Spirit-ectomy

One of things I struggle with is our tenancy to separate the spiritual from the social. You know, the idea that we shouldn’t get caught up in social issues because we’re working to see people’s soul’s saved. I’ve heard this type of thing a lot. The other day I read a blog post that said:

“To feed the poor without telling them of Christ is wrong…now all you’re doing is sending them to hell with a full belly.”

This blogger was saying that it is a distraction from the “main thing” (evangelism?) for us to concern ourselves with feeding the hungry, or advocating the oppressed. I’ve also heard people say, “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to share the gospel.” (I’ve written about that in previous posts.) To a certain extent, the current strategy of the IMB reflects this “one or the other” mentality. “New Directions” was all about a shift in focus to church planting, but in many places we pulled out of social ministries such as schools, medical clinics, refugee services, and orphanages. My concern is that by separating the spiritual from the social, we are changing the gospel. We say we are concerned about people, but practically, we’re only concerned about, well, part of people.

The good news is not only spiritual in nature; it is social. New life in Christ is about community. Before Christ, we are out of fellowship with the Most High God. Jesus is the way to community with God. But this isn’t all there is to it. The gospel is also about community with others. In Christ we are brought into fellowship with other believers. Also, life in Him provides us with Christ’s perspective, through which we can begin to have a right relationship with the world around us.

Our focus on the “spiritual” might be why Christians struggle socially. We have a hard time relating to lost people. We are pretty ignorant about other cultures, and anything that doesn’t directly affect us. Our divorce rate is high. Lots of us fear the world and hide from it inside the walls of the “safe” “Christian” subculture. We treat people who disagree with us pretty badly. Spiritually, we’re great. Socially, it hardly looks like we’re saved. Maybe we’ve only heard the spiritual half of the gospel.

For some reason, people are afraid that I might give “a cup of cool water” to someone in need without telling them that I’m doing it in Jesus name. To me, that’s the same as sharing the “plan of salvation” and not addressing physical/social needs. It only presents a part of the gospel. Many of my missionary friends would probably say, “Yeah, but it’s the most important part of the gospel.” But I don’t think we get to make that distinction, either.

7 thoughts on “Spirit-ectomy

  1. I got crucified on McCoy’s baptist blog for suggesting something of the sort. Actually, I was crucified for suggesting we need fewer American missionaries and more support for locals, but in that was the suggestion that promoting a “get-em-saved” missiology is a half-gospel at best.

    Good to know there are people still “on the inside” who are thinking. Keep up the promotion of the whole Gospel.

  2. nolonger,
    Yeah, I read through some of that exchange. It seems like whenever we have any sort of discussion, everybody is quick to assume they know what you’re saying without, you know, actually listening to what you’re saying. I think you ran into some of that over there.

    Along those same lines, one of the big debates here has to do with working with nationals. I’ve written a lot about it, but the conversation usually goes like this:
    “I think we need to work with local believers…”
    “What? And get bogged down in pastoring? We’re supposed to be church planters!”

    It’s like there’s no middle ground. Which makes it hard to have any meaningful conversation, doesn’t it?
    Thanks for your comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything else I’ve written.

  3. Stepchild:

    Your comments on separating spiritual from social are right on. I appreciate what you’re doing with this blog. I have a heart for Western Europe having spent three years working in Norway fifteen years ago. I get frustrated with the attitude that if it’s not in the 10-40 window it’s not worth doing. I think the issues you are struggling with about ministry in Western Europe need to be dealt with here in the U.S. as well. Many of us are starting to come outside the walls of our churches and taking note about what’s going on in the world around us while we are busy “doing church” inside our walls.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Bill,
    Thanks for your kind words. I find them especially encouraging because you spent time in Western Europe.

    I also think you’re right about a stateside application for all of this, and I’m glad to hear that folks there are asking some of the same questions.
    Thanks again.

  5. Stepchild:

    If you’d like to compare more detailed notes regarding ministry/missions in post-Christian Europe vs. post-Christian USA shoot me a note at the email address in my profile. I’m working some of these issues as part of the vision process at our church.

  6. On our side of the ocean (South America) my experience as a missionary is that we do not focus much on the social aspects of ministry as part of our strategy.

    What we do is teach the newly planted churches to be socially minded. They are the ones who are going out in Jesus name giving cups of cold water. I can’t think of any of the house churches that aren’t heavily involved in the social needs of their communities. They themselves come up with projects for helping those worse off than themselves. They have a love for people that puts me to shame. As a M I might have access to more money, but I can’t come close to their love in serving their neighbors.

  7. Greetings! I just wanted to drop a note and say that I have just found your site. I’m not really sure why it took me so long long. Anyway, great thoughts…keep posting!

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