I recently ran across this blog post, which is a few months old and a distillation of a conversation had in one of James MacDonalds’ “The Elephant Room” sessions. Here are the lines from the conversation that bothered me enough to inspire the rant that’s about to follow [consider that your fair warning].
The people quoted below are David Platt, best known for his book Radical, Greg Laurie best known for his evangelistic crusades and, of course, James MacDonald.
David Platt: Compassion is inextricable from the gospel and evangelism. If we believe the gospel, compassion will be a reality in our lives.
Greg Laurie: Compassion is what motivates us to do everything we do. There’s not anything David said I wouldn’t agree with. But I do see in some circles compassion ministry takes the place of proclamation.
100 years from now, all the people we help will be dead. If I haven’t given the gospel, I’ve failed them. The primary mission is not compassion, it’s preaching the gospel. Compassion is involved in that, but they should never take the place of that. A gesture of love earns me the right to bring the gospel to you.
James MacDonald: If we keep pressing the priority of compassion, we are a long way from compassion toward the end of saving souls.
(to David Platt) I want you to tell me how worried that you are that the things you wrote about compassion will be distorted to compassion for compassion’s sake. David Platt: I’m very worried about it.
James MacDonald: I don’t believe that the Bible commands us to use compassion as a part of evangelism.
We’re responsible to help the church as our first priority.
David Platt: Service to others comes from the outpouring of Jesus love for me pouring out.
Here’s what discourages me with the trajectory and underlying assumptions of this conversation. It seems to be making the assumption that we have to choose – between either proclaiming the gospel or compassion. That somehow you have to go with one and snub the other. Or that compassion should be viewed primarily as a means-to-an-end, namely the end of being able to give a gospel presentation.
Are we supposed to show compassion or proclaim the gospel?
Does showing compassion or proclaiming the gospel have priority?
Are we supposed to show compassion to other believers or to the world in general?
To all of which, Scripture says, “YES!”
Reading and watching the conversations that unfolded around these topics, I kept thinking about Colossians 3:12:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion…
Compassion is not a tool with which we earn an “in” to preach a gospel message.
Compassion is not a dormant program we activate only when we’re in the company of believers.
Compassion is not a snake in the grass, waiting to supplant your desire to proclaim the gospel.
Compassion is a piece of clothing.
Compassion is a component of the new nature that we’re supposed to be putting on every day.
Compassion is a quality that’s supposed to come from the very center of who we are and color our every interaction – whether that interaction is teaching about the life transforming power of the gospel or walking by a homeless person on the street.
You may say this is too simplistic an answer. You may say that we need to have clear priorities about what the church herself is responsible for versus what individual believers are to be about. You may cry that some of us are gifted to preach and some are gifted to show mercy. You may warn about a slippery slope in one direction or the other.
All I would say is that when I watch Jesus – He heals people (and not always people in ‘the house of faith’) and He says ‘follow me’ and He casts out demons and He says ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’.
He seems to do both quite well.
I hope His church isn’t giving up on being like Him.