Soup Kitchen: W2K vs. Social Gospel

At De Regnis Duobus the other day, JJS was meditating (with Ecclesiasties) on “The Pointlessness of Philanthropy”. Now, I get his point that “earth (however you describe it), when divorced from heaven, is vain” (JJS has this habit of getting point across best in the comment trail!), but the discussion left me wondering: where do those in the Confessional Outhouse draw the line between Works of Mercy, and dreaded Transformationalism? I’ve always felt that, if things were done right, then Welfare would be a job not for the Kingdom of Man, but for the Church.

But if you get right down to it, wouldn’t a strong W2K’er hold that, just as there are no “Christian bakers”, there are no Christian Soup Kitchens? (Soup is created from soup ingredients the same way, regardless of whether it is bait for an offer of the gospel.) Thus, what business does a church have running a Soup Kitchen?

This may seem a little tongue in cheek, but I am honestly wondering: when does diaconal ministry cross the line into social gospel? Isn’t that the issue over which J. Gresham Machen determined that the PCUSA had just become too liberal — allowing missionary work to slide too far into works of mercy, at the expense of the gospel? How can the Kingdom of God meddle with improving the Kingdom of Men without becoming Joel Osteen?

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26 Responses to Soup Kitchen: W2K vs. Social Gospel

  1. Zrim says:

    Rube says, “I’ve always felt that, if things were done right, then Welfare would be a job not for the Kingdom of Man, but for the Church.”

    Now you are talking like the constituency Karl was after in the first place with his faith-based initiatives. But I do not let government so easily off the hook.

    How society gets ordered and maintained is the place of those ordained to do so. It is absolutely NOT the job of the Church to do what the officers of the LHK must decide, etc. If you don’t want welfare programs, fine, but don’t foist that role onto the Church…that’s YOUR (read: government’s) job to figure out. I would veto the faith-based initiatives and tell Karl “not so fast.”

    The Church takes care of its own. It is not in the business of figuring out war, abortion policies, how to feed the hungry, who may/not marry, what to do about the Palastinians, or any other aspect in the bevy of worldly affairs. When Harrison Ford tells Tommy Lee Jones he didn’t kill his wife the latter says, “I don’t care.” What he means is, as relevant as that may very well be, that’s not his job and it’s for someone else to do, etc. It’s a turn of phrase that is not meant literally but to point up that there are rules and they must be played by as well as possible.

    Zrim

  2. Zrim says:

    “…wouldn’t a strong W2K’er hold that, just as there are no “Christian bakers”, there are no Christian Soup Kitchens?”

    Yes.

    But don’t tell the folks here in GR. My W2K peso has a very poor exchange rate here.

    Zrim

  3. RubeRad says:

    So is

    learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause

    (a) only with respect to those in the church,

    (b) an OT-only conflation of the two kingdoms within intrusion-ethic Israelite theocracy, or

    (c) merely an admonition of how Christians are to lead their lives in “the other Kingdom”?

  4. Why not just say that the diaconate of a church exists to care for those church members under its jurisdiction, while those who are citizens of the State are cared for in part by her?

    2K crosses the line when it uses the diaconate to alleviate the ills of all the world’s poor.

  5. Zrim says:

    I would say A and B.

    I perceive that the Church, and the Church only, is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and as such, is the new Israel that points ahead to the coming Kingdom the way OT Israel did.

    I guess I don’t quite understand what C means.

    Zrim

  6. Zrim says:

    “2K crosses the line when it uses the diaconate to alleviate the ills of all the world’s poor.”

    Yeah, I guess I help lower the value of my W2K peso when I bring bags of hand-me-downs to our social justice headmistress. I cover myself with a lot of “balming” babble. I can be such a wuss.

    Zrim

  7. RubeRad says:

    Hi JJS, thx for checking out our new digs!

    Why not just say that the diaconate of a church exists to care for those church members under its jurisdiction, while those who are citizens of the State are cared for in part by her?

    2K crosses the line when it uses the diaconate to alleviate the ills of all the world’s poor.

    So it’s appropriate for the diaconate to care for part of the worlds poor? Which part? Which of the world’s poor are on this side of the 2K line?

