• Richard Collins

Social Action (Part 3)

Last time, I looked at some of the reasons why churches engage in social action.

Today, the reasons why it’s so very important.

Extravagant grace – Christ intervened and provided for us when we were yet sinners. He saved us when we could not save ourselves. When we see those who cannot save themselves, we are called to act in a similar way. Charity cannot save a person, but it can express our heart of compassion, a heart which is responding to the grace we have received. Extending grace is a hallmark of those who have received grace.

The Kingdom of God – Christ’s primary preaching subject. The incoming Kingdom is one which encompasses the whole person. Christ ministered to the whole person, body and soul. God’s rule covers all of creation and so we, as members of his Kingdom follow our gracious King in bringing restoration to both body and soul.

Justice - If you have grasped the meaning of God’s grace in your heart, you will do justice. If you don’t live justly, then you may say with your lips that you are grateful for God’s grace, but in your heart you are far from him. If you don’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best you don’t understand the grace you have experienced, and at worst you have not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just. This is my own version of a quote from Generous Justice by Tim Keller. His words find their source in 1 John 3, where the Apostle John writes,

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

When you take in the powerful reasons why a church should engage in social action, it’s impossible not to be moved. It’s impossible not to act. So why all the fuss?

A distorted view of the human-being.

The body-soul division is false. I love Greek philosophy (especially Plato) but it has a lot to answer for. It’s essential that we understand that while human beings have souls, we are fundamentally a combination, a fusion if you like, of body and soul. We are integrated wholes. If we serve only the body, we preach a false gospel. If we preach only to the soul, hoping to save the soul to a spiritual heaven, we preach a falsehood. Jesus never did either of these things.

Jesus addressed the whole person. His actions called for a response of repentance and relationship with God. To those healed from leprosy, he said, ‘Go to the temple and make your offering.’ Once your body is healed, now express thanks (and relationship) through the sacrificial system (which of course would later be replaced post-Resurrection).

Historically, churches have tended to emphasize either body or soul. When I was growing up, it was the soul. The gospel was all about forgiveness of sins, being reconciled to God. Today, there are some churches who spend almost all their energy on serving the poor. Reconciliation with God, repentance and forgiveness are barely mentioned.

Neither of these approaches is right, because each omits an essential ingredient of what makes up a human being.

And that brings us to the thorniest question of all. Most churches today do not fall on either extreme end. They preach a gospel of God’s grace and they serve the disadvantaged. Yet, a tension exists. Remember Phil from my first blog post on social action? He was the teacher whose lifestyle and priorities severely limited his ability to take part in the social action projects in his church. He doesn’t object to them, but he feels left out.

And so he asks this question about social action projects:

Should social action projects always include a specific mention of Jesus?

That’s one of the questions I’ll address next time.

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