>The Gospel and Social Transformation

>I ran across these insightful thoughts by Mark Dever via Kevin DeYoung’s blog (via Justin Taylor’s blog). Dever offers 35 somewhat overlapping statements as a pastor to pastors concerning the topic of the congregation’s responsibility for its wider community.” I’ll not copy and paste all 35, but here’s a few of the most important (in my view):

3. Suffering is an inevitable part of this fallen world. Poverty, war, famine, death, and other tragic effects of the Fall will not be ended except by the bodily, visible return of Christ,
(e.g., Mark 14:7; Jn. 12:8; Rev. 6:1-11). The Heavenly City comes down, it’s not built up, that is, it’s not constructed from the ground up (Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21). It is as one-sided as Creation, the Exodus and the Incarnation, the Cross & Resurrection, and Regeneration of the individual heart. It is a great salvation-act of God. If human culture can ever be said to be redeemed, it will be God that does it, not us.

5. No Gospel that tells Scripture’s sweeping narrative that culminates in the coming of the kingdom but neglects to tell individuals how they can be included in that kingdom is any true Gospel.

6. Scripture gives us no hope that society will be broadly and permanently transformed by the preaching of the Gospel. (See Matt. 24:21-22, 29).

10. We should have a desire to see non-Christians know the common blessings of God’s kindness in providence (e.g., food, water, family relations, jobs, good government, justice). Actions to this end are appropriate for Christians and for congregations.

13. Our priority to unbelievers is the verbal proclamation of the Gospel, which alone can address the greatest part of human suffering caused by the Fall, and which is the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), which is, in turn the fulfillment of the Greatest Commandments (Mark 12:29-31; cf. Gal. 6:2) which, in turn, interprets the heart of any cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28). As Tim Keller says, “Evangelism is the most basic and radical ministry possible to a human being,” (“The Gospel and The Poor,” Themelios [33.3; Dec 2008], p. 17).

15. We, as a congregation, are not required to take responsibility for the physical needs in the unbelieving community around us. We do have a responsibility to care for the needs of those within our congregation (Matt. 25:34-40; Acts 6:1-6; Gal. 6:2, 10; James 2:15-16; I John 3:17-19) though even within the church, there were further qualifications (e.g., II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:3-16).

17. Many texts which seem to promote the idea of taking responsibility for our community’s physical well-being (e.g., Micah 6:8, Matt. 25, Gal. 6 & I John 3) are about our charity to members of the covenant community, believers, not non-Christian members of the community at large.

18. We are not forbidden from choosing to alleviate physical needs outside our congregation as a witness to the Gospel (e.g., providing computers to local schools, disaster relief, etc.). (contra a wrong idea of the spirituality of the church)

19. We have the freedom to choose particular actions for the welfare of our community as a witness to them directly, or more remotely by cooperating with other congregations and Christians in the formation of denominations, educational institutions, and a great variety of boards, charities and other organizations.

20. We should never mistake social action or mercy ministries (e.g., caring for the poor, soup kitchens, etc.) for evangelism (though it may be a means to it).

23. Our exposition of God’s Word should certainly equip our members by applying Biblical teaching to issues which are (or should be) of current concern, e.g., poverty, gender, racism, justice (cf. Isaiah 1:10-17). This teaching, however, should normally be given without seeming to commit the church to particular policy solutions to problems affecting the wider community. For example, Christian preachers could strenuously advocate the abolition of slavery without spending their sermons laying out how specifically it was to be done. We can speak to ought’s without untangling all the how’s.

24. We should warn our congregations about the dangers of accumulating wealth. Many Christians throughout history have read the Bible as being more suspicious of wealth than we modern American Christians seem to be. Everyone from Augustine to Wesley has written eloquently of the dangerous gravity of wealth, and the worldly pull it can have on our hearts. Such teaching need not cause us to reject careful financial planning, but it should cause us to be more vigilant, more wary and even suspicious of wealth than we tend to be

25. We must carefully prioritize the responsibilities unique to the church. Matters like a concern for education, politics, and mercy ministries for those beyond the church’s membership are proper concerns for Christians to have, but the church itself is not the structure for addressing such concerns. They are the proper concern of Christians in schools, governments, and other structures of society. In fact, if such concerns came to be the focus of the church, they could potentially distract the church from its main and unique responsibility, that of incarnating and proclaiming the gospel.

