By Jason Harris
Recent years have seen a growing awareness among Independent Baptists in Australia of our responsibility to reach out, not only to the spiritual needs of those around us, but also to their physical needs. Several organisations which promotes such causes have sprung up and gained support within the movement. Let me make it clear at this point:
I support what these organisations are doing.
That said, over the last several months, as I’ve pondered these things, I’ve had a deep sense of heaviness and caution in my soul. History proves the dangerous tendencies of these types of social endeavours. The answer is not to avoid them. I believe that would be wrong. But like many things in life, we have a responsibility to wrestle with duties that at times seem to contradict—or at least conflict with—each other.
Below are some pitfalls that I believe need to be avoided in our desire to meet the physical needs of others.
Pitfall #1: That we would someday succumb to a social morality.
Social morality tells a young person that they shouldn’t throw their rubbish in the street because someone has to pick it up. It tells them they shouldn’t play loud music late at night because how would they feel if they were trying to sleep and someone else was playing loud music. It tells them they shouldn’t have pre-marital sex because of the dangers it poses to their partner and to society by spreading STD’s.
The problem with social morality is that it is relative. It lacks an absolute standard. Society becomes the absolute and if culture changes, so does morality. We see this changing morality today in the acceptance of de facto relationships and the normalising of homosexuality. Arguments that were often used against these things years ago are no longer relevant because they were based on social morality.
Our morality must always be built on the foundation of the character of God. We don’t throw rubbish on the street because God has made us stewards of the earth and because God is an orderly God. We don’t play loud music late at night because as an act of great self-love, it is actually an act of rebellion against God Who always does the loving thing towards others. We don’t have pre-marital sex because it violates the holiness and purity of God’s character.
Pitfall #2: That we would someday allow social welfare to overpower spiritual welfare.
In His intense passion for meeting the physical needs of those around Him, Jesus never lost sight of their greater need and the souls of those He worked with. While programmes can come alongside strong evangelistic work, they must never, ever overpower it. We have the life and light that can rescue the lost from their rebellion against God. God has allowed the physical needs for food and protection in order to demonstrate and remind us of our profound spiritual need for Him. If we alleviate the physical needs without pointing people to the One Who alone can meet their spiritual needs, we are derelict in our duty.
Pitfall #3: That we would someday mistake social welfare for the gospel itself.
Though it seems preposterous, it would not be the first time in history that social welfare was mistaken for the gospel. In fact, the great New Evangelical experiment of last century led many to do just that. It is—and always will be—the gospel that changes lives. Our ministry from the outside in is but our opportunity to share the gospel which will change them from the inside out.