The Social Gospel and the Gospel of the Word: Don’t preach so much and do something

One of my most moving Christian songs is “Come and See (the King of Love).”

COME AND SEE, come and see,
Come and see the King of love;
See the purple robe and crown of thorns He wears.
Soldiers mock, rulers sneer,
As He lifts the cruel cross;
Lone and friendless now He climbs towards the hill.

“The biggest mistake the Church is making, says Rick Warren, is that we think that sermons will produce spiritual maturity. They will not.” What does the Bible say? “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim 4:2).”

But, isn’t Rick Warren correct when he says that the “the first public work of Christ was to say ‘come and see?’”

After John’s magnificent teaching/preaching of the Divine origins of the Word made flesh, and John the Baptist’s revelation to the world of the “Lamb of God,” we read in John 1:

“35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”

Yes, Rick Warren is correct, that (above) was Jesus’ first public “work,” if His invitation to the two disciples to come and see where he lived can be classified as “work.” More important is that Jesus’ “come and see” had nothing to do with who He was, but only with where He lived. And for Jesus and those he taught, the décor of your house said nothing about who you were (unlike today).

There are the three of them, Jesus, Andrew and his brother, Simon (later to be called Peter), walking along – talking all the way to Jesus’ place, and talking lots more during the day. Why did the two disciples want to be with Jesus? To find out more about him. And how do you find out more about a person? You ask questions, and the person talks. This wasn’t an ordinary informational transaction of your-turn-my-turn. They wanted to learn from Jesus, the Teacher: “Rabbi” (Teacher), “where are you staying?” They’re not going to “taste and see (learn) that the LORD is good” by seeing and tasting the doorpost of a house, even if Jesus had made it himself; they first have to learn who the LORD is. And that is why: “[t]here are a lot of spiritual qualifications (says John Macarthur, but) there’s only one skill, only one spiritual skill, one spiritual gift that is mandated and that is that pastors, preachers, overseers are to be didaktikos, is the Greek word, skilled in preaching and teaching. That is because that’s what we do, we are preachers of the Word. That is our calling. That is our mandate.”

The point of the song “Come and see, come and see, come and see the King of love” (above) is that before one can see the King of love, one has to learn what it means to call Jesus a King. This learning is not a kind of Jesus is King 101 kind of course. It is ever-learning, and, with God’s grace and the right preaching/teaching, coming to the truth. The Christian church’s main purpose is teaching and preaching the Word of God. This view of the Church is becoming less popular. The main emphasis is becoming more and more on the social Gospel. One of my Roman Catholic friends said the Gospel is all summed up here:

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You to drink? (Matthew, 25:35-37).”

Mother Teresa took this view to the extreme. I don’t think it would unfair to say that her Gospel – as with many Roman Catholics – could be summed up in “Suffering: the High Road to Salvation.” For Mother Teresa, the main instrument for purging the soul is suffering for the world, and making others aware that suffering, in itself, brings one close to Christ, no matter what one believes about Him. (See Mother Teresa, the Missing Peace of the Puzzle).

With regard to the relationship between preaching the Gospel and doing good works, Chapter 6 of the Book of Acts is a “turning point” in the history of the Church where the issue is raised for the first time (see Martyn Lloyd Jones in his “The Message of the Church: Part 1).

Acts 6

1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus…. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (My italics).

The temptation was to focus on looking after the widows (symbolising works of charity). There were many destitute and sick people that needed care. The Church, though the ages, has not neglected charitable works, in fact, has been the leader in looking after the poor and the sick; care for the needy, however, is not the main point of the Gospel.

The temptation is to emphasise charitable works above the preaching of the Gospel, because that is how Man sees it. If the Church had given into this temptation, it would have turned in a radically different direction, on a detour, leading not nowhere, but worse; to hell. It would have changed the story so much that “it is doubtful whether there would have been a story at all if they had fallen into the temptation at this point” (Martyn Lloyd Jones).

The Gentile Christians (the Hellenists) complained that the widows of the Hebrew Christians were given far better treatment than their own. The Gentile Christians expected the Apostles to get their “hands dirty” by attending directly to the matter. After all, they, the Gentile Christians, possibly thought: “What’s the good of the Apostles’ preaching if they give no attention to the needy?” No Christian should disagree that good works are required. But there was much more at stake here. The Apostles saw their main function to be the preaching of the Gospel, and not doing acts of kindness or trying to transform society.

The primary idea of the Gospel is not a social Gospel, a “Kingdom now” Gospel. And that is why “the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables’” (Acts 6:2). The result: the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”

What man in his right mind would choose faith in Christ above doing good works for Christ? Furthermore, are not good works, good in any religion? Are not all great religions ultimately about doing good; Judaism, for example? A common Jewish view is “deeds not creeds,” where individual salvation is eclipsed by service to the community. “The fact that Jews have been rather more creative than Christians in establishing brotherhood with the Negro may prove that ‘saving grace’ may be rather too individualistically conceived in Christianity to deal with collective evil” (Reinhold Niebhur).

