by Leroy Barber
I remember many years ago when my wife, Donna, and I made the decision to follow our call into ministry. We felt strongly that serving the poor was an important way for us to express the gospel to the world around us. We were challenged to not be people who lift up the “social gospel” and lose sight of the “true gospel.” These two views were held as different or opposing: the “social gospel” was seen as doing good work in the name of Jesus, but it was not really the “true gospel” (that is, proclamation).
Often cited was Mark 8:36: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
This verse is best expressed in a question I have received many times over the years when we talk about our commitment to housing for the homeless: “What good is it to give a person a house if they don’t know Jesus?” The implication of such a question is that it’s perfectly fine to have a person say a prayer to accept Jesus and then comfortably leave them on the street.
My response is this: “Why don’t you sell your home and live on the street since it doesn’t matter?”
There seems to be a need for reconciliation of the thoughts expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10 so that the whole gospel is represented by us all:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The coming together of faith and works is vital in our day. There have been creeds and groups throughout history trying to reconcile the two—perhaps it’s time to lay our theological weapons on the table in effort to be one Church with one message.
Certainly, the gospel is hindered when there is no proclamation or when there is just proclamation. The fact is we need both proclamation and justice—lifting the message that Jesus will, through grace, forgive sins and that God desires to make things right when it comes to injustice. The Good News is then a combination of proclaiming, meeting the needs of the poor and outcast, confronting injustice, and advocating on behalf of others. This is the life Jesus lived out among us.
Separating them presents an incomplete story.
We all have different roles within this story, but the Good News is comprehensive. It fills every part of who we are and should bring life to everyone.
If we can reconcile within the Church, perhaps reconciliation of all things is possible.
Leroy Barber (@leroybarber) has dedicated more than 25 years to eradicating poverty, confronting homelessness, restoring local neighborhoods, healing racism, and living what Dr. King called “the beloved community.” He is co-founder and director of the Voices Project and college pastor at Kilns College. Rev. Barber is on the boards of The Simple Way, Missio Alliance, The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). Leroy is author of three books. He and his wife, Donna, have been married for 29 years and together they have five children.