Mike at Waving or Drowning?: Tutu Too gives a simple perspective on the gospel, echoing Desmond Tutu:
I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.
Bishop Desmond Tutu
It has been commented with wry irony that Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, but what we got (instead) was the (institutional) church. Now the purpose of the church, as I understand it, is to be the continued presence—the body—of Christ in the world, that is to say, the incarnation of God whose purpose is not to be served, but to serve, and to have as its highest spiritual aim that intimacy with Christ that rejoices when it shares in his suffering. But the suffering of Christ is suffering for the world, and if the people of God want to share in that, then it is for the world’s sake that we will willingly give up our privileges, our wealth, our health, our precious priorities.
I’ve heard several voices recently suggest that the category of “believer” has become too weak, too meaningless to carry the weight of what’s needed for those who associate with Christ. “Disciple” might work, but it also has taken on a religious-club overtone, as all such words seem to in their devolution; lately I’ve seen the suggestion of “apprentice” which is nearer the mark, since those who attach themselves to Christ are committed to an on-the-job training program of trusting in the living God while proclaiming good news to anyone who will by any means hear it. And good news is substantial, and always has a context: as Tutu says, to the hungry good news means bread. To the lonely, it means a friend. To the confused and anxious, it will mean clarity of understanding and peace of mind. The various subcultures of religious practice which remove themselves from the needs of human beings to engage in feel-good activities for their own sake, whether worship, liturgy, retreats, conferences, music, or complex doctrinal study, without letting those things drive them to real-world alleviation of someone’s suffering, miss the point of worship, retreats, conferences, study and all. Meeting human needs shoud never be an optional addition to how we do church; it is, in fact, how we are church, how we manifest the presence of God in the world. It is the other things, the gatherings, the celebrations, the battery-recharging demonstrations of religious life, that are the options and add-ons. I personally love to get together to hear and participate in good music and preaching and teachinng and discussion among people who are agreed on the basic principles of Christianity. But I know that all that is merely preparatory to the ongoing task of representing the love of God to someone that may not even feel free to test out whether they would be welcome in such a place.