For many Jews, and, for that matter, the majority of mankind, if one had to choose between creed and deed, the deed wins hands down. The duty of lending a hand to your fellow man far outweighs the desire to rest in the arms of God. After all, the reasoning goes, didn’t God work (a lot) before He rested (on the seventh day)?That’s how man thinks. Not all Jews, though, are mainly concerned with supplying man’s needs. For Rabbi Tuvia Bolton (in a comment to me), “the Chassidic Jew is mainly interested in supplying G-d’s needs (Nachat Ruach l’mala).” Nachat Ruach l’mala can be roughly translated as “resting in the Almighty.” God’s great desire is that we rest in Him.

What is God’s greatest commandment? To believe, love and trust in His Word. In biblical Christianity, the social Gospel of supplying man’s needs is not the priority. The priority of a Christian minister is to minister the gift of God’s grace to sinful mankind and the faith that it generates in the believer, a faith based on the story of redemption from sin. This story is about the incarnation, the suffering, the death, the resurrection, the ascension and the glorification of the Son of God, Jesus/Yeshua, the Christ/Mashiach. This understanding can only come through the gifts of grace and faith in Christ. Christians must, however, not – as Niehbur above points out – become too occupied with grace that they ignore love for their fellow man.

I recently received the following comment from a fellow Jew:

“According to G-d, an unrepentant sinner will be brought to account, and justice, by G-d. But you say that since Jesus died for your sins, G-d is going to look the other way if you decide to cheat on your wife or commit a murder. That program of belief invites a standard of immoral conduct that is anathema to the direction G-d provided us in His Torah.”

In contrast, what do the scriptures say?

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

When Jesus grants a person faith, he become His workmanship, created for good works, which – impossible as it may seem – God prepared beforehand for him to do:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this snot your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The above scripture passage teaches that for the fallen sinner, Jesus becomes Saviour and Lord in one fell swoop. Jesus cannot be Saviour without also being Lord. Brian Lopez gives a good description of this important distinction.

“Lordship salvation is the position that receiving Christ involves a turning in the heart from sin and, as a part of faith, a submissive commitment to obey Jesus Christ as Lord. It also maintains that progressive sanctification and perseverance must necessarily follow conversion. Those who hold to the doctrine of perseverance of the saints see this not only as a requirement, but an assured certainty according to the sustaining grace of Christ.”

“Non-lordship salvation…is popularly known by critics as “easy believism”, and by adherents as “free grace”. However, proponents of Lordship salvation frown upon this usage of the term “free grace”, as the free grace spoken of in the Bible both justifies the sinner and transforms the heart unto obedience.”

What is the ultimate reward for the Christian? (The person who loves God and says he is not expecting a reward – such as eternal joy and peace with God – is fooling himself, and fooling God, who is the One who promises reward).

“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified he Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:7-9).

“No eye has seen…for those who love him” is a very familiar verse. It creates the impression that we have to wait until we die and go to heaven before we can taste what “no eye has seen…” As with other scriptures, the reader often stops short, and misses the main import of the text. What does the next verse say (verse 10)? “… these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” So, these things, which “no eye (of flesh) has seen, no ear (of flesh) has heard, no heart of man has imagined” can, through the Spirit of God, be experienced here on earth; not , of course, to the degree that we will experience when we come to our final rest in God.

Does this mean that the Christian must not strive to enter that rest. Indeed, he must. How should he strive? He strives to obey to the commands of Christ (as preached by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5 – 7). True Christian faith is the antithesis of the Jewish idea of Christian faith as a licence to sin with impunity. True Christian faith is also radically contrary to the even more aberrant idea of the carnal Christian. The true Christian has been created (recreated) in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand (from eternity), that he should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Jesus preaches that “My Kingdom is not of this world.” This is not ordinary preaching; it is preaching by Divine Authority. That is what Church preaching is all about; and that is why the world hates it so. Peter Hitchens writes that the Church, except for its Kingdom Now-Prosperity abberations, preaches that:

“the ideal society does not exist in this life…Christ’s reproof of Judas – ‘the poor ye always have with you – when Christ complains that precious ointment could have been sold to feed the poor rather than applied to Jesus’ feet, is also a stumbling block and an annoyance to world reformers. By putting such socialistic thoughts into the mouth of the despised-traitor-to-be Judas, and by stating so baldly the truth know to all conservatives that poverty cannot be eradicated, the Bible angers and frustrates those who believe that the pursuit of a perfect society justifies the quest for absolute power.”
(Peter Hitchens, 2010. “The Rage against God.” Continuum, London, New York, p. 98).

The Word made flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the exact representation of that Absolute Divine Power. How does anyone come to know Jesus Christ? “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim 4:2).”

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One thought on “The Social Gospel and the Gospel of the Word: Don’t preach so much and do something

  1. Pingback: Writers needed to preach to non-believers | Stepping Toes

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