Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Value of Serving Your Community: Vocation not Ministry

If you know me at all, or have been reading this blog for very long, then you are probably aware that I am a big proponent of what is called the doctrine of the spirituality of the church (I'll refer to it as DSC), or what some people call Two-Kingdoms Social Theory. To sum it up quickly, DSC teaches that there is a separation between the church and state, as explained well in Chapter 23 Of the Civil Magistrate and Chapter 25 Of the Church in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

One specific application of DSC is that the purpose of the Church as an institution is to administer the means of grace, the Word, Sacraments and Prayer for calling the lost out of the darkness and for nurturing the faith of believers, and to faithfully administer Church discipline--this is the Church's ministry.

Yet, many today, especially the Tim Kellerites and those in the emergent movement, want to change the Church's ministry (remember: as an institution) to including activities that have nothing to do with administering the grace of the age to come. This new perspective is often referred to as "word and deed" ministry.

When I have had conversations with persons who are of the word and deed mindset, they have often gotten upset with me because they think that those who hold to DSC are mean and don't care about persons in need--it kind of reminds me of how liberal democrats will demonize republicans. Yet, I digress. This charge could not be any further from the truth. The issue is not that DSC'ers don't care, its that we believe that the State, individual citizens of the state, even Christian citizens of the state, are called to take care of society--not the Church as an institution.

Here is a great article that illustrates my point. Patrick McConnell (on right) is a Christian who is part of New City Church Downtown in Macon, GA. New City is pastored by a college buddy of mine, so I am trying to be very careful. New City is a church that sees the mission of the Church, as an institution, as transforming culture, having a "word and deed" ministry. (And just to be clear, here, this does not mean they are seeking to change the culture by only doing good deeds apart from the gospel.) I personally disagree with that understanding of the mission of the Church as an institution, but I love the perspective of feeding your people the gospel and your people going out into the world because of the gospel and living as saints of the age to come in this present age, so that the fragrance of the gospel comes into contact with the world--as they live out their vocations.

In the article, McConnell is described as providing helpful service to the homeless as well as to police in helping to clean up the downtown area of Macon:
If he sees someone breaking the law, McConnell will notify the authorities. . . . If someone needs shelter or food, he’ll point that individual in the direction of the appropriate aid agency. Usually, he sends people to the Salvation Army on Broadway or the Loaves and Fishes Ministry on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
A lady who works for the city states that, “Patrick’s done wonders in making the city feel cleaner and safer.” One of the things I like about the article and about Patrick's service is that the article makes it very clear that he is doing this as vocation, "It’s his job as coordinator of NewTown Macon’s City Watch program." Here is a man who is applying his convictions and providing a helpful, valuable, meaningful service (not ministry) through his vocation. I applaud McConnell for this service and desire to see more people serving their communities.

My point is that there is much we can do to help serve our communities and we don't have to call it ministry for it to be valuable. The Church as an institution brings itself to bear upon a community through the faithful administration of the means of grace and Church discipline; Christians bring their lives to bear on their communities as they live Spirit-grace-filled lives of vocation as the bouquet of the age to come.

DSC is not a doctrine that is designed to teach people not to serve, it is a docrine that is meant to protect the Church from becoming something she is not, and thereby, keeping her from fulfilling her purpose. There are persons and groups that are Christian and non-Christian alike that provide a helpful serive to the comminity--and that is a good thing. But there is only one institution that has been called to administer the means of grace and discipline and that is the Church. In the past, when the Church has become focused on providing community services, it has always resulted in less of an emphasis on, and even the loss of, the ministry of the word, and has been reduced from "word and deed" ministry to "deed" ministry. Let the Church be and do what she is called to be and do (ministry), and let Christians be and do what they are to be and do (vocation)--don't get them confused.

So, read the article on McConnell, be encouraged in your vocation and find a way to serve someone today!

[HT: Keith Watson]

4 comments:

  1. Dave, just for clarity... you wrote "New City is a church that sees the mission of the Church, as an institution, as transforming culture, having a "word and deed" ministry."
    We see the church's mission as primarily the same as the mission of Christians - namely Gospel Transformation along the lines of what you stated when you wrote:"...feeding your people the gospel and your people going out into the world because of the gospel and living as saints of the age to come in this present age, so that the fragrance of the gospel comes into contact with the world--as they live out their vocations." Our stated mission is 'to see the gospel transform everything within our reach, our selves, our church, our city and the world.'
    City Watch is a tool whereby we hope to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ through the relationships we develop as we work for the good of our city. Our mission is to advance the gospel for the glory of God (in our own lives and As We Go). We believe that as we do so, tangible transformation occurs.

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  2. Hey Keith, I hope I have not come across as disparaging, so please forgive me if I have. Your comment above, "We see the church's mission as primarily the same as the mission of Christian's," is very helpful for what I was trying to say. My point is to encourage people to see that individual Christians and the Church as an institution do not have the same purpose mission.

    The discussion is one of ecclessiology. Better guys have said it much better than myself. Check out the two books in my post on Churchless Christianity?

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  3. Not disparaging at all. I understood your point - Just want to clarify the centrality of the gospel in our mission as opposed to simply changing culture by doing good deeds.
    And yes - our ecclessiology is indeed the point and a point of difference. But that we both rejoice in the gospel is reason to celebrate!
    I appreciate you very much as well as your passion Jesus and His great glory.

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  4. Thanks for the clarification, I did not mean to give the impression that your church is engaged in the social gospel. I will update the post to be more clear.

    And btw, sorry to hear about the parking ticket!

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