Frequently in mission endeavors, we encounter those who are not only destitute of gospel witness but also are suffering severely – materially, physically, and psychologically. How should this suffering impact mission strategy?
Issues of Mercy and Justice have captivated the younger generation of the global church. This presents both an opportunity and a risk. The opportunity lies in channeling this new source of energy into mission endeavors. The risk is that unless this labor is grounded in Christ and centered in Christ it will amount to wood, hay, and stubble and ultimately prove worthless, dissolving in the flames on the Day of the Lord.
The effort of this brief article is to contribute one piece of clarity to this important puzzle. This is not an academic project. Rather, I believe that such clarity is a necessary aid to our obedience and our unity. I trust it will serve as a biblical grid through which to screen contemporary voices – largely a cacophony of pragmatics.
I argue that Mercy Ministry is distinct and inseparable from the ministry of the Word. I will make some effort to define how they are distinct and to provide the grounds for inseparability. The implications, for the most part, are left to the reader.
Mercy Ministry is defined here as: The formal work of the church in deeds of service in the world in the name of Christ.
Mercy Ministry and the Ministry of the Word are Distinct
The only Spirit-empowered Means of Grace is the Word. The Word is the means by which the Spirit imparts Christ with his saving benefits (Rom 10:17). For this reason, the ministry of the Word is before or above Mercy Ministry (1 Cor 12:28-31; cf. Mat 28:19-20; Eph 4:11; Rom 10:14; Isa 59:21). Mercy Ministry is not able to be nor is it intended to be a Means of Grace in this sense.
On the other hand, deeds of Mercy have a function that the ministry of the Word does not – namely the implications, towards others, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. We not only preach Christ’s crucifixion but we also live it out in our union with Him. In fact, it is specifically in our daily dying that Christ’s resurrection power is manifest in us (2 Cor 4:11-12). Thus the apostle Paul died every day on behalf of others (1 Cor 15:31). This perpetual dying is mysteriously coordinated with the resurrected life of the church (2 Cor 6:4-10). Not only does this dying for others fail to destroy the church (2 Cor 4:8-12) but the church triumphs in certain inaugurated aspects of Christ’s kingdom (Act 6:3, 7; Jas 1:18, 27; Jas 2:14-17). She is a glorious city on a hill (Mat 5:14-16) and a constellation of light on the dark canvas of the world’s cursed night (Phil 2:15-17).
Mercy Ministry is indispensable. It is vital to the life and mission of the church. Its distinctiveness is such that in our mission strategy we must take care that Mercy Ministry is not reduced to merely providing opportunity for ministry of the Word. Mercy Ministry has its own distinct and necessary function and how we define this distinctiveness is critical to faithful ministry.
Mercy Ministry and the Ministry of the Word are Inseparable
The inseparability is in Christ’s own person. We proclaim Christ, crucified and raised, and we live in Christ, crucified and raised. We can further clarify the inseparable bond between Mercy Ministry and the Ministry of the Word in their common aim, exercise, and form.
The aim of all ministry is the ingathering and, ultimately, the perfecting of the church, Christ’s kingdom (Eph 1:22-23; Eph 4:4-16 KJV; Mat 28:20; Col 2:10 KJV; 1 Cor 15:20-25). There is no other purpose.
The exercise of all ministry (unto the perfection of obedience from the heart) is according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:1-4, 10). It is in Spirit-empowered selfless compassion modeled after the all-pervasive liberality of God’s own love in Christ (Mat 5:44-45; Joh 13:34-35). This obedience is diversely exercised in accordance with one’s calling (1 Pet 4:10-11).
The form of all ministry is according to Christ’s own present and direct reign. This reign is administered by the ministry of church Office (deacons and elders together) as organically connected to the whole life of the whole church, Christ’s body (Eph 4:11-13 KJV). Proclamation occurs neither in a vacuum nor directly from heaven but rather through the visible church which is visible to the world. This church testifies to Christ and His kingdom by her life as well as her words (1 Cor 13:1; 2 Cor 4:11-12).
To separate Mercy Ministry and Ministry of the Word is to divide Christ and therefore do divide the church. To labor in one without due concern for the other is to be out of accord with the church’s commission.
The inseparability of Mercy Ministry from ministry of the Word is such that the church, in her mission strategy, must be cautious about the manner in which one is prioritized or emphasized over against the other (1 Cor 12:4-11; 1 Pet 4:10-11). Neither form of ministry is an absolute or an isolated priority. In the church’s mission to the world, it is appropriateness which will recommend the order and priority for each occasion.
The distinctions must not become separations and the inseparability must not collapse the distinctions. All must be “according to the Scriptures” if we are to be delivered from the oppression of pragmatics which threatens to toss the church to and fro.
Bibliography of Useful Material
[Please comment with material that can supplement this list and help me in my further study.]
- Bavinck, Herman. “The Kingdom of God, The Highest Good.” Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman. The Bavinck Review 2 (2011): 133–70. https://bavinckinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/TBR2_Translation.pdf
- Bavinck, Herman. “Calvin and Common Grace.” Calvin and the Reformation: Four Studies. Edited by William Park Armstrong, Translated by Geerhardus Vos. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1909. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/pdf/bavinck_commongrace.pdf.
- Bavinck, Herman. “Common Grace.” Calvin Theological Journal 24.1 (1989): 35–65.
- Bavinck, Herman. “The Spirit’s Means of Grace: Proclamation.” Reformed Dogmatics. Edited by John Bolt, Translated by John Vriend. Vol. 4, 519–522. 4 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2003. https://www.monergism.com/spirit%E2%80%99s-means-grace-proclamation.
- Clowney, Edmund P. “The Biblical Theology of the Church.” The Biblical Theology Briefings (n.d.): 50. http://beginningwithmoses.org/oldsite/articles/btchurch.pdf
- Conn, Harvie M. Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1982.
- Edwards, Jonathan. “Christian Charity OR The Duty of Charity of the Poor, Explained and Enforced.” Pages 163–73 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 2. Edinburgh ; Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974. http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/charity.htm.
- Murray, John. “Adorning the Gospel.” Pages 182–85 in Collected Writings of John Murray: The Claims of Truth. Vol. 1. 4 vols. Edinburgh ; Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976.
- Murray, John. “Common Grace.” Pages 93–122 in Collected Writings of John Murray. Vol. 2. 4 vols. Edinburgh ; Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976.
- Poythress, Vern S. Redeeming Sociology: A God-Centered Approach. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2011. https://frame-poythress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/PoythressVernRedeemingSociology.pdf.
- Vos, Geerhardus. “The Kingdom of God.” Pages 304–16 in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos. Edited by Richard B. Gaffin. Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Pub, 2001. http://www.biblicaltheology.org/kg.pdf.