    I think a related question would be this: is it legitimate for the church to use earthly charity as a (secondary) means of opening ears to the (true) gospel? Is “foreign missionaries bundling their gospel message with medical relief” equivalent to “mega-churches providing seeker-sensitive programs to lure the unreached in”?

  8. RubeRad says:

    I guess I don’t quite understand what C means.

    It doesn’t really matter since you plumped for A and B, because C was just meant as a last-ditch way to explain the presence/applicability of passages like Is 1:17, if A & B are not true, and if the church is not supposed to be proactively caring for the poor. For instance, when the bible tells us to use fair weights and measures in buying and selling, that is instruction for Christians to apply in their 2nd Kingdom existence, not a mandate for the church to regulate trade.

    If the church owes no earthly assistance to those in the world, then who is my neighbor, and how can I love him as myself?

  9. I think Paul’s extremely high criteria for which widows are to receive official diaconal aid serves as good evidence that unbelievers are, normally speaking, not the intended recipients of the church’s charity.

  10. Oh, and there’s a difference between what one may do as a private believing citizen and what the church’s mandate is, properly understood. The Samaritan parable would fit into the former, in my view.

  11. RubeRad says:

    a difference between what one may do as a private believing citizen and what the church’s mandate is

    I think that’s what I was trying to get at with (C)…

  12. rana says:

    “NO SOUP FOR YOU!”

    -Seinfeld’s soup nazi

  13. Rick says:

    Good to see Rana in the Outhouse…wait, that didn’t come out right.

    Good to see you here Rana. Why weren’t you at the Godfrey lecture Friday night?

  14. rana says:

    thanks for welcoming me into your world of scatological humor, i mean confessional outhouse.

    i was at the lecture but how would i have known who you are?

    we even went to evening service at Trinity last night and got stopped by the communion police right at the front door. good work. since we are still looking for a confessional church and not members anywhere (long story) we had to watch the bread and wine get passed before us. my usually stoic husband showed some emotion at that point, unusual for him.

    so what do we have to do so that we don’t feel barred from the table as believers in limbo?

    btw, we sat right in front of your sister and her kids at evening service, that nephew of yours can sing.

  15. Rick says:

    Rana,
    ‘scatological’ That’s great.

    I’m the sound guy (I was Friday night too – I was talking to Zrim back there afterward). I suppose you met my sister-in-law (my wife’s sister, not mine).

    As for communion. Did you explain your situation to the Elder? It seems like you should have been admitted if you confess the 3 forms (or the WCF) and are seeking a confessional church home -? If you felt like an outsider, I’m sorry.

    Hope to actually meet you sometime. Perhaps CC will loosen it’s restrictions on where you can have membership.

  16. Zrim says:

    Crap, Rana. It would have been good on Friday to have put a name to a face. But my vocation is all about disembodied souls anyway.

    Rube, as much as I would stress that the Good Sam is really about justification, JJS makes an excellent distinction between the church proper and the individual member. Those are some more categories that are, I think, vital to good W2K theory.

    Zrim

  17. rana says:

    Jason indeed made an excellent point distinguishing the individual from the church.

    that is the point i was confused about on his blog, as an individual was he or others suggesting no philanthropy, it wasn’t clear reading just that post ?

  18. Zrim says:

    Rana,

    I cannot speak for the good right reverend, but from my POV the point seems to be that in distinguishing properly the categories of church proper and individual there is nothing at all wrong with philanthropy, as long as it is the individual doing it. You may “give” to a cause that I am not at all persuaded to and vice versa. It’s a matter of individual conscience when it comes to matters outside the church’s jurisdiction. But once the church proper begins to speak and act it becomes problematic and consciences may become bruised.

    Zrim

  19. RubeRad says:

    there’s a difference between what one may do as a private believing citizen and what the church’s mandate is, properly understood. The Samaritan parable would fit into the former, in my view.

    So the Canaanite woman whose daughter was healed; was that illustrating that unbelieving dogs should only get the crumbs? Or was she, by her faith, a just recipient of charity?

