Head First: Kingdom Building and the Agenda-Free Illusion

Friday, July 21, 2006

Kingdom Building and the Agenda-Free Illusion

Debate has a way of breeding polarity. In the zeal for one's point of view to prevail, one tends to offer only those facts and ideas that support a particular perspective, even to the point of hyperbole, despite an awareness of relevant information that might temper the argument. The result is usually the temptation to pick one side or the other and win one for the Gipper, or take America back, or stand for Jesus...whatever. Unconsciously, I think, getting to the actual Truth seems to become secondary.

In my last post, I struggled with whether my life of service to others (or apparent lack thereof) sufficiently constitutes "following Christ." I confess that I pick and choose the easy bits and too often give lip service to the hard bits, much like the child who moves the spinach around on his plate to make it appear that he's eaten some. An anonymous commenter (if I understood him/her/it correctly) suggested that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, alleviating poverty, lifting up the downtrodden and offering justice to the oppressed are all noble avocations, but of no real value if not offered alongside a proclamation of the gospel of Christ. I think that argument can be credibly made, and I might even be persuaded to see some merit in that thinking. But I don't think that's the real issue.

The hypocrisy of the American church, as I see it, is that we tend to offer the "gospel" as if telling people is enough. Ending poverty is not an ecclesial priority. Justice for everyone will not be high on anyone's list this Sunday, just as long as the A/C is kicking and the coffee is strong (even if the poor bastard who grew the coffee can't feed his family). The folks on this side are happy to take a collection to send a missionary to tell Juan Valdez about Jesus. But if you suggest that the church kitchen adopt a policy to only purchase fair-trade coffee so that Juan can get a fair price for his crop, you're met with blank stares, or worse, the excuse that buying the 40 lb. can of Maxwell House from BJ's is a matter of good stewardship.

Likewise, on the other side of this coin are Christians who want to reach out and help the whole world, build authentic relationships, stamp out poverty, feed the poor, use renewable energy (if you do this, talk to Zeke), and generally want to make the world better, but refuse to mention Christ for fear of being seen as proselytizing. Somehow, in the quest to be real, the idea of agenda diminishes authenticity.

(I have leaned toward hyperbole on both sides of this explanation, but you get the picture, right?)

Does it have to be one or the other? I mean, if you see someone in need and just pat him on the head and say "Jesus loves you, I'll pray for you, be well," and don't meet that need, scripture (James 2:16, to be precise) makes it pretty clear that you're full of shit. It would be better if you didn't name Christ at all. But, on the other side, if you're meeting that need, and you're a Christian, isn't Christ bound to enter the picture at some point? Is it sufficient to do good "just because?" I mean, there is more to the story, isn't there? Or do you want to convince people that you reach out to them because you're a genuinely good person? Steve Chastain recently asked if there was such a thing as genuine altruism. Everything has its own agenda--even being agenda-free is an agenda. That's not cynical. It's just the way it is. So why should it be a problem to say, "I extend this helping hand because I love you, and I love you because of Christ?"

I know, I know...there are people who do not name Christ and are still charitable. But I have no basis for addressing that. I don't know what motivates them. I only know that whatever good I do and whatever love is in my heart for others is inextricably tied to my love for Christ (when I'm not trying to call attention to myself). I can only speak to that.

It just occurred to me that this is just a twist on the old faith vs. works argument.

It has to be both. You can't cram your faith down people's throats, but as you invest yourself in people, making the world better, listen to Peter:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Either way, I'd give this guy a fifty, just for being honest.


jeff said...

A lot of nice thoughts here, but in the end, aren't we all just trying to be cool like Bono?


Anonymous said...

Jesus said He came:
To fulfill the Law and the Prophets - Mt. 5:17
To serve and to give His life a ransom for many - Mt. 20:28
To preach the kingdom of God - Mk. 4:43
To cast fire upon the earth - Mk. 12:49
To seek and to save that which was lost - Lk. 19:10
Not to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him - Jn 3:17
That those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind - Jn. 9:39
That they might have life and have it abundantly - Jn. 10:10
That everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness - Jn. 12:46
To save the world - Jn. 12:47
To bear witness to the truth - Jn. 18:37

Did His compassion for the everyday effects of sin in the world on the lives of the people cause Him to "lose His focus" on the reason He came? How do we follow Him in this? As His ambassadors we represent Him, not ourselves or our own human compassion...how does this effect what we do?

