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Whole Gospel

March 2, 2016

THE WHOLE GOSPEL

 

 

You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command that you do this when you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall befor the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.   Deuteronomy 24: 17-22

 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked        him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  Jesus answered,  “The first is, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”                                    Mark 12: 28-31

 

 

 

Particularly during the past hundred years, Christians have been guilty of bisecting the Gospel.  We can define Gospel as the good news of God’s desired plan for man to live in relationship to Him.  This plan is very comprehensive and thorough.  It impacts on all of life and this is very clear from any substantial study of the whole of Scripture.  Because we have come to see human beings as dichotomized, we have also seen the Gospel dichotomized.  We draw rather distinct divisions between what is “spiritual” and what is “physical”.  The result is that the Gospel has been divided into these same two realms.  This has led to two separate and equally false new “gospels” that have been created.

 

THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

In the early part of this century, following the thinking of liberal theologians, there developed what came to be known as the “Social Gospel”.  To somewhat oversimplify this perspective; it held that the true message of the gospel was to improve society by improving the physical conditions of people.  It was very much concerned with the Biblical mandates to meet the needs of the poor and to seek justice.

Exponents of the “social gospel” either minimized or discounted all together the need for personal salvation.  Salvation was instead seen in societal terms.  The creation of a world in which human needs were met, and the lot of those who suffered injustice was seriously addressed, was seen as all that was need to fulfill the will of God.

Largely in reaction to the “social gospel”, evangelicals and fundamentalists rejected the involvement in social issues and defined the gospel in purely spiritual terms.  From their perspective the gospel dealt only with the need for personal regeneration.  Evils in society would all be solved if only everyone were saved.  It also seemed reasonable that since the soul is eternal, and the body is only temporary, it was of more significance.

 

As a result of this perspective, those of this school of thought removed themselves from involvement in any effort to correct areas in the culture that involved physical needs or issues of justice.  Where Christians of the previous century had been involved in the abolitionist movement and the “social gospel” adherents were involved in the civil rights movement, these Christians chose to be uninvolved in these kinds of issues.

It is true that there was some involvement in meeting physical needs, which can be illustrated by what I would call the “rescue mission mentality”.  This does not contradict my point, but rather helps to clarify it.  Those involved in this type of effort did get involved in meeting physical needs of those who needed food or shelter, but they did so only as a means to address the spiritual needs with which they were primarily concerned.  This is why the typical methodology was to provide a meal and shelter only on the condition of attending a service with an evangelistic appeal.  The dichotomization is emphasized and not eliminated in this approach.  Meeting physical needs alone could not be justified.  It must serve the higher purpose of getting to the more significant spiritual needs.

 

HALF TRUTH PRESENTED AS WHOLE TRUTH BECOMES UNTRUTH

The problem is that both of these perspectives are wrong.  They are clearly what Paul refers to as “other gospels”.  They are not the gospel of Scripture.  The true Gospel is not either or, it is both.  Either half of the whole to the neglect of the other half becomes a lie.

 

Throughout the Old Testament, it is clear that God judges spiritual fidelity by concern for physical needs and justice.  Any reading of the Law and the Prophets will drive home that point powerfully.  Jesus own ministry must be looked to as the ultimate living out of the Gospel.  Throughout His time on earth He met physical needs of people AND He preached about the need for spiritual new life.  Never did He say to anyone, “I will heal you.  But, first you must listen to me preach.”  He, as best we can tell, healed many who chose not to follow Him.  In one case we know that nine out of ten lepers whom He healed did not even bother to say thank you, let alone follow Him.  Since Jesus was God, He healed people and fed people knowing that they would reject His spiritual message.  This is completely contrary to the “rescue mission mentality”.

