Opinions on faith and life

All Or Nothing

2011-03-25

One of the more prominent controversies in Christian history has been what is termed “the social gospel”. This view holds that to spread the gospel we need not use any words, or voice any opinions one way or another, but only “do good deeds”. Certainly Christians should do good deeds, but that is not spreading the gospel since all religions and philosophies can do the same. Mother Theresa is a prime example of one who is cited as spreading the gospel without words but only with self-sacrificial medical care. Some would even say that Ghandi, who did not purport to be a Christian at all, will be in heaven due to his non-violent stance and work for “peace”.

But there are some Christians who believe the opposite: that the only thing Christians are to do in this world is to spread the gospel. No working for justice under the law (such as trying to abolish slavery), no standing up for our legal rights (though the apostle Paul kept his Roman citizenship and used it to demand justice on several occasions), no complaining when a government or organization mocks and trashes the Name by which we are saved while forbidding other so-called gods to be even mildly criticized, no making friends with unbelievers (but see 1 Cor. 5). It’s all words and no actions.

Both extremes are a bad witness. For the first, the lost will not know who Jesus is, what He did, why He died, or that He rose again. For the second, the lost will see our words as empty platitudes because we are less helpful than many atheists and turn a deaf ear to the cries of the oppressed. As I’ve written many times before, there is a balance to be achieved; we begin with the heart and mind and the actions will follow. Just as God is both merciful and just, so also we must be witnesses in word and deed. Of course there are times and situations in which we are unable to do one or the other, but we are to always keep alert for opportunities for both. The Christian faith is a life, not simply a belief, and one to be patterned after the examples of Jesus and His followers in the NT.

God spoke to mankind in many ways in the past (Heb. 1:1-2), but when He “spoke” to us through Jesus, He did something. There are also the many miracles God did in dealing with the nation of Israel as well as saying many words. Jesus healed people but also stood up for them and condemned the corrupt rulers who oppressed them. Yet during His mock trial He remained silent at several points, then performed an action that spoke louder than words ever could in allowing Himself to be crucified. Words and deeds are two sides of the same coin, two inseperable principles that together are much more than the sum of their parts.

Christians should be the most prominent advocates of justice the world has ever seen, but also the most vocal about what sets us apart from any other group of advocates. Our “light” is not to be “hidden under a bowl” (Mt. 5:15, Luke 8:16) and we are to be the very hands of God in the world (Eph. 4:28). To neglect either the verbal gospel or the actions that should flow from it is to be half-Christian, a dim light or a crippled limb. Did God not speak to us? And did God not also perform actions to match the words? If we claim to follow Jesus we cannot ignore this example. Don’t let people intimidate you into either silence or self-confinement.