“The gospel is the only thing we have to offer the world that it does not already have.” ~Leander Keck
This quote got stuck in my head a few weeks ago, I cannot shake it. The gospel is the only thing we have that makes us different from any other movement or organization. But the gospel is the only thing we need.
Let me be clear. I am not suggesting our approach to the world around us involves nothing but a bullhorn and soapbox for the street corner. By no means is it okay for us to think we have no ethical responsibilities to our neighbor. Christ’s words to us are clear, we love our neighbor as ourselves, even the ones that do not look like us. But what makes the Christian mission, well, Christian? In short: the proclamation of the gospel.
In Acts, Jesus tells his fledgling church, “You will be my witnesses.” Assuredly, witnessing is active and not passive. It is lived not just spoken, but we must keep fast the purpose of our actions. Our actions, our good works, our efforts for the common good are testimonial in nature. They are not a cure in themselves, they are proof that another can heal. We sit on the witness bench, verifying the message of another. The mission of the church is not to save the world, it is to testify to the one who will.
A lot of organizations are out for the common good, and local churches should be as well. We can even celebrate the temporal work of others, even those who disagree with our ultimate position. Yet, we must never water down our understanding of the “common good” to anything less than proclamation of the only good work that turns back the curse of sin itself. Fact is, our society reels from the mortal wound dealt it when sin entered the cosmos. Our best efforts, anyone’s best efforts, cannot heal this wound. There is only one cure for such a curse. The victory is assured, the battle is already won, but the final eradication of sin awaits the return of the Victor to sit on his throne.
Our best efforts are at most a temporary salve on a mortal wound. We must not place our trust in systems, in governments, in causes, even in churches to roll back the darkness. We misunderstand our purpose if we think we are the solution to injustice. Yes, the church is a light in the darkness, but the light is not our own. That light is merely the reflection of the true light of the world. The gospel is truly the only thing we have to offer the world.
Being in Houston, I have watched in the aftermath of Harvey the valiant attempts of so many organizations. Others besides the church work to right wrongs. Others want social justice. Others want to stop human trafficking. Name a noble cause, and the church does not have the corner on it. But there is more, and we cannot ever forget it. We must prioritize the thing that makes us unique. It is, after all, the one thing we have to offer the world that they cannot get anywhere else. And, it is the only true solution to society’s brokenness.