Sadly, “evangelism vs. compassion” is one of the title fights in the American church right now. In one corner, evangelical doctrine extends to the Nth degree, concluding that the most efficient way to enact the global Christian mission is to save everyone first and make them be nice to each other second. In the other
(largely composed of the older and younger ends of the American congregation spectrum), frenzied mercy has taken on every humanitarian cause the world has thrown its way. Is one side right and the other wrong? If we keep circling one another with the gloves on, we’ll all lose in the end.
The “evangelism” camp makes some excellent points. After all, Jesus’ last commandment to his disciples while walking around on earth was, “As you are going, make disciples of all nations“. Did he not teach, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness“? Did Paul not testify, “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need: I can do all things through him who strengthens me“? Why then would we first bring the nations what we claim, ourselves, not to need? In a sense, the most strategic obedience is to pour all our dollars into evangelism–sending church planters, buying radio stations, printing Bibles, etc.–for once the Gospel is preached in the whole world, “the end will come.”
However, the “compassion” camp also makes some excellent points. After all, Jesus’ two greatest commandments were “love God” and “love your neighbor.” Did he not teach, “Give to everyone who begs from you…love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return“? Did not James demand, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?!“? How then can we hesitate to meets the world’s obvious needs? In a sense, the most strategic obedience is to pour all our dollars into physical needs–giving water, food, protection, medicine, shelter, etc.–so that they will want to hear the Gospel of Jesus.
When I sit and think about it, either could be more strategic. That’s the danger of sitting and thinking about it. Christianity does not honor clever faith; it is tailored to the least intelligent and the least impressive. The greatest minds among us cannot comprehend or improve on the word of Him who declares,
My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are you ways my ways…
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts!
Only the humble can hope to properly receive the Almighty’s decrees. Thus, Christ simply states, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” We should appreciate and employ our God-given reason, but obedience trumps strategy when they appear to be at odds.
Perhaps it’s like bringing home flowers. Every time I go shopping and I’m not in a rush, my insides wage war before the floral display. On the one hand, Annie keeps track of our spending and has gently urged me to cut back and stay within our grocery budget. On the other, Annie likes flowers, particularly Gerber daisies. I’m learning that in Annie’s head, it’s not the lose-lose situation I talk myself into. I have to make the best decision I can, based on what she’s revealed about herself. Ultimately, I must trust that everything she’s told me makes up a cohesive whole, even if I am too simple to master its ways.
It’s time for churches to take off the gloves and end this sparring match; there’s so much work to be done in God’s name! Jesus, the anointed one, has come, bringing good news for the poor, liberty for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and a proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor. Rather than strategizing with human intellect alone, let us search the word of God and faithfully act! Let us receive the whole Scriptures and obey.