Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Preach the Gospel to Change Culture

"The Gospel precedes politics, social change, and all else. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16), and all else follows from it. This does not, however, mean a pietistic retreat from society. Just the opposite." - W. Graham

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josh p's picture

This is a good article. MLJ was faithful.  I still think they miss one important point; that being that MLJ saw a distinction between what an individual believer might do and what the mission of the church is. Providing a meal for someone in need is a God-honoring thing to do but it’s not the mission of the church.

I've been systematically listening to his preaching through Acts (what is there anyway) on for a couple of months. He was an excellent preacher. He had his own "style" that I've never really heard elsewhere. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Providing a meal for someone in need is a God-honoring thing to do but it’s not the mission of the church.

I think we need to be careful to not compartmentalize loving our neighbor and the task of making disciples into a non-biblical dualism as well.  Providing a meal for someone in need could be part of the mission of the church if it is part of the church's strategy to make disciples.  At our church, we see making disciples as a six-step process-1. Making Contacts  2. Building Relationships. 3. Sharing the Gospel-leading to conversion 4. Careful Follow-Up into the life of the Church 5. Nurturing Believers. 6. Developing Leaders.  If providing a meal for someone in need is part of the six-step strategy, then it's part of the mission of the church to make disciples.  Our church provided meals for two weeks for a neighborhood single-mother of 9 who contracted COVID and was laid up in the hospital for several days. 7 of her kids attend a learning pod center at our church for at-risk youth who need help with virtual learning, homework help, and tutoring. The learning pod center is run by UTM, the non-profit I oversee whose mission is to break the fatherless cycle in urban communities through the gospel of Christ. UTM sees its self as an outreach arm of New City Church and provides opportunities for the church to enter into the lives of single mothers in our neighborhood and their kids so that the process of discipleship can take place. Several people in our church have had several conversations about Jesus with 4 of this single mother's kids and I had an opportunity to pray with her when she was in the hospital and share Jesus with her. Her 4 teenagers are starting to become part of the youth program at the church. 

josh p's picture

You said: 

"I think we need to be careful to not compartmentalize loving our neighbor and the task of making disciples into a non-biblical dualism as well.  Providing a meal for someone in need could be part of the mission of the church if it is part of the church's strategy to make disciples."

I'm not sure dualism is the right word since I'm only suggesting that they are different categories. It's not that they are in opposition. I see what you're saying but wouldn't it be better to say that your church implements strategies to make contacts with the lost in order to then make disciples? It seems like you are making disciple making a catch all that includes anything that allows one to witness. In other words, I think the actual discipleship hasn't begun until your step 3. When Christ preached to unbelievers, discipleship did not begin before conversion; otherwise it would be possible to say that he was discipling the Scribes and Pharisees. 

Edit: Perhaps a better example would be the early church. I would say that discipleship did not begin until conversion and subsequent joining the church. 

Always enjoy interacting with you brother! 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Thanks, Josh.  I always enjoy interacting with you as well.

My fundamentalist upbringing emphasized a sharp division between evangelism and discipleship, And I could never figure out why, especially since when Jesus called his 12 disciples, there seemed to be more of a process of conversion that took place. I don't believe that all 12 of his disciples were believers when he first called them. In my 30 years as an urban missionary, especially among those who are fatherless, we see a "belonging" that takes place before believing. It's in that loving environment that they see local expressions of Jesus and his church in the world, living out the gospel in all ways.  So many of my fatherless students witnessed firsthand a family-like love in a faith community that they yearned for but never experienced. With such brokenness, and the complex trauma and trust issues that come with doing ministry in my community, the pre-conversion discipleship (that the Holy Spirit uses to break up the fallow ground) that we do is essential to see fruit take place in our community. During the first decade of doing ministry in my neighborhood, I compartmentalized evangelism from discipleship, and literally hundreds got "saved" but none stayed.  God has used the process-discipleship that I outlined above in our urban context among the fatherless in our community to see many who are in the 6th step of the process and God is using them to make many other disciples. 

