The Gospel Coalition has a helpful article from Tim Keller on the mission of the church. It is worth a read-- particularly his comments about the Two Kingdoms and the Transformationist view. The contrasts are helpful.
There IS a debate on the mission of the church, but part of my concern is that we understand that godly and thoughtful people come to different conclusions, and caricaturing one view or another is not helpful. There are always outliers, but we should not define someone else's view based on the outliers.
So, I think Keller is right: some have made a bigger divide than there is. Some evangelicals see the Great Commission as the center of the mission with acts of mercy as part of the mission. Others see the Great Commission as the mission with good deeds coming as a part of the Christian life.
Keller puts it this way:
While the mission of the institutional church is to preach the Word and produce disciples, the church must disciple Christians in such a way that they live justly and integrate their faith with their work. So the church doesn't directly change culture, but it disciples and supports people who do. Another balance has to do with society's cultural institutions. Rather than taking them over, or avoiding them as a corrupting influence, or treating them with indifference---Christians are to be a faithful presence within them...
As I said, if you look at the internet you get the strong impression that the Reformed and evangelical world is divided over this issue. I'm sure that is true to some degree, but I'm not sure how sharp the division really is.
I agree. Most evangelicals I know agree with two things:
- They want to be sure the proclamation of the gospel does not get lost in the demonstration of the gospel-- and they are concerned that it is happening.
- Deeds matter, whether they are part of mission or not. Christians should (and must) care for the hurting-- and many believers have lacked that engagement.
Upon those principles, gospel loving believers can unite and work for the advance of God's mission, even if they use the terms a bit differently.
The members of the Gospel Coalition have a Vision Statment upon which the council members agree. It frames the issue well and I hope it can become a point of unity among evangelicals of all stripes. It states:
Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth. We must work for the eternal and common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of our salvation by sheer grace.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.