Benevolence Ministries in the Church – 2

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What do people really need?

In the previous post on Benevolence in the Church Rex mentioned a discussion about which is more important, saving people from sin vs. saving people from poverty. I have to agree with Rex in saying that it is not an either or. It is a both and. Jesus didn’t walk around only saying, “I forgive you and you and you.” He also healed, made clean, restored people back to their society and community by crossing ritual purity boundaries and bringing them back/restoring them. Jesus was concerned about whole people with a multiplicity of needs. It is not a platonic dualism of physical and spiritual. Jesus was concerned about the whole person. Because of that benevolence needs to be about assessing a variety of needs (physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological, etc) in order to reach the whole person. We shouldn’t throw money at a problem and hope it will go away on its own. We also shouldn’t try to save the poor without an added concern that their physical and emotional/psychological needs are addressed as well.

When people ask questions like, “Which would you choose to help the soul or poverty?” I cannot help but think that is the question of someone who wants an excuse to keep on being ambivalent toward the poor. That is a problem. When people lose their compassion to help the needy they no longer identify with the ministry and mission of Christ.

0 Responses

  1. Great topic again…

    One of the things that would help us retreive a more “kingdom” view is to retreive a biblical view of life. The biblical view of life is not simply breathing vs. not breathing or eternally saved vs. not eternally saved. A Biblical view of life is to be able to live life as God created life to be lived and this is a life that is free from the powers that enslaves people to sin, poverty, domestic abuse, drug & alcohol abuse, etc… Some will point out that some these ‘masters’ are sin, such as drug abuse which involves the act of sin). That is true but anyone that has ever worked with drug addicts know that there are more contributing factors to their addiction than just their own sinful choices.

    Additionally, if Christians would recover a biblical view of life then it would change what we mean by saying we are “Pro-life.” While we would continue to stand against abortion, we would also stand against poverty, domestic abuse, unjust violence (perhaps all war and violence, at leats that is where I stand), and the many other powers of this fallen world that rob people of the ability to live the life that God created them to live and is redeeming them in Jesus Christ to live — not just after the second coming of Jesus Christ but now as well.

    Great post, we need to talk about this in our churches more and more.

    Ithaca Church of Christ
    Ithaca, NY

  2. I agree with almost everything you said except the part about platonic dualism.

    I heartily agree that usually this question is posed in the sense of wanting to excuse a lack of generosity. In a sense, folks are saying, “‘The poor will always be among us,’ so who gives a flip about the poor.”

    Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, something has to have priority. What good would it be for a world to gain social justice, but we lose all the souls? I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to spend most of my time trying to make disciples. I’m not going to ignore social justice, especially as it relates to aiding in drawing in some of those would-be disciples. But I’m going to prioritize soul-saving. And I don’t see that as an egregious theological error based on platonic dualism, or whatever.

  3. Philip,

    I wholeheartedly agree with you and started to include something similar to that in this post but held off. If given an either or choice the choice is clear but we are not usually handed an either or choice. The problem is that many Christians have a “you got baptized and now you must be okay” mentality that is not healthy. What next? How do we help that person grow spiritually from baptism on? How can someone grow spiritually when they don’t even know how they are going to keep a roof over their head? Those are real concerns of real people. Yes the spiritual is more important but the physical has a high priority, not THE priority, but a high priority nonetheless.

    Good point.

  4. In Searcy, AR, I met a man who at the time was homeless and addicted to drugs and alchohol. Today he is a Christian, free from the addictions of drugs and alcohol, employed and living in a small apartment. In essence, he is experiencing the reign of God in his life. Did he have sins that he needed to be washed in the attoning blood of Jesus? Of course! But were the powers that enslaved him all due to his choice of sins? Absolutely not. He was a man that had been abused all his life by his parents and step-parents. As a young man, he had no friends except for a bottle of cheap whisky. Showing him the path to freedom from the powers that enslaved him meant addressing both his ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical’ needs. Had we done either one without the other and I am convinced he would still be enslaved by a power(s) that is not God.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that sin/fallenness is not just a ‘spiritual’ issue. It involves the spiritual realm is by that we mean addressing the sin choices that people are making (by teaching them about redemption and its call to repentance ). But addressing a person’s fallenness also mean addressing the many issues (powers) beyond their control that converge upon them in such a way that they choose sinful behaviors as a response to those powers.

    Does any of that make sense? I am working through all of this myself too. Has anyone read any of the work on powers by Walter Wink? I am currently reading his book “The Powers that Be” which is a summation of his trilogy on Spriitual Powers.

    Ithaca Church of Christ
    Ithaca, NY

  5. I’m right there with you, Rex. Ignore the physical, and it’s just as bad as if you were apathetic to the spiritual as well. But you’re making a similar argument to what I’m making in emphasizing the preeminence of the spiritual needs in making the argument about the need to tend to both.

    I haven’t read anything by Walter Wink himself, but I read a good Charles Campbell book, “The Word Before the Powers,” that referenced a lot of Wink’s stuff. I have a lot of Wink’s stuff on my wishlist. I love reading Campbell’s preaching books becase he sums up a lot of stuff for you — “Preaching Jesus,” which I’m currently reading, is an excellent summation of postliberal theology in how it relates to the practice of preaching. Anyway, I’m familiar with Wink’s perspective on reality (e.g. Eph. 6:12 representing spiritual realities that are fleshed out in entrapping people in everyday life “physical needs”).

    Still, I say that I’m more concerned about the soul than someone’s bodily comfort or equality in this present existence.

  6. I want to read Charles Campbell and his approach to preaching from a postliberal perspective. I heard him speak a couple years ago at the Rochester College Sermon Seminar — great speaker.

    I guess I do not want to separate the gospel and kingdom of God into into catagories of “spiritual” and “physical” even though such separation of terminology is common place in Christianity today. An issue that is tied to this is whether salvation is ‘forensic’ (legally justified from sin) or ‘effectual’ (being able to live the life I was created to live with God and one-another). I believe the later, which includes the forensic but is not limited to just forensic, is more consistent with the biblical witness. Thus as this relates to salvation… If I only address the sin problem, then I fail to help free the person from the many powers that work against a person which leads them to choose a sinful behavior. As a result, though the person is forgiven from sin they will most likely continue in their sinful paths rather than learning to live out the new life they were created and redeemed for. On the other hand, If I address the powers but fail to address their sin which has brought condemnation upon them, then they still remain under the condemnation.

    I don’t know if any of that makes sense, as I am still thinking through a lot of these issues myself. A book that might interest you is “One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification” by Veli-Natti Karkkainen who teaches historical theology at Fuller Seminary. In this book he traces how salvation has been understood through the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anabaptist/Free-Church traditions in relation to the biblical witness. It is a good read but not on a comfortable sofa, unless your goal is to actually take a nap :-).

    I enjoy this conversation.

    Grace and peace,


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