At the turn of the twentieth century, a movement began which redefined the meaning of the word gospel. Traditionally the gospel was understood to be the proclamation of the good news of salvation for the lost. As a result pastors and missionaries limited their actions to saving souls without caring for the physical, emotional and social aspects of human life. In response, a number of Christian leaders began to to promote what became known as the “social gospel.” The movement spread to many churches, schools and mission agencies. Proponents of the social gospel argued that we must care for the whole person and not only for the soul. From there emerged the concept of redeeming not only the individual but also his society and culture.
Gradually as the meaning of the gospel expanded to include all areas of life, the core message of the gospel began to suffer.
Today there are many theories and missiological strategies that seem to equate social work with the gospel.
A few years ago I met a medical missionary doctor who said to me that he did not feel that his mission was to evangelize but rather to care for the health of his patients. When I asked why I should support him: He said “I express the love of Christ in practical ways.” He was sure that his gospel to the people he went to serve is the gospel of health.
There are many other gospels out there: The gospel of teaching English, business as mission, social justice among many more.
Jesus is clear and emphatic about the need to care for the poor, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner and the stranger. He demonstrated that in his own life and gave us an example to follow. His example is summarized in these words:
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Matthew 9:35
Jesus healed many sick people and even raised the dead but he always did that along with his teaching and preaching. Jesus set for us an example in every area of life. He demonstrated for us his compassion for the lost, for those who are outcasts and rejected by society, and his love and friendship with sinners. However, he clearly revealed to us the main purpose of his coming to earth:
“ For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10
Any good we do toward the lost that does not seek to save them is not the full gospel. The social gospel is needed; but only as it aims to save the soul of the lost.
Priority of Preaching the Gospel
Billy Graham spoke these words at the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin, in 1966:
“If the church went back to its main task of proclaiming the Gospel and people converted to Christ, it would have a far greater impact on the social, moral and psychological needs of men than it could achieve through any other thing it could possibly do.”
Mission agencies have been moving away from direct evangelism and are prioritizing humanitarian work. There is more money in it, frankly. But is this our calling?
The Greek New Testament uses the word Keruso from which the word Kerygma is derived meaning proclamation, telling, or announcing.
Whatever we do we must preach the clear verbal message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Anything less is not the gospel.
Jesus is the Gospel: The supremacy of Christ in Ministry to Muslims
David (not his real name) had been serving the Kurds for three years before I met him. God had just opened up Northern Iraq for the gospel. Mission agencies and humanitarian organizations flooded the area. After a few days of observing David and other workers, I noticed that there was very little evangelism. When I asked David why doesn’t he take advantage of the open door, he replied, I tell them I am here for the love of Allah. “Why don’t you talk about Jesus?” I asked. His answer disturbed me greatly, especially when he said: They know I am a Christian.
After challenging him for a couple days he confessed his fear and timidity and repented from his disobedience in his calling to preach Jesus. I was delighted on future visits to him that he became one of the most effective missionaries in the region.
Without Jesus, all our work is futile. Yes indeed, Jesus is the gospel.