Balance of word and deed: the missing jewel in the gospel crown?
The Superintendent of Wesley Mission the Rev. Dr Keith Garner has called upon the church to end the false divide between Word and Deed and to embrace a renewed focus on a whole and balanced Gospel ministry to the world.
Speaking at the recent Wesleyan Theological Stream Conference in Auckland, Dr Garner said the debate and subsequent disconnection between Word and Deed had limited the church in its ministry and mission.
“How often we observe that our Christian ministry and mission is represented as ‘either/or’ … when it is always ‘both/and’,” Dr Garner said.
“In a disciplined and spiritual heart and a balanced ministry, word and deed speaks strongly of our allegiance to Christ.
“The motif of ‘word and deed’ is essential for a meaningful communication and practice of the Christian faith in each and every generation. The origins are soundly biblical, with a distinct focus upon the ministry of Jesus himself, who both taught and lived his message. There was no ‘credibility gap’ with Jesus Christ!”
Dr Garner said the division had produced a debate dominated by one group which was “deeply passionate about leading people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ”, and the other whose main purpose was to care for the poor and moreover engage in social justice.
The separation had been “one of the saddest in the story of the Christian community in the last hundred years”.
“The bitter falling out between fundamentalists and followers of the so-called ‘social gospel’ early in the 20th century left its mark on the Church,” Dr Garner said.
The church, he said, needed to embrace the declaration of John’s epistle: “… let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18). It was a biblical principle which resonated in the ministry and mission of the Rev. John Wesley and the early Methodists.
“This call is one for the whole Christian community and may be the missing jewel in much of our sharing of good news. If we lose our way on this issue, it will be as much a ‘gospel’ matter as failing to present the message of Christ in words.
“Faith must be expressed in love and service, as well as in word and deed. Salvation is not a private matter; it becomes salt, light and leaven. This was the gospel that Jesus preached as he went about the cities and towns of his own day (Mark 10:46-52).
“We are called to demonstrate a new humanity and this is extended to all (John 3:16), showered like rain upon the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:43-48) and not restricted to one particular group of people because God does not show partiality (Mark 7:24-30).
“Our life and values are always distinct and, at many critical points, differ from those in the wider community … and we must not be afraid to challenge those who would seek to erode our values. The gospel has both personal and social implications (Ephesians 2:17-22).”
Distinctive and compelling
Dr Garner said that by holding Word and Deed together, Christians subsequently engage with issues of faith and culture while preventing the church from deteriorating into mere welfare provision. It also allows the church to “occupy a distinctive and compelling place in the Christian landscape.”
“When faith is expressed in ‘word and deed’ there develops a natural prophetic tradition in our ministry,” Dr Garner said.
“Such a pattern is not reluctant to question the foundations and securities of society. This is ‘a whole gospel for a whole world’, as one of my predecessors, Alan Walker, would have put it.
“Throughout the story of the Christian Church, from time to time there have been those whose emphasis seems to have concentrated upon the pursuit of serenity, with apparent absence of concern for those in need. This approach is a million miles from the heart of the message of the New Testament.
“However, we have to acknowledge the fact that narrowly-focused personal religion attracts huge numbers in worship, praise and giving glory to God, without any expression of commitment to those who are vulnerable.
“It is also concerning that many people have this kind of religion as their only Christian reference point. There are indications that such a narrow focus is proving inadequate for a growing number of young people.
“It is hard for me to understand how people separate word from deed and give such passionate allegiance to one without the other. However, the challenge is how we address this deficiency in a loving and fair way!”
Read the entire text of Dr Garner’s conference address here.