Don’t Pay for a Disembodied Gospel

Posted on February 15, 2013

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Working for a not-for-profit organization, there is a lot of talk around the office about how “young people” (whatever that means) don’t give money to churches or charities. If they do, it will only be to organizations that provide people with food, water, or mosquito nets. The common refrain is that “people under forty don’t care about proclaiming the gospel to the world.”

And, from a certain point of view, this is correct. The days are gone when an organization could run up the flag of global evangelism and find a people rallying to salute, checks in hand. The world has changed. I’m 33 and got my first email account when I was in college. I started making the financial decisions of adulthood three months before the events of September 11, 2001. Anyone younger than me will have been even more influenced by the Internet, the constant shadow of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economic collapse of 2008 with its flood of evidence that business and political leaders are not to be trusted. We are a skeptical bunch, but for good reason.

At the same time, our society has a sense of hope and possibility. There is a deep desire to participate: politicallyagriculturally  artistically, and while perhaps not in traditional churches, in dialogues of faith and meaning. What could be perceived as skepticism is more likely a critical eye, a look-before-you-leap disposition toward writing checks, signing petitions, or joining a movement that may claim to be Christian, but doesn’t seem very Jesus-like.

So, let me tell you what I will give money to.

1. Projects and organizations that help children. There is a reason I feel manipulated by those day-time commercials to help starving children: they work. Nothing touches me more than stories about children and their families who are suffering. (Compassion International. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital)

James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in there affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. ESV

2. People who are working to provide the basics of human life. Water, food, shelter, mosquito nets, malaria medicine, fighting AIDS in Africa. (charity:water, water.org, Habitat for Humanity, the ONE campaign)

Matthew 25: 35-36: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. NIV

3. Sustainable economic innovation. Windmills. Solar cookers. Bike-powered generators. Micro-loans. Hippo Rollers. (KIVA)

Mark 12:30-31: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love you neighbor as yourself. ESV

4. Projects that support creativity and human expression. Inner city chess clubs. Public space art projects. Projects that bring the world closer and create empathy.

Psalm 19:1-2: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. ESV

5. Organizations that are providing genuine hope. It may be any kind of marginalized groups of people: women, homosexuals, prisoners, ex-cons, reformed gang members, porn stars, prostitutes, drug dealers, alcoholics or animals.

Luke 15:32: But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ NIV

What then about the millions of people who need to hear about Christ’s love and salvation?

My answer to that is this:

I do not believe in a disembodied gospel.

I believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I believe that Christ was a real person who was also really God. I also believe that, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we incarnate this good news in our lives. Salvation doesn’t exist outside our hearts. It is not a ticket we hold in our hands which allows us sneak into heaven under the nose of a God whose scowl would otherwise burn us up.

Unfortunately, our lives are an incarnation of the good news. I say, ‘unfortunate’ because too often those people who most quickly confess Christ, least resemble him. This is true personally and within the structures and organizations of our society.

The work of continuing the incarnation is not easy and it is sometimes (ok, often) messy. I am willing to accept this fact and offer a lot of grace to people and organizations who struggle to display tangible results of their efforts. I am even willing to financially support groups and organizations that are sharing the good news, but only if they can show me: “how are you embodying the gospel?” If you cannot convince me that you are doing this in any but the most general ways, I will turn my attention to those organizations who more closely carry on the work of Jesus, regardless of what claims of faith they do or don’t make in their promotional materials.

 

 

Photo: JulianBleeker

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