Theology of Ministry
LEVEL seeks to further Christ's ministry of reconciliation by encouraging local churches to move toward those on the margins of society who are suffering from spiritual and material poverty. Because neighborhoods marked by material poverty often lack gospel-centered churches we seek to help the church 1) see the beauty and necessity of planting new churches within these communities and 2) develop gospel anchored and driven, educational and socio-economic programs that work toward creating long-term solutions to reverse cycles of oppression and disadvantage.
Spiritual and material poverty are a result of the breakdown of relationships. In the beginning, everything that God made was good. Adam and Eve had soul-satisfying relationships with their Creator and one another as they enjoyed nourishing produce from their garden and fresh drinking water from the rivers that God had created. All existed in harmony and balance as God provided all that was needed, but when Adam and Eve sinned they were driven out of Eden and humanity's circumstances were profoundly altered.
Since the Fall, people have been born into broken relationships with God and one another to work a cursed land with sin-ridden hearts in a fallen world system. Countless people continue to have unreconciled relationships with God and therefore cannot be reconciled with one another (1 John 4:7-8). This is evidenced, in part, by the global economic disparity that exists today, which historians say is significantly greater than any other time in world history.
Recent studies show that the richest 1% of people own half of the world's wealth, while nearly half of the world's population live in poverty. In addition to this, those struggling under the problems created by the world's economic imbalance are often victims of social injustice (e.g. trafficking, discrimination, etc.), which severely compounds their disadvantage. In response, a minority number of people own the majority of resources because a small percentage of socioeconomically-privileged individuals financially benefit from the imbalanced socio-economic structures that exist. And when an individual inherits a disadvantaged socioeconomic position they are left vulnerable to being abused or taken advantage of by those with more social leverage and material wealth. Therefore, generations of people exist in cycles of privilege and wealth and cycles of oppression and poverty.
However, Christ came and interrupted this world's pattern of operating. He came graciously offering forgiveness and new spiritual life as he denounced injustice and modelled and taught caring for the spiritually, physically and materially poor. Jesus began ushering in the Kingdom of God and then commissioned his disciples to continue his work.
Loving action begins and ends with the Trinity. The Father sent his Son to earth to become human because our sin had broken apart our relationship with God and because God's love is a pursuing love that longs for reconciliation even if it comes at personal cost (John 3:16). Jesus, acknowledging himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus was describing the ministry of reconciliation, a spiritual ministry with a physical and practical outworking.
Therefore, ministers of reconciliation care for others who are in spiritual and physical poverty. Salvation, then, is new spiritual life in Christ marked by Spirit-empowered gospel-sharing, oppression-breaking action. The book of Acts begins with Luke explaining that the previous volume he'd written, the Gospel of Luke, was an account of "all that Jesus began to do and teach" (Acts 1:1). The term "began" was used because Christ continues his ministry of reconciliation through his Church. Paul writes that, "Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us [the Church] the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Jesus commissioned his followers to make more disciples through extending the message of new spiritual life through his atoning work. He also instructed these followers to teach the new disciples all that he had commanded through his ministry (Matthew 28:19-20). A disciple of Christ is one who has placed faith in the Son of God and, by the Spirit, observes all that Jesus commanded. Observing all that Jesus commanded involves having not only heart-driven actions that abstain from immorality and unrighteousness, but heart-driven actions that are mercyful and righteous (Matthew 5).
We see an example of the practice of mercy as a socio-economic outworking of the gospel in Paul's missionary work. As he was traveling through foreign countries and crossing ethnic lines to share the good news with unreached people he was also instructing those who came to faith to financially contribute to their spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ who were facing need back in Israel. This is what he wrote to the church in Corinth,
"Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches in Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collection when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem" (1 Corinthians 16:1-3).
Paul wasn’t under the impression that the gospel message he was preaching and teaching was finished once a person made a confession of faith. The Christians in Corinth and Galatia were required to give when their brothers and sisters in Christ were facing need. James taught the same ethic when he wrote that “visit[ing] orphans and widows in their affliction” is the mark of mature Christianity. Paul and James required the Church to observe all that Jesus taught.
John the Baptist taught that people must “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). When his listeners asked him what that fruit looks like he gave a very practical response. He said, "Whoever has two tunics, must share with him who has none. And whoever has food is to do likewise" (Luke 3:11). The principle behind this command is that if we have more than we need we have a responsibility to provide for those who have less than they need.
The first Christians, freshly filled with the Holy Spirit, provide us with a beautiful example of putting this teaching into practice. Luke writes, "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:44-45). God's people were levelling their resources in love for one another.
To become a Christian is to become a servant to others and God has made servant-hearted love possible for Christians by providing us with his Spirit and the love needed to carry out the work of Christ. (Romans 5:5) Christians are those who lovingly do the will of God (Matthew 7:21; 24). John writes, "[If] anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him. Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3:17-18) Our actions are indications of either the presence or absence of God's indwelling Spirit (1 John 4).
Therefore, a person’s faith in Jesus is evidenced by a pursuing love that seeks to reconcile others who are suffering in spiritual and physical poverty. And as Christ's Church, by the Spirit, seeks the good of others every believer will be blessed and God will be glorified in it all (1 Corinthians 10:23-33; Acts 20:35).