Eight Biblical Objections to Social-Work as “Missions”

The truth is, the apostles never mention social action when discussing Christ’s commission, nor does Acts record social action projects as a means of uplifting or evangelizing the world.

Confusing what the church-corporate does with what individual Christians do. Much of the confusion in this debate lies right here.  We have confused Jesus’ call to love our neighbour with the church-corporate’s missions program:  both are important, but they aren’t the same thing.  It is not at all wrong for Christians to be involved in orphanages, health care, and so on.  But what individual Christians do and what the church-corporate organises itself to do in missions are not the same thing.

 

In my last post I said that there were at least eight biblical objections to viewing “social action” as a form of missions. In that post, I explained what three of those were, and I’d encourage you to read that post first. But having noted those three, here are the rest of those eight objections:

Problem 4:  An overly realized eschatology, or wanting the kingdom now.

An idealistic desire to bring the kingdom now often plays a role in the social-action vision of missions.  Social action advocates argue that Christ came to banish the results of the Fall; therefore, “kingdom work” includes anything that diminishes or reverses those results and promotes the general betterment of society.  However, this “common-grace” approach to the Great Commission is a thoroughly inadequate one—a kind of closet postmillennialism that attempts to create transformation that only Christ’s return can bring.

Problem 5:  Defective hermeneutics.

The arguments used to promote social action missions are often based on transparently deficient hermeneutics.  The result is arguments that are rhetorically compelling, but biblically suspect. For example, I often find that NT passages about mercy within the church are interpreted as if they referred to missions projects outside the church.  Among many others, a typical example is the widow care in Acts 6.  To put it plainly, the seven men appointed in Acts 6 were ministers to the church, not missionaries to the world.  An army of examples of this kind of error could be marshalled.  Once you keep your eyes open for it you’ll see it frequently:  the apples argument of mercy within the church used to promote the oranges conclusion of social reform efforts targeted at the world.

Problem 6:  Confusing what the church-corporate does with what individual Christians do.

 Much of the confusion in this debate lies right here.  We have confused Jesus’ call to love our neighbour with the church-corporate’s missions program:  both are important, but they aren’t the same thing.  It is not at all wrong for Christians to be involved in orphanages, health care, and so on.  But what individual Christians do and what the church-corporate organises itself to do in missions are not the same thing.

Let me illustrate.  As  a Christian, you would gladly stop and help an injured motorist by the side of the road, just as the Good Samaritan did—that’s loving your neighbour.  However, does the story of the Good Samaritan mean that your church should put a line-item in its annual budget to purchase patrol vehicles, train staff, and fund a freeway patrol program designed to help stranded or injured motorists on freeways that run near your church?  To ask the question is to answer it.  What a Christian does because he loves his neighbour, and what the church-corporate does as its missions program are not necessarily the same thing.

Read More