Instead of focusing a disproportionate amount (or all!) of our energy dickering over some of today’s hot button issues, such as the various ways of how to interpret Paul’s doctrine of justification, or who thinks what about hell, Christians should be focusing some serious energy on this. Poor people living in cities end up eating trash from gas station marts because there are no grocery chains around. This is not yuppie-hippie-foodie nonsense, this is an issue of how does God want people to live? In parts of New Orleans where my oldest son spent the summer in ministry, residents would need to take three consecutive busrides to secure groceries. Obviously they aren’t going to do that – how would you even get more than an armful home with you, not to mention keeping cold stuff cold? Christians, of all people, should be very concerned that people are stuck eating processed junk that lands you right into diabetes and anti-Shalom. This is a Kingdom issue, if you think the Kingdom is about more than escaping Earth before Armageddon. This is a matter of Christian conscience, and should be a part of the evangelical conscience. See this encouraging story about NYC. We need more of this:
I grew up in an era of evangelicalism suspicious of ‘the social gospel.’ We somehow felt this was not a real part of Jesus’ gig. Of course, personal conversion and allegiance to Jesus as Lord was what we were about. But how did we think ‘Jesus is Lord’ (which is what they said about Caesar!), could ever be limited to a private, individual sphere? What a truncated version of Lordship!
I was walking through a yardsale this summer and saw a stack of serious theology books. One was On Being a Christian by the magisterial Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung. Kung stands among the most respected theologians of the 20th century (well, except for Christians who don’t consider Catholics to be Christians).
Randomly opening the 700+ pager, my eyes landed on this:
‘All theological talk, all Christian programs, about a “new man,” a “new creation,” have no effect on society and in fact are often calculated only to perpetuate inhuman social conditions, as long as Christians today fail to struggle against unjust structures and so to make convincingly clear to the world what is this “new man,” this “new creation.” ‘ He then quotes D. Solle at length:
There are living quarters which systematically destroy the mother-child relationship; there are ways of organizing labor which define the relations between the strong and the weak in Darwinistic terms and thus leave… as useless for production… helpfulness, sympathy or fairness – to atrophy. (Solle goes on to argue that living conditions should be made fit for human beings and co-operative forms of organization established, so that conditions match the offer of a different life – rather than an ‘offer’ with no change to the social conditions immediately affecting people).
Christians today must, Kung insists, ‘take seriously the political implications of the Christian message. ….Under no circumstances can it disregard society and the world.’ Christian theology and Christian ethics must be re-united, he says. ‘Christian faith and Christian action cannot be separated either in the individual or in the social sphere.’ The vocal part of evangelicalism would translate this into outlawing abortion and gay marriage and enforcing Christian morality by law, while allowing the world’s economic and military empires and systems to grind on un-critiqued. Kung reflects the robust, broader scope of social action historic Roman Catholicism believes the Gospel calls us to.
Ok, I’ve been out most all week deer hunting in my spare time, so finally here it is:
(names are changed)
Rhoda is a single mom struggling to make ends meet. Her brother and sister in law used to worry about her involvement in New Age spirituality or Wicca. She became a Christian at our church around 5 years ago. Almost immediately she became a Super Inviter, drawing all kinds of people in.
Jimmy and Fire arrived in our town about a year ago with their 3 children, the clothes on their back and five dollars. They put their kids up at Fire’s mom’s place since they had no way to take care of them; they had no home, no jobs, no food. They had smashed their life against the rocks of addiction in Florida. Rhoda had known Fire in school, so this single mom with two kids of her own struggling to make ends meet said to Jimmy and Fire “move in with me until you can get life together.” Rhoda put out word and people at our church started gathering things this family of 5 would need.
Rhoda invited Jimmy and Fire to church. They decided this was a point in life to make a change. Within a very short time they had tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and turned their lives over to Him. Prayer and a new life of faith became the norm for them. Their repentance (metanoia – about face) was the real deal. They both got jobs, started living responsibly and got their kids back. They got an apartment. Rhoda put out word and the people of our church outfitted the place from top to bottom with what a family of five needs to live. We’re talking furniture, kitchen gear, bedclothes, you name it. Our congregation showed them love. A family in our church gave them a minivan. (Keep in mind the people in my church are not rich! Many, if not most, of them would qualify for government assistance). All this happened without anyone asking me. The pastor was not the one who orchestrated all this.
Jimmy and Fire are at Sunday morning small group, Wednesday nights and Sunday worship. They are engaged in learning and growing. They’ve made relationships with other couples and brought people to church. They renewed their lease recently for the first time in their married life. “That felt good,” Jimmy told me. They’ve received their one year sobriety coins. They help other people. They ask me for ways to give back to the church. They are both enrolled in college on-line. When I told Jimmy I happened to have a battery for his van, his reply was “Thanks man, but let me be a man and get my family our own battery.”
God is very clearly doing wonderful things in Jimmy and Fire’s lives. Rhoda was a gift of God to them, gave them a base to get their feet under them. As part of that, I can’t help but think that our church reaching into their lives tangibly beyond Sunday worship had something to do with their incredible turn around. I know we hesitate to prescribe things all churches should do, however I believe this is exactly the kind of thing churches should be doing.