Christians Don’t Have a Monopoly on What God is up to

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We recently had a conversation that I’ll never forget.

We were meeting with a man named Chuck, who is on staff at an organization called Partners Relief and Development.  The goal of the meeting was to see how our organization, Bridges Myanmar, can learn from and work alongside Partners.   Both of us work in a country called Myanmar, formerly Burma, with people who come from some of the most urgent situations imaginable.  Some of these groups include internally displaced, orphans, the persecuted church, refugees, oppressed ethnic minorities, war ravaged villagers, victims of land mines, and more.  Tragically, you name the human rights issue and it exists in Myanmar.

As Christians, it seems clear that it’s our job to care for the “least of these”, and that in Jesus’ economy, those who we see as the “least” are actually the “first.”  When Jesus gives us a mandate to love and serve those in need he does not specify what institutions we work through.  Unfortunately, many Christians are only willing to serve those in need if it’s done through our church.

“Unbelievable, that’s incredible!” I exclaimed.  ”You are able to bring food and supplies to a group of people that had been isolated and closed off to outside support for many years!  How did you get into that community, who let you in?”

“I’m scared to tell you this and I know a lot of people may not like it…”  Chuck said.  ”But it was through a Buddhist Monk.”

Without hesitation one of our board members spoke up, “We totally understand.  Christians don’t have a monopoly on what God is up to in the world.”

Those words seemed to put Chuck at ease.  Apparently other groups had not been as receptive to their methods as we were.

But how come?  Why is it that so often as Christians we only want support humanitarian/missions/relief work if it comes from our churches, or has our name on it?

My friend Rachel is doing incredible work to prevent human trafficking in Thailand through her organization SOLD.  Her organization has been consistently turned away by churches who do not want to support their cause because it’s not explicitly a “Christian” organization.   Why do we as Christians think we have a monopoly on God’s work in the world?

Isn’t it possible that God is at work outside of the church?  In fact, don’t we believe that God is omnipresent and incarnate in our world?  Throughout the scriptures we see that God’s purposes for the world are often accomplished outside of Christian institutions.  Just a few examples:

  • In Exodus 4 God works through Pharaoh by hardening his heart in order to display his power and eventually free the Hebrews from slavery;
  • In Numbers 22 God’s voice is heard through a donkey;
  • In John 10 Jesus speaks of having sheep that are outside of the immediate sheep pen;
  • In Colossians 1:20 Paul writes that Jesus has reconciled “all things” to himself through the cross, not just the things within the church.

If God can work through dictators and donkeys, and is at work in other “pens”, and is reconciling “all things” to himself, why can’t God work through a Buddhist monk?

In reality God is at work outside of the church, and I’m incredibly grateful of this.  Thank God that He is working, redeeming, healing, and reconciling the world outside of the Christian community because the needs of our world are far beyond our scope and capacity to meet.

I believe it’s not our job to bring God to the world, but rather to find out where God already is and join in on what He’s doing.  If that means joining hands with a Buddhist monk to feed the hungry or partner with a public school to provide education, then let us find God there.

One thought on “Christians Don’t Have a Monopoly on What God is up to

  1. In the passage where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, he offers her living water that will make her thirst no more. Do you believe Jesus is referring to the woman literally having no physical thirst ever again? He is more concerned with her soul than even the most basic human needs, he states that curing her physical thirst will only go so far, but that it is the thirst of the soul that needs to be quenched.

    We read in the passage where the woman uses valuable oil to anoint Jesus’ feet that he rebukes Judas saying “you will always have the poor, but you will not always have me”. Again he places a relationship with Christ above the physical needs of the poor. Talk about Jesus economy. Jesus sees all suffering, poverty and hunger as realities of this world that will continue on until the end, it is eternal salvation through Christ that is His urgency. He has compassion for the poor, but solving earthly poverty was not why He came. We are called to practical love, but not to end all poverty. (Like you say, that is God’s job and he’s doing it!)

    He does not tell His disciples to take comfort that when oppressed or persecuted, others will be there to rescue them. His blessing and warnings regarding that are quite different. That is not His promise or calling for us. He says He will be the one to return and end all oppression.

    A further observation: his reference to sheep outside the pen can be interpreted as Gentile Believers, who are outside the ‘pen’ of Israel, not necessarily meaning unbelievers.

    What I read is that we are called to help each other through suffering by keeping each other’s eyes on Jesus, believing in the gospel and the economics of heaven. The world’s version of love still only measures hope and happiness by physical well-being and wealth. But in Jesus eyes, those who are poor according to the world can simultaneously be rich according to heaven. This is why unbelievers in world relief don’t understand Christianity. If a ministry forsakes Christ to meet physical needs, hasn’t it forsaken itself?

    God works in ways we cannot fathom and uses unbelievers like Pontious Pilate to carry out His will. But I worry that you place to much focus on the earthly reward of such intervention. He sends manna and water to a wandering Israel, and yet they remain in heavenly poverty until Christ comes. He brings war and exile on Israel, yet He still fulfills His promise that a Messiah will come. This is why the message that aid brings is so important to Christian ministries.

    We can reinforce lies of the world or share truth. Jesus healed ten lepers, nine that immediately forgot Him, and so their physical healing was their reward. If we are satisfied with that then so be it. But to the one who came back and thanked Him Jesus gave eternal healing, and that is what I believe Christians see as the true reward, and what they want for each other. Again, seeing physical needs is emotional, but are we blinded by them? Do we buy into what the world says, that to love is to end earthly suffering about all else? That if God is working, he is doing these things, and if He is not, then what? He doesn’t love us?

    I would warn against automatically seeing the world taking care of worldly needs as God. What I do find inspiring about your story is that it is an answer to prayer. This is a story of believers for God to provide a way, and He does. They kept their eyes open and did not limit God’s power, and He showed up. I am glad this made possible the spreading of the gospel that it did. So, here you are failing to see, the church IS involved in this. This is not, as you say, an example of how God is working OUTSIDE the church, because believers were directly involved!

    Do you rather mean that He is working outside of the church in the U.S. and what our concept of church is? Certainly His servants at Partners are bringing God’s truth into these places. So is Bridges Myanmar. Also, perhaps “bringing God” and “seeking God” are not exclusive to each other. Through seeking God in these places, He is revealing Himself, through asking, He is answering, through knocking, He is opening doors. Is God there anyway? Could He do all this without you? These questions are vanity. The fault may be that you have seen “bringing God” to mean “bringing food and aid,” but if that is all God is to us, we are screwed once we die. Of course God is there, but He needs you and believers to bring the REAL food – the eternal food of the gospel. Perhaps this is exactly what He is keeping these people alive for.

    Be sure, in HIS name all oppression will cease (as the great hymn says). Not the name of humanity or human love. or ‘progress’. This is the great promise.

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