Practical Christianity and Ministry
Christians Responsibility towards Society. Responsibility for the gospel mission. Responsibility toward the Church.
A little boy came home from school one day to discover his pet goldfish lying stiff and motionless on the surface of the goldfish bowl. He was devastated and began to cry. His father tried to console him by saying: ‘It’s sad when a pet dies, but here’s what we will do. We’ll put the dead little fish in a matchbox, take it out into the garden and invite your friends to join with us in conducting a funeral service. Then afterwards I will take you and your friends to the ice cream parlour and buy you all an ice cream.’
The little boy was cheered by this promise but suddenly he noticed that the goldfish was not really dead as he had supposed, but had revived somehow and begun swimming merrily around the bowl. The little boy gave a whoop of joy and clapped his hands with glee in that his pet goldfish was alive.
A few minutes later, however, he remembered the promise of his father to take him to the ice cream parlour. Now that would no longer be a possibility and he had mixed emotions – gladness that his goldfish was alive, but sadness that he would miss out on a trip to the ice cream parlour. Eventually one emotion dominated the other and turning to his father he said, ‘Let’s kill it.’
It may be a bit drastic but this story does illustrate the basic nature of human beings in society today. That to some degree we have all become smeared with the marks of self-centeredness and our constant reaction to any event is to think, ‘How will this affect me?’
This general trend has caused a shift in thinking from becoming communal to self orientated.
In light of this what ought to be the Christians role in the community? By virtue of being a Christian should a greater/higher level of responsibility be placed on him as a result of his faiths practical teachings?
Indeed the community is the bedrock of society. It is within the community that the ingredients for a cohesive and integrated society emanate.
The level of involvement in the desire to ensure people are accepted and feel a part of their community can be considered a significant and important role.
Should such a leading role be carried out by those who profess a faith in a religion where the practical basis of such involves one of the greatest commandments, to ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself?’ (Mark 12:31)
For many, Christianity is still perceived in practical terms as being a driving force behind many of the main charity organisations that exist today; Banardo’s, The Samaritans, Relate, British Red Cross and Help the Aged to name a few. All have their foundation based on a Christian ethos. But should the Christian’s role be any different from a non-believer? Indeed there are an equal if not a greater number of charities that could be defined as portraying a Christian ethos but the tenets of such a faith are not subscribed to by the organisation and indeed may very well profess an agnostic or atheistic approach to a deity.
So apart from the command to ‘Love thy neighbour,’ what is the biblical mission of the Christian that ought to inspire him in a greater way than a non-believer?
An examination of both the Old and New testaments will reveal that inherent in the Bible is the call for the believer to help make a positive difference in the lives of others. One of the first questions posed by Cain in killing his brother Abel and when questioned as to his whereabouts was the response ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Gen 4:9) i.e. Am I responsible for the well being of my brother?
This is a question which reverberates today as to the extent of ones involvement in the (well being) of others.
The Ten Commandments however imples that the Christian does have some responsibility to the wellbeing of others by firstly avoiding situations that could cause a breakdown of human relationships namely, not to kill, steal, cheat, lie or desire other peoples possessions.
Again one could argue that such commands are acknowledged and considered as morally important by all regardless of faith and indeed that’s why such commands are embedded in legislation.
So is there anything else biblically that speaks significantly to the Christian?
In addition to the biblical principles already outlined albeit generic if there is a figure biblically that ought to be a leading example then it would be through the life and teachings of Jesus.
What examples did he show regarding a community focused practical mission?
Well from the on start of his public ministry we read in the gospel of Luke the proclamation of his mission to society;-
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…”
Although a scripture initially penned by the prophet Isaiah many years before, Jesus saw this as a fulfilment of his own mission.
We see this mission being fulfilled initially through his interaction with people. Though of a Jewish heritage and from a cultural social climate where social class stratums were existent, Jesus is seen engaging with people from all social spectrums. Given the title of rabbi or teacher, he did not consider this status as a gulf between him in mingling with the outcasts, the disenfranchised ie women, sick, prostitutes, drunkards and even those outside his cultural stratum.
He is seen restoring hope to such people through words of assurance and forgiveness. He sought to meet their basic human needs and then led them to spiritual lessons of restoration.
