Saturday, October 28, 2006

What Is Kingdom Work?

This week I have been attending a conference on transformation. It wasn’t your typical evangelical meeting where the emphasis was on transformation of the heart, but the transformation of community and nations through social action. Though I was uncomfortable with, what I perceived to be some radical rhetoric, I can’t ignore the reality of the social ills of this country. Forty percent of the population live in one room; female infanticide, though outlawed, is still a common practice; most Dalit children have no educational opportunities; most of the poor are in perpetual slavery as bonded laborers. The heart of the message of Jesus was to those who are poor and marginalized. The one common theme throughout Scripture is God’s judgment on people and nations who oppress the poor. For a gathering of Christian leaders discussing transforming communities it was both good and right to discuss political and social injustice.

But, as with all things, it’s important to maintain balance in discussing sensitive issues. Transformation of community will never happen by having cleaner water, better housing or legislation for equal rights. Helpful, certainly, but good deeds is only part of the equation. For true transformation to take place there must be a transformation of the heart. For followers of Jesus, we believe that only Christ can truly bring about heart transformation. I am not Pollyannaish; bigotry, racism, tribalism and casteism will never be completely eradicated, even among those who claim to be Christians. And, I concede that compassion for the poor can and does reside in the heart of some Hindu’s, Muslims and people of other faiths. The point is, deeds without faith is mere social ritual whereas faith with deed is a demonstration of what we believe God would have us to do in loving others as we love ourselves.

Most evangelicals do not know how to do social work well. We either do it as a part of our agenda (feed the poor as a means to bring people to conversion), or, more likely, don’t do anything, as we don’t see social work as a part of Christ’s command to take the Good News to the nations. In spite our Lord’s work in healing the sick and His teaching on social action (giving a cup of water, the example of the Good Samaritan, the crime of unfair loans, the corrupt judge, etc.) we still have and aversion to be socially active in our communities. The great challenge for evangelicals is finding ways to bridge the gap between “felt” and “real” needs.

The question, to be explored next time, is where and in what way should we be involved? Perhaps the short answer is, “just because,” and that should be enough.