Should the Church ‘Only Preach the Gospel’?
Ed Dingess at Reformed Reasons responded to my article “Jesus Has Not Called Us to be Doormats” with “Gary DeMar: A Response to Christian Doormats.” I’ll extend him the courtesy of linking to his article even though he does not link to mine or even give the title of my article. Strange. It would also have been nice if he had been consistent with the spelling of my name. It’s DeMar, not Demar. It’s a little thing, but it’s important when someone is offering a reasoned critique of a position.
Update: Dingess has corrected the misspelling of my name and added a link to my original article.
I’m writing this response not so much to answer Ed Dingess but to help those who have legitimate questions on this topic. I don’t know Ed Dingess but I doubt that anything I’ve written here will persuade him.
He dislikes my claim that there is a link between someone coming to Christ – being born again – and applying the changed life brought on by the gospel to worldview areas like medicine, education, politics, economics, and every other area of life.
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The claim is often made that the church should “only preach the gospel.” He says as much: “The mission of the church is to preach the gospel, baptize converts, and to make disciples from all nations. It is that simple.” More about this further down in the article
Another person sent the following after reading my article:
I have a friend and we talk about things like the article you posted today about Christian getting involved in politics. He would wholeheartedly agree with this article. However, he says the church should only preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, etc. He makes a distinction between individual Christians getting involved in the political sphere, etc. and the corporate church staying out of it.
This is close to the truth, but I don’t know how the church could “only preach the gospel.” What would that look like 52 Sundays each year for 20 years? Add in Sunday School, Wednesday night services, Sunday evening services, and Bible studies. How does “only preach the gospel” actually work? How can a pastor preach from the Bible for 30 or 40 years and not deal with worldview issues and make application to the day-to-day life?
Dingess claims that I’m advocating an “either/or” fallacy. “Either Christians pursue advanced degrees and take jobs in secular society or should they spend their lives in full-time Christian service.” He fails to note that I said, “so-called full-time Christian service.” Christian service is broader than being a pastor, missionary, or a Sunday School teacher. Full-time Christian service is being a doctor, artist, engineer, educator, etc. A Christian who pursues studies in these fields but does not apply a biblical ethic to them is not a true disciple of Jesus Christ. And where does a person gain an understanding of a biblical ethic? It’s part of the mission of the church, “teaching them to observe all” that Jesus “commanded” (Matt. 28:20). Paul writes that all Scripture is “God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). There is no directive to Timothy that he “should only preach the gospel.”
In his first letter to the young pastor, Paul offers the following instruction:
But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted” (1 Tim. 1:8-11).
Note that it’s “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”
A Christian perusing law should do so in terms of a biblical worldview and not adopt a form of Platonic dualism where his or her Christian faith is “personal” and does not apply to every area of life. Dingess adopts this dualism by describing anything outside “full-time Christian service” as “secular society” and then misrepresents my position by claiming, “According to Demar [sic], working in full-time Christian service is equivalent to rejecting the world.” No, full-time Christian service encompasses every area of life. His sacred-secular dualism is the problem.
He quotes the following from my article but doesn’t explain why it’s a “strawman from top to bottom.”
What would happen in today’s world if what’s left of the salt and light of Christianity were withdrawn? Not only can’t a biblical case be made for such a narrow shaping of the Christian worldview, but it would also be impossible, impractical, and frightening to attempt to defend and implement such a position.
It’s a legitimate question unless you believe the “rapture” is going to rescue Christians from such an inevitable world. Many Christians do believe it’s futile to try to change the world because for them the end is set and that end is a rapture, rise of the antichrist, the slaughter of millions of Jews and billions of the rest of us. No worry, since the “rapture” makes all these things inconsequential for the Christian. See my book The Truth About the Rapture: A Biblical Study.
Once again, Dingess has missed the point when he writes, “John MacArthur is not arguing that Christians should withdrawal from society and not engage them with the gospel.” Whoever said that people should not be engaged with the gospel? No one. It’s a prerequisite for change: being born again (John 3:16) and being a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) For what end?
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2).
“Good and acceptable and perfect” in what and where? In everything! Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) said, “there is not one inch of creation of which Christ doesn’t say ‘Mine.’”1
Dingess then writes:
MacArthur is specifically talking about the mission of the church in the context of modern political and social activism. There are far too many Christians who believe that changing political and social structures is indeed the mission and objective of the church.
