Sunday I’m going to begin a new series of sermons at The Donelson Fellowship on the subject: Our Unbearable World. It’s about the great humanitarian crises engulfing our planet–world hunger, impure water, orphan care, prison reform, human trafficking, etc. I hope you can join us in person Sunday at 8:45 and 10:15. Here’s an excerpt from the first message:
From the beginning, Christianity has been humanitarian. In the days of the Roman Empire, when there were crises, plagues, and human suffering, the Romans ran away but the Christians confronted the need. You can pick any humanitarian subject you want to and you’ll find Christians at the forefront throughout history.
- Caring for the sick and the development of hospitals
- Orphan care
- Global Hunger
- Soup Kitchens
- Rescue Missions
- The abolitions of slavery
- Prison reform
- Educational advancement
- And so forth
But in the 1800s and early 1900s, a wave of liberal theology swept over Germany and over Europe. It spread to mainline American denominations. It was a pandemic. The theologians and then the bishops and then the pastors and then the churches stopped preaching the power of the blood of Christ. They turned away from the inerrancy of Scripture. They rejected the supernatural aspects of the Bible and the eternal aspects of the Gospel. Many churches lost the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. That’s why so many mainline churches are liberal today.
Well, if you become theologically liberal what do you have left? These churches and denominations had only the humanitarian and social aspects of what they were doing. They had only a “social Gospel.” So they ploughed ahead with their altruistic, benevolent work of charity. They lost their concern for a person’s eternal welfare, they lost the Gospel; but they emphasized the person’s temporal need.
In reaction, many conservative Christians in the early 1900s doubled-down on theological integrity and evangelistic effort. They tilted away from humanitarian concerns. Not totally, of course, and not all of them. But maybe we lost our balance a little.
Jesus always had the balance right. He was as theologically sound as heaven itself. He was as evangelistic as the Gospel itself. He preached sin and judgment, heaven and hell. He said, “You must be born again!”
But along the way, He fed the hungry, healed the sick, restored the lepers, and counseled the widows. No one has ever maintained a better balance between missionary zeal and humanitarian concern. He’s our model.
Great Christians and great churches have always been highly evangelistic and deeply humanitarian. If you asked me which was most important, I would put the eternal over the temporal, but neither is optional. And it’s truly remarkable how much of the Bible is given over to meeting the needs of the needy around us.
Our prayer should be that of Bob Pierce, who helped found the organization World Vision: “Lord, let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”