If a person is committed to being intentional about the goal of making disciples, there will never be a mission drift. By the way, there have been several things that our church has chosen not to do that are good (e.g. providing Flint Michigan with clean water or helping our inner-city neighborhood have equitable access to safe, affordable, and nutritiously diverse food), but it didn't fit within our mission to make disciples. To me, that would've been a "catch-all." 

josh p's picture

“By the way, there have been several things that our church has chosen not to do that are good (e.g. providing Flint Michigan with clean water or helping our inner-city neighborhood have equitable access to safe, affordable, and nutritiously diverse food), but it didn't fit within our mission to make disciples. To me, that would've been a "catch-all." At this point we are probably speaking past each other somewhat. I do wonder though in this statement of yours, how you determine what fits and what doesn’t? I’m guessing you will say personal relationships are absent the rejected methods. I see that point but I still stay it isn’t truly discipleship when the people are still unconverted. I don’t see anywhere in the New Testament where we are commanded to do those things as discipleship. Also, it seems somewhat arbitrary. As far as evangelism and discipleship goes, I too have seen that imbalance. From my perspective, that problem issues from an inadequate understanding of what discipleship is at the outset. In that case, it is made an optional and delayed crises experience for the already converted. You seem to be saying that it includes everything from first contact to passing on to glory. I believe it begins at conversion and lasts the entire lifetime.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Josh, there’s a lot to unpack here. So I am creating two different posts. To answer your first question, it comes down to both relationships and wisdom in determining what we decide to invest our time and resources. Launching an Online Learning Pod is creating many opportunities to get deeper into the lives of neighborhood students and their parents. It also is enhancing the reputation of Jesus and his church within a hostile environment in our urban community where white hipsters and the LGBTQ folks are starting to gain a lot of power because of gentrification. Serving neighborhood students through a learning pod swung the door open at the middle school where so many of the learning pod’s students attend. The principal is an atheist and used to be very much against faith-based groups and churches partnering with the school, but not anymore. It also gave UTM staff and our volunteers several opportunities to have gospel conversations. My church has gained  2 couples/families that are now attending because of the learning pod. One of the families has a daughter and a cousin who are part of the learning pod.  Another couple from the neighborhood started attending our church because they heard that we were actively serving the neighborhood through the learning pod.  Another neighborhood church (Berean Baptist) that has given significant money and volunteers to help with the learning pod gained a neighborhood family because one of the volunteers who attend Berean has spent a lot of time with one of the teens that he tutors at the learning pod.   

The mandates (Redemptive and Love) are fairly general. Making Disciples (Going, Teaching and Baptizing)  and Love your Neighbor happens in the context of the local church. In Scripture, we see a lot more descriptive than prescriptive when it comes to how we are to make disciples and how to love our neighbors.  You are probably right in that we might be talking past each other, but I am also resisting the compartmentalization of evangelism and discipleship because I see evangelism and discipleship as two sides of the same coin. That coin is what we call “making disciples.”   

My wife and I now have 3 adult kids (18, 20, 22) and a 14-year-old teenager.  My wife and I have been discipling them for their entire life.  My oldest two came to faith in Christ when they were young (6 and 7), my teenager trusted Christ when she was 9 and my 18 year old became a Christian when she was 14. But we were constantly investing in them like Jesus was with his disciples, from the time they were born even though they all became Christians at different times and stages of their lives. We use the same model with our fatherless students as well, embracing them as “family” to us and discipling them from the moment that we see that they are open to developing an honest, loving relationship with them. Many have come to faith in Christ from backgrounds as gang-members, drug-dealers, athletes, rappers, girlfriends and baby moms of teenagers and young men, etc...and are still walking with Christ and actively involved in a local church. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

While I do believe there should be a distinction between several things an individual does and what the church does in making disciples I would like to push back somewhat when talking about the mission of the church and social responsibility, concern, justice etc…   I think we Christians have to be careful when we make the jump from what the early church did to what Christians should do in the 21st century, especially when giving to the poor was done quite differently in 1st century Greco-Roman culture. Back in the first century, the social-economic needs of cities were taken care of by rich individual benefactors. They not only helped provided food and clothing to those that were poor and couldn't provide for themselves, but these benefactors also did quite a bit of community development, such as widening and paving roads, selling large quantities of food below market value during a famine to avert scarcity of food during a crisis, and erecting public buildings. In return, those who were the object of the Benefactor's charity were to lavish praise upon their benefactor in public. Cities that received help from Benefactors were to publicly honor the benefactor with the erection of an inscription commemorating the event, public words of praise, being crowned with a crown of get the idea. Jesus exposes the motives of these Gentile public benefactors that desired the praise and to lord over others. However, In the book of I Peter, Christians are repeatedly told to be holy and good works (in public) as a response to the public ridicule that they were receiving. 

