One of the themes in John Nugent’s excellent book The Endangered Gospel is that the church is not called to make the world the better place but to be the better place now.
Does such a view promote quietism, passivism (socially) and does it mean social justice doesn’t matter?
Good question. The answer is No, unequivocally. I have argued this in Kingdom Conspiracy and it all revolves around mission — the Christian mission. Nugent examines three topics: vocation, missions, and witness to the powers. Today we look at missions.
If God’s people are called to prepare others for a better place somewhere else (heaven centered), then missions revolves around finding lost people and convincing them that they need Jesus. It may also involve helping converts sustain life changes, but only enough to remain in God’s good graces until they die. If God’s people are called to make this world a better place (world centered), missions revolves around identifying places of need, creating institutions best suited for meeting those needs, and sustaining those institutions. As Christians, missionaries perform this service in the name of Jesus and are thus happy to teach the people they help about Jesus and lead them into a right relationship with him. Yet, a kingdom-centered approach will have different priorities. 175
The church’s calling centers on being the better place God began in Jesus. Kingdom-centered mission therefore identifies places that need a vibrant witness to God’s kingdom and establishes and sustains churches to be that witness. No matter what broader needs exist in those places, the church’s mission remains the same. 175But our response, the response to which God calls us, remains the same: to fill the earth with churches that embrace, display, and proclaim his kingdom in dark places. 175-6
What about parachurch ministries? What about IVCF? Cru? IJM? World Vision? What Nugent says I would say too.
Parachurch structures that wish to align with God’s mission must be rooted in and tilted toward local churches. If they want to move beyond good work to kingdom witness, the local church must be integral to the service they render. 176
The church does not support parachurch ministries which, in turn, do the kingdom work. Rather, parachurch ministries serve people and then direct them to the church, which incorporates them into God’s kingdom work. 176-177
This is God’s design: churches committed to God’s kingdom strengthen other churches committed to God’s kingdom and continue planting still more churches committed to God’s kingdom. 178
Nugent proposes these ideas:
So there are at least three ways that believers might participate in meeting this world’s needs and making a positive difference in their cities without compromising or eclipsing the church’s primary calling to be the better place God began in Jesus:
Believers may get a job in a particular field that is run by the powers and principalities and make a living from that work, all the while seeking first God’s kingdom in the local church as the organizing center and ultimate passion of their lives.
Believers may form parachurch organizations that are dedicated to meeting particular needs and are committed to the integral involvement of local churches. They will funnel the people they serve into those churches and not treat them like booster clubs.
As part of the church’s life together, believers may take on a particular cause and champion that cause together as a church family. Their congregation will be the organization that helps out and it will do so in ways that embrace, display, and proclaim God’s kingdom above all else.