The heart of Christian social action
I was in a meeting with some great people all sharing stories and reports of how they were serving communities in need. Some talked about their programmes, some about church mission and some about the Kingdom of God. And I found myself getting more and more uncomfortable. I wasn’t disturbed by their activity or by their motivations but by the fact that something was missing from the conversation. Or rather someone was missing. Jesus.
We were talking about what He was inspiring, doing and equipping, but we were not talking about Him.
He was the unseen guest in our work. We substituted less contentious words for Him- programme, church, faith community, the Kingdom of God. All of which are fine and good words but all of which can nudge the Lord Jesus to the sidelines. 1 Corinthians 1:18-3 is all about not substituting the person of Jesus Christ for other great things like wisdom or signs. Verses 22-24 sets it out clearly.
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
So I get nervous when we don’t talk about Him. When we use more acceptable words. He is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others and lots of people get uncomfortable when we start talking about our love of the Lord Jesus, relationship with Him and how much he means to us. Yet it is He who is the power and wisdom of God not our great programmes, communities and activities.
One of my big fears as we understand our faith in the context of serving the last, the least and the lost is that we drift away from our dependency on, service to, and worship of, Christ. I don’t think that service/love of others and service/love of Christ are real choices or opposites. I think it is impossible to adequately do either in isolation from the other. I also think that history tells us that dividing these aspects has been the frontline of spiritual warfare and that many good people who have been concerned to serve the world have lost their grip on Jesus. Likewise many good people who have been concerned with staying true to Christ have withdrawn from the world. The call of God in our time is to hold these things together. Because it is a place of spiritual warfare, and because we tend to come from one of these two traditions we struggle with understanding and imagining this integral path. We must stay faithful in the fight. I think Pope John Paul 11 expressed it more clearly than I have ever seen.
‘It is true that the inchoate reality of the Kingdom can also be found beyond the confines of the Church among peoples everywhere, to the extent that they live ‘gospel values’ and are open to the working of the Spirit who breathes where and when he will.But it must immediately be added that this temporal dimension of the Kingdom remains incomplete unless it is related to the Kingdom of Christ present in the church and straining towards eschatological fullness….The kingdom of God is not a concept, doctrine or a programme subject to free interpretation, but is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God’
It is this person- with a name and a face- who is the heart of Christian social action. Is he the unseen guest or the honoured guest in your work?