Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Match Made in Heaven

Some things just go together -- ham and eggs, biscuits and gravy, macaroni and cheese, salt and pepper, bow and arrow, Amos and Andy, open and shut, night and day,  left and right, the list could go on and on.  These are all famous pairs.  It's just hard to imagine one without the other.
Here's a pair that came up in a discussion last week with some key church leaders -- good deeds and good news.  We were talking about ways of mobilizing churches to take on lostness when someone said good deeds and good news go together.  What a great reminder that was.
Dr. Rodney Stark, sociology professor at Baylor University, who has spent a lifetime studying the growth of the church has come to one undeniable, indisputable conclusion:  the gospel spread and the church grew because good news and good deeds were always tied closely together.
Life was difficult, especially in major urban centers, around the time of Christ.  Ancient cities were remarkably crowded.  Buildings were close together.  Streets were narrow, not much wider than footpaths.  People lived in crowded cubicles.  (To get a feel for what it would have been like, imagine living on a popular beach in mid-summer.)  When population density is high sanitation is a problem. Filth was prevalent (soap hadn't been invented yet).  Where there is filth, there is disease.  Illness and physical afflictions were probably the most dominant feature of daily life.  To top it all off, their cities were far more crime-ridden that our modern cities.  (So much for the "good old days.")  This is what urban life was like when Jesus came.
Jesus came into the world to save sinners, the Bible says.  Jesus carried out his mission with both words and deeds.  He taught with authority, and he went about doing good.  He preached the kingdom, and he healed the sick.  He called upon people to repent, and he handed out food to the hungry.  Jesus told his disciples to love others as he had loved them.  Following his example they went forth preaching the gospel and doing good!
"Christianity," Dr. Stark says in Cities of God, "did not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; it actually made life less miserable!" (emphasis mine)
Dr. Stark continues:
"The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of otherworldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been proposed. No, the crucial change that took place in the third century was the rapidly spreading awareness of a faith that delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now! The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as “Love one’s neighbor as oneself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created “a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.” It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth."
There is much we can take from this, but the thing I want us to note is this:  the mission of UBA is to "mobilize churches to take on lostness."   We want our churches actively and assertively sharing the gospel with those who've never heard it ... and we want our churches working to make a difference in their communities, dealing with the real life issues people face.  That's why I get excited when I hear our churches baptized over 10,000 people last year and cleaned up parks, restored homes, renovated elementary schools, handed out food, repaired automobiles for single moms.  That's the way it ought to be.
Good deeds and good news go together.  They are a match made in heaven.