Dear CRCNA Member, Do You Believe Mark 8:36?

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At the beginning of Mark chapter 8 we read about Jesus miraculously feeding a great crowd of four thousand people. With only seven loaves and a few small fish a multitude of people “ate and were satisfied” (vs. 8).  After this, Jesus got into the boat with his disciples and went to another region.

If only we had the ability to do similar miracles today. Today there are millions of people who do not know where their next meal will come from. Such a situation is lamentable and is the sure byproduct of sin. Our denomination has a history of tackling this issue head on, and has no doubt sent millions of dollars worth of aid to fight hunger around the world.

And yet, the problem persists. Why? Perhaps the solution is to send more money and food. That will surely solve the problem, right? After all, there are many who have more than enough money, and if they all just gave a little bit more, the problem would be solved. Maybe governments should raise taxes on wealthy citizens in order to give more food to the poor. Or perhaps the solution is better education regarding food waste – after all, we in North America live in a very wasteful society. If only we could educate the average person regarding food waste, we would surely have enough food to go around. 

I am skeptical that any of the above solutions will do anything. In fact, I believe it is an utter pipe dream to think that we can even solve the problem of hunger in our own affluent continent of North America, much less the rest of the world. So what am I saying. . . don’t give food to the hungry? No, I am not saying that. Instead, what I want to do is challenge our focus.

I have noticed a general trend in the CRCNA which seems to place a very strong emphasis on fulfilling people’s temporal needs. We love to talk about “redeeming creation,” causing people to “flourish,” and all sorts of other buzzwords and phrases to basically communicate the idea that we want people to have better lives here on this earth. We want people to have better housing, better pay, better food; all in the name of seeing people “flourish.” But we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions: 1) what is a person’s greatest need, and 2) what does it mean to “flourish"? 

This is where Mark 8:36 comes into the picture. Keep in mind, earlier in the chapter Jesus has just fed 4,000 people in a miraculous way. We read that the people were “satisfied” (vs. 8).  Jesus, in his great power surely caused the flourishing of at least 4,000 people – for a time at least. And yet, with all this said, he has striking words for us in verse 36 where he asks a rhetorical question that penetrates to the very heart of what we do as a church:

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole word and forfeit his soul?”

The answer to Jesus’ rhetorical question is an obvious “nothing.” Nothing is as precious as a soul. No need is as great as the need for our souls to find rest in God. If a person receives the best education, a well-paying job, a nice house, and is free from discrimination all their days, and yet does not find rest for their soul, what have they really gained? Is this not the conclusion of the Psalmist in Psalm 73? After lamenting the prosperity of the wicked, God’s Spirit reveals an important truth to Asaph (vs. 19):

“How they are swept away in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!”

When all is said and done, in the light of the final judgment, one’s earthly prosperity (or lack thereof) matters very little. What is infinitely more important is whether their soul has found rest in God. But that raises another question: Do we even believe in a final judgment? CRCNA member, do you believe that God will judge the world through his Son and that his judgment will be swift and terrible? As we read in Psalm 2:

“You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

And as we read in John 3:36

“whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

CRCNA member, do you believe these scriptures? Do you hear them proclaimed from your pulpit? Do you realize that God’s wrath abides on anyone who does not believe in the Son? Does this concern you? Or are you more concerned with world economics, food distribution, and other matters of “social justice”?

Am I saying that these things are not important? No, I am not. What I am saying is that we need to realize that the most fundamental need of every human being: being reconciled to their Creator through Jesus Christ. Giving them food does not do this. Giving them housing does not do this. Giving them education does not do this. Only through the preaching of the gospel is this reconciliation possible, as the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, regenerates hearts, and applies the work of Christ to the accounts of God’s elect. When this happens, “shalom” comes. But that “shalom” firstly is between God and man.  From the peace between God and man flows naturally peace among men. 

