I believe that the church has a responsibility to not only be concerned about issues of social justice, but also has a responsibility to be involved in helping provide solutions to the brokenness of culture. You can’t hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah as he says, “…let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth” (7:24) and not come to the conclusion that God wants his people to be actively meeting the tangible needs of their neighbors and even enemies. God delights in those who manifest the qualities of the Spirit in their lives on the earth, so I don’t think one can make any kind of valid biblical argument that minimizes the role of the church regarding social issues in culture.

However, I must confess that I’ve rarely been pressed to articulate what this might look like in culture, or why churches should be involved in community ministry in the first place. If the truth be told about the Western church, most churches are little more than Christian ghettos filled with people who are basically the same and share the same beliefs and values. And while their may be concern over the cultural chaos breaking out around them, they are fairly content to live isolated, insulated lives away from the brokenness outside the church. They would be eager to embrace the repentant sinner into the ghetto, but they aren’t quite sure how to engage the sinner in a relevant way outside of the cozy confines of their isolationist tribe.

JD Greear has posted a helpful article about whether or not evangelical churches should be involved in community ministry, what the arguments are for what kind of shape such ministry would take, and why the church should be socially active about issues of injustice, poverty, etc. He mentions multiple reasons why churches he has encountered serve (or don’t serve). Allow me to sketch them out briefly.

(1) We should do community ministry because the church is extending the borders of the Kingdom of God. This is the worldview of creation/fall/redemption/restoration. Here the aim of reconciliation is accomplished through the church.

(2) We should do community ministry out of love for neighbor. You can’t love God and not love people. If you see someone in need, love for Christ compels you to act. The aim here is to minister to the physical needs of people with the goal of seeing them redeemed. This view would see the restoration and reconciliation of people to God primarily as God’s work, not ours.

(3) We should not primarily be concerned about social ministry because preaching the gospel is the central responsibility of the church. This view says the one task of the church is the proclamation (by word) of the gospel. In Acts you don’t see the apostle serving in soup kitchens, you see them preaching. In most cases where Jesus has the power to act on social issues, he preached instead. The focus of the visible church should be preaching. Support para-church and mercy ministries where you can, but this isn’t the responsibility of the church says this view.

(4) We should do community ministry because it is “sign” of the gospel. This is Greear’s position and it is a melting pot of the other ideas, but I think that Greear probably is closest to being right here. He says:

“What we, the church, are here to do, primarily, is to preach the Gospel of His Kingdom and compel others to surrender to the King Jesus. Ours is the ministry of reconciliation to the King, not restoration of the Kingdom. HOWEVER, just as Jesus, as part of His preaching, gave signs of the Kingdom, so we are to perform signs in our communities. We are to heal the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the poor, sometimes by natural means and sometimes supernatural. We are to constantly testify that this is what the Kingdom is like and compel people to come to Jesus the Kingdom. Our kindness is neither random nor senseless. It signifies the Kingdom. We are to (in the words of N.T. Wright who, so far as I know, does not agree with my position) “sketch out with pencil what Jesus will one day paint over in indelible ink.”

Even though I think that Greear is right, it still leads to the inevitable question of what this should look like in the local church. In what ways should we support local schools, businesses, mercy ministries, hospitals, etc? What is our responsibility to these organizations? Have we failed if we act socially but fail to speak (verbally) of Jesus? What should our stewardship as the body of Christ be to the issues of social injustice, poverty, rampant divorce, abuse, sexual promiscuity, unwanted pregnancy, homelessness, prostitution, and the like in our community? Is it enough to essentially only pray against these things, or as we consider the words of the prophet Jeremiah, are we actually called to get dirtier as we engage these issues than we would all care to be?