November 02, 2006
by: jovial_cynic
The following is copied from Carman Niesley, over at New Day Dawning. I'm sure he won't mind - I've talked to him previously about stuff of his that I've posted here. I love Neisley's writing - his stuff is on par with the writings of C.S. Lewis, as far as the criticisms of the modern western church and it's failure live out Christ's instructions.

This the three-part piece Neisley writes on the Christian church and the poor.

Institutionalism and the Poor

"There is loose in the church the strange idea that solid, self-supporting churches cannot be planted among the poor, at least not without heavy subsidies and leadership from richer churches. There is some truth to this - if we mean churches modeled after the traditional institutionalized pattern of expensive buildings and bureaucratic organization."
- Howard A. Snyder, Radical Renewal: The Problem of Wineskins Today, p. 37.

Institutionalism has dealt a devastating blow to ministering the gospel to the poor. This should come as no surprise when one considers that the primary goal of institutionalism is self-preservation. So it is perceived that the poor become a drain on the institution, unable to contribute to its well-being. The poor lack the resources to maintain and enable the institution to thrive.

Obviously, the institutional church cannot follow it's Lord while functioning from a mindset that is completely opposite of his. Could it be that the present wave of people dropping out of the institutional church might not have something to do with God moving, unsuspected by us, to bring forth a church that is free to take the gospel to the poor, having escaped the self-serving clutches of institutionalism?

Fertile Soil

Why are new churches started? I suspect that in almost every instance, the answer would somehow involve reaching those who do not know Christ. That may be the spiritually correct answer, but I have some serious doubts as to what the real underlying motives are. If that is the real motive, then I question how knowledgeable these church planters are of the Scriptures.

My reasoning for the doubts and questions is quite simple. Studies have shown that the great majority of church plants are in the least productive areas. In others words, we are not planting in fertile soil. We are planting in soil that is the least fertile, in which there is little reason to expect much fruit. And where do we find this unfruitful soil? Middle class and above suburbs and neighborhoods.

However, God clearly says in his word that the most fertile soil is amongst the poor. They are the ones God chose to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (James 2:5). But we ignore the fertile soil that God has clearly pointed out. History bears witness to the fertility of the poor, revealing that church growth has been most rapid among the poor. Howard Snyder says, "This fact of rapid church growth among the poorer classes says something about strategy and stewardship. ...Planting the gospel seed where it is most likely to grow is faithful stewardship of the gospel message."

In light of this, has the American church exercised faithful stewardship of the gospel message by sowing it where it is the most likely to bring forth an abundance of good fruit?

The Church Needs the Poor

Our failure to minister to the poor bears witness to the fact that we have a distorted view of the church. We can't escape the fact that the ministry of the gospel to the poor directly affects the health of the church. History testifies that church renewal usually occurs when it experiences a rebirth among the poor. It's in this milieu that New Testament values such as priesthood of the believer, community, discipleship, purity, and the gifts of the Spirit are recovered.

The church that is not involved with the poor is in declininig health. Of all the social classes of society, the poor is the class most necessary for the ongoing health of the church. Without the poor, the church gravitates toward middle and upper class complacency, resulting from its material comfort and resources, often followed by spiritual pride.

The contrast of the churches of Smyrna and Laodicea in the book of Revelation reveals the difference between the perspectives of God and man. Of Smyrna, the Lord says he knows their poverty, but in reality they are rich. The opposite is true of Laodicea. That church said it was rich, having need of nothing, but God said it was poor. Might this not be what we are witnessing today with the materially rich American church being poor spiritually while the materially poor churches of the third world countries are spiritually rich?
np category: theology


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