This is why when Paul came to Corinth he did not try to solve all the social problems in the city – he knew better than that. Paul knew that sinners sin, and that a society of sinners will produce dreadful consequences. Instead of battling symptoms, he battled the deadly disease at the root. That is why he says in 1 Corinthians 2:2

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Paul did this because he understood that if one gains the whole world and yet forfeits his soul, that person has gained nothing.

As the CRCNA continues to travel the well-worn path of liberalism, it is more and more evident that many in this denomination simply do not believe Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36. Thankfully however, many still do. Let us examine our lives and our churches. What is proclaimed from our pulpits? What do we believe? 

We may give lip service to the needs of the soul, but do our actions bear out our testimony? Are we so focused on pursuing the bread that perishes that we neglect the food that endures to eternal life? Let us refocus our energy. Let us look around us and see poor souls that desperately need to know the Grace of God.  Let us be bold in speaking the truth of gospel because faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

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Amen! One of Satan's age-old tactics (I know, right...who believes in the existence of a literal Satan anymore), is to tempt the church into embracing the falsehood of works-based salvation and neglecting true Gospel salvation. There's a reason why so much of the climate change ideology, for example, is presented using religious terminology. "Climate witness" for example. The CRC must do a better job of preaching the true Gospel, rather than pandering to the world.

Community Builder

A healthy call back to making the Gospel our central driving focus. Thanks Izaak!

Participant

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This article repeats a well-worn and tired dichotomy between those who care for social issues and those who care for the eternal souls. This debate has been present in the CRC since our founding (and before). Love of God always necessitates love of neighbor. Care for eternal souls is always tied with care for their present state. We drive a wedge between members of the CRC when we accuse one faction of 'simply not believing Jesus' words in Mark 8:36.' (what an accusation!) The prophets constantly critique Israel for worshipping God while ignoring God's people at the margins -- its one of their many forms of idolatry (see Isaiah 1 below). Matthew 25 reiterates this prophetic tradition. 1 John as well (see below). What will cause our neighbors to flourish? Bringing them into a deep love for God and deep love for our neighbor. We do both. So let's listen to people on both sides of the aisle who are doing this in ways that may initially puzzle us. Let's learn something instead of drive the wedge deeper. 

The author asks the question, "what is a person’s greatest need?" This sounds a lot like a question posed about the greatest commandment, to which Jesus replied: 

 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

Isaiah 1: 

5 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

 1 John: 

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Community Builder

This article is not intended to critique those who both love their neighbour with both word and deed.  This is intended to critique an imbalanced approach.  What do you believe about Mark 8:36?  What if someone is provided for in every way and yet does not understand that they are at enmity with God?  Is that conveyed in our churches?  Is it conveyed that those who do not know Christ are, even now, at enmity with God?  If all we do for these people is give them food and shelter, all we do is make them a little richer before they go to hell.  It is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi the saying "preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words".  I don't know if he in fact said that, but regardless, it is one of the most unbiblical sayings I have ever heard.  The gospel is news, period.  The church holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of heaven is opened and shut through the preaching of the gospel, not through giving people bread and shelter, as important as those things are.

"The church holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of heaven is opened and shut through the preaching of the gospel, not through giving people bread and shelter, as important as those things are."

This comment illustrates the division often driven between gospel as God's salvific action and gospel as good news for our present and physical circumstances on earth. The gospel is always both, and I do not see this represented above. I hear your critique of those who divorce the latter from the former, but I believe the critique is based more on misunderstanding and straw man stereotypes of CRCNA folks. 

Jesus' first public appearance in the gospel of Luke is often stripped of its prophetic context. The gospel is news, period, as you say, and the gospel news never separates love for Yahweh and a commitment to justice. The year of the Lord's favor--see below--is a profoundly redistributive moment, and it forms part of the gospel. I hope we can continue this dialogue in person sometime, and I appreciate your response.  

Luke 4: 

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Community Builder

Nathan,

If we want to see societies changed for the better, people need heart transplants.  Do you want to see less corruption?  Preach the gospel.  Do you want to see less hatred?  Preach the gospel.  Evil hearts at enmity with God are the source of all these evils we see in society.  The gospel is not an action.  It is news.  It is the news that God is reconciling man to himself through his Messiah, Jesus, who died and rose again.  This is what Paul describes as "of first importance" in his letters.  When hearts are changed, societies change.  

