Listen carefully in reformed churches, and you will hear the fear that goes something like the following. If the church becomes involved too deeply in social issues or mercy ministry, the gospel will be lost.
Certainly the last century has shown that mainline churches became derailed as influences such as liberal theology, the social gospel, liberation theology, and feminism sent them careening off course. Yet the answer is not for the church to retreat from social matters and set themselves up as theological fortresses that remain unmoved by the affliction around them. As James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (Jam. 2:14) Rather, based on a robust gospel foundation, people in congregations must be encouraged and trained to give their neighbors not only the gospel but their own lives and resources as well.
Amy Carmichael was the oldest of seven children, born in 1867 to a wealthy Presbyterian family in Ireland. As a young woman, she heard missionary Hudson Taylor give a call to missions. She responded and was commissioned by the Church of England to do mission work in India at the beginning of the twentieth century. As she worked with evangelists in India, she began to see the terrible mistreatment of young girls. Families with girls, viewing them as a financial drain and of less value to them than boys, would commit female infanticide or sell them as slaves to be used for temple prostitution.
Thus, near a village in southern India, Amy established a ministry called Dohnavur Fellowship. Dohnavur offered shelter to these girls (later to boys as well). Amy labored for over half a century there, establishing the orphanage, school, and medical center that remains to this day. She did suffer persecution from the native Hindus, yet some of her greatest difficulties came from fellow missionaries. They told her that building orphanages and schools was a worldly pursuit, one that kept her from the more important task of saving souls. To this Amy responded in this fashion: “Souls are more or less firmly attached to bodies.”
Yes, souls are more or less firmly attached to bodies. If you are to reach the former, you must often minister to the latter.
One simple way to encourage congregations in this area is remind them of the personal duty they have as Christians to give personally of their own resources to meet a need nearby. Proverbs 22:9 says, “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” This is a simple yet profound statement that many in our age, in their attempt to help the poor, stumble over. We are not told here to be generous with other peoples’ wealth. Neither are we told to send the poor away to some agency to be assisted. No, wisdom says that we are to share our own food with those in need.
We live in a day when it seems that everything has to be done by a professional or a program. Quiet works of personal kindness such as visiting the ill, inviting the stranger in, or feeding the hungry at our own table seem old-fashioned. Yet Charles Spurgeon said, “God’s intent in endowing any person with more than he needs is that he may have the pleasurable office, or rather the delightful privilege, of relieving want and woe. Alas, how many there are that consider the store which God has put into their hands on purpose for the poor and needy, to be only so much provision for their excessive luxury, a luxury which pampers them but yields them neither benefit nor pleasure.” When we fail to use our excess to bless others on a personal level, we miss this delightful privilege.
In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus said to a man who had invited him to a dinner party, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Just think what it would do to the community of your church If the people in your congregation opened their homes to strangers and the downtrodden. But there’s more to this command than simply the impact it would have.
For remember this. One day you will attend a feast hosted by Christ Himself, known in the Bible as the wedding feast of the Lamb. When you and I sit there that day, with perfected bodies more or less attached firmly to perfected souls, we will know in a new, profound way that Jesus invited us as poor, crippled, and blind sinners through His mercy into the blessed glories of heaven itself. The personal gospel mercy Christ is urging us to show to those around us now is simply a recognition of that same personal gospel mercy He has shown and will forever show to us.
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