The Peril of Theology-Driven and/or Social Ministry Driven “Church”
Posted by justifiedandsinner
Thoughts which guide me to Jesus, and to the Cross
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from death, after you had killed him by nailing him to a cross. 31God raised him to his right-hand side as Leader and Saviour, to give the people of Israel the opportunity to repent and have their sins forgiven. 32We are witnesses to these things—we and the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to those who obey him. Acts 5:30-32 GNT
I have read a statement by Martin Lloyd-Jones, the English preacher and writer, in which he said: “It is perilously close to being sinful for any person to learn doctrine for doctrine’s sake.”
I agree with his conclusion that doctrine is always best when it is incarnated—when it is seen fleshed out in the lives of godly men and women. Our God Himself appeared at His very best when He came into our world and lived in our flesh!
For those who are always impetuously anxious to be about the business of helping the world it must be said that this is also the primary way in which the church can help the world. The world needs above all to know that in the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord it too comes up against its limit, end, and goal. Only where and when the gospel is heard will people be set free to turn back to the world and genuinely care for it. As the “outpost” of the new age, the kingdom of God, the church must proclaim this gospel so that all, including the world, may be saved.
As I look at the church today, whether Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, or the various colors and shades of Evangelical, I see two groups. The first is concerned with theology and doctrine, what is being taught in sermons, in Bible studies and the like. They talk in a language they think everyone should understand, and to be honest, they come across uncaring at times. (they do come from every part of the theological spectrum, by the way) Without intending to, they become the people MLJ and Tozer identify, those who are studying doctrine for doctrine’s sake. They have their blogs, their podcasts, their micro-conventions, and their para-church ministries set up to share what they’ve learned with others.
The other group of people are concerned with social ministry of one kind or another. It can range from feeding the poor, to a Bullet’s and the Bible club, from ministering to the LGBTQ community (whether supporting or trying to rescue them rfom their lifestyles) to protecting the lives of pregnant mothers and the babies within them. They also can get to the point where their ministries become their reason for “religion,” and anyone outside of this is just not like Christ, and those who are apathetic toward their cause, well, maybe they aren’t truly Christian. Forde tries to offer insights to those who would change the world, and jump on bandwagons that promise it can be easily done.
There are a few of us who try to reconcile the doctrine/practice division, only to find frustration as neither group is satisfied. And to be honest, striking that balance is challenging. And, to be honest, the desire to reconcile these two things may fall into the same error that they both do….
The key must be to see Jesus, to see both theology and action as side effects of walking with Jesus. Not proof that we are, not requirements that we do, but just something that happens as we wander through life with Him. We need to know that He died and rose, and His death is where our journey with Him really starts. It is what the Spirit draws us into, in our baptism, the same Holy Spirit who abides in us, comforting us, drawing us into this relationship with God that is what holiness really is. Both Tozer and Forde see that as key point that the theologians and social ministry folk need to come back to as their focus.
This is who we are – those who have been cleansed of sin, who are HIs beloved children. Theology then is learning about Him and the journey we are on with Him, and social ministry is something we do together with Him.
But it comes back to being in His presence, to knowing His love…
Anything else, any other way becomes idolatry, quickly.
So spend time with Him, get to know Him, walk with Him and see what He does with your mind, and you actions.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Gerhard O. Forde, “Proclaiming,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 190.