Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Did Jesus Come to Earth and What Is the Purpose of the Church? (When Helping Hurts Part II)

*** Once again I'm joining Shanda and a group of others at This Grace In Which I Stand in blogging through the book When Helping Hurts

Well, I am starting this about two minutes before midnight on Sunday, so I'm on time, right? And I write with my bedside table covered in crumpled Kleenexes, the result of a Sunday spent battling a cold. Soooo... we'll see how functional my brain actually is.

So - Corbett and Fikkert took the first chapter to get all theological. To be honest, , it's hard to be


That's as far as I got before I decided I was exhausted and needed sleep. So... trying again. Must warn you that I am sick as a dog and not going to read over this before posting. :)

Like I said, Corbett and Fikkert used this chapter to set a theological basis for the centrality of caring the poor. I disagreed with them at several points. That's mostly because they centered it all around two questions - why Jesus came to earth and what the mission of the church is in light of why Jesus came. And see... I read this massive book by Christopher Wright called The Mission of God, and it asks and seems through scripture for the answer to those exact questions. You can read my review of that book here, but in any case, it's sort of reoriented the way I think about those questions. So, I was sort of unsatisfied that they used Jesus' response to John the Baptist in which he in a round-about way reaffirms that he is the Messiah. This passage is great, because Jesus is reflecting back on Messianic passages in the OT, as well as pointing out to John that what he is doing is not political. However, I think the passage shows more of what Jesus is doing and why it points to His identity as messiah rather than really identifying why Jesus came to earth.

Why did Jesus come to earth?
I'd say... Matt. 18: 11
"The Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost."
Matt 20: 28
"The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
John 12:46
"I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness."

It seems like Fikkert and Corbett are trying to drive home that Jesus was not just about souls to the exclusion of the body. They're identifying the traditional tension between evangelism and social ministries and trying to say that social ministries matter.

And... they do! But the thing is, I think Jesus came to save sinners and reconcile the world to Himself. That was His purpose, and thus it is the purpose of the Church and the purpose of every believer in the Church - to call all men to Christ.

That is NOT to the exclusion of taking care of the body, caring the the poor, taking on injustice. Those things are a natural outflowing of loving people like Jesus does. That's the crux of it, I think. When we act as though injustice and poverty doesn't matter, something is wrong with our hearts, because a true love of God will transform our lives and our churches enough that we will be transformed and will be transforming our communities and the world.Justice and helping the poor are a natural outflowing of the gospel and Jesus in us. However, it is the outflowing... not the gospel itself.

Someone I know that went to the Lausanne Conference told me that one of the highlights for him was hearing John Piper talk about how God cares about the suffering of man, and that includes the eternal suffering of his soul, for which the gospel of Christ is the solution, and the temporal suffering of poverty, sickness, and injustice, which the church is the solution for. For us believers that take on the love of Christ, we are to care about the suffering of those around us.... both kinds of suffering. Not caring about either kind of suffering is a heart problem on our part. See John Piper here:

I just think it's really important that we don't play down the importance of Christ's central purpose for coming to earth, and our purpose because of it.... Honestly, I think caring for the poor is a much easier thing for our generation to do than sharing our faith. We see issues of justice as our responsibility, but sharing our faith makes us feel guilty, like we're infringing on others. For me, it is a much harder thing to keep central.

Like I said above, I think the purpose of the church is to participate with Christ in drawing all men back into relationship with God. Our love for those around us drives us to care for suffering as we live out this mission. That's why, throughout history, true believers have often been those in society that are caring for the "least of these", just as Christ commanded. That's why the "Christian" Ku Klux Klan and Rwandan believers were clearly missing some part of a full-orbed faith, and man, how sobering is the depth of our depravity? My pastor said the same thing to Kenyan pastors the year after the ethnic riots there.

Did I know before reading that one of the reasons Israel was sent into captivity was her failure to care for the poor? Again, I'd say this is missing the point. Israel's neglect for the poor was a symptom of their greater problem - they'd fallen away from their God. Their rituals were empty rituals instead of worship from the heart. The central brokenness was their missing relationship with God. With that restored, care for the poor would flow forth naturally.

To defend their point that Israel's sin was neglect for the poor, that authors quote Isaiah 1 and 58, but Isaiah 1 opens up with the central problem:
 "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.... they have forsaken the Lord, they have spurned the Holy One of Israel, and turned their back on him."

What about my church? Do they display the mission of God's people explicitly and implicitly? When the poor look at my church, do they see the embodiment of Jesus and His comprehensive healing? 
Ahh.. great question.

I have been so so challenged by the heart of the leadership at my church, and how they openly share their faith. I find that I have been ashamed and listened to the excuse that surely everyone around me has already heard the gospel and doesn't want to talk to another crazy Christian. The amount of people that I've met who decided to follow Christ in the last few years after being befriended by someone in our church really humbles me. It's explicit and implicit, really. The question about how the poor see my church is interesting, because when I first stepping into the church I was so intimidated. Beautiful, made-up people, nice clothes, mostly white. Is that attractive to the poor? But you know, I see increasing diversity in our congregation as people come to faith over the years, and often they come because of the "comprehensive" nature of healing offered. There's divorce care, a marriage ministry, a recovery ministry (for any type of addiction)... and so many people start at these ministries because they are broken, and end up at our church. The church actually requires people to be in some form of service in order to be a member. Of course, people are to greater and lesser extents actually plugged into service appropriate to their gifting, but there is great passion and ministries formed for the homeless, poor, those in prison, for orphans, for poverty in Africa.... just take your pick about what you want to actually get involved in.

Some of those things are currently hip to be into, but I also see the attempt to address comprehensive suffering in the small groups of the church. In small groups we've found the brokenness in each other in pain and sin, and we walk together towards healing. Turns out it's hard. I think it's unusual to even get that far together! 

**** Final note. I'm sort of critical here. Thing is, I am absolutely for helping the poor and broken. I believe it is central to the Christian life. However, I think if we make it our purpose, we may lose all motivation in the end because we've lost sight of the centrality of the gospel of Christ, out of which flows the love for all men and passion for healing the suffering.

1 comment:

Matt Shedd said...

Just a thought, but maybe the reason we sometimes ignore the body is because we believe Jesus death was only about saving our soul. In truth, resurrection means bodily resurrection. Our bodies, our souls, our minds, are all saved through the cross from the power of the grave.

Perhaps all we are doing when we serve and help and meet needs is usher in the Kingdom that Christ began Easter Sunday and that will continue to grow forth until his final appearing.