Christians & Community Service, from The White Horse Inn

February 7th, 2009

There was some great stuff in this week’s episode of one of my radio shows—The White Horse Inn—concerning Christians, local church programs, and community service.  I’ll start with the quote, add some comments, and then mention a bit about the show itself, for anyone who’s interested.

You can listen, or read my transcription.  The quote is from  The Foolishness of God, starting at timestamp ~25:30.  (Note: If you’re reading this entry from The Future, it might be a broken link.)  In context, they’re talking about the church itself doing outreach programs in the community.  Should that be the mission of the local church?  (I’ve added some bold to the key portions.)

Ken Jones: “I’ve mentioned this before, but I have people that will ask me, because of where my church is located [in the inner city], ‘What kind of programs do you have in your church?’ [...] A few years ago, when they were having mayoral elections in the city of Compton, and again the question would come up, ‘What is your church doing?’  And I happened to notice that we had, I think, four block club presidents in our church, [...] and the person that was the moderator for the mayoral debates was a member of our church.  None of these things were done as programs or outreach from the church, but it was individuals who were members of our congregation, making the contribution to the city of Compton, as residents of the city of Compton, not as representatives of Greater Union Baptist Church.

[...]

Mike Horton: “And don’t you think, to put the best construction on it, that a lot of people when they’re doing this, they’re not saying, ‘I want our church to get the credit for this, I want it to be on the news that we did some great thing,’ but rather, ‘When a cup of cold water is being offered, I want it to be offered in the name of the Gospel.’  And in actual fact that motive is perfectly understandable, and the Church does have a diaconal, charitable role to play, but that really we should be telling people, ‘Look–certainly do that in your neighborhood, offer a cold cup of water in the name of Christ, certainly care for your brothers and sisters who are suffering in the body of Christ. But be concerned about people out there who are not just a mission field to you, but who deserve your neighborliness, your love and your friendship, just because they are bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh.  They are fellow human beings, God made them in His image.  And you can work side-by-side in the Peace Corp or in Red Cross, you don’t need to start your own evangelical world relief organization.  There are plenty of them out there already where you’re not raising money again to duplicate another bureacracy.  Go be a part of those things, and you’ll be working side-by-side with non-Christians in those volunteer organizations in a way that not only gives you an opportunity to do good to the people you’re serving, but also to explain to your non-Christian co-workers why you’re doing what you’re doing.’

Things I love about this episode:

  1. They express evangelical concerns about “social gospel“–concern that our works of service will end up replacing the gospel instead of adorning the gospel.
  2. They express the idea that proclaiming the Gospel is the primary mission of the Church.
  3. But they avoid the pendulum swing.  They don’t jettison community service.  On the contrary.
  4. They manage to challenge the evangelical tendency to serve & “love” people because we see them as a mission field.  “No, love these people because they deserve it as fellow human beings.”
  5. The message is, Get out there and be involved!

There’s more to be said–for instance, I doubt that “evangelical world relief organizations” are necessarily bad! But in general, these thoughts seem to be an important part of a mature approach.

The White Horse Inn ”is a nationally syndicated radio talk show hosted by Michael Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, Kim Riddlebarger and Ken Jones. On the air since 1990, the show features a regular roundtable discussion of Christian theology and apologetics.”  (About the hosts.)  The theme of the show in 2008 was “Christless Christianity”.  The theme of 2009 is “Christ in a Post-Christian Culture”.  They also publish a bi-weekly magazine called Modern Reformation.

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2 Responses to “Christians & Community Service, from The White Horse Inn”

  1. mark says:

    great stuff, but i do take ONE exception…i am FINE with us loving people (i feel no need to put quotes around it for example) because God has called us to bring the gospel to them. as we ask God for a heart for the lost, i think He meets us there and gives us that heart….i have always been confused by quotes like (not from your blog): “we should just love people without an agenda” as if that is somehow a more noble thing…if it is an “agenda” for people to know Jesus…then i have it unashamedly and i will tell them too! why should i be ashamed of this? to use the old example….if i had the cure to AIDS and didn’t have an “agenda” to get it to everyone with AIDS, i would be an a-hole, not some noble person for “loving them without an agenda.” i just don’t understand this postmodern instinct to just “do random acts of kindness” as if that is somehow more godly……..

    not at all sure if that’s what you were suggesting with that one line you had, but i did want to challenge it!

    ps i totally loved your blog post otherwise!

  2. Tim says:

    Mark,

    Thanks for commenting. I think we agree.

    I agree that if you’re not interested in sharing the gospel with someone, that’s an odd kind of “love”. (If you believe the gospel is necessary, how can you not be interested in your friend’s fate.) In every relationship, we ought to have the “agenda” of sharing the gospel with them. On the flip side, our relationships ought to be more than “I can’t wait for the chance to evangelize this person.”

    In other words, we should have the desire to share the gospel with them, but that shouldn’t be an ulterior motive for having the relationship!

    Our interest in sharing the gospel can be motivated not by love, but by the desire to fill our “good evangelical Christian activities” checklist. We can pursue friendships only for the sake of getting a chance to share the gospel, after which we’ll drop our interest in the person. (And people aren’t stupid. They can often tell.

    When we give someone a cup of water, it should be in the name of Christ. But we shouldn’t forget the intrinsic goodness & love & Christ-likeness & glory of “random acts of kindness”, apart from any connection with the gospel. (It’s part of the character of God, and would have been important even if the Fall had never happened. And kindness & love will continue into eternity, long after the resurrection when we will no longer be sharing the gospel.) So our motivation for neighborliness & service should include the simple awareness, “This person is a fellow human being, made in the image of God. Serving them matters.”

    If the Gospel is absent from our motivation, it’s a hollow form of service. But part of the spirit & mind of Christ will include appreciation of the act’s intrinsic goodness. There’s something missing, if we don’t serve for love’s own sake.

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