Every ministry is unique with unique challenges and unique circumstances. Possibly the most unique factor of Red Village Church’s ministry is our setting. Red Village’s ministry setting is in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, which is known for its variety of different belief systems. In the downtown Madison area you can find those who hold to an extreme liberal understanding of life as well as those who hold to an extreme conservative understanding. You can find people who practice almost every form of every religion imaginable.
This past weekend I was downtown and talked to a couple of gentlemen who both held to a Christian worldview yet had much different understandings on how that worldview was to be lived out. The one man I talked with spoke much of the need for social justice and the care for people. In downtown Madison there are a large number of homeless. He questioned why the Christian church is not doing something to help these people out. He questioned why Christians claim to follow the teachings of Christ yet show no love toward helping others.
The other gentleman I talked with was with a group of street preachers. Evidently once a week a small group of men go downtown with the Bible and signs in hand and open-area preach on the streets. He was telling me as Christians we need to preach the gospel, and the problem with the Christian church is the lack of true preaching.
So who is right and who is wrong? Should the church spend more time doing social justice or is the church guilty of not preaching the gospel? The answer is…they both are right on one hand, yet on the other hand they both are wrong. To be a Christian is to do both and not separate the two, which unfortunately most end up doing.
During Jesus’ famous sermon on the Mount of Olives found in Matthew 25 he speaks of a final judgment to come where he will separate the goats (unbelievers) from the sheep (believers). One of the true distinguishing factors between the goats and the sheep is social justice. The true sheep care for those who are hungry or thirsty. The true sheep are the ones who even care for the social outcasts who are in prison. In much the same fashion James tells us that pure religion is to take care of orphans and widows (James 1:27). One cannot read Scripture without seeing the call to care for people and meeting felt needs.
Likewise you cannot read Scripture without seeing the call to preach the gospel. Mark’s gospel records that Jesus’ public ministry began with the phrase “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus no doubt was not only meeting the needs of people but he also was a preacher. A good portion of the gospels is composed of the preaching of Jesus. It was the apostle Paul who wrote “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news” (Rom 10:15). A popular quote for Christians is to “preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” While this quote may sound good it is completely false. To preach the gospel you must use words. We need not forget that “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ”.
So how can you be a true follower of Jesus? Love people by meeting their physical needs, and love people by telling them the good news of forgiveness of sin through the cross of Jesus. You cannot truly be a witness if you are not doing both. We need churches who do both and not just one or the other. Lord help us!