Total Church (iv) – social involvement

The 4th chapter of Total church concentrates on social involvement. How much should a church be socially involved. Often in the past, doing good works has been seen as an either/or with evangelism.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis point out that Jesus not only went to the poor and marginalised, he considered them equally worthy to have community with him as anyone else. By sitting and eating with, say, Zacchaeus the tax collected Jesus invited him into him community. The poor don’t just need their lived improved, they need the gospel. Cleaning up someone’s house, for example, is a great example of how communities can love the poor, but this act needs to point to something. Without the gospel of grace it would equally point to a gospel of works or social betterment. This is not the gospel that Jesus taught. All need to hear his words and respond to him in repentance and receive grace. The poor are poor for all sorts of reasons, and very few of them have to do with lack of resources. By introduction to and welcome into an authentic Christian community, they will have the support they need.

However, Christian community has not always been welcoming to the poor. Timmis and Chester are also critical of how churches in the UK (particularly evangelical churches) have traditionally neglected problem areas. The successful ones are full of middle class, upwardly mobile, wealthy people – people just like each other. For some reason, the working classes have not been welcomed or have not felt able to go there. The Christian community was lacking. This, they claim, is not only doing the poor a dis-service, but the rich too, as it communicates a message that Jesus wasn’t teaching – one where status and wealth do matter (even if this is unspoken). The gospel of grace is a gospel for all, rich and poor, and I can’t help thinking we are lacking something of authentic Christian community if we neglect either group.

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