Jesus demonstrated that meeting physical needs was good and worthwhile in and of itself.  It is truly part of the Gospel.  But, Jesus did not just meet physical needs; He also clearly and directly confronted the need for personal regeneration.  In clearest terms He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again to see the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Jesus practiced and taught the whole Gospel.  The two dimensions were not necessarily linked in every encounter with needs, but they were both equally vital parts of His ministry.

 

We must recapture this sense of wholeness and reject the dualism that has taken over our thinking.  God is concerned with people.  The Gospel is addressed at meeting whatever needs exist.  The physical and the spiritual are two sides of the same coin.  They cannot be separated.  We need to reject terms like “soul winning”.  (The only time that this phrase appears in the Bible is in Proverbs 11: 30, is a bad translation in the King James Version and is very unclear as to its actual meaning.)  “Soul winning” reinforces the dichotomization.  We should be involved in winning people, whole people.  When we see people, we need to see them with all of their needs and we need to be concerned with meeting all of those needs.  Out of love, we need to do what we can to meet those needs.  They are all integrated in ways that may not be immediately obvious to us.

It should be noted that not all believers may be involved in addressing all kinds of needs.  Those with different gifts and interests will be involved in meeting different kinds of needs.  What is significant is that, as the Body of Christ, we should be corporately involved in meeting all kinds of needs.  Some are gifted to evangelize, while others are gifted to meet physical needs.  As a Body, we must recognize that both are of equal importance in fulfilling our mandate to live out the Gospel.

 

I believe that we have little appreciation for how integrated we as human beings really are.  When we are truly concerned for the physical needs of people and address them with true compassion, we often open the door to the spiritual realm as well.  This is NOT justification for meeting physical needs, but an observation of how things often work out.  If a person perceives that we are interested in their physical needs only so that we can “preach at them”, and they will, then they will be likely to put up their defenses.  But, if the honest concern for their immediate need is sensed they may be open to knowing why we care when everyone else is preoccupied with their own desires.

Several years ago, my wife started a shelter for women in crisis pregnancy situations.  She did this because she was tired of Christians saying that abortion was wrong and not providing a viable alternative.  They also far too often communicated far more concern for the unborn baby than for the needs of the mother.  She was sincerely motivated by compassion for women who were involved in very difficult situations.  For her this was a totally legitimate living out of the Gospel.  It was never a major point to see that every woman who stayed at the shelter was confronted with her need for salvation.  They all knew that their lives were messed up.  My wife’s experience, over and over again, was that women wanted to know what made he do what she was doing.  Why did she care so much, when no one else seemed to?  This was an open invitation to deal with spiritual issues.  The important thing is that it was invited and not forced.  This was not an agenda.  It was an understandable reaction.  I have heard it said that our most effective evangelism will take place in response to questions that people will ask about why we do what we do.  I believe that this is true.  But, first we must be doing.

 

As a contrast to my wife’s experience in the maternity shelter, there is a center in our city that also seeks to help women in crisis pregnancy situations.  Their philosophy is very different.  They operate from the “rescue mission” approach.  They have as their primary goal evangelism.  They use the crisis situation in women’s lives to get at the spiritual need.  They believe that this is the more important issue.  In reality their second motivation is to prevent the baby from being aborted.  Concern for the physical needs of the woman involved comes third on their agenda.  People are sensitive to this type of manipulation and are very likely to resent the dishonesty that is involved.  It would be much more constructive, and so much more Biblical, if they would operate based on an understanding of the wholeness of the Gospel.

If we call ourselves Christians, that means that we claim to be followers of Christ.  If He is our Lord, we are obligated to follow His example and His commands.  To understand what the Gospel is and to understand the will of God demands that we act in light of the whole of His revealed word, not just some part with which we are comfortable and familiar.  If we do not we are guilty of creating a new gospel, a false gospel, rather than living out and preaching His Gospel.  Only the Gospel of Christ is true.  Anything else is merely a parody or a lie.

 

SUGGESTED READING:  Deuteronomy

Mark

John

“Let Justice Roll Down” by John Perkins

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