“If the Church was doing it’s job, we wouldn’t have [insert world crisis here]!”
Now, I’ve seen the brackets above filled in with many different things: poverty, sex-trafficking, institutionalized injustice, domestic violence, hunger — you name it! What is interesting to me, though, is that I am seeing a growing trend of people in my generation (both inside and outside of the church) condemning the Church as having lost its mission based on the continued presence of certain evils in the world. If we’re honest, most of these reactions stem from seeing the Church’s nose were people think it doesn’t belong, such as “The Church needs to get out of politics and get back to feeding the poor!” But it does raise a few important questions worth exploring:
“Has the Church (and we’ll just say the American Church for now for the sake of simplicity) failed in its mission?”
Which, of course, raises the even more fundamental question:
“What is the mission of the Church?”
“What should we expect from the Church” — how and to what extent should the world look different because the Church is active in the world and fulfilling its mission?
I came across a quote recently that I think is helpful in thinking through this issue:
“I imagine some problems are not as bad as they could be because of Christian programs and witness … Do we assume police officers are worthless because we still have crime or parents are pointless because kids still do stupid things? Not at all. Why then do we assume that the existence of unmet need or ongoing tragedy in the world is unassailable proof of the church’s failure?”
— Kevin DeYoung
This quote makes a very important point: the continued presence of evil in the world is not an indictment against the Church, for the Church’s job has never been to solve the problem of evil, but rather to faithfully proclaim that the Solution is coming. Christians are heralds of the coming Kingdom (the full realization of the reign of God on Earth) in which the King Himself will finally put a stop to all evil.
Is this to say that the Church simply twiddles its thumbs and pontificates on eternal things until Christ returns? Absolutely not! Part of proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom is displaying its principles and values before the world as a witness to its power. So, we seek justice as a foretaste of the true justice that is coming. We feed and clothe the poor as a foretaste of the One who meets every need. We free the slaves as a foretaste of the freedom to come. You get the idea.
Hold on, everyone. We sent Jesus out for more bread just a little less than 2,000 years ago.
I’m sure He’ll be back soon. No need to ask us for help.
All this is very different, however, from saying that we are building the Kingdom or bringing about the Kingdom on earth (a teaching called post-millennialism, for you nerds out there). And this is where we can get in trouble about our expectations for the Church, if we are not careful. There will always be poverty, famine, and various sorts of evil in the world regardless of how faithful the Church is in her mission. These are the result of fundamental flaws in human nature rather than objective, external problems to the human race that just need to swallow up a few more man hours, dollars, or other resources before they are finally solved.
Pictured: the greatest youth group summer mission trip EVER!
There are plenty of local churches and individual Christians being faithful heralds of the Kingdom in both word and deed … even if we can all point to some that could be doing much more.
If you are not a Christian, come join us in ministering to the needy, fighting against social injustice, etc, and listen to why we’re doing it!
If you are a Christian, how’s your heralding going?
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)