I say all of this because it was an individual benefactor culture, therefore, much of the giving, even by the church (except for when Paul collects the offering for the Jerusalem church) was done by individuals. Even public giving/good works were to be done for the Glory of God (I Peter 2:11-12) rather than for the praise of men, yet the recognition of doing good works by pagans would cause them to glorify God and silence foolish talk......not every act of charity should be done in secret....... I believe we need to make sure that we don't confuse something descriptive (doing good, helping the poor, etc...) with prescriptive. When we make too much of  a distinction between individuals and churches when it comes to helping the poor, I believe we can possibly make an error when we confuse something that was only describing what was done with something that we are sure that the New Testament is prescribing. Of course, there were prescriptive guidelines too that we cannot neglect either (e.g The priority of doing good to believers, but yet still doing good to everyone, Galatians 6:10)

Also, as one that has been ministering to the urban poor for 30 years, to truly help a person that is trapped in chronic, generational poverty is easier done by the church, rather than an individual. Some of the crisis interventions that I have been involved with cost several thousands of $, even when I am networking with the government, non-profits, other churches, and help a family not become homeless. There are a few individuals that I know that can foot the bill, but a community of faith can do it easier and can get involved in the person's life by bringing their gifts and skills to help the person/family. Some people can help the person create a budget, some can help with watching their kids so they can work, some can teach job interviewing skills, etc...and basically get intimately involved in their life.I have had more opportunities to proclaim Christ through helping the poor and getting involved deeply in their lives. Some have repented and trusted Christ, while some haven't. And for those who are worried that this will cause us to somehow have to choose between evangelism and social acts of mercy/justice....I have never, ever, ever had to choose between the two....... With the parachurch organization that I oversee (UTM), we’ve become an outreach and community development arm of the local church, which allows the church to attend to the primary spiritual needs of the body. UTM creates outreach (evangelism/discipleship) and social justice opportunities that volunteers from churches that support UTM can roll up their sleeves and get involved with.  

Last, I’ve been reading alot about William Carey, the Father of the Modern Missions Movement, who was also an adamant Calvinist-Baptist.  In the first 17 years of his ministry, he and his mission team planted at least 11 churches, raised up 20 indigenous Indian evangelists, Baptized at least 500 converts to Christianity. By the end of his life, he had also translated the Bible into around 40 different Indian languages.  But his commitment to the whole counsel of God in the scriptures also meant social reform. Carey and his mission team used their leverage to help end child infanticide, to end Sati (Widow Burning), started schools to educate girls/women, fought polygamy & child marriages, opposed Caste systems, challenged bribery & usury by creating Savings Banks, & campaigned for the humane treatment of lepers (they were often buried or burned alive). He also introduced the steam engine and paper making to India. He founded the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India, insisting on the involvement of Indian natives from the beginning, and worked for land reform.  He was a media mogul who established the first Indian language newspaper and the first periodical magazine in India, He promoted astronomy to replace astrology and magic. He was the father of the Indian Renaissance, which featured the emergence of Bengali as a literary language.  Part of his teaching was discipling Indians to approach life from a Christian worldview in all spheres of their lives, but he was starting from scratch because the pagan, Hindu culture had been rapidly deteriorating into an abyss of suspicions and darkness of unspeakable evils against God’s image-bearers for about 800 years.  He had to show them an alternative. For Carey, the social reform he and his team did was an imperative aspect of his mission to make disciples. There needed to be a model of how people were to live out their faith in Christ in all areas of life.  So to circle back and to relate Carey’s mission work to today,  missions in communities of need are necessarily holistic (driven by the mandate to make disciples in the context of loving our neighbor) based on the relationships that are formed and wisdom in how to engage the culture where mission work is being done.  


josh p's picture

Joel thank you for the detailed interaction. Let me say first of all that I’m thankful for your dedication to Christ and your dedication to do good to all men. I don’t deny that what you are doing is profitable even from an evangelism standpoint. You think I am drawing an unnecessary bifurcation between evangelism and discipleship. I think you are conflating discipleship and good works or community service. I note that William Carey did all of those things to make a path for evangelism and discipleship. I don’t have a problem with that. It might be semantics at this point but I don’t believe he was doing discipleship until the individuals were saved. I also note that he was a missionary and not functioning as a church. Beyond that I don’t have much to say. Thanks again for the discussion and may the Lord bless your ministry.

Edited to add: I agree that corporate action is often more effective than individuals. I (minimally) support a ministry that fight human trafficking. There is no way I could do by myself what they do as a group. I'm thankful for their ministry and I praise God that many come to Christ out of that nightmare.