Where necessary Jesus spoke against injustices in society and challenged the hypocritical lifestyle of the civic and religious leaders by holding them to account.
Children were not neglected in his ministry but rather were often affirmed and valued and important. Likewise those from outside the Jewish faith and those of other religious persuasions were equally embraced by his mission of communal involvement.
The apostle Peter summarised Christ’s life by saying, ‘He went about doing good’ (Acts 10:38). He fed the hungry, cheered the sad, preached good tidings to the poor.
Jesus not only displayed acts of practical involvement, he sought to impart such truths through his teaching.
One of the well known stories he told was that of the Good Samaritan. A story he shared in response to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’
The story portrays a simple but poignant message of the Christian’s responsibity to each other through an impartial love and inadvertently answers the question posed by Cain .. ’Am I my brother’s keeper?’
With further teachings challenging the follower of God to become the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘to be in the world…’ Christ is portraying a Christian who amongst his everyday duties is to strive to make a positive difference in the community of where he or she lives.
In light of this Pete Storz in his article Liberal Arts Christians writes
Christians (individually and corporately) need to have a critical understanding of the ideas and attitudes of their society’s culture and have the knowledge base to give intelligent Christian responses to its issues and challenges. Christians need to be willing, as well as prepared, to take on social issues and philosophical challenges in addition to (actually part of) their normal lives (families, churches, careers, hobbies).
Therefore the Christian is challenged by his faith that in whatever area their social gifts lie, to utilise them for a greater purpose. Christ did not call the Christian to live in isolation for to do so would be to deny the very essence of their faith.
The natural response of a true believer will be one that involves giving of himself in some way.
To the Christian it is a message of influence and self sacrifice. To live to the golden rule, ‘to do unto others as you would have others do unto you’. Ultimately it is a message of love. Love in action.
However a non Christian could once again subscribe to all of Christ’s teachings and genuinely operate in the context of an impartial love and at the same time choose not to be associated with the Christian faith or classify themselves a Christian.
It seems therefore that the only determining factor that distinguishes a Christian’s involvement toward a practical mission to that of a non-believer is the motivation for doing so.
The Christian’s motivation towards carrying out his responsibility towards society lies within intrinsic spiritual convictions. Such convictions are both sincere and genuine and propelled by his understanding of God’s desire in his life.
In the same way Jesus had a divine mission for he often said ‘I have come to do the will of my father.’ (Matthew 7:21)
Likewise the follower of Christ has no other desire than to live a life in harmony with the will of his heavenly father. The Christian life is borne out of a love for God typified in the words of the apostle Paul ‘ love one another as I have loved you.’ (John 13:34)
For the Christian there ought to be no personal means of self-exaltation in his role in society. To be of service is to ultimately redirect any accolade or praise or honour to the source of his motivating influence. The apostle Paul when writing of Christ’s example said
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
The desire of the Christian is to reflect in his life and deeds the character of the one who possess his life, namely Jesus Christ.
His primary aim is to reflect Christ’s nature. Of this principle Jesus says
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:32
He also says,
‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father; (John 14:9)
For the Christian it is ‘not I, but Christ’. The charge is given,
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
This is where the significant difference lies, and ought to be the only motivating force to remind a Christian of his responsibility within society.
Early one chilly winter morning in London during the Second World War a soldier was making his way to the barracks and spotted a lad with his nose pressed against the window of a bakers shop.
Inside, the baker was kneading dough for a fresh supply of doughnuts. The hungry boy stared in silence watching every move. The soldier walked over to the shop and stood by the side of the little boy.
Through the steamed up widow he could see the mouth watering items that were being pulled from the oven. They watched as the baker put them in a glass enclosed counter.
The soldier’s heart went out to the little boy. He said ‘Son would you like some of those doughnuts?’ The boy was startled. ‘Yes, I would,’ he said. The solider stepped inside and bought a few of the doughnuts and walked back to where the lad was.
He smiled as he held out the bag and simply said, ‘They’re yours.’
The Soldier walked away but he hadn’t got far when he felt a tug at his coat. He looked down and heard the child ask quietly, ‘Mister, are you Jesus?’
We are never more like Jesus than when we offer ourselves in service to others.