26. We must beware of dividing the church unnecessarily over non-essential issues in which we involve the congregation (e.g., nuclear disarmament, constitutional amendments, particular art outreaches or ministries in the community). 29. We must be on guard against the preference many of our own members (perhaps especially younger ones, or ones with more theological doubts) may have for doing ministry which is valued by unbelievers.

31. We must beware the popular “share the Gospel, and if necessary use words” mindset. Similarly, the Gospel is, properly speaking, preached, not done (though our actions can certainly affirm it, e.g., John 13:34-35 [even here it is interesting to note that it is our love for one another that is said to point to the Gospel!]). Social ministry done by the church should be self-consciously engaged in with the hope, prayer and design of sharing the Gospel.

34. In our duties as under-shepherds, we want to protect our flock from the well-meaning writings and teachings of those who emphasize their role of making a difference in the culture. Those individuals may be uniquely gifted and called, but it is not a Biblical model for the local church.

There’s audio to go with this, but I haven’t had a chance to listen yet.

4 thoughts on “>The Gospel and Social Transformation

  1. >There's a theme running through many of these points that evokes to my mind the beliefs and convictions particular to a subset of Americans, albeit a substantial one. It wouldn't be hard to cut and paste some of the words to arrive near enough at recent arguments against universal healthcare or the isolationist views against US involvement in both the World Wars of last century.Don't you think there's a significant amount of cultural tradition here, eisegetically looking for biblical support?

  2. >Doug, I'm not sure I follow. I'm actually for some form of universal health care, think I would have supported our participation in WW1 & WW2, am not an isolationist, etc. I can support those things as a citizen, even as a Christian citizen. Yet I don't think the gospel means I must support any of them or that the church should. As citizens we're called to seek the good of the city, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, etc. But it becomes, in my view, inappropriate and divisive for the church to make proclamations about public policy. Moreover, it is a distraction for the church to offer public services when they are offered by other institutions, like the state. I might be misunderstanding you though. And I don't think, as I understand it, this is a particularly American way of thinking. It's roots are in Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms and Calvin's understanding of the spiritual nature of the kingdom.

  3. >I think you are misunderstanding me somewhat. To me ears some of the points (eg. 15, 17, 18, 19 in particular) sound very much like the arguments that have been used for isolationism and anti-healthcare for example. It is not the business of biblical churches/christians to get involved in the physical needs of others outside the body of Christ. The church should keep itself to itself and not get involved in social/political entanglements.It is not the business of hard-working Americans to get involved in the physical needs of those who don't have healthcare. The US should keep itself to itself and not get involved in foreign entanglements.Is there a connection here? If so what's influencing what?

  4. >Doug, I think in being selective on which points to post, I've given a lopsided representation of Dever's position. He doesn't at all advocate an isolationist mentality for the church. He wants the church involved in meeting the only need the community has that the church alone can meet – showing people how to be reconciled to God. In addition, he does argue in point 21 (one I didn't include) "We should expect our members to be involved in a wide variety of good works (Prov. 19:17; 21:3; Luke 10:25-37; Acts 9:36; Heb. 13:1-3; James 1:27), some of which we may choose to hold up as examples to other members. This can be done without leading the congregation as a whole to own or support those particular ministries (whether by congregationally funding or staffing them). We personally can set an example of care for others. So John Wesley “began the year 1785, by spending five days in walking through London, often ankle deep in sludge and melting snow, to beg 200 pounds, which he employed in purchasing clothing for the poor. He visited the destitute in their own houses, ‘to see with his own eyes what their wants were, and how they might be effectually relieved.’” Wesley was 81 years old! These ideas aren't new on the scene. In fact, an improper application of these principles allowed the churches in the South to remain silent during the age of slavery and the Civil War. Again, that is an improper application of the principles. If any connection exists, I would have to say that it's the idea of the spirituality of the church (and the bizarre idea that America would be a city on a hill) that led to isolationist ideas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – but I haven't thought long and hard about it before.

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