Is WHAT we do more important than HOW we do it? Everything He did had as its motivation and goal revealing the Father and reconciling us to Him. (glorifying, telling the truth about, proclaiming the excellencies of)

Mt. 16:24 - "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'"

So, following Jesus means first of all, in His own words, denying oneself. Secondly, taking up one's own cross. (One's cross is not something that comes into one's life that one has to bear but an active decision to take up one's cross.) (Remember the grain of wheat falling to the ground passage in John 12?)

After all these years I still don't like that denying myself and taking up my cross part but as I continue to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling remembering that it is the Lord who is at work in me both willing and doing His good and perfect and acceptable will I find that it becomes more of a habit to live Phil. chapter 2.

And I really MUST fix my eyes on Jesus to know HOW He walked. He endured His cross, despising the shame, for the JOY that was set before Him. And one of the things He said in John 15 was, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."


Anonymous said...

"An anonymous commenter (if I understood him/her/it correctly) suggested that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, alleviating poverty, lifting up the downtrodden and offering justice to the oppressed are all noble avocations, but of no real value if not offered alongside a proclamation of the gospel of Christ."

Not what I meant at all...what is the fast that God has chosen? Isa. 58:6-11...only that it has no ETERNAL value if they are left without salvation, which is our primary ministry according to 2 Cor. 5:18-21. (What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Mk. 8:36)

Grampa Dan said...

It is true not everything we do for God is of eternal vaule. Yet Jesus did wonderful things for everyone around him healing the sick and feeding the hungry with the loaves and fish. Did he worry about the eternal state first, no he already knew it. We don't know it, but we are instructed that when we do these things to the least of those you do it me. No judgement made on the eternal there, just do it.

I have choosen to leave the judging and damning to God and just use my gifts in the world for His glory, not for a bunch of crowns in heaven.


Jim Jordan said...

Good analysis of how faith and works work together. We must help the needy and glorify God at the same time.
The coffee problem has more to do with subsidies and tariffs.
Good writing.

Recovering said...

Thanks for posting this, Dorsey.

Having grown up in a Calvary Chapel (read: typical evangelical church) I find it hard to know how to respond. I want to meet practical needs, I want to love people like Jesus, I want to relavently share the Gospel...

...I just have over 12 years of history working against me. It's so much easier to isolate yourself, use attractional church models (ie. bring your friends to church and they'll get saved), and fall into legalism.

I'm working on it, though, and the last few posts you've put up has been inspiring.

Kc said...

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." ;-)

DougieB said...

You know, my favorite passage is of the sheep and the goats, in Matt 25. And as much as i appreciate the scholarly stewardship with the anonymous poster, it boils down simply to that story for me:

"I tell you, for what you did for the least of these you did for me."

They didn't know they were building the kingdom, they didn't give someone the bridge illustration to give someone a hand, they simply did good, fed the hungry and helped those in need.

I believe in a God who can use those simple, altruistic acts even when they are not explained to those receiving.

dufflehead said...

to quote my smart friend dan:
"So my view is that participating in acts such as those of Christ, more extended and radicalized, is a participation in the divine."

and i would have to say that i agree with grandpa dan at the same time.

dufflehead said...

what about all those good things that were done BEFORE Christ showed up? i guess those would be altruistic too. "we did this good thing for you and hopefully, some day in the future, we'll be able to tell you why we did it"

Mrs Zeke said...

I am pretty sure there is some guidelines to feeding before teaching since it is pretty hard for anyone who is doubled over in pain from starvation to listen to much

and Dorsey I can not believe you and I stand on opposite ends of the coffee and fair trade...now what?

The world might be ending

Go love, give love away so you can gain it back

Kitty Cheng said...

Great post with an agenda no doubt ;) Dorsey, you made me think! Gee! Am I really following Jesus?

