Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Great Commission: Is it Legalism?

Anthony Bradley writing for World Magazine's blog calls out the contemporary church movement that beckons comfortable middle class Christians to become more "missional" and even "radical" as a new form of legalism. In some respects, I agree with him 100%. I've been involved with previous churches where the just-out-of-seminary assistant pastor will come up with all of these programs and campaigns to motivate young and old to become active in helping out with the needy outside of the church. As with many well-intended church activities, it doesn't take long for good ideas to go off the tracks or get misdirected.

My friend and I took a homeless man who is a Christian and living in his car to dinner one night a few months ago. We wanted to encourage him, to see how we could pray for him, and if there was anything that we could do to assist him in his journey to find long-term reliable employment. He told us how much he was enjoying the music and the preaching at the church that he attends every Sunday, but that he felt bewildered with their drive toward becoming missional and radical. During a small group meeting he had explained his current situation and asked for prayer and support in his walk with the Lord. Several of the small group members recommended that he needed to get active with outreach by going with them to work with the homeless at the soup kitchen.

So here we have a homeless man, in need of spiritual prayer and God's grace, and is told that he should get involved with the church's homeless ministry if he wanted his walk with God to grow. From my perspective, this example is a good illustration of what can go wrong in the "radical" movement. Just because someone has made into the church, even as a church member, doesn't mean that they have been automatically equipped. Sheep need to be fed. We can only give to others what we've received ourselves.

Our outreach and desire to minister to the poor cannot be seen as an ultimate thing or an end in itself. The worship of our glorious God in spirit and truth as we come together as the body of Christ is both our starting point and our trajectory for this type of ministry. If we don't see ourselves first as poor and needy, at the foot of the cross, it is not too long before our missional and radical motives turn into superiority complexes - or worse yet, God complexes. We may get a good feeling high from doing good and helping someone, but it doesn't honor the Lord and it won't help us grow.

Along with this, we have to always remember that mercy ministry begins with the household of God. Every Sunday, the Lord gathers His sheep into the fold. Sometimes, we don't have to go looking for the people who need our care. Often times they're standing right in front of us, waving their arms, saying "help me". In our blindness, we can actually miss the work God has already given us.

All of that said, I'm a big fan of cultivating a missional mindset and challenging myself not to get complacent wearing out a groove in the pew. Finding the right balance and proper amount of wisdom is journey for all of us, and I'm incredibly blessed that the church I'm in now is committed to doing all of these things in accordance with God's Word and not in human strenghth.

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