    I dunno, reserving charity only for our own strikes me as loving those who love you

  20. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    It was pointing to the reality of Jesus’ lordship and authority over death, etc. The fact that they were Canaanites points to the reality that God’s people are who he says they are and are not easily detectable. His salvific mission to the lost is to all men without distinction. These seem like matters that fall into the category of the invisible church. But that doesn’t mean we are to ignore the realities of the visible church and the boundary markers between her and the world. That is to say, it is one thing to liberally and without distinction preach the well-meant and free Gospel to the lost, but it is another to suggest that the Church visible and proper is essentially no different from a charity organization. Once you do, it becomes unclear just which “causes” the Church is supposed to take up: Operation Rescue or world debt relief. Something tells me proponents of both would take issue with the other and you have a real mess on your hands. Whose “charity” is God’s? Leave it to conscience and let the Church take care of her own.

    Zrim

  21. Zrim says:

    “I dunno, reserving charity only for our own strikes me as loving those who love you.”

    I am reminded of that scene in “Hair,” you know, “Easy to be Cold,” where the father who “cares about strangers; who cares about evil and social injustice,” all the while neglecting his own family. The lesson seems to be, take care of your own before self-righteously taking on the rest of the world. Moreover, your own will never really be OK enough to allow an undue attention elswehere. I very rarely–nay, never–go down the street to make sure the Baldwins’ kids are doing all right at the expense of my own. That would be…weird.

    Zrim

  22. Echo_ohcE says:

    Ps 82 is an indictment against secular rulers every bit as much as the rulers of Israel.

    All secular rulers rule with God’s authority: give unto Caesar, right? Rom 13 right?

    The role of governments is to provide for justice.

    This is not the role of the church. While the gov’t administers justice, the church administers the Word and Sacraments.

    The church looks after her own in order to display the love of Christ to one another. That’s patently obvious in the book of Acts. In the book of Acts, you don’t see people selling all they have and giving it to the poor outside the church, but they lay it at the apostles’ feet and they distributed it to whomever had need. Also, Paul speaks of gathering a gift from the Gentile believers for the Jewish believers. It was because there was a famine in Jerusalem. Consider too Jesus’ point about Elijah. Elijah only helped the one widow to eat in a famine. Jesus reminds us that that was not the only starving widow at the time.

    But if the people of God have enough an abundance, there should be no interaction with the poor outside the church apart from the preaching of the gospel. Our job with respect to those outside the church is to bear witness to Christ.

    You can give unbelievers food all you want, but you haven’t given them anything of real lasting value. The Church’s job is to go and make disciples, not to eradicate poverty. We bring the Word. This is our treasure in jars of clay.

    E

  23. Echo_ohcE says:

    Also, Jesus said that when we love one another, this will be the witness to the world. This is how they will know that we are his disciples.

    When Jesus fed the masses, didn’t he say that there was a problem with their response? When they followed him after that and wouldn’t leave them alone, what did he say about it? Didn’t he say that they were only following him because he gave them food, filling their bellies? They weren’t really interested in the Word.

  24. RubeRad says:

    And yet he fed them and preached to them. There must have been at least a few elect among those thousands for whom the Holy Spirit effectuated their call through the hearing of the Word.

    I repeat my question:

    is it legitimate for the church to use earthly charity as a (secondary) means of opening ears to the (true) gospel? Is “foreign missionaries bundling their gospel message with medical relief” equivalent to “mega-churches providing seeker-sensitive programs to lure the unreached in”?

  25. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    No to the first question. This is copping to the false and worldly assumption that the Church is somehow a relief or charity agency; this is a Household conception. It is not. There is no NT precedent showing us where the mission of the Church was to care for the world. Echo is right, care was only given to the saints. Where do you draw the line in all of this and say the Church can no longer take on this or that cause, because you have to before Her back breaks? She has enough problems within Herself to care for. I repeat my “Easy to be Cruel” analogy.