I don't want to be a hypocrite, I want to be an authentic disciple of Jesus my Lord. I don't want to just share the gopsel, I want to live the gospel. Like you said, I want to extend my helping hand to others simply because I love them, and I love them because of Christ! THAT is living the gospel I reckon.

PS: just out of curiosity, did you really give that guy a fifty to buy beer pot and hooker?

dorsey said...

Haha. I haven't met that guy. I found the picture online. Besides, I didn't say I did. I just said I would. But if I have integrity, that should mean the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Am I His disciple? What are His instructions?

1. Go, preach

2. heal the sick

3. raise the dead

4. cleanse the lepers

5. cast out demons

6. feely you recieved, freely give (What did you receive? salvation, reconciliation with God, eternal life)

His last instruction in Matthew was: "...Go, therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;..."

His very last words as He was about to ascend to the right hand of the Father were "...you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall BE MY WITNESSES both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

"I am pretty sure there is some guidelines to feeding before teaching since it is pretty hard for anyone who is doubled over in pain from starvation to listen to much."

Both times Jesus miraculously fed the people it was AFTER He had taught them. :o) And He did not send his disciples out to feed, clothe or house anyone, did He?

No, I am not saying in any way that it is unimportant to meet the needs of people, real needs, I am just saying that without the eternal need being met the temporal is just that, temporal. In fact, did He not say that He desired compassion/mercy rather than sacrifice? (Mt. 9:13) Yet what did He say in the sermon on the mount? "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you." (Mt.25-34)

"Did he worry about the eternal state first, no he already knew it." ????

Of course He worried about their eternal state. Our ETERNAL state is the very reason He came. Our temporal needs did not require His coming to the earth at all.


Anonymous said...

"I have choosen to leave the judging and damning to God..."

What do you mean?

"...and just use my gifts in the world for His glory, not for a bunch of crowns in heaven."

I wonder what God thinks of this attitude since He is the One who set up the "system" of rewards in the first place and they are so important to Him that Christ will have them with Him when He comes for us. Wonder what His purpose in them is....

I haven't reached a conclusion in my studies on this as of yet. There was a time when I thought it was much more mature and humble to not work for rewards but I am rethinking my position.

Mrs Zeke said...

When we feed the one requesting we are feeding Him, When we give shelter to those requesting we are sheltering Him.

There was no indication the crowds with Jesus were in such dire need of food that they needed to be feed first, Jesus also had the ability to make one "full" if you will.

Further the Disciples in Matthew were more worried about the time of day and the state of hunger of the crowds as the crowds would not leave another indication you were not dealing with dire painful needs.

One does not exclude another, you can teach Christ and take care of needs of the body at the same time. In fact sometimes taking care of those needs teaches a person about Christ more then the words we use.

Does it matter how a person gets right with God?

Jesus took care in many ways, healing the body, showing compassion and understanding, celebrating with others, loving, teaching and because of who He is He even taught with His disappointment.

So while everything you say may be right because they are in the Bible, there is also much more in the Bible. A hard heart may shut the door in your face when you open your mouth about God, however a hard heart with a need that you can fill may invite you in and in turn invite God himself.

I don't think one excludes the other.

Love now tomorrow is not promised

dufflehead said...

anonymous: of course dorsey can say otherwise, but quit with the "wiser_now" shit. you're just being "smug_now". unless you think you are wiser now for what you have written, so why even write it?

also, WE cannot save anyone.

and, who was the neighbor to the person that had been mugged?

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks for your heart, dufflehead.

I am wiser now than I was before I began studying the Bible, thankfully, so in gratitude I use it for my screen name.

Mrs. Zeke, where did I say to do one to the exclusion of the other? Others here have said that, for them, to feed, etc. to the exclusion of verbally sharing Christ is okay, but I haven't said anything like that. On the contrary I have been careful not to exclude one or the other.

Mrs Zeke said...

The word "AFTER" I saw as an implication since capital letters are often used to make a point as well as you wrote it right after quoting me.

I could have viewed it wrong if so I apologize.

Be loved cause you are

jeff said...


