Think on These Things has a new post up on the Social Gospel —for those of you who don’t know what that term means, it’s the belief that Christians have a two pronged mandate. The first prong is to preach the Gospel, the second is to push for “social justice,” or the care of the poor and disadvantaged, most often implemented through government programs. But does the church have this sort of mandate?
The question often comes down to this —what would Jesus do?
To help us understand this better, it would be good to observe what Jesus did while on earth (a much better question than the popular “What would Jesus do?” is “What did Jesus do?” The first question leads to guesswork, the second to certainty). Without doubt He often healed the sick, fed great crowds at times, and ministered to the poor and despised of society. Jesus had compassion on the hurting and rejected and spent time with sinners. But it should also be observed that Jesus spent much time with wealthy people, such as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He ate in the homes of well-to-do tax collectors such as Zacchaeus and powerful Pharisees. He spent time with notorious sinners such as Mary Magdalene but also with religious leaders such as Nicodemus. The financial status and social standing of people around Jesus did not seem to matter – He ministered to everyone who would listen and challenged (and often condemned) those who would not. In short, Jesus was the perfect embodiment of the command found in Leviticus: “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (19:15).
It is also instructive to note what Jesus did not do. He healed some sick, but not all. He healed many in His immediate presence, but He established no hospitals or clinics, nor did He eradicate sickness in Israel, or on earth, although it was in His power to do so. Jesus fed up to 5000 people on occasion but He did not start a soup kitchen or breadline. He paid special attention to the poor but He did not relieve their debt or set them up in small businesses or give them loans. Jesus loved widows and orphans but did not establish a home for either. Whether Christian agencies should be established for these concerns today is another matter, but it would be going beyond both the instruction of Scripture and the example of Christ (or His apostles later in the New Testament history) to claim that we are to do so today because of what Jesus did while on earth. Jesus neither commanded us to do such things nor did He do them Himself.