Help the needy or evangelize? Which is more important? Is one superior to the other? It’s a question that believers around the world wrestle with. In Asia most Christians tend to believe that evangelism is key, anything else is a distraction. And yet is that really true?
In the 6th chapter of Generous Justice, Keller addresses the question that every Christian who wants to impact the world around them often asks, “What is the relationship between the call to help the needy and the Biblical command to evangelize?”
These two concepts are everywhere in the Word of God whether in form of direct commands or implication of commands.
Some think the purpose behind doing justice is evangelism and so the typical expression of this kind of justice is you give the poor a small bag of rice with a tract inside. Others think doing justice is spreading the Gospel, so there is no need to send people out to share the Bible to others.
Both views are narrow in a sense because they don’t reveal the plan and the heart of God for mankind. How can we explain and solve this dilemma?
Keller says, “I propose a different way to understand evangelism and social justice. They should exist in an asymmetrical, inseparable relationship.” He continues, “In other words, justification by faith leads to doing justice, and doing justice can make many seek to be justified by faith.”
At Reconciled World, we see this as part of our seven core components; we call it Integrating Physical and Spiritual. We don’t see them as two separate areas to be addressed but as two sides of a coin; which cannot or should not be separated.
We have seen this dilemma worked it out in reality through the lives of Christians who understood the heart of God and His will. Let’s hear some of their testimonies.
We are giving thanks to God because His Word motivated us through TCT training, so we decided to mobilize our church to build a bridge to bless our community. Nearly 30 responded to our appeal. Some is to collect bamboos in the neighborhood, other is to get wood from forest and and other materials available in community. When we started the work, some people from Thai tribe doubted that we could ever finish the bridge. But after 3 days, they came back and saw the progress, they rushed back to their village to get more people to help us. There were 10 people came. We worked 4 more days and were able to finish the bridge. There was not enough word to express the joy of the people in our community. The brothers from Thai tribe gave thanks to the church and said ‘Before, we thought that you will ever finish but you did it. We are so thankful for you, if the church didn’t build this bridge, we had to wade or use bamboo raft to cross the river and it’s dangerous for our children to go to school’. They also said ‘in the future, if you do any project small or big, please let us know so that we can join with you’. Three days later, police chief of the ward stood up in our community meeting and said ‘only Christian can do good deed like this. From now on, we decide that if we do any project, those families who don’t participate will be fined 10 kgs of meat and 15 kgs of rice to feed those who work regardless which tribe they are.’ He also said ‘Let’s follow the example of these Christians’. We are so thankful for God and TCT program, through these small acts of love, God is glorified and His people are more respectful.
Keller says, “Deeds of mercy and justice should be done out of love, not simply as a means to the end of evangelism. And yet there is no better way for Christians to lay a foundation for evangelism than by doing justice.” This is exactly what happened with our staff and his church. He is only teaching people but practicing these ideas himself. Let’s listen to his testimony.
On the way to another ward, one of our staffs saw 5-6 people of another tribe in his area building a road so he stopped and talked to them. These people shared with him ‘it has been 4 days but we are only able to finish 200m and we are exhausted now’. Our staff asked them ‘why don’t you call the people in your village to join in’ and they replied ‘we have appealed to them many times but no one is willing to join, the reason they gave is that they don’t have motorbike so they don’t have a need to use this road. Only a few of us have motorbikes so we have to create a road ourselves’. Seeing the need and wanting to share the Gospel and God’s love to these people, our staff appealed to his church to help build the road and there were 30 people responded. Everyone worked hard and they were able to make big progress. When they reached to a village where people of the same tribe of our staff live, they had to postpone the work because these people didn’t allow them to build the road cross their land. So our staff again had to appeal and ask for their permission. When the people of this village found out that most of people in the working group were also the same tribe as them and came from another ward to help, they said ‘why do these people come to help even though they don’t use this road’ so they agreed to let the group build the road cross their land. Now the village has a good road to go so everyone was so happy. At Christmas time, almost everyone of the tribe who was helped came to attend church service. They said that ‘if there was a pastor in our village then we will believe in God’. Some people who couldn’t come to the service because they had to attend a wedding apologized to the church and asked the church to sing Christmas songs for them. They promised that they will come early next year. Praise God that through the act of love that the church showed to this tribe, they are closer to the church and God opened an opportunity to share the Gospel to them.
I can’t agree more with Keller when he says at the end of this chapter, “On paper, we may ask ‘Should Christians do evangelism or social justice?’ But in real life, these things go together. Christians who live or work in needy communities in order to do evangelism must inevitably become involved in helping their friends and neighbors with their pressing economic and social needs. To fail to do so is simply a lack of love. It is also impractical. If you wish to share your faith with needy people, and you do nothing about the painful conditions in which they live, you will fail to show them Christ’s beauty. We must neither confuse evangelism with doing justice, nor separate them from one another.”