Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Doing good to get to Good News

What is the best way of sharing the Gospel? Everyone involved in missions needs to be asking this question. The bible mandates that all Christians be involved in missions in some light, so it follows that every Christian should be asking that question. In our time my generation (20-30-somethings) have found a new and broad answer to that question. Call it emerging, call it missional, call it ywam or venture or anything you like. The model is basically the same; Meet needs, emotional and physical, to gain the right to present the gospel. It certainly is a good model and one that has seen beautiful work being done from the plains of Africa to the streets of New York. Here's the catch. It isn't the only way, our brothers and sisters from times past haven't always seen it as the dominant way, and it's arguably not the most widespread biblical way. So it becomes worth asking, How can we best use God's resources to spread God's news? It behooves us to take some time and a good dose of humility as we answer.

The bible shows many different models of presenting the gospel. Some of them involve meeting a felt need, others ongoing relationship, and some with almost no prior contact and only proclamation. In our generation a great deal of emphasis has been placed on a model that emphasizes a certain introduction. Usually involving some form of building relational capital, be that through friendship, or some sort of good will gift (feeding programs, schools etc.) These programs are absolutely wonderful, but as in all human endeavor not without the presence of indwelling sin. (Is 64:6) Knowing our greater temptation to blindness and pride when we are doing God's work, we shouldn't be too defensive to examine even our Gospel sharing method.

You may wonder why some, especially older, pastors seem less gung-ho about this new missional movement then most of us twenty-somethings. First this in itself should give us pause. God gave us generations in the church not so the younger could correct the older (though in a fallen world there is a place in humility for that to happen) but mostly for the older to correct the younger. The command to honor our parents carries to our spiritual elders and doesn't stop magically at age 18. I'm sad to say "young missional emergents" have often been guilty of making broad sweeping statements about "the church" often making unfair generalizations about the very people who taught us what we know of the Gospel. So first, if many faithful Christians of the past generation have hesitations with the missional movement, we need to stop being prideful and at least listen. No you aren't smarter than your parents, and yes God still expects you to listen to old folks even if you have been through 4 years of DTS.

Secondly there is always a temptation to pride in any movement. Movements are not evil. In our age it has become somewhat vogue to be part of "non-movement" movements. Just like the non-conformist t-shirts of a few years back, someone had to get a bunch of non-conformist to buy them all alike, in the same way our "non-movement" missionalism has a tendency to at times look an awful lot like a movement. That said there's nothing neccesarily wrong with that. Many of the most wonderful changes in the church have come out of bonified self proclaimed movements (eg. the reformation). With organization however comes temptation; specifically to pride. For example: you feel called to go on a missions trip. You send out letters to folks in your home church and circle of influence, and by God's grace you raise enough money to go. You go to Africa (picking on myself here) and there see some of the terrible poverty that ravages the third world. Holding children and meeting these foreign faces breaks and rebuilds your worldview. It's a wonderful God given experience. Then you go home. After a few weeks you find you now have a judgmental streak you never noticed before. You notice the guy at church who drives a hummer rather than a hundai like you. He must not understand poverty. Why does the preacher wear thom's rather than tom's, doesn't he know there are people without shoes? And without knowing it you and I can slip into a judgemental attitude toward many of the same people who sacrificed to provide for our mission work. With just a few days watching God work, we've now tried to take his job.

Thirdly, and perhaps most dangerously there is in emergent missionalism a temptation to be ashamed of the Gospel. Let me explain. In the first century after Christ has risen from the dead the apostles start working out the implications. This rabbi Jesus has proven that the kingdom to come won't be based on this kingdom. The implication is that everything in this life pales in comparison to the importance of the next. They sell their property and explode on the world giving up everything they have here to gain a life where Christ is going. They give their lives, proclaiming the world, dying in poverty or by the sword. Fast forward to our day and age. We often see missions more categorized by program than proclamation. Why?

Partly we have adapted to our culture. This is in many ways good. Contextualization without compromise is wonderful. However often I meet young people relying on the program because of a good deal of fear. Fear most of all that without some sort of programatic build up the gospel simply won't be received. I've heard phrases like "if we don't meet their needs they simply won't listen to us" or "we have to build relationship or the gospel won't mean anything". While these are true in many situations they are a far cry from the gospel boldness exhibited by the apostles. They seem to have no stock at all placed in whether or not people respond. Peter proclaims in the synagog imediatly after pentacost, a message saying in essence he doesn't expect them to respond. Jesus himself says some have ears to hear and others don't, even saying the gospel has been veiled from some. Even more the bible itself proclaims the intrinsic power of it's message saying it "will not return" without accomplishing exactly what it was meant to (Is 55:11). With such power at our backs do we need to fear that we need some other in to present this message? Furthermore if all in this life will burn and usher into eternity in the next, have we not every reason to shamelessly point to the Gospel as the only true and enduring need?

I am not saying we should stop using good deeds to usher in and adorn the gospel. Far from it, they will know we are his by our love. However, we need to take great care that in our effort to show love, we don't exalt loving over Jesus. Think with me for a moment, have you ever felt ashamed that all you had to give was the gospel? When feeling led to talk about Christ have you ever felt like you had to earn the right? When seeing photos of those joyful poor in third world countries who seem to have nothing but Christ do you feel sorry for them, rather than righteous envy for their spritual riches? I think there is a great danger in young missional evangelicals becoming ashamed of their gospel. We wouldn't say it that way, but when pressed we're uncomfortable if we can't provide the gospel and something else; The gospel and food programs, the gospel and schools, the gospel and comunity improvement. The world has suckered us into believing that the Gospel isn't gift enough in itself to justify stopping people in their tracks.

Paul specifically warns us not to be ashamed of the gospel. In fact in his ministry he met very few felt needs. He had no feeding programs or improvment projects. He healed some, but not a great many. He traveled, preached, and started churches, and specificaly told people not to be ashamed that the only good they had to give was in the next life not this one. Where does this leave us? Love people. There is no alternative. Give like crazy, if you have internet to read this you are what would technically be called by world wide standards "Stinking filthy rich" but never, never, never be ashamed to present the gospel. It is far more refreshing than clean water, far more saving than medical care, far more important than community improvement. Far more precious than any other service you could ever offer. It is the power of God to salvation. In closing I found these words from pastor Thabiti Anybwile very helpful as we think about this multifaceted and deeply important question.
I once heard a dear brother in the Lord express his ministry philosophy, in part, with this formula:

"Good deeds leads to good will which creates platform for Good News."

I don't think it's original to him; he mention an author I didn't recognize. I suspect he's not alone in holding this veiw of things. And, again, this is a very dear brother in the Lord.

When I heard my brother articulate this point of view, instantly I was thinking, No, it's:

"Good News creates a new people who do good deeds that lead to good will."

In other words, good deeds and good will are not needed to accredit the gospel or give the gospel power. Acceptance of the gospel isn't fundamentally a matter of how well we adorn the gospel. Faith rests on the power of God, not the persausiveness of men. Moreover, the gospel has long had its effect in areas where good will evaporated in the heat of persecution and hatred.--



Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.


(c) Jamin Eben 2011