Why Is The Church In The World?
Mr. Lewis S. Mudge, Jr., chairman of the “Committee on Theological Study of the Bases for the Church’s Action in the World,” wrote a book entitled, “Why is the Church in the World?” It was published by the Board of Christian Education of the United Presbyterian Church, USA. It is an excellent appraisal of the role most modern religious organizations are playing in our world today. He described his study as,
“... not ... to develop the Christian ideas of the individual’s need for forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ. This was not the task set for it. Rather, it was charged with thinking through the meaning of involvement of Christians in the world. We must never forget that the good news is for the whole man: his physical health, his spiritual needs, and the part he and other believers play in human society. The fact that some Christians seek to work out their faith on the political and social frontiers does not for a moment mean that the life of the traditional worshiping congregation is invalid. Nor need the continuing life of the parish undermine the credibility of what some activist Christians are trying to do. On the contrary, recent experience suggests that both traditional parish life and activist political involvement could profit from mutual understanding and support as complementary Christian vocations.” (Pages 83-84).
The quotation from Mr. Mudge reflects the thinking of most modern religious institutions who focus a large portion of their interests on the socio-political life of man. They are not altogether void of concern for the spiritual side of man, yet with the differences that prevail so prominently in modern religions, a common bond is found in making man more comfortable, better educated, and in general, more prosperous here on this earth. It is a gospel of social and political orientation more than a gospel of pure salvation from sin. What do you think of this? I will investigate this question in this installment of our series of studying the church Jesus said He would build.
Why did Jesus build His church? Why put in here on earth? Did Jesus give it a specific and unique task to perform? These questions have been part of an on-going debate for centuries. The clear line of difference stands between those who advocate a mission of Christ’s church as concerned with the “whole man” and those who see only a spiritual mission for the church. The quotation from the Presbyterian publication is quite clear. If Christ did commission His church to be active in the betterment of the whole man, then certainly man’s health, wealth, contentment, happiness, and political status should be included in all activities of the church. On the other hand, if Christ was concerned exclusively with the spiritual salvation of man, education, politics, physical wellness, and entertainment are no part of what Christ expects His church to be involved in.
If Christ’s church is to be a socio-political organism in this world to better living conditions on planet earth, there is ample evidence that many are doing, at best, just a second class job of it. Those who provide everything from sandwiches to sermons, gymnastics to imagined gifts of healing, demonstrations to divinations, and the like are running a close second to just about any purely humanistic organization in existence. What religious group can successfully compete with the Red Cross, the Heart Fund, the United Way, the A.C.L.U, or the other purely humanly devised and operated institutions? Even when churches seek to provide entertainment for those of the world, in whom they are interested, how does the ecclesiastical entertainment fare when pitted next to rock and roll concerts, television, or sporting events? It may be time for religion as a whole to re-assess its involvement in worldly and purely humanistic endeavors.
The focus of the modern church is on “this world.” Please note what a prominent Catholic author stated.
“We must desire for all men what we desire for ourselves: civil rights, health, adequate education, development, civilization, and culture. Over half the world is deprived of some major need. Yet our American contribution to the economies of backward and starving nations is one-half of one percent -- less than what we spend annually on cigarettes and chewing gum.
“Vatican Council II speaks plainly of the scandal of so-called Christians who are unconcerned with the poor and deprived of the world: ‘Some nations with a majority of citizens who are counted as Christians have an abundance of this world’s goods, while others are deprived of the necessities of life and are tormented with hunger, disease, and every kind of misery. This situation must not be allowed to continue, to the scandal of humanity. For the spirit of poverty and of charity is the glory and authentication of the Church of Christ’.” The Church in the Modern World, no. 88).” (Ibid. page 428). Wilhelm, Anthony, Christ Among Us, Christ’s Church in the World Today, Paulist Press, New York, 1981, page 427).
All of this brings us back to Jesus and His church. To what intent did He put His church on earth? The answer can be found in both a positive and negative manner. First, let’s consider the negative. The absence in the New Testament of any of the varied activities in which Christians were participants in social and political activities argues that someone has missed the point in today’s religious scene. No hospitals, orphanages, retirement facilities, shelters for abused women, unwanted pregnancies, drug addicts, or the like are in evidence. Nor does one find any of the leaders of Christ’s church either involved directly or indirectly in any kind of political or social protest movement. There is simply nothing in the New Testament indicating that the church Jesus built engaged in that. Nor is there any indication that the church was set up to entertain society in general, and Christians in particular. The negative side shows the lack of evidence that the primary focus of modern day religion was of any concern at all to the early church.
Positively, the primary focus of the church Jesus built was the salvation of the human race, not from poverty, disease, or political errors, but from sin. Sin was the opponent of the church Jesus called His own. The world into which Jesus placed His church was one of corruption, dissipation, and degeneracy. The government of Rome wins, hands down, in being historically the worst violator of human rights. There was the worst form of abuse of one’s civil rights called “Slavery.” Human were looked upon as chattel property, bought and sold, as mere live stock. Yet not once, did any of the inspired writers deal directly with the injustice of slavery, or any other form of human misery. They dealt the very core of the problem -- enslavement to sin. To free man from sin, the church Jesus built, pressed itself to the limit. The one weapon in their arsenal was the gospel of Christ.
Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed the righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). Whatever power is required to make the world better, in God’s definition of “better,” is achieved only through the gospel of Christ. This cannot be some watered down, modified, or modernistic gospel -- it is the gospel Paul preached. The social gospel is a concentration on making this world a better world in which to live. The gospel of Christ is a concentration on making those who now live in this world fit to live in the world that is to come. The only way that is accomplished is through salvation from sin.
Paul added, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-6). With such weapons a war is not waged against poverty, hunger, ignorance, and what may be deemed as a wrong political affiliation. Spiritual weapons are weapons used against spiritual powers which war against the soul. The gospel of Christ is a weapon which is designed to be wielded against the citadels of sin. Conquering the sin problem is the first order of business for the Lord’s church. Man’s better living conditions on earth are by products of a his right relationship to God.
Jesus had the perfect opportunity to practice the social gospel view of personal rights and justice. A young man came to him and demanded, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). A young man’s claimed his legal and financial rights were being violated. Jesus was called on to settle the matter. His reply probably astounded the young man, and it will likely astound many today, for He refused to get involved. He said, “Man, who made me a divider over you?” (verse 14). As if to underscore this, He added, “Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (verse 15). According to our Master, a man may have his legal and civil rights awarded to him, but be lost eternally. Those who think of this world as our final and permanent home, no doubt, would differ with Christ, but those who believe in Him, and seek to follow Him faithfully, realize just how true His words are. And, as He refused to become involved in the affairs of this life, so should the church He called His own.
The church of Christ is not of human origin, nor is it set up to accomplish purely human objectives. It is a spiritual body, ruled over by a spiritual head, governed by a spiritual law (the gospel of Christ), and is engaged in the great spiritual mission of saving the lost through the continued spread of divine truth. Churches that turn aside from the saving gospel to the social gospel pervert the truth, render themselves ineffective against sin, and leave the wrong impression on the unsaved as to just exactly what Jesus had in mind when He put His church here on this planet. Hopefully, these remarks will help each one of us to appreciate the truly spiritual mission and position of Christ’s church. It is not an entertainment society, a place for hand-outs, or a religious-political institution. It is truly the spiritual body of Christ that has one mission and one alone -- the salvation of men and women from sin.
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