Secondly, I believe that prophecy from Isaiah that Jesus fulfilled has to be interpreted in the light of other scriptures as well.  When Jesus quotes this, we must also consider that he says "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"  You can give as much food and shelter as you like, but if a person dies without knowing Christ as saviour, that person is lost, period, and all the nice things we gave to him mean absolutely nothing.  

Nathan G says that "Care for eternal souls is always tied with care for their present state."

There is the root of the debate. How do we define care?

Some within the CRC say that "care" for others means we stop eating meat in North America, because raising cattle produces CO2, and CO2 causes natural disasters in Bangladesh. Thus the CRC uses ministry share dollars through denominational agencies like World Renew and the Office of Social Justice to support private and government action to reduce CO2.

That's a HUGE leap!

We ALL agree on "care." But that "care" must begin and end with the saving Gospel of Jesus, triumphing over the sin in our hearts. THAT should be the message of the institutional church.

It is wrong for one side to define "care" in debatable, non-Biblical ways,  and then try to force others to accept their narrow definition of "care."

Community Builder

Hi Dan,
 Just a point of clarification:  In it's nearly 60 years of ministry, World Renew has never received any ministry share funding.  We depend solely on the generous gifts of our supporters.

And if you like cattle, we'd love to have you check out our gift catalog and buy a cow, or a herd, and help farmers around the world raise cattle to help their families. We hope this helps!

Hi World Renew,

   I just went to your website and bought a herd as a donation. (Normally I wouldn't talk about donations publicly, but since the invitation was public, I thought I would do so.) The disaster relief work of World Renew and similar organizations is incredibly important and praiseworthy. The concern I have with World Renew is the increasing emphasis on global warming and CO2 reduction, which is highly debatable from both a scientific and a Scriptural perspective.

   As for ministry shares, it was my understanding that World Renew shares employees, office & general administrative expenses, and other resources with the CRC, and those items ARE funded by ministry shares. In other words, if the building, electricity, gas, water/sewer, insurance, H/R, phones, some of the staff, etc. are paid for with ministry share dollars, then it IS accurate to say ministry share dollars are going to World Renew.

   And that's not a value judgment or a criticism. Merely an observation from an accountant (which is what I am by trade). May God bless you richly in your work...and take good care of the herd that I bought!

8 - )

Guide

Thank you Dan. 

Central services (HR, the building expenses, IT staff time, etc.) are allocated to the agencies based on usage. World Renew is charged for the services it uses, which it pays for with donor dollars. Theoretically it then contributes to economies of scale, however our accountants do keep an eye on whether we are saving or spending more by being part of central services.

Hi Wendy,

   Thanks for sharing that important information. It is true that ministry share dollars are not directly transferred into World Renew's bank account. That said, it would not be accurate to imply that World Renew is completely separate from, and receives no tangible benefits from, either the CRC or the ministry share system.

   World Renew is an agency of the Christian Reformed Church (thus WR reports its activities to Synod every year). It receives tangible, indirect support from our denomination's ministry shares in ways that other agencies (i.e. Samaritan's Purse) do not.

   I think it is also true that World Renew partners closely with the CRC Office of Social Justice in efforts to reduce and/or eliminate CO2 production, and considers it a moral duty to do so, correct?

Guide

Dan,

You are correct that we do receive benefits of the denomination and report to Synod. Therefore our official stance on climate change is the same as Synod’s: http://justice.crcna.org/creation-care-church-speaks

Note especially the first four items in the call to action for churches:

1. That synod call upon the churches, members, and denominational bodies to be voices for justice and public examples in the effort to live sustainably within our God-given resources, to promote stewardship in our own communities and our nations, and to seek justice for the poor and vulnerable among us and for future generations.

