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The Kingdom and social impact

What does it mean to demonstrate the Kingdom?


In the last post I gave three examples of networks of organic/house churches (and one slightly more traditional church) that are changing lives, making disciples, but more than that, they are having a social impact.  They are changing their communities, so much so that their cities are taking notice. 

Is community change a part of God's Kingdom? The Lord's prayer says, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We know that God wants social justice (see Isaiah 58). He's pleased when the fatherless are taken care of, when the homeless are housed.

Our friends in India who are seeing huge numbers of people becoming believers are no longer that interested in numbers of baptisms and healings. What they are looking for is the resulting community transformation–clean water and electricity for the village, no more malnutrition among the kids, roads built, jobs created etc. The expansion of the Kingdom produces these kinds of results.

So what do you call it when groups who are definitely not Christians produce these same results. Is this expansion of the Kingdom too? It is definitely good, and I believe God is pleased, but where is the King?

It is only true Kingdom when the King is in control.

What do you think?

12 replies on “The Kingdom and social impact”

Not a direct answer to your question Felicity but last year a community near where I live was up in arms over a group of Muslims wanting to start a mosque. The opposition to the mosque was led by local churchgoers who feared the mosque would become a training ground for terrorists and that it would harm the character of their “Christian” community. At one of the rallies, attended by 600 people who opposed the mosque, a couple books written by former Muslims were recommended. In each case, the authors converted to Christianity after Christians extended Christ’s love to them through feeding them, healing them, providing clean water etc. I found that ironic since the people recommending the books were unwilling to extend a welcome to these Muslims, many of whom had lived in the area for years and are refugees from Kosovo and Bosnia, where they were persecuted by “Christians.”
Acts 2:42-47 indicates that a major reason for the growth of the Jerusalem church was that they cared for “anyone as he had need,” leading to them enjoying favor with “all the people,” meaning those outside the congregation, indicating how attractive this was, not that our goal should be to please men.
“For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved.” Matthew 25: 41-43 (RESV — Richard E. Stearns Version, “The Hole in Our Gospel”) Jesus indicates we will be judged on how we treat the poor and needy.

Dan, the books you describe are a great example of how we can influence people through social action. I’m also fascinated by the verses you quote. I had always assumed the new believers sold their possessions to give to any other believers who had need, but, at least in the versions I just read, that isn’t necessarily the case. Very interesting!
The quote from the RESV is all too true!

Is community change a part of God’s Kingdom?
Luke 7:20-23:
“John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

We can get so wrapped up in “social impact” that we miss the great commission in the process.
If we preach the real gospel (not some watered down, social gospel which really isn’t a gospel at all) and the lame walk, the blind see, and the maimed are made whole, don’t you think THAT would produce all of the “social impact” we are looking for?
Jesus wasn’t about social impact; He was about his Father’s business as we should be.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a crowd of muslims, unbelievers or atheists, if the power of God is in manifestation, you’ll have all of the social “impact” you could ask for.

Gary, Our experience is that getting involved with the poor leads to endless opportunities to see the Lord work supernaturally. And as you say, that has an ongoing impact. To do social justice work without the King isn’t bringing the Kingdom.
I totally agree with you that to miss the Great Commission is very possible in the context of social justice. However, sadly most Christians neither work with the poor nor pray for the sick outside of church walls.

“Jesus wasn’t about social impact; He was about his Father’s business”
Gary, I think there is another way to look at this. Jesus said caring for people was his mission – Luke 4:18-21:
” The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
So proclaiming good news of the Lord’s favour, setting the oppressed free, freeing prisoners and healing blindness are all parts of Jesus’ mission. And it is clear from Jesus’ ministry that he was addressing both spiritual and physical blindness, oppression, captivity and freedom.
When he sent his followers out to teach the kingdom of God, he told them to do both physical and spiritual ministry – Luke 10:9: “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Then he tells us to go out and do the same – Matthew 28:18-19: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
What he had commanded them was both physical and spiritual ministry, and that is surely what he still commands us to do today.
So if we want to truly follow Jesus, we won’t miss either aspect of the good news of the kingdom of God.

Felicity, I’ve always understood that the “as anyone had need” probably does refer to those in the church, but it’s easy to see that those on the outside would be attracted to that, seeing the contrast with the extreme cruelty of their world. “By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

“We can get so wrapped up in “social impact” that we miss the great commission in the process.”
Gary, I agree with that statement, but to go too far that direction would create an imbalance in the teachings of Jesus. I think evangelicals in general over the last 40-50 years have been mostly out of balance in that direction. Many openings for the Gospel have been created in recent years through groups like World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse and my denomination’s ReachGlobal ministries that are going into Muslim countries and unreached areas to help those suffering from natural disasters, hunger disease, etc.

I agree with you. As a matter of fact, before we can adequately reach the hurt and the hungry for Christ, we have to heal them and feed them first before we even begin to tell them about Jesus. My point is that while many are trumpeting social impact/issues, they usually forget the spiritual aspect. To spread Jesus without taking care of a person’s material needs is not really helping the cause of Christ that much. After all, Jesus was concerned about the whole man not just the spiritual.
Feed someone first and then they are more readily willing to accept the “why” behind what you did. My point was–and is–that to talk about “social impact” without including the real gospel being preached is to miss the mark, that’s all.
And I’m not saying anyone here is doing that. Just giving my observation on what is sometimes happening with well-intentioned but spiritually lacking programs.

Just for clarification when I said that Jesus was not about social impact but was about His Father’s business, I had reference to Jesus’ mission–which included the physical needs of people as well (Feeding of the five thousand, etc). Jesus wasn’t going around thinking “How can I have social impact in this town today?” Being about His Father’s business included that aspect as well.
My point was that if we do the works of Jesus, and focus on things from a spiritual perspective, we’ll have the social impact we’re looking for. If we come at the problem from a purely “social impact” perspective, and are only concerned about how we can impact people’s physical needs and fail to preach the gospel, we have failed.
Coming at the issue from one perspective meets BOTH of these needs. Coming at the problem from a pure “social impact” frame of reference, fails to address all of the problems and needs.
Be blessed, guys!

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