The Friday morning plenary address at last week’s Assembly of World-Wide Partners was given by Ruth Padilla deBorst, a 15-year veteran of work with Christian Reformed World Missions. Padilla deBorst’s talk focused on relations between the global north and global south, “Together in Missions in the 21st Century.” In the following I’ll summarize her talk and intersperse the summary with some of my own reflections. One general comment, with Acton University beginning today: the valuable uniqueness of a conference like Acton U comes into sharp relief given the economic, political, and ideological attitudes on display at an event like the Assembly of World-Wide Partners. (more…)
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13 TNIV).
I’ve been working on a paper on vocation the last few days, and ran across that verse. One of the complaints against the theological grounding of vocation has been the claim that there is no biblical justification for speaking about calling as referring to anything but our call to conversion.
The passage in Galatians 5 may make that connection between the general vocation and the particular calling, albeit implicitly.
I also ran across this quote by Richard Baxter, dating from 1682 and his treatise, How to Do Good to Many:
Every Soul you convert, every brick that you lay in the building tendeth to make up the House and City of God. But as all motion and action is first upon the nearest object, so must ours; and doing Good must be in order: First we must begin at home with our own Souls and lives, and then to our nearest Relations, and Friends, and Acquaintance, and Neighbours, and then to our Societies, Church and Kingdom, and all the world. But mark that the order of execution, and the order of estimation and intention differ. Tho God set up Lights so small as will serve but for one room, and tho we must begin at home, we must far more esteem and desire the good of multitudes, of City and Church and Commonwealth; and must let no bounds to our endeavours but what God and disability let.
In Baxter’s case, the relative valuation of the soul over the body is clear, so that material concerns must always be oriented toward the spiritual.
There are details about how you can sponsor a child to receive an education at the new Christian Primary School in Kabala, Sierra Leone at the project’s blog. The school is an effort pursued by Fraser Valley Christian High School in Surrey, British Columbia, in conjunction with Christian Extension Services in Sierra Leone.
I have mentioned the new school in a previous Acton Commentary. The cost of sponsoring a child is $200. Some more details about the education offered by the school follows:
The school offers grade 1-4 education to start. They will have certified Christian teachers who will be teaching the Sierra Leone government core curriculum and like our Canadian Christian Schools will integrate Biblical worldview and values into all they do. The biggest advantage to these children will be the low teacher/student ratio of no more than 35:1. By African standards this is simply amazing and will make all the difference in the child’s education.
Check out the school’s blog for more information about how to sponsor a child and answers to some other frequently asked questions.
I’ve been reading a lot of Richard Baxter lately, and one of the things he emphasizes in many of his writings is the importance of a good, basic education. So, for instance, he writes in his treatise, How to Do Good to Many, that in order to “promote knowledge of necessary truth,” we need to first “set up reading schools.”
Once people are literate, we should “give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their consciences.”
If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every year’s rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, for knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.
It’s within our ability to put not only books in the hands of those who need them, but to provide children in Sierra Leone with the education to make proper use of such books. It would be hard to find a better way to spend $200.
Words of prudential wisdom from Richard Baxter:
‘In doing good prefer the souls of men before the body, ‘cæteris paribus.’ To convert a sinner from the error of his way is to save a soul from death, and to cover a multitude of sins [James v. 20],’ —And this is greater than to give a man an alms. As cruelty to souls is the most heinous cruelty, (as persecutors and soul-betraying pastors will one day know to their remediless woe,) so mercy to souls is the greatest mercy. Yet sometimes mercy to the body is in that season to be preferred (for every thing is excellent in its season). As if a man be drowning or famishing, you must not delay relief of his body, while you are preaching to him for his conversion; but first relieve him, and then you may in season afterwards instruct him. The greatest duty is not always to go first in time; sometimes some lesser work is a necessary preparatory to a greater; and sometimes a corporeal benefit may tend more to the good of souls than some spiritual work may. Therefore I say still, that prudence an an honest heart are instead of many directions: they will not only look at the immediate benefit of a work, but to its utmost tendency and remote effects.
–The Christian Directory, Part I, Christian Ethics, Chapter III, Grand Direction X, Direction X, p. 328.
In preparing for the paper I’m giving this week on Bonhoeffer’s views of church and state, I ran across the following quotes, which nicely illustrate his view of the gospel and its relation to alleviation of social oppression and suffering. In his essay, “Ultimate and Penultimate Things,” he writes,
It would be blasphemy against God and our neighbor to leave the hungry unfed while saying that God is closest to those in deepest need. We break bread with the hungry and share our home with them for the sake of Christ’s love, which belongs to the hungry as much as it does to us. If the hungry do not come to faith, the guilt falls on those who denied them bread. To bring bread to the hungry is preparing the way for the coming of grace.
But even more important than feeding the hungry is the spiritual bread of the gospel. The physical bread derives its importance, in fact, from its value in “preparing the way” for the reception of the gospel. Giving mere bread is a penultimate thing.
Thus he writes, “Preparing the way is indeed a matter of concrete intervention in the visible world, as concrete and visible as hunger and nourishment. Nevertheless, everything depends on this action being a spiritual reality, since what is finally at stake is not the reform of worldly conditions but the coming of Christ.”
This coheres pretty well with a traditional view of the social responsibility of the Church as an important, albeit secondary, aspect of gospel proclamation. Richard Baxter once wrote,
Do as much good as you are able to men’s bodies in order to the greater good of Souls. If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings; not as if it were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men: God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily senses to the Soul.
It seems to me that Bonhoeffer and Baxter are in close agreement on these issues, in contradistinction to the so-called “social gospel,” which confuses the penultimate with the ultimate.