There’s an old and well-known Chinese proverb adopted by the Peace Corps that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” And this is the work of the Church. We believe in feeding the man. The whole man. Not just ‘Man as soul,’ but Man as he is portrayed in the Bible, as a body-soul fusion that cannot be dissected into separate parts. This means we believe in social work. We believe in soup kitchens and in homeless shelters. We believe in recovery programs and halfway houses. We believe in jail ministry and digging wells and food drives and Christmas boxes in Africa. We, the Church, believe in social work. Not because it is a clever tool to manipulate people into exposing their souls, but because we believe you cannot truly love a person’s soul without also caring for their body. Because the two are inseparable.
So the question will be asked, “Why are you doing this charity work or that social work? Are you trying to convert them?” What are we to answer? We are to answer with the truth: ‘Yes.’ Yes, we want to convert them. Yes, we want to save them. Yes, we want to lead them to the freedom they were created to enjoy. We want them to be rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved son. Because otherwise… if our goal is not to change the man but only his circumstance, what does all our social work ultimately accomplish…? It feeds the man for a day. And that just won't do. Because we believe you cannot truly love a person’s body without also caring for their soul. Because the two are inseparable.
Lesslie Newbigin, a Church of Scotland scholar, bishop and missionary to India,
Even the works of Jesus were not self-interpreting. They needed the words in which he proclaimed the reality and the character of the reign of God. Much more do our faltering and ambiguous deeds need interpreting. One of the decisive experiences of my own life was a long vacation spent during my student days as part of a team of workers among the unemployed miners of one of the South Wales mining districts. The members of the group with which I worked were deeply convinced that they must confine themselves to social work, and that anything in the way of religious activity or preaching must be completely avoided. I was not at that time a Christian. But I could not fail to see that our social work was not meeting the deepest needs of these men and women who had rotted in unemployment for more than a decade. They needed more than food and games and education. They needed hope. They needed something to love and long for at a time when the world seemed to have no use for them. Our social work programmes alone could not communicate that: it needed the word, the word about Jesus and his Cross. It was in that situation that the death of Jesus first became a reality to me.
We, the Church, believe in feeding the man. The whole man. We do not believe in treating Man as a disembodied soul, but neither do we believe in treating Man as simply a machine of flesh, needing nothing but regular tune-ups and oil changes to function well. We believe in doing more than feeding the man for a day. We believe in teaching the man something. We believe in sharing a message with the man, a hope, a shout from the courts of heaven, a song from the lips of angels, a Gospel from the One who has gone ahead and forged a way to a freedom that will actually change the man, and not just his circumstance. And what is this Gospel? What is this 'good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people...?' “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-6)
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is the work of the Church. We believe in feeding the man. The whole man. Not just ‘Man as soul,’ but Man as he is portrayed in the Bible, as a body-soul fusion that cannot be dissected into separate parts. This means we strive always to feed the man for a day—his daily needs are real, and important, and vital. But it also means we never forget also to feed him for a lifetime. And by ‘feed him,’ I mean preach the Gospel, and by ‘for a lifetime,’ I mean… for the sake of his eternity.
Surrounded By Grace,