By LESLIE LUDY
In recent decades liberal thinkers both in and out of the church have hijacked the concept of standing up on behalf of the weak. Gospel-centered rescue work has been replaced by humanitarianism. While at first glance the idea of humanitarian aid might seem positive, it is opposite of God’s message. Just take a look at this definition of humanitarianism from dictionary.com:
a. the doctrine that humanity’s obligations are concerned wholly with the welfare of the human race
b. the doctrine that humankind may become perfect without divine aid.
The idea behind being a humanitarian is to showcase the good side of humanity and to celebrate our human ability to make the world a better place without God’s help or involvement. It has nothing to do with the glory of God, and everything to do with the glory of man. If you are a humanitarian, you are not rescuing the weak as an extension of God’s sacrificial love toward the world. Rather, you are serving and rescuing in order to proclaim, “Look at the good we humans are capable of!” That is why so many celebrities and icons have taken up humanitarian causes. They look to humanitarian acts to somehow prove that they are “doing their part” in this world and to convince themselves that they are spending time on worthy causes.
While there is nothing wrong with many acts of humanitarianism, such as feeding the hungry and creating fair trade work opportunities for the impoverished, humanitarianism cannot provide the true solution to the world’s problems. Why? Because it seeks to provide a solution outside of God.
Contrary to popular belief, what this suffering world needs is not primarily food distribution programs or fair trade employment opportunities. The true solution is Jesus Christ. The hope and transformation that the Gospel brings offers the only permanent solution to the problem of human suffering, both in this life, and in the life to come.
That is not to say we should preach the Gospel without ministering to people’s physical needs. Rather, the two must go hand in hand. James says, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:15-17).
The Gospel is both spiritual and practical. We can’t just preach to others about Jesus; we must also do the works that Jesus did. But as we tend to people’s physical needs, we must not overlook their much deeper need for salvation of the soul. Faith without works is pointless, but works without faith is just as meaningless. It is like putting a Band-Aid over skin cancer; it might cover up the problem, but it doesn’t heal the problem.
Probably no other Christian organization in history has ministered to the needs of the poor like the Salvation Army. In 1865, William and Catherine Booth began their ministry by sharing the hope of the Gospel with some of the most hopeless and destitute people in London’s East End. When these people experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ, a profound change took place in them, not just in their spiritual lives, but in their daily conduct. Men who had been squandering their money on alcohol, causing their wives and children to starve, began to provide for their families. Women forsook lifestyles of prostitution and crime.
The Booths and their fellow Christian officers also ministered to the practical needs of the poor – offering job opportunities for men coming out of prison, food for hungry children, and housing for displaced women. But those forms of ministry were merely an outflow of their primary mission: bringing the salvation of Jesus Christ to the poor and destitute. Because they lived out a Gospel that was rich in both works and faith, the Salvation Army succeeded in putting a significant dent in the problem of poverty all around the world.
It is time for us to reclaim the Gospel-centered rescue opportunities that God has waiting for us all around the world. Don’t let humanitarians redefine what it means to “make the world a better place”. The only way to improve this world is to introduce it to true Christianity. As you are taking steps toward living an outward-focused life, don’t be enticed by save-the-world strategies that bypass Jesus Christ. Any cause that you take up should flow from your desire to become Christ’s hands and feet to this lost and dying world, and to bring glory to His name, not as a tribute to humanity’s goodness. May we not rob Jesus of the glory He deserves.
(Note: For more on this subject, I recommend the messages “The Gospel Worldview” and “Of Pink Ribbons and a Bloody Cross”, available for free download at www.ellerslie.com.)