    Yes to the second. In fact, they are both presumptuous. Bring them the Gospel, enfold them into the Church, then care for them. Don’t wrap up the Gospel in a form of bait and switch. If you want to go around the world to honestly help those in whatever sort of need, don’t do it with a Bible in one hand… just do it if your conscience so leads and be honest enough to not have a hidden, religious agenda; help the hunger (or whatever) and get out. Nobody is championing a cold heart here, just well sorted out rules as to who does what to whom and why, etc.

    I think of my Jesus freak converter who was doing that “friendship evangelism” crap. Once I was converted he disappeared and it was clear to me I had been handled. Don’t pretend to be a friend or care about my hunger when all you really want to do is convert me. Man up and convert me honestly. Hidden agendas are not befitting the Gospel. I guess that’s my main point here: we need to be honest about what we are doing, whether it is an earthly effort of heavenly. Fix hunger (or whatever) for hunger’s sake and preach the Gospel for its ownsake.

    I won’t add that I find all forms of activism (personal and social) to be alien to the Confessionalist ethic. That’s for another time.

    z

  26. Echo_ohcE says:

    Rube,

    Feeling hurt that you said, he preached AND fed, so I repeat my question.

    Ouch. Two posts destroyed, rendered worthless by the word “and”.

    Yes, he fed them. But did he feed them for the purpose of filling their bellies? Jesus’ complaint shows that he didn’t feed them to fill their bellies.

    So why DID he feed them? Again, his complaint was that they weren’t interested in the POINT, the Word.

    This is typical of the Jews in particular. Give us a sign, show us wonders, but we don’t want the Word. We want a glorious King who will kick out the Romans, not a crucified Christ. We want a Temple, not a Bible. We want the sign, but not the thing signified. We want bread, but not the Bread of Life.

    He fed them as a sign, not as charity.

    This is why I mentioned Elijah only helping one widow. Why did he help her? Was it simple charity, or was it to make a point about the Word?

    I teach children’s Sunday School. Every week they memorize verses for it. When they recite their verses, I give them candy. Do I give them candy because I know that it’s getting close to lunch time and the poor little darlings are hungry? No, and to make the point so their little minds might begin to grasp it, I give them their candy first thing, but they cannot eat it until after class. All quite deliberate.

    The question is why? I’m trying to teach them that memorizing Scripture brings blessings with it, that it will be a benefit from them. I’m trying to get them to see that. Is the candy the only benefit they’ll ever get? No. I still remember verses I memorized as a child, and it continues to shape my thinking.

    My point is that I don’t give them candy out of charity.

    The role of the church is not to eradicate poverty, to fill bellies, just as that wasn’t what Jesus was trying to do.

    Why do you think Jesus healed the sick? Partly because they were sick and he took pity on them, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to get him to do it. God is the one who has made sickness, poverty, disease, etc the consequences of the fall. God wants those consequences present so that we would recognize something was wrong.

    If you break your arm, do you want the doctor to simply give you pain medication, or do you want him to mend your bone?

    Jesus healed the sick and fed the starving to prove that he is the one who brings life to the dead by his Spirit and by his Word. All his miracles serve a purpose. All his miracles serve to show that “the kingdom of God is among you.”

    So what I am saying is that if we feed the poor, we had better do it in service to the gospel. The gospel doesn’t serve feeding the poor. If you want to serve the poor as an illustration about how the preached Word is the bread of life, and how hearing the Word is their sustenance – fine, so be it, go and do it.

    But if you’re not doing it that way, then all you’re doing is feeding the poor, and this was not what Jesus came to do, and not what the church is called to do.

    That doesn’t mean it’s morally wrong to give to charity, or to serve in a soup kitchen. It IS morally good. But the job of the church is not to be a moral example. While the church IS a moral example, that is not its function.

    Jesus is a moral example, but that wasn’t what he came to do. He came to accomplish our salvation and serve it up to us on a silver platter. This is the job of the church, to serve the salvation that Christ accomplished on a silver platter.

    Let us then take food for the poor off the menu, and put the gospel of Jesus Christ back on it. This is why we have deacons.

    The apostles thought that being devoted to Word and prayer was the job of elders, ministers, the apostles, but the job of waiting tables, even for those inside the church, was not their job, so they raised up deacons. But they serve those inside the church.

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