Evangelism or Social Action – Do we have to choose?

I am sure that this title has been used before, but with the recent Lausanne congress taking place in South Africa, it is a subject that I have been considering. In some people’s minds the answer is obvious; it isn’t a case of “either/or”, it should be a case of “both/and”. And that is a viewpoint with which I would agree.

I think in order to understand why the question has even arisen, it is necessary to remember something of Christianity in the 20th century. There was a popular view, that Salvation could be gained by performing good deeds. In other words, that if you did enough good things in your life, then you would be accepted by God. These would include things to do with what would be considered social action; working to alleviate poverty, helping those considered the marginal in society.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, saw from Scripture that we are NOT saved by the good things that we do – there is extensive teaching in the book of Romans, for example, on that subject. It is only through the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Jesus that we can be saved. Good works count for nothing.

That is certainly true – God has provided EVERYTHING that we need for our salvation in Christ. However, what is very often then forgotten is that this salvation, entirely provided by God, has to RESULT in good deeds. In fact if it does not do so it is at least questionable as to whether a work of salvation has taken place at all.

These good deeds are to be clearly seen by others. Jesus himself said “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5 v 16). Evangelical Christians are to be at the forefront of providing support for those who need it, which is social action, as well as taking the message of salvation to the world. Doing good deeds does not, though, take away the necessity of preaching the gospel – people need to be saved for eternity.

Therefore, we need a holistic view of what the Scripture teaches. There are many exhortations to BOTH taking the good news of salvation and providing for physical needs.

Kevin DeYoung has an interview with Tim Keller on his blog – well worth reading. I think it sums up the issue well. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/10/26/interview-with-tim-keller-on-generous-justice/

5 thoughts on “Evangelism or Social Action – Do we have to choose?

  1. Hi,
    This subject can be further extended by the question -Should Christians be in volved in National Politics? I know that in North America it is certainly encouraged.Since coming to this Continent I can see a big difference as thew the Government federsl and local does not include social policeies like Europe sothe the poor and very needy turn to the Churchwhich run very extensive social needs programmes along side food banks etc.I accept that our European systems are much better than here but will we under the current economic climate see these programmes sustained to current levels -I think not.However on the other foot there are Church fellowships etc very much involved in ministry to the needy alongside local individuals I believe doing a very goood work


  2. Sorry I did not correct spelling be fore sending
    So Corrections are the Governments both Federal and Local etc. and goood work


  3. That’s a very good point, John. The relationship between politics and Christianity is, it seems to me, very different in North America. In some places, being a Christian is almost synonymous with being a Republican. In Europe, it seems, Christians can have very different political opinions, from left to right, and it doesn’t (or shouldn’t!) get in the way of Chrisian life and ministry.

    There does seem to be, as you suggest a great opportunity for the church in North America to put these programmes in place to help those in need. However, in Europe there is the same opportunity for organisations that are distinctly Christian to provide aid alongside other agencies.

    It is encouraging to hear that there are many churches in North America providing such good ministry, as is the case in Europe too.


  4. Hi Richard, I still believe that as I have previously stated the poor in especially Ireland are indeed better cattered for by the State certainly up to now adn so in general terms the Church there does not have the same need to do such in depth Ministry as here in Canada or USA for instance, In My own area there is a concerted effort by all churchs to feed the flock – ss a result we have what I find difficult to stomach -pardon the pun -worship service with coffee /tea and or muffin while singing or listening to the Word. that however is a problem for another day.
    Back to the point- Apart from various individuls- and a small number of church and church organiseations I think we are guilty of leaving it to the state where as here- people would litterally die on the street if that social responseibility is not met.In otherwords those visiting us from outside the EU would see us more interested in teh Soul than the stomach etc.- also worthy of concideration is our generousity outside Ireland- in the uk help for our own people- look at fb , you have Tear fund and Haven from Corkand DCM and Gardinerstreet Chyrch alongside Pearse Street outreach evey so often-to name but a few- John


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