Are Christians to remain infants (Heb. 5:13), going over the gospel message for decades with no instruction on how the Bible applies to law, education, economics, politics (there are two books in the Bible called “Kings)?
Whoever said, “changing political and social structures is … the mission and objective of the church”? It certainly is one of the structures that should be addressed from the pulpit since politics has a bearing on every aspect of our lives.
The fact that pastors have the freedom to worship, preach, publish, assemble, and petition the government for a redress of grievances (the First Amendment to the Constitution) is because Christians addressed “political and social structures.”
As I mentioned, I would get to this comment by Dingess:
The mission of the church is to preach the gospel, baptize converts, and to make disciples from all nations. It is that simple.
It is that simple until one asks, “What does it mean to make disciples of the nations”? I’m not sure what translation he is using that says, “from all nations.” But let’s assume the Greek means “from all nations” rather than “of all nations.” The question remains: What constitutes an individual disciple of Jesus? How does a disciple know if he or she is a disciple? Are disciples only to “preach the gospel”? James didn’t think so (James 2). Many who believe as I do are not looking for political solutions to problems. Our involvement in the realm of civil government is to decrease the authority and power of the State, not to use it for social engineering.
Shouldn’t a disciple of Jesus know what the Bible says about abortion, same-sex sexuality, economics, education, politics (since the law and the prophets addressed these subjects), etc. and apply that knowledge to the broader world, the created order that God says is “good” (Gen. 1:31; 1 Tim. 4:4), “for the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains” (1 Cor. 10:27; Ps. 24:1; 50:12)?
Then there’s this:
Demar’s real problem has to do with his hermeneutic more than anything else. Demar reasons, “The poor today are oppressed more by government policies than by individual oppression. A Good-Samaritan Faith requires Christians to get involved in politics in order to halt the oppression of the poor by policies that make people dependent upon the State.”
Anyone familiar with government wealth transfer legislation that has been designed to help the poor knows that when something is subsidized you get more of it. There have been multiple generations of impoverished families. Since the War on Poverty in the 1960s, we have more people subsidized by the State. There is nothing in the Bible that says that a civil government should be involved in wealth confiscation to help anyone. Legislation is written in such a way that intact families are a financial liability to receive government aid. A woman gets more money if the father is absent and if she has more children,
I suggest Dingess does some study in this area since he is woefully misinformed. He then goes on to show how misinformed he is on economic and political matters:
I cannot help but take exception to Demar’s handling of the Good Samaritan. The point is that even one’s enemy is indeed one’s neighbor. And you must love your neighbor as you love yourself. The parable has no direct bearing on or relation to manipulating social structures using the Torah or Christian principles. Jesus was speaking to the individual heart. He was not speaking to Rome.
Yes, even my enemy is my neighbor, but there is nothing in the Torah or the New Testament that directs the State to involve itself in wealth redistribution to “help” the poor. Dingess is right, “Jesus was speaking to the individual heart. He was not speaking to Rome.”
He goes on to write:
DeMar goes so far as to include reference to the story of Ahab’s oppression of Naboth as one example of how the government oppresses the poor. What governmental policies oppress the poor? Ahab targeted Naboth deliberately. This was a man oppressing a man or better one’s man’s wife oppressing a man. The oppression of the poor, the widow and the alien in ANE [Ancient Near East] culture was real. It had nothing to do with some Israelite policy that made it more difficult for the poor to get out of their poverty.
I don’t know where to begin in answering this. “What government policies oppress the poor?” How about keeping the poor dependent on the State? And it’s not just the poor. Wealth confiscation is oppression. It’s theft. Legalized abortion is oppression. Ongoing wars are oppression. Forcing people to bake cakes for same-sex weddings is oppression. Immoral monetary policies are oppression:
How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
Your drink diluted with water.
Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them (Isa. 1:21-23).
There are numerous government policies that make “it more difficult for the poor to get out of their poverty.” I could suggest some books for Dingess to read on this topic. I’ll deal with the rest of his response to my article at another time.
- Quoted in Douglas Groothuis, “Revolutionizing our Worldview,” The Reformed Journal (November 1982), 23. [↩]