Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quick Thoughts on the World Vision Kerfuffle

You may have heard a little about World Vision's big announcement. The organization, known as a Christian humanitarian group which has contributed ridiculous amounts of aid to needy countries through the past several decades, announced that they will start hiring practicing homosexuals, as long as they're in relationships a state calls marriage and they consider themselves to be Christians.

The response from Christians has been swift and refreshingly lacking in 'nuance'. Some good responses have come from Kevin DeYoung, Al Mohler, Denny Burk, Russell Moore, Trevin Wax, and John Piper. I find little to nothing to disagree with in any of those, and commend them to you. Since there's no need for me to rehash their points, I'll just make a few corollaries and respond to some objections.

I would be more likely to support World Vision if they stopped claiming to be a Christian organization altogether.

This may require some explanation. I don't necessarily have a problem with a Christian donating to a charitable cause that's not explicitly Christian - research to cure a disease, feeding the poor, etc. If World Vision dropped pretense of Christian mission and just became about feeding the poor, digging wells, and all the other top-notch humanitarian work they do, they might be a secular charity worth considering donating to. Maybe, I guess, if you really want to.

But... they're not a secular group. They claim to be a Christian group, doing "kingdom work" for the spread of the gospel. Once you claim that, the question of what 'gospel' your missionaries actually teach is of paramount importance. Just as you'd be shocked to find your missionaries spreading the prosperity anti-gospel or Arianism, the faux-gospel espoused by World Vision leadership is appalling.

This announcement says that open defiance of Christ is totally fine (so long as Caesar says it's OK), Jesus is Lord only so long as He doesn't mess with your lust, repentance is unnecessary, and what is possibly the most obvious, clearest, least-contestable teaching of scripture is unclear and no big deal anyway. "Do whatever you want with Caesar's approval, and Jesus will honor you for it!" Is that the message you want proclaimed in the name of Christ? Better that they preach nothing.

But they're not a church! Without delving too deeply into the church vs parachurch question, I'll just say that if you're claiming to do 'kingdom work', it needs to align with the declared will of the King. If you teach that kingdom workers can openly rebel against the King - without fear of consequences, and even expecting a reward! - that's more than a tad problematic.

It reminds me of the annoying conversations about The Shack years ago. Someone would say how much the book was teaching him about God, you'd point out that what is was teaching was entirely false and extremely dangerous, and they'd inevitably counter with "It's just a novel, not a theological treatise!" But you said it's teaching you about God, so...

Similarly, you can't have it both ways with World Vision. Once they claim to do 'kingdom work', it's perfectly cromulent to ask whether their work aligns with the mission of the church. "We're not a church" is a worthless defense when you're claiming the work and blessing of the church.

What about James 1:26-27? The suggestion here is "they feed orphans and widows, so does it really matter..." And really, who could be against caring for the physical needs of the poor? The problem, of course, is that this passage is being isolated and forced to say something it doesn't say, and call into question what is clearly said elsewhere.

Is James really claiming that the only thing that matters is feeding/clothing/protecting orphans and widows? Is he suggesting that God will be thrilled if they are never called to repentance and faith, are never told of the forgiveness of sin which can only be found in Christ, and face eternal suffering, but they were well-fed while continuing in sinful rebellion on earth? Nowhere in scripture (including here!) does it ever suggest that our goal is to keep people well-fed and happy on their way to hell!

For example, how does this view square with Matthew 18:5-6? Imagine someone caring for an orphan, providing a home, food, clothing, medicine, etc, but also teaching him to worship Molech. What does Jesus think of that guy's "true religion"? So why shouldn't it matter that WV's official stance is that Jesus is not really lord, and will rubber-stamp whatever your heart desires?

Let's face it, Mormons can do some pretty sweet charity work. Muslims give alms. Atheists can act against their religion and care for the weak and oppressed. They can do this while rebelling against God and teaching others to do the same. And they will face the wrath of God for doing so.

What makes charity truly charitable is something only Christians can offer - forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. If the gospel is not faithfully proclaimed, the charity work is nice, but it's not "Kingdom Work". There's something a whole lot worse than dying - remaining dead in sin and facing judgment from He who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mat 10:28).

Benevolence ministry is both a means and a result of the church's mission (Mat 28:18-20), but it is not the mission. Our mandate is to make disciples, which only happens through gospel proclamation (Romans 10:14ff). To abandon gospel preaching is dereliction of duty. To substitute a false gospel is even worse. And God's wrath at false teachers won't be tempered by how much 'good' they did.

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