Why Evangelism and Social Justice Go Hand-in-Hand
by Mike Slaughter | Ministry Matters
Some of us in many traditions too often see evangelism as simply introducing people to Jesus only as a means to get to heaven. It neglects discipleship as well as the broader dimension of Jesus' gospel of the Kingdom of God. Others fall into the trap of excluding personal evangelism purely for the goal of social activism. It's too bad we so often err on one side or the other in this false dichotomy we've set up between personal salvation and social justice.
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The gospel is not a gospel of either/or but one of both/and. To me as a Christian, I truly believe in the Wesleyan mandate that there is no personal holiness a part from social holiness, and no social holiness without personal holiness. It is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and the empowerment in my life through the Holy Spirit that sustain me through the resistance, and just plain hard work, of pursuing justice within the world for all of God's children.
Evangelism means sharing the euangelion: the gospel, the good news. The good news is that Jesus came to put together a countercultural community that is committed to returning the world to right order and to restoring all that God has created. Isaiah 61, which Jesus read when he inaugurated his public ministry, represents Jesus' mission statement--our mission statement. We are to preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, and renew ruined cities. If we are busy doing all that, then perhaps the terms we use to talk about it--evangelism, social justice, activism, or others--will simply no longer matter.
A Mission of Mercy
There is power within the life of each individual who identifies himself or herself as a Jesus follower to serve as a redeeming force within the culture and the world. And mercy is the common denominator, the underlying force that calls us as Christians to live out the good news Jesus proclaimed in real and need-meeting ways. If we are truly to mirror the compassion of Christ, we must reach the lost, serve with the poor, and be an active voice and advocate for setting the oppressed free; speaking up for those who lack the power or opportunity to speak for themselves. It all must matter to us, because it all matters to God.
Mercy is why, when I first came to this small rural church known as Ginghamsburg in 1979, then a congregation of eighty worshipers with an annual budget of $27,000, we almost immediately started a food pantry, clothing ministry, and other ministries of mercy designed to take care of urgent material needs in the local community. If the gospel we share is not good news for the poor, it's not the gospel! Just this week, there was a single, disabled mother and her children who lost their home to a fire. Catholic Social Services has already found the family a place to live, and Ginghamsburg is providing furnishings to ensure that it's not merely a roof overhead but also a comfortable home. Ministries of mercy that provide material relief are absolutely critical in times of emergency.
As the adage goes, we want to teach people how to fish, not simply hand them a fish. But in today's economy, there are times when people simply need food. In Montgomery County, Ohio, where our two Dayton urban campuses are located, 26,000 children, one in five, are at risk of going to bed hungry tonight. Worldwide, one person dies roughly every four seconds of a hunger-related cause. How can we not act?
Mike is author of numerous books including Change the World, Christmas is Not Your Birthday, and Hijacked.
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