The church is not merely a nonprofit social service agency, but exists out of the charge of the Lord to make Him disciples. The goal of our service is to demonstrate as ambassadors of Christ, His love and discipline. A church that does social service without the offer of Christ is hollowed out because without Christ, the hungry will stay as such, the sick are not healed, and so on. I think the error here is that very idea of the church without Christ, wherein it is believed that we work of ourselves for our own will. But that latter church is not truly. I feed you when you are hungry, but I am obligated to at least offer you the One by whom I am fed, who allows me the resources to feed you, and who in the same love can move you from being hungry to feeding others as He did me. The cruelest, most heartless ministry on earth in scripture is a ministry that denies the gift of grace that is Christ. Sadly so many churches present today as either filled of Christ and bereft of any works for His needy sheep or the type suggested here, where there are many ministries but a neglect of the role of the author and finisher of the faith. The Sermon on the Mount was a feeding, but also an invitation. Similarly Paul chastised the early christians who came to the Lord’s Supper to satisfy their daily hunger, rather than the higher ritual of cleansing themselves through the full oblation of sins He offers.
We certainly must serve but we serve by, through, and for the One whom we serve.
Our purpose as a church must be first. In the book of revelation God warns us about two great sins of the church..one is the forgetting of the first love which is Christ. The second is the first works which is the work of making disciples. Those that do not meet that test are destroyed. My concern is that one who comes to the church in need have those needs met, but not in the manner in which it is addressed in the world. We believe, as we should, in administering treatment and succor but we cannot omit Christ who can heal.
I truly believe we can and must serve non-Christians, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are seeking their salvation. Scripture speaks of the man who gains the world and loses his soul. I feed all who come hungry, but I know in their infliction that their portion is missing the fullness that is Christ. My concern is that we give a man the fish, but not forget the necessity of telling them how to fish, that is, to live a new life of plenty in Christ.
Christ’s healing, feeding and compassion was to exhort those who encountered it to Him and to His father. In my opinion, we reduce kingdom level perspective errantly to earthly level when we reduce His ministry to the material works without the explication of the spiritual works that give them import.
I have no quarrel about those who speak of works because without them, faith is dead. But my point is that the physically hungred, extended love and knowledge of the unearned gift of grace in Christ are not denied heaven, as much as the world and even a wayward church cruelly may deny them sustenance and compassion. But were they all fed to point of excess by society or the church and denied the gospel, there would be but fattened corpses in hell. The deception is that we are asked to rank faith against works when both are required by Christ’ instruction. We must feed the body, but we must also feed the soul. Failing in either responsibility gives no glory to He who commissions us.
The role of service for and in the church is simply different than good work in the world and for a different purpose. The church is in the world but not of it, so I’m careful not to bring worldly judgment into the equation. I certainly have done service outside of the religious context, but I don’t equate that with my work in the church. I don’t believe that just stating “you need Christ” is sufficient, but for a believer it IS necessary. As Christians we believe that it is not sufficient to just do good or be good in the eyes of the world and one cannot truly impart the gospel in actions without faith in the gospel in heart and mind. We also believe that by only one name is man saved and that only through the Son can one see the Father. We love and serve all of God’s children, but we do so AS Christians and not merely as people who do good.
We really cannot forsake the Great Commission. If we do, we strip purpose from the Church and all we do in the world in the absence of Christ is for naught. Only that which is for Christ is enduring.
I want to be sure that we do not in our interest to be acceptable to the world, start discarding or marginalizing the obligations of our discipleship. Doing that has given us the church today which has lost so much of its power and which looks more like the world than like Christ. There is a new age movement that seeks to present a Christianity without Christ..a salvation and blessings..all for “free.” I just want to beat that back.