So we have a missional God, who has a missional church that works with him in his mission of the redemption of the world. Though biblical/missional church life will look different depending on where the kingdom meets the culture, the message remains the same. But what is our message and how should we proclaim it?
The message is this; the kingdom of God has arrived, in which all can find forgiveness of sins and the restoration of humanity and all creation though the cross of Jesus Christ. This kingdom has been inaugurated, and will be fully consummated when Jesus returns. Though simplistic, this definition works for me. For this last post, I’m looking at one question; how should we “preach” this message? I have to ask this because many are saying all we need to do is evangelism, while others go so far as to say works are more important than words. The way I say it at our church, is that we preach the Gospel with both words and works of grace.
Missional Proclamation Requires Words
Christians immediately get the importance of words. God chose to use written words as one of the primary ways of communicating with us. Our words in ministry are important not only because they can comfort, counsel and correct, but also because they can cut to the heart of our message more quickly, and sometimes more accurately than our works. In fact works alone cannot bridge the gap between unbelief and faith. Words must be used because by them God brings people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. (Rom 10:14, 15).
For most people “words of grace” means preaching. Perhaps street preaching, pulpit preaching, confrontational evangelism, tract distribution, door to door “visitation,” are the immediate thoughts. While some of these are biblical and valuable, I prefer to talk to people relationally and opportunistically about God. A future post is coming on what I call “opportunistic evangelism.” But since I see our weakness to be in the area of works, that is where I want to spend more time in this post.
Missional Proclamation Requires Works
Many evangelical churches are good at this, but more seem to struggle. Part of the problem is that we have so compartmentalized works that we think of it only as “pre-evangelism.” Works is something to prime the pump for the big show of words. But it has not always been this way.
As Christians we have reduced the message of the Gospel to “Jesus saves a sinner from hell/sin” leaving most of our works incapable of representing that message. Therefore works appear less relevant and must have a lesser place at the table of ministry. But the message is bigger than “Jesus saves a sinner from hell/sin.” The message of our works is the same as explained above: That the kingdom of God has arrived, in which all can find forgiveness of sins and the restoration of humanity and all creation via the cross. Our works reflect both the character of God as well as his holistic plan of redemption. This is why the prophets reprove the people of God for not seeking justice and protecting the laborer, the orphan, the widow and the sojourner (Zech. 7; Mal. 3). This is why Jesus calls us to live as he lived, to serve, visit, clothe, feed and in general have compassion on people – because all of this shows the King’s character and the kingdom’s realities.
The puritans wrote at length on the subject of works – much in the same way the discussion is happening today. Robert Bolton wrote a great book on practical Christian living called, General Directions For A Comfortable Walking With God. In it he elaborates on these works saying that they,
…spring from a compassionate heart and fellow feeling, affectionately yearning over the temporal wants and necessities of our brethren, whereby we are stirred up, as occasion is offered, according to our ability, to succor and support their outward extremities and distresses; to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to entertain the stranger; to visit the sick; to go to those that are in prison… to give a helping hand for raising our brethren fallen into decay (Lev. 25:35), to lend, hoping for nothing again (Lk. 6:35).
And lest anyone think Bolton only believed in helping those within the church, he explains we should also meet the needs of the poor and suffering in general – and even the wicked! Concerning meeting their needs Bolton wrote that we must work for the good of all regardless “…whatsoever the party hath been before; for there thou relievest not his notriousness, but his nature.” He argued that our works serve the good of humanity overall. Missional preaching must use works as well as words.
It’s a mistake to pit words against works. They are brothers working together for the same end. They have the same message and both exist to announce the kingdom of God. As I see it, our proclamation is not full unless it is both in word and deed. The deeds are not simply the pretext for getting a clearer message out; they are an inherent part of the message itself. Our words announce a kingdom; our deeds demonstrate its presence and our citizenship.
The question every church ought to be asking itself is, “What work needs to be done in our community to announce the kingdom has come?” Answering that question and responding to it appropriately prove to be the hardest part of this dialogue.