Last month (June 19-20, 2012), I submitted a resolution in New Orleans at the Southern Baptist Convention affirming human needs ministry. I initially called it "holistic" ministry, meaning that true gospel ministry addressed the whole person - spirit, soul, and body, as well as social, economic, and political structures. Part of my thinking here is that can be easy for Southern Baptists to focus only on preaching the Word and to neglect the whole person and society. Or, it can be easy to just focus on helping people and never get around to actually proclaiming the gospel. A true gospel witness entails both word and deed and the two should not be separated. God created us as whole people and He placed us in society with other whole people. The Fall affected not just man's spiritual relationship with God, but all relationships with all people. The Gospel addresses everything. I am encouraged that Southern Baptists see this, as reflected in our disaster relief work and in the North American Mission Board's LoveLoud initiative,# but I am praying for more of this perspective from the local church and am encouraged that we are seeing just that.
Here is the text of what was finally approved (it is different from what I submitted in some ways):
AFFIRMING HUMAN NEEDS MINISTRY
AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT BY LOCAL CHURCHES
WHEREAS, Humanity’s greatest problem at the root of all other problems is rebellion against God and separation from Him because of sin; and
WHEREAS, The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only solution to our problem, as it, through faith in Jesus Christ, reconciles us to God and to one another; and
WHEREAS, The work and ministry of Jesus involved both proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and demonstrating the love of God; and
WHEREAS, We are commanded by Scripture both to preach the Gospel and to do good deeds so that God’s light would shine before men; and
WHEREAS, The indwelling Spirit leads us sacrificially to love our neighbor and all those in need as we love ourselves with both material and spiritual assistance; and
WHEREAS, We are ambassadors for Christ with the ministry of reconciliation to all who are alienated from God and are living under the effects of personal, social, and structural sin; and
WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have a long history of providing aid to all people in times of need, including disaster relief, physical assistance, and advocacy for the oppressed, among other things; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19–20, 2012, affirm and encourage the work of our local churches, associations, community ministry centers, state conventions, and missions agencies in their ministries to human needs; and be it further
RESOLVED, That as every local church makes disciples for Christ, it should encourage every disciple to love people; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage every local church to engage the needs of its community, supremely with a strong Gospel witness in words accompanied by a corresponding witness of deeds; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage generous support of those ministries in Baptist life that are specifically equipped to facilitate the work of human needs ministry and the involvement of local churches in the same; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we encourage education, training, and equipping of Christians in human needs ministry as an expression of love, discipleship, and fidelity to our Lord as God gifts, directs, and enables us to be His hands and feet to a hurting and needy world.
I want to look at some aspects of this resolution over the next few weeks and talk about the implications for ministry in the local church and throughout the SBC. Let's start by looking at the first "Whereas."
WHEREAS, Humanity’s greatest problem at the root of all other problems is rebellion against God and separation from Him because of sin;
Our biggest problem is not poverty or not having enough of some product. Our biggest problem is not our failing health or lack of education or lack of opportunity. Our biggest problem is not even oppression or injustice or war or people not getting along or not being satisfied. Our biggest problem that is at the root of all other problems is that we rebel against God and are separated from Him because of sin. We were created to live in relationship with God and to live in submission to and dependence upon Him. Fixing the government or the economy or our relationships or our marriages (if we even can) is not what will solve our biggest problem. We have a "God problem" in that we continually try to live on our own, independent of God, as though we do not need Him. We even do this when we try to do the "right" thing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, Ethics, wrote that man's problem is that he knows good and evil apart from God - in coming to the knowledge of good and evil, man had to estrange himself from God. This good and evil is not the good and evil that comes from God, but rather, the notion of good and evil that man develops for himself. What is important is not knowing good and evil (because man's understanding of it is not what is found in God), but rather, to know the will of God. In other words, man's whole problem is that he is seeking to establish a reality for himself apart from God and is trying to figure out how to live apart from God. Even if man could, with his knowledge of good and evil, address the problems that he discerns in the world, he would address them wrongly and just make them worse because his knowledge would originate from himself and not from God. Man is cut off from the Source of Life and this estrangement from God is the source of the problems that we face. We cannot solve our problems ourselves - we must return to our Origin - to God.*
Because we live in a world of problems and pain and heartache, we also live in a world full of potential solutions to these problems that only aggravate our problems. I have said before that there are only four basic questions in the world:
- Who/What is God/Ultimate Reality?
- Who/What is Man?
- What has gone wrong with the world?
- How do we fix it?
All worldviews, religions, ideologies, and approaches to life deal with these four questions. In trying to answer these questions, we are trying to figure out how to live the best life we can and how to make life good for others (if we care about that). On these four questions, we all agree and we are constantly talking about them. These are spiritual questions and you have never had a conversation of consequence that was not spiritual in nature. Jesus understood this and this is why He was able to speak with people so easily. He understood what they were really getting at and he slipped below the surface and addressed their real questions - even when they did not want to do so (See John 4 and the Woman at the Well).
WHEREAS, The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only solution to our problem, as it, through faith in Jesus Christ, reconciles us to God and to one another;
In understanding that our greatest problem is that we are people who are cut off because of sin from our Origin/Source, namely God, and that in our attempt to fix our problem we only exacerbate it by coming up with our own methods to solve things our own way (approaches to solving good/evil, pursuits of happiness, etc.), we become people who are ready for a call to repentance, or for a return to God. The Gospel addresses this and says that the way to be reconciled to God is through faith in Jesus and that our sins that have stood between us and God must be atoned for and that this is why Jesus came - to take away our sins (1 John 3:5). He also came to destroy the Devil's work (1 John 3:8), but we will get to that.
We also come to understand that we cannot fix our problem of estrangement on our own. We need to be rescued. This is what Jesus came to do. He came to redeem us and to rescue us from the Kingdom of Darkenss and bring us into His Kingdom (Col. 1:13-14). This is Good News, or Gospel, and it is a message about far more than just going to Heaven when we die. It is the message of how we are reconciled to God through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and how we are now free to live in relationship with and dependence upon God, our Origin and Source. We also see in the Gospel that the whole created order will one day be restored and we are to live in that reality now (Romans 8:18-25). If we are to address the real needs of mankind, we must first be firmly rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we must find our hope and our life in God and not in living according to our own ways or the ways of the world. This involves repentance and faith and both are gifts from God.
Next: The Gospel in Word and Deed
#NAMB's LoveLoud initiative: "LoveLoud is a movement of churches demonstrating God's love by meeting significant human need while sharing Christ." http://www.namb.net/LoveLoud/
*For a better understanding of Bonhoeffer's perspective in Ethics, read this summary by Dr. Dallas M. Roark.