Profound disagreements exist among many Christians regarding the role of evangelism and social action. Some advocate that our supreme task is soul-winning; others believe that true disciples of Christ Christ should bring social transformation by serving the marginalized in our world. However, evangelism and social action don’t need to conflict but can complement each other to fulfill the Great Commission and manifest the justice of God’s Kingdom in our generation.
On one side of the argument, we find believers who give absolute priority to the Gospel’s proclamation, but see it disconnected from social responsibility. They have a focus on eternity and argue that the primary function of the Gospel is to prepare humanity to stand before the judgment throne of God. After all, providing for the needs of people here and now without giving them the opportunity to follow Christ is just a way to help them die more comfortably, but still miss salvation. Their concern is that social action can degenerate in a form of a social gospel that opposes and contradicts the biblical mission to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15).
On the other hand, we find believers with a passion for helping the poor and underprivileged in our generation and believe that they fulfill the Christian mission by serving our communities. They claim Jesus called us to serve the least among the least, and true Christians are not the ones “prophesying and casting out demons,” but the ones that provide food for the hungry, and assist the sick and destitute in their needs (Matthew 25:31-46). Some even argue that using social work to get decisions is not true Christ-like love, but opportunistic utilitarianism.
I believe both perspectives need to be reconciled. We need to move from either/or to both/and thinking. We can save souls for eternity and reduce suffering here and now. We can proclaim the Gospel and combat poverty. Jesus showed us the example by calling sinners to repentance and feeding hungry crowds (Matthew 4:17, John 6:1-14).
It is true that salvation takes precedence over material help (John 6:26-40). However, it doesn’t mean we can neglect the plea of the poor, the orphan, and the widow. As an African proverb goes, “empty belly has no ears.” Serving our communities through social action will give us credibility and a platform to share Jesus so people can hear, believe, and obey the Gospel. Providing for people’s needs here and now will open their hearts to reflect about their eternity. Although our focus on soul-winning must be our absolute priority, meeting social needs is an expression of Kingdom citizenship, which manifests Christ’s love through genuine compassion for the hurting masses of humanity. Jesus is the only way to God, and only the Gospel can generate sustainable social change in society.
Our world is facing an unprecedented pandemic in our generation. Millions are feeling desperate and lost. How will the Church answer this truly epic challenge? I hope it will do now as it did in the past: compassionate service and love. Throughout history, the Church has helped the sick and poor during pandemics, and this has been considered one of the main reasons for the growth of the early church. The selfless services of Christians during major disease outbreaks is one of the main reasons Christianity grew so fast during its first centuries and ultimately thrived in the Roman Empire.
Now, in the 21st century, it is our turn to do the same. It is our turn to follow the biblical mandates for evangelism and compassion. It is our turn to follow the steps of previous generations of faithful disciples of Christ and engage in both soul-winning and social action to serve our generation.
It is time to put evangelism back into compassion. Are you ready?
 Kenneth Berding, “How did Early Christians Respond to Plagues?” (March 16, 2020) https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2020/how-did-early-christians-respond-to-plagues (Accessed August 16, 2020)