We are looking at the question of what salvation is all about. What is the scope of salvation? How far reaching is is? Is salvation limited to the spiritual realm? Or does it have meaning for the whole man and the whole of creation? When one reads the Bible as a story one comes away with a very much broader vision of what the responsibilities of those who are saved through the mercy and grace of God truly are.
If we look at man as a dichotomous being, i.e., a being of two parts, made up of the physical part, the body, and the spiritual part or soul, then we will tend, as did the Greek philosophy from which this idea is derived, to emphasize the spiritual part over the physical. This is dualism which holds that the physical realm is only a shadow of the real, the spiritual realm and that the physical is inferior to the spiritual. Dualists believe the spiritual will continue, the physical will perish. Consider Paul’s words to the Thessalonian Christians …
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
“Three words are used to emphasize the wholeness of the perfection. “Spirit” and “soul” are used as virtual synonyms in the Bible for the spiritual component of a person. When the terms occur together (as here and in Heb. 4:12) it is difficult to find any significant difference in meaning.” (Reformation Study Bible, BibleGateway.com).
The body as well as the spiritual part of man is to be kept blameless and sanctified in view of the coming of the Lord. That is the whole of man. The body, albeit in glorified form, will be resurrected at his coming. If we look at man in the way in which the Bible presents man as a unitary being then we can much more easily see that we have a responsibility to care for the whole man. In Genesis 2:7 God was said to have “…formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Man is a living creature.
To care for the whole man is not “the social gospel” as some think of it. It is simply ministering to the living creature – the whole creature. People who make the charge of “social gospel” against those who advocate and practice social justice don’t even know what the social gospel was all about. The social gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought by the application of Biblical principles to address the inequities created as a result of the rapid industrialization following the American Civil War. These were days of ‘‘triumphant capitalism,’’ and the so called “robber barons” who made massive fortunes, largely by underpaying workers, working them long hours in hazardous conditions and working children in factories at very low pay. One of the leaders of this movement was Walter Rauschenbusch, a German American and preacher in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City.
Rauschenbusch traced the social gospel back to the lives of the Hebrew prophets. He stated that rather than ritualistic ceremonies, the prophets ‘‘insisted on a right life as the true worship of God’’ This ‘‘right life’’ included the belief that ‘‘social problems are moral problems on a large scale’’ (Social Gospel).
The problem with the social gospel movement was not that it attempted to rectify the injustices done to fellow human beings, but in their attempt to impose Biblical principles on an unbelieving world. You can’t change humanity by the imposition of Biblical principles. This is the same mistake people who crusade for the posting of the 10 commandments and prayer in school make. This was the mistake of the “Moral Majority” movement of a few years ago. Pass all the laws you want, it will not change a thing. The hearts of men must be changed before there can be any real social change.
But does this mean that Christians cannot have anything to say to these issues of human need and injustice? Have we no responsibility to speak and act in regard to such injustices as are done purely on the basis of personal and/or corporate greed at the expense of workers? Have we no responsibility to seek to right wrongs wherever they might be? And can we not minister to the needs of those who are mistreated and abused by an unjust system?
During the days of slavery in this country many churches had nothing to say about slavery. Some Christians even sought to justify slavery from the Bible, teaching that the black man was inferior to the white. The churches and Christians in the South who spoke out against the abominable practice of slavery were few and far between. They should have been in the forefront, leading the campaign against the inhuman practice of slavery.
As late as the mid-twentieth century racial prejudice was common with prominent preachers in churches of Christ, railing against any socialization between the races. Here is what one preacher/writer had to say about white women shaking hands with a black preacher …
“That kind of thing will turn the head of most white preachers, and sometimes affect their conduct, and anybody ought to know that it will make fools out of the negroes. For any woman in the church to so far forget her dignity, and lower herself so, just because a negro has learned enough about the gospel to preach it to his race, is pitiable indeed.” –Foy E. Wallace, 1941
This same preacher lauded the redoubtable N. B. Hardeman for his prejudice in this way …
“When N. B. Hardeman held the valley-wide meeting at Harlingen, Texas, some misguided brethren brought a group of negroes up to the front to be introduced to and shake hands with him. Brother Hardeman told them publicly that he could see all of the colored brethren he cared to see on the outside after services, and that he could say everything to them that he wanted to say without the formality of shaking hands. I think he was right.”
–Foy E. Wallace, 1941
These men had tremendous influence on the thinking of many people on many different subjects – influence which is still being felt today. They should have been at the forefront in speaking out and exemplifying how Christians should treat one another. Instead they were building walls of prejudice and discrimination between people. How Christlike is that?
How should Christians today be involved in caring for people? How can churches have an influence in society toward changing things for the better?
Instead of encouraging young people to “get a good job so they can make a good living,” parents, Bible teachers, preachers and other Christians should encourage them to prepare themselves to enter occupations that serve the needs of their fellow human beings. Instead of entering the medical field because it offers a lucrative income, they should be encouraged to to so for humanitarian reasons – to be of service to people. Nursing and other health related occupations offer excellent opportunities for people to show to others the love and compassionate care that Christians are expected to show to their fellow man. Teachers, lawyers, child care professions and a multitude of other service oriented occupations do so as well. Even common jobs offer opportunities for showing the character (image) of Christ on a daily basis. Waiting on customers in a grocery store, serving the public behind the counter at a fast food restaurant or the neighborhood drug store provides numerous opportunities daily.
Christians can be of service to others by volunteering in any number of facilities. Schools have foster grandparent’s who work with children. The Red Cross depends heavily on volunteers. Hospitals, nursing homes can always use volunteers. And local churches can help train people for serving others. There are the issues of the sojourners in our land in the form of migrant workers who may need the help of caring people. There is no indication that the service that Christians are to be trained to do is just religious or spiritual in nature. Look at Paul’s words in Eph. 4:11-13…
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”
Young Christians should be trained and led in volunteer efforts. There are older people who need houses painted, lawns mowed, gardens tended and a multitude of other things to be done. Maybe it could be nothing more than just to visit and cheer someone who is sick or lonely. Maybe it could be to care for the children of an overburdened mother to allow her some time to herself to go shopping or to get her hair done. Teens (and older Christians as well) can coach younger children, tutor them, mentor them in numerous ways. The youth especially need to know that they can make a difference for good in the world.
This is training for life. This is training that builds up the body of Christ. This is training that brings the Christian’s life to its fullness, its maturity. How so? Consider again the words of the apostle Paul as he addressed the slaves among the Colossian saints …
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24).
In all these ways and in many others the Christian by his or her caring and helpfulness can show Christ living in them.But these are things one hears very little about in many churches today.
Churches would do well to turn their fancy million dollar mausoleums (church buildings) into workshops and/or kitchens to feed the hungry and clothe the needy and shelter the homeless. Instead they are used usually no more than 4 hours a week unless they are having a “gospel” meeting which would up that occupancy rate to about 9 or 10 hours. How does this glorify God?
Which use would seem more Christlike? Which would better fit into the story of the new creation? Which would best reflect the glory of God?
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8).