2. That synod call upon the churches and their members to reduce individual and collective carbon emissions to the atmosphere. We should examine energy choices in our homes, lives, businesses, farms, and institutions from a perspective of stewardship, challenging ourselves to use less energy and to use it more wisely.

3. That synod call upon the churches and their members to consider and advocate for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions and move us toward very low or zero net emissions.

4. That synod call upon the churches, their members, and appropriate denominational agencies and institutions to respond with generosity and compassion to people and places negatively affected by climate change, as well as to make efforts to mitigate it. This includes advocating with our governments to take the necessary actions in an effective global framework to assist populations that are bearing the brunt of the negative effects of climate change while being the least able to cope.

 #4 is where World Renew comes in. The communities where we work are impacted by changing weather patterns, climate change, deforestation, land degradation, etc. Subsistence farmers need to drastically change their agricultural practices in order to achieve food security. We are responding to more droughts and floods internationally, and to more natural disasters within the U.S. 

I would hope that even if one disagrees with the premise of the cause of climate change, that one could get behind the work that we are doing to help people have enough to eat.

Which brings us back to the original question: Do we believe Mark 8:36?

Yes. We believe in the WHOLE Bible. The good news that is not just for Sunday, but for every square inch, 24/7.

People have come to Christ because we distributed food relief at churches regardless if the recipient was Muslim or Christian.

Refugees are meeting Christians for the first time.

Churches have been planted in West Africa because the Muslims were so touched by the relief given by a neighboring Christian village.

Churches in North America and around the world are growing because rather than give a handout, relationships are built to help people out of not just material poverty but spiritual poverty. This is change that lasts--for eternity.

   Thanks, Wendy, for engaging with me on this matter. I truly believe this type of dialogue is critical when approaching issues like global warming, or the question of good works/preaching the Word. And I also thank the folks at The Network for providing a space for this conversation to take place.

   It is essential that we keep in mind the difference between "calls upon" and "requires." The quote you gave above (I believe it was from Synod 2012) "calls upon" CRC members, churches, etc. to reduce their CO2 emissions. But Synod does not and cannot require us to work to reduce CO2, because the issue of CO2 production is most definitely NOT a doctrinal or confessional matter. It is merely a suggestion by one Synod.

   For example, if I personally continue to produce the same or more amount of CO2, can I come under the discipline of my church elders? Of course not. At most, it is a debatable matter of personal conscience, much like dancing or watching movies. And at its worst it is a matter that is actually causing harm to our church, by fomenting unnecessary division, moving resources away from the preaching of the Word, and giving people a sense that their good works are bringing about personal or corporate justification.

   I would hope, then, that even if one believes the core tenants of global warming theory, that one would be very cautious in using CRC resources to promote such a highly debatable theory, lest such a focus reduce the effectiveness of our efforts to help people who don't have enough to eat.

   So I am very glad for the good deeds being done by World Renew on behalf of the members of the CRC. I would caution all of us to remember that God saves those He calls, whether their physical circumstances have been improved by charitable works or not. Christians can shower an unbeliever with good works, but if that person is not called by God, those good works will only drive that person further away from God. Conversely, if a person is called by God unto salvation, that person will respond to the preaching of the Word even if no good works are ever shown to them. Would you agree?

  Thus we do not do good works to win others to Christ. The Gospel of Jesus and the Spirit of God are the ONLY means by which sinners are saved. Instead, we do good works because God has commanded us to do so. And our primary focus remains the preaching of the Word. That was Izaak's main point.

Guide

Agreed.

I believe in Mark 8: 36 and social justice and preserving the environment. What does that make me? Good reminder in this article that the key is telling the gospel and putting the saving the soul first! I kind of thought that was a well understood in our church! Thx

Community Builder

Thank you Ken.  I suspect it is less well understood than you think.  Of course this is hard to prove, but it is a sense I get from observing the denomination in a broad way.  

I also affirm that we not only affirm the needs of the soul, but also provide mercy when called to do so.  We cannot however, forget the primacy of the soul - that is the real point of the article.