Caring for the Poor
Trinity's vision is what we want to see in the future. The mission is how we are going to accomplish what we hope to see. The vision motivates. The mission activates. I want you to see both side by side:
Trinity’s Vision: To see grace change everything by bringing social, culturally and spiritual renewal to Owasso.
Trinity’s Mission: to enjoy the Triune God by showing that grace changes everything in Owasso & beyond through Gospel-centered worship, community and calling.
In light of last Sunday’s message, I wanted to share three resources to help us think further about our vision as it relates to caring for the marginalized and poverty-stricken in Owasso.
Lewis addresses our relentless drive to be “insiders” rather than “outsiders.” He suggests that this drive often leads us to do very destructive things. This article presents huge implications for the poor and the marginalized near us. Both the rich and the poor town have “in” groups that they want to be a part of. And both “in” groups have some constructive and destructive negative feedback loops that lead them to move away from the “other side,” to view “those peopel” as “outsiders,” and view “us and our group” as “insiders.” How might Trinity be a church that can help break down (often very complex social) obstacles that cause both groups to view the other as “outsiders”? As a young church we cannot afford throw good money to bad, nor afford to ignore the problem and focus building “our” church? How can we make ministry to the poor and socially marginalized central to our DNA as a community that exists to unveil the beauty of Christ?
In this new book, Douthat (author of Privilege and a New York Times writer) argues that five things have lead to the decline of Christainity in the west. Those are:
1. political polarization;
2. decline of sexual ethics;
3. globalization and the question of exclusivity;
4. economic prosperity and lack of social good;
5. alienation of evangelicals in elite / gatekeeping American institutions).
I think he is right on. I would simplify his analysis to say that the evangelical church has a head problem (we are valuing entertainment experiences over theological and acadmic rigor inside our churches), a heart problem (we are proud and self-absorbed, concerned about church amenities rather than the poor), and a hands problem (we are not publically involved except through politics, which is reinforcing the political polarization (reason for decline #1)).
One of those (#4) strikes at the heart of what James says in James 2. The economic resources in the institutional Christian church (broadly defined to include all professing "Christians") has led to the decline of the church. This sounds completely counter-intuitive doesn't it? The prosperity that God has provided to the American church has led us to focus on amenities to heighten members’ experience within the church rathen than aid to those outside the church. Douthat argues convincingly that many streams of Protestant Churches (including and especially evangelicals) have focused on private morality (drugs, sex, piety, etc.) over against social morality (healthcare, the poor, the arts, etc.). This makes the church akin to a social club with benefits to its exclusive community, but not to those "outside the gate." Contrast that with Israel's role amidst the nations, or our call as New Covenant Christians to extend the gospel in all spheres and places. This whole critique of the church forces me consider a diagnostic question: If in 50 years Trinity disappeared from the Owasso landscape would City Hall be grieving? I pray they would at least need to reallocate significant resources to fill in the gaps because of the cultural benefits we provided the city. We are a young church and a long way from being "missed" (we're just now in existence). But this vision is part of our DNA and we want to start seeing how the gospel speaks to cultural engagement so that we might be prepared with opportunities for action arise. We want to see the city changed through gospel-believing, social, cultural and spiritual renewal. We want to help our members to love and serve the world with the gospel. And this will involve “care for the poor and the widow” (social morality) as well as remaining “unstained from the world” (private morality) (James 1:27). James brings both together to show the early church and us that the gospel is bigger than either the conservatives (personal morality) or the liberals (social-morality) realize. It is off the scale BIG. Wonderful. Amazing Grace!
3. A couple of quotes from Sunday I wanted to pass along. Some I used in the sermon. Some I did not.
- Historical example of living out James 2: A deadly plague struck Carthage in the 4th c., killing upwards of 5,000 people per day. Citizens fled to the countryside to buffer themselves from the sick and dying. But Cyprian, one of the church leaders called his people together and challenged them to stay in the city, saying, “Christ gave up His well-being for others—we must also value others over ourselves.” These early Christians were the only ones who stayed in the city through the plague to care for the sick and the poor. And it was at least in part because of their remarkable actions that so many flocked to the early church. In fact, the Roman leader Julian, who tried to rid the empire of Christianity, attributed the success of the early church to their willingness to care for the suffering Christians and non-Christians alike. “Atheism [i.e. the Christian faith, because it pulled people away from worshipping the Roman gods!] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans (the Christians) care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”
- Tim Keller on a vision of cultural engagement with a foundation in justification by faith alone: “If we produce thousands of new church-communities that regularly attract and engage secular people, that seek the common good of the whole city especially the poor, and that produce thousands of Christians who write plays, make movies, express creative journalism, begin effective and productive new businesses, use their money for others, and produce cutting-edge scholarship and literature we will see our vision for the city realized and our whole society changed as a result.”
- Trinity’s vision for renewal and rescue centers on Jesus’ life and death for the Church and all creation. Being justified by faith demands that Trinity wrestle with the complexity of embodying the gospel in our culture. As the church rediscovers its unique role in culture, and nurtures cultural influencers, we will unveil the beauty of Christ and be a force for good in Owasso, the Tulsa Metro Area, the State and even the world. There are highly talented people in Owasso and we want to help them see that the Gospel is not merely about the transformation of the heart (though principally), but also about the transformation of the world (an expected effect from true and saving faith in action).
In all, I am really convicted about James 2 and, frankly, hope you are, too. Before preparing to preach, I don’t know if I thought much about the context of the “faith” versus “works” being about caring for the poor. Now, I am giving a lot of time to thinking about it and hope you’ll come with me on that journey as we unveil the beaty of Christ and His Kingdom for Owasso and beyond.