If you want to debate like this, why not show your face? Why hide behind your anonymimity? (blogger accounts are free and easy to set up...)

Still, in your scripture-toting diatribe, I notice you did not quote Matthew 10:42... why is that?

How about Matthew 22:36-40??

You (whoever you are) made this comment: I am not saying in any way that it is unimportant to meet the needs of people, real needs, I am just saying that without the eternal need being met the temporal is just that, temporal.

It's weird, really. I was under the assumption that Christ DID meet the needs of the eternal realm.

Beyond that, why do you create a dichotomy between natural and spiritual needs, to begin with? Are you not human? Are you not an eternal spirit being? Are you not also a temporal fleshly being? Why exalt one need above the other, when Christ clearly came to save the whole man, not just the spooky part?

Of course, your response will be that the bible makes many differentiations between the spirit and the flesh. That's true... when dealing with man's tendency to follow one over the other. But in meeting needs, Jesus made no real delineation.

You can formulize it all you want (ie- meet this need first and this need second...). But in organic, intimate relationship, it's not about who "gets theirs" first. It's about meeting people's needs as they need to be met.

I always g back to that old saying, "You can give a man a fish and feed him one. Or, you can teach a man to fish, and feed him for a lifetime"...
Why not give him a fish while you're teaching him to fish??

Anonymous said...

If you want to debate like this, why not show your face? Why hide behind your anonymimity? (blogger accounts are free and easy to set up...)

1. I did not make my comments with a heart to debate...only to share my own heart after stumbling across this site.

2. I am not "hiding" behind my anonymity...I do not have a blog, do not know how to set up a blogger account and do not want a blogger account...therefore, I have no other choice than to check anonymous and give my screen name if I want to comment. It appears that my comments are not welcomed -and are purposely misunderstood or read wrongly - so I will leave after this post.

"in your scripture-toting diatribe" ???? Good grief! Diatribe? Really? Not my heart at all. I guess that's one of the drawbacks of communicating via the internet...one cannot see faces, body language, hear tone of voice, etc.

I'll leave you with this, my prayer for you all:

(2 Pet. 1:2-12) "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything we need for life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence..."


jeff said...

It appears that my comments are not welcomed -and are purposely misunderstood or read wrongly - so I will leave after this post.

Is this really what you think?

You came on here and spouted scriptures galore with litle or no regard for the tone or intent of the original post. And now you're upset that someone takes issue with that??

I would actually enjoy discussing this with you if you really existed. I really would!

Tell you what. At least do us the courtesy of clicking "other" and making up a name.

btw- You were so upset by the tone of my questions, you didn't answer them...

Caro said...

After reading all comments and losing track of the original posit by Dorse, I am inclined to think that there are some who address issues and some who prefer to argue, regardless of the issue.
Why must some take offense, attack others, or get off-track so easily? Do we need to do a personal "heartcheck" before pounding the keys?
Wiser_now closed with a valid position. I would like to hear from him/her again.

SocietyVs said...

If we have to debate the issue of helping the poor, then I almost have to ask the obvious, 'who should we be helping'?

The gospels are riddled with ideas of helping the poor and they really don't mention much else. Jesus' life was a life of salvation (or the gospel of peace) and look at what he did...healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, healed lepers, made the mute hear, preached to the poor, topped off with the inclusion of all people's in God's kingdom. If we had only to go by the works of Jesus then we'd be without debate on the issue, the poor/needy have to be helped at all cost it would so seem.

I liked Dougie's view on Matthew 25 and that is one passage that never escapes my view. The people that are rewarded actually 'loved their neighbors' (in action and not word). Their neighbors just happened to be sickly, prisoners, poor (no water, food, shelter, clothing), and welcomed the visits and help. It says a lot when you recognize that as good as we have it in America/Canada, we tend to leave others behind (in our communities) so we can have all the accesories this life will afford us. How convenient.

I think the gospel is founded on the very premise of helping the 'poor/needy' which includes almost everyone (since we all have been in despair before). But merely preaching jargon isn't going to save anyone, it needs proof too. I think as humans we can dig human compassion towards another individual and have a hard time saying 'that's not godly' about it.