I was recently engaged in a conversation concerning vocation, ‘diakonia’ and the mercy work of the church. As the conversation progressed, I was able to articulate a framework that I find helpful when I think about these topics. Others found it helpful as well and encouraged me to share it. Perhaps we can keep the conversation going!
Our members should be encouraged within their vocations to act and live according to the station of their life as the means God uses in order to preserve their neighbor for the sake of faith. That is not their vocation as “Christian,” it is their vocation as “human.” Who they band together with to carry out that work is irrelevant. They are doing it under the 1st article. It is good, right, proper, to be encouraged and is God pleasing work – not for the sake of the work – but because it is done by the Christian – i.e., one who believes and trusts in Christ’s merits to overcome their shortcomings in accomplishing those tasks that, by virtue of their existence as God’s creatures they are required to do. This is what Christ means when He says, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
If members choose to use the corporate assets of the congregation (facilities, even treasury) for such activities, that is fine, providing that the needs of each individual member within the congregation is met and the congregation agrees.
But if they are neglectful of the family into which God has incorporated them through their rebirth from above – hateful of their brother in Christ and murdering him by their neglect – then no initiative concerning “outreach” or “diakonia” is a good work because of Christ’s command through the Apostle, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” even if it can be said to lead one sinner to repentance and faith. We have God’s command to use our resources to care first and foremost for those “inside.” We trust Him and His Word proclaimed to bring people to faith – not the adornments we place around that word by the works of our own hands.
What’s more, neglecting our brother in Christ – passing over his needs to serve those outside – we show ourselves to be hypocrites and liars – for if we hate our brother, we diminish our witness, we do not enhance it. For Christ, our Lord Himself says, “BY THIS all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love ONE FOR ANOTHER.” And in context, it was spoken to the family of faith, not “one for another” as the brotherhood of humanity, but “one for another” as the brotherhood of Christ.