Updated: Feb 9, 2019
“Words without works lack credibility; works without words lack clarity.”
-John W. R. Stott
The debate concerning the role and engagement of Christianity with the world has raged unabated for many years. It has reared its ugly head more than a few times since the time of Christ. With the rise of modernism, Christians broke into two distinct camps. Just like our politics t oday, the two camps bore the labels of “liberal” and “conservative.” Liberals sought to bring the Gospel message to the world through action and social justice; caring for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the downtrodden, and oppressed in society. They believed the best way to exhibit Christianity was through love. For them, the message of Christ was all about action not evangelism, doctrine or words. The story of the liberal church is a sad one. Jesus became a secondary concern behind works of justice. The Lord of the work began to disappear behind “the work of the Lord. The focus was love but love without a fixed object. There was no anchor, no “North Star” for the liberal church to sail by. Without the truth of the Immanuel, “God with us” in Jesus, engaging the culture and seeking justice became just another form of humanism with a weak religious title. Today, the liberal church in the west has all but disappeared. Without an anchor of truth, there was nothing to keep it from drifting off course, and finally no reason to fly the banner of the cross in the world. They desired a ship with great sails; bringing hope to the hopeless, freedom to the captives, and justice to the oppressed. But, she was a ship without an anchor and therefore lost in the sea of modernism.
Conservative Christianity fared better in maintaining its cohesive unity. The conservative church retained an anchor, where the liberals did not. They tenaciously believed God has revealed Himself through Jesus Christ; the Scripture is the living Word of God and final authority over all life. It courageously maintained sin as a reality, resulting in enmity with God and eternal judgement for unbelievers. Finally, it firmly confessed human beings in need of a savior-redeemer, with Jesus the only hope of saving souls from hell. The anchor was set. The sole work of the church was evangelism, to spread the good news of Jesus to the utter ends of the earth. The ship is safe as long as it flies under the single banner of Christ.
Unlike liberal Christianity, Conservatives kept the anchor. The problem today is not the anchor, but the reality that the ship isn’t moving anywhere. The rejection of liberal theology was like throwing out the provincial “Baby with the bath water.” Anchors are wonderful when you are trying not to drift off course. The church will never survive without the Gospel truths revealed in Scriptures, but neither will it survive without the unfurled sails of God’s cosmic work and mission in the world through Christ. For the Church, evangelism and the conversion of souls has become the principle mission of God. This partial truth is bringing the church dangerously close to the same drift and ultimate shipwreck as liberal Christianity. God’s mission clearly involves conversion, yet not of souls but human beings. Our mission is not just about conversion, but also creation. The mission, redemption and reconciliation of Christ is cosmic!
The breadth of Christ’s redemption reaches as far as sin’s impact in the universe. We find God’s cosmic mission revealed in both the Old and New Testament. Our evangelism must be in word and deed. Each person has a specific diverse calling to God’s great mission. God’s revelation through the law, poets, sages and prophets, call upon his people not only to proclaim God’s glory in words but also in the work of culture, creativity and justice. He calls upon his people to care for the widow, orphan, stranger, poor and oppressed. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God through word and deed. The order of the Gospel is all about context. Sometimes the word of the Gospel comes before action, sometimes it is reversed. The only unbreakable truth is that they are never separated. Every believer has a call to participate in God’s great mission of reconciliation in the world. We are all called to the ministry. Whether we plant churches, teach, preach, build wells, start a business or plant trees; it always done in word and deed. It is loving our neighbor enough to shovel snow from his driveway and, at the right time share the message of Christ.
As Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Colossians 1:20