor and dispossessed.

Am I whistling through a graveyard? The Bride is beautiful. And much maligned, even by those who are part of her.

There’s a balance to be achieved. I’m not speaking against Godly criticism of our church culture. I have recommended (and heck, I will again) Gospel-Driven Church as an example of how to do this right. The Internet Monk is also a site I highly recommend, though he is no stranger to dark nights of the soul and confessional blogging (and getting mercilessly slammed for both). Yet he tenaciously holds on to the truth, to orthodoxy, and hope.

So I’m reading this passage in a new way today. Do you see it too?:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:31-39

Also, apropos of (almost) nothing, check out this quote by J.D. Hatfield:

The New Testament is centered on Christ, and its exhortations on the holiness of believers. This is not a simple call to obedience, but to holiness. Holiness is not righteousness, righteousness flows from holiness. Holiness isn’t simply obedience; it is being set apart for God and depending on God by drawing your boundaries, as God would have them. Obedience flows from holiness, and holiness is cultivated by a right understanding of God and what He has done for us in Christ. To understand Christ more fully is to be made more holy in practice.

That’s something for me to chew on, definitely (HT Transforming Sermons).

Finally, from the aforementioned Gospel-Driven Church, It’s Not About Programming; It’s About Culture. The final few paragraphs are below:

It is wearying trying to sell our churches on the notion that what they’ve been selling for so long doesn’t work. It is difficult suggesting that the service-centered approach to reaching the lost has failed. It is a delicate thing to suggest that we have not exalted Christ and we have not glorified God and therefore we haven’t really served the people we’ve claimed to.

And yet for some of us inside this culture, slogging away at discipling the culture into a more vital discipleship, it is incumbent upon us to, in our hearts and minds, say “Here we stand. We can do no other.”

I rather like that, and I’m inspired by efforts to change the church that flow from sincere love and concern for the Bride and devotion to her Lord.

So I’m going to hold my candle aloft. And you can blow it out, but it’s the frustrating kind that bursts back into flame without having to be relit [Bill makes his “booyah” face].

And I’m also going to attempt to start policing what I read on the Blogosphere and who I link to in my Bloogroll.

It’s either that or Prozac . . .