BLESSED: bless… part 1 – Why the Church has to make a difference

Despite the increased profile of the
national church’s involvement in social issues, many churches and many Christians
in the UK still have no meaningful engagement in relieving or tackling issues
of poverty, seeing it as either an optional extra to the gospel or as something
that larger more mature churches, or Christians with a particular interest in
social justice, should be dealing with. The Bible takes aim at this idea with
both Testaments and blows it away. God’s people have always been called and
promised to be a blessing to those in need so that we can say with confidence
that to neglect the poor is to neglect God’s heart and to neglect the gospel. In
Matthew 5 we see how Jesus, the true light of
the world, sets out something of his incredible plans for the church which will
one day bear his name.  Central to any understanding this vision is that he makes a clear distinction between his
people and everyone else in the whole world. It’s them & us!
Matthew 5:13-16 NIV
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it
be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out
and trampled underfoot. [14] “You are the light of the world. A town
built on a hill cannot be hidden. [15] Neither do people light a
lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives
light to everyone in the house. [16] In the same way, let your light
shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father
in heaven.

THEM: why the world needs the church to make a difference…

Jesus uses
some pretty strong imagery about his church here – salt was both an additive
for flavour and a preservative; light was, well, essential to all life and sight,
just as it is today… let me ask you, do you believe that the church is that relevant,
that essential, to the world around it?!? What about your own church, or venue,
pastorate, life group… if the world suddenly had no light, we’d soon know about
it – it would be a disaster… what if your church suddenly disappeared? Or your
life group? Would anyone notice? Or like a hand being pulled out of a bucket of
water, would there be no sign that you’d ever even been there?
And what
about the world around you? Do you – as one of my atheist friends claims – see in our world the zenith of human
civilization? An organized, essentially good place which has little need for
the church, or other do-gooders? Or has communications technology lifted the
lid on and even propagated widespread greed, deceit & depravity… Drop by Google
for some poverty stats and prepare to be amazed: it doesn’t take long to
realise that the issue is global
(see Oxfam’s recent assertion that by next year 1% of the world’s richest people
will for the first time own more than half of the world’s total wealth, making
them richer than the other 99%), national
(read the London Poverty Profile for some eye-wateringly stark figures about
our capital) and local – just come and
spend time with any of our homeless friends to hear about the realities and horrors of life
on the streets, outside of the norms and warmth of everyday life. No, our civilization
is rotten on so many fronts; of course Jesus was right when he said “the poor will always be with you…” (Deut 15, Matt 26, John 12)
It gets worse: if the situation looks bad panned out, it is
positively horrifying in the detail: child abuse, human trafficking,
homelessness – getting close to some of the individual lives caught up in these
issues can be overwhelming, but for a church that has too often been found
sleeping in recent times, this close contact is essential. The church has learned to take a back seat to secular organisations tackling social problems, and
while we live in one of the most provided for nations in the world, the reality
is that man-made answers are failing and are failing fast: longer life spans
and shrinking budgets mean that some local authorities face privatisation or
closure and all local authorities have drastically cut services over the past 8
years or so. The Jaws of Doom graph – pictured below and showing a projected 2016/2017 shortfall of £600 million between Birmingham’s social needs and the money it has to meet said need – is the tale of just one city, but it’s a picture that is being drawn across Britain in broad strokes. there simply isn’t enough money to meet the growing need in our communities… 

It’s worth noting that dogged pursuit of austerity
with regard to the less well off, plus repeated recourse to quantitative easing
(printing money to alleviate strain on the economy!), together with continued
exposure of serious and unprosecuted fraud in the upper echelons of British
politics & banking spells one thing: S-I-N… The only answer to sin is the
gospel and till Jesus returns, that means us

US: why the CHURCH needs the church to make a difference…

If salt
loses its saltiness, Jesus says, it’s good for nothing… in other words, if the
church is not making a difference, what purpose do we have? This is an uncomfortable
teaching, but no less uncomfortable than James’ assertion that faith without
works is dead. We have to recognise that action is an essential – in other
words utterly indispensable – and life giving aspect of our faith… In fact, healing
and helping are two of the hallmarks of God’s Kingdom, and as such they are central to the
gospel; more than just sign posts to the Kingdom they are evidence that the
Kingdom – and the King – are here. So we need to do good out of obedience to
God (Isaiah 58:6 – “is this not the kind
of fasting I have chosen…”)
but also so that we’re careful to proclaim the
full gospel and the full Kingdom, both in words and also in deeds, through healing
miracles and powerful, transformative acts of kindness. Put another way, to
neglect the needs of those around us is to utterly neglect Jesus himself, his
heart and his mission…
There are other
obvious spiritual benefits for the church family that will commit to this work, not least because we are more accurately
experiencing and representing
God’s Father heart towards
the poor (see Deut 10, 14, 15, 1 Sam 2,
Nehemiah 9, Job 5, 24, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah… and the rest of the
OT, also Matt, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Cor… you get the idea!)
church or church group that avowedly seeks to serve others for the Lord will
reap practical benefits as well: a high acceptance of social responsibility and
activity in a church culture fights homogeneity (definitely not the same as unity!) and strengthens diversity. We’re seeing this increasingly in Everyday church: as we deliberately turn outwards
to meet the needs of our communities we find ourselves gathering people from a
far wider socio-economic and racial spectrum than before – and it’s brilliant. Similarly, the partnership with other churches that seeking to make a difference can bring about is fantastic: our work with Christmas Lunch on Jesus, our Kingston and Wimbledon night shelters, Safe & Sound and the creation of Kingston Community Against Trafficking have all seen us partner meaningfully with other churches – this is amazing… in fact, all of this is awesome, and absolutely a reflection of God’s Kingdom and will on earth! We are called, as Matthew 5 warns, to be visible and to make a difference to the glory of God our Father – why on earth would we want to do anything else? 

For part two of this article, click here; to speak to one of our team about how your church specifically can make a difference just get in touch – we’d be glad to talk!