I am helping to reinvigorate the Witness Commission here at CPC. In doing so, we have encountered the old question of the relationship between what is commonly called “evangelism” and “mercy ministries”. Mercy ministries are those which deal primarily with people’s physical needs – feeding those who are hungry, housing those who are homeless; while evangelism has as its focus spiritual needs, usually, the need for the gospel.
While we believe both are important, what I want us to think about is the relationship between the two. There are a variety of ways of thinking about this issue and each has its own consequences. Some people have come to believe that ministries of mercy have usurped the place of evangelism. This was where the “social gospel” came from at the beginning of the last century. It was as if, in feeding or housing folks, you had shared the gospel with them. But, if in doing these acts of mercy, there is no sharing of the Good News, you are doing it in your own power and God seems removed from the picture. Usually, those things done in our own power seem to fade and you end up doing neither.
Other folks see mercy ministries and evangelism as two sides of the same coin. They are separate yet somehow equal. But it seems to me that you would have to define the partnership between them and how it works. Otherwise, you could have two airplanes each with an equal wing but going nowhere.
Some people see the meeting of needs as an entry point for evangelism. You meet people’s needs and they are more open to your message. But the issue can become that people see your work as manipulative. “You’re only helping me to get me to listen,” which makes it seem like we don’t really care about them or their situation.
Probably the best model is to see both as necessary (the Great Command and the Great Commission), but that our mercy ministries come out of our evangelism desires. We have been renewed by God, redeemed by Christ and in response to that greatest need being met, we care for others. Our need for restoration in our relationship with God is the root cause which must be addressed.
The brokenness we see and the injustice we face come out of humanity’s enmity with God. The spiritual condition gives rise to what folks are dealing with physically, socially, mentally and financially. But God created us to be whole persons, and so we must address the whole person before God. In this way, they become two wings of the same airplane, interdependent, both used by God to spread his Kingdom’s love. You may adjust the flaps on the wings one at a time, with one receiving more attention at any time, but they are always working together, always headed in the same direction.
As we go through our sermon series on “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” this is a good conversation for us to have. Let me know what you think.
Living in grace, standing in hope,