Full Text for Dogmatics 4- Volume 7 - Can you help me understand if the two realms help us solve the problem of too much emphasis being placed on humanitarian efforts and less on preaching the Gospel? (Video)

No. 7. >> Hello, Professor Biermann. I'm Nick, a former high school teacher and now a shepherd in training with a small flock in central LA. No doubt it is because our congregation's location that some of the people in my church are eager to start a soup kitchen for the homeless people that sometimes hang around by our building. I've heard it said, though, that the church's job is to proclaim the Gospel, an activity which may lapse if we become too distracted by trying to provide people with meals. Can you help me understand if the two realms help us solve this problem? >>DR. JOEL D. BIERMANN: Nick, I think the two realms is exactly what you need to be able to answer this situation. And as I reflect on this, I really believe that keeping the two realms distinct and thinking about what's going on gives you exactly what you need to come to an appropriate conclusion to how you should think about this and what counsel you might give to your people. For starters let me say there's nothing wrong with the church doing a soup kitchen. It can be quite appropriate. Because what you're doing essentially with a soup kitchen is you're meeting a left hand need. A need somebody has in the material world. Now, your situation there in Los Angeles gives you great opportunities because you have people literally at your doorstep who have real needs. And you know as a Christian they have needs on two levels. They have your primary concern the right hand need. They need to be right with God. They need to hear the forgiveness of sins. So in other words, they need to have the Gospel proclaimed to them. They need to be killed in their sin, the law. And they need to be made alive with the Gospel. Made right with God. Passive righteousness. That's your No. 1 concern. Now, I know as a good Lutheran theologian, that's your driving interest. You want people to know Christ. You want them to have salvation. That's most important. I agree. That's most important. The law needs to be proclaimed. The Gospel needs to be delivered. This happens through the preaching of the church. It happens in the celebration of the sacraments. It happens in the life of the congregation. This is what it's all about. Now, the people around your church also have other needs. They have genuine, legitimate, real left hand needs. And someone who is hungry, his biggest need is need something in my belly. I'm hungry, I'm starving. So can the church meet those needs? You bet. Individual Christians living in both realms need to pay attention to both realities. So we need to be taking care of people's physical needs. Somebody might say that's the government's job. No, it's not. It's the job of every one of us. We have neighbors who have our needs. Think about the story of the Good Samaritan. What was the No. 1 need of the man who had been beaten up? He was dieing. He needed medical care. He needed someone to look after him. He needed someone to feed him and give him a place to stay. So the Samaritan did that. The Samaritan didn't preach the Gospel. The Samaritan simply met the need. And that was the need of the hour. So are there times when the church can do this had? I would say yes. You need to be careful. Sometimes the church as an organization can step in and meet a need better than an individual can. Lutheran World Relief is a good example of this. If there's a disaster some place in the world, we go there and do something as a church. And the goal is simply to provide for a material need. Satisfy a problem. Help them in a crisis. Now, you are doing this on a smaller level, kind of a microcosm. So you have people in your neighborhood who are hungry. How -- how about a soup kitchen somebody says. Now the response would be to say: All right. Is this a legitimate need? Are there other places where these people can go to have this need met? You look around and say: No. No one is really filling this need. We have this void. Or maybe you want to start a food bank or a clothing bank. No one else is doing this. We should do something about this, pastor. And I think you as a pastor would say: You're right. We should do something about these needs these people have. They are legitimate real needs. Let's do something. Let's organize a group to take care of this. Now, as you proceed with the desire of meeting a left hand need, remember, that's what you're doing. You're meeting a left hand need. You're not proclaiming the Gospel. This -- I get pretty fired up about this one. Because I see this one in error too much. I see people in churches where you'll have the evangelism committee starts doing a soup kitchen. Wrong. Or they start doing: We're going to have a service project in this congregation. We're going to go out and rake leaves. We're going to go out and trim bushes. Or we're going to go out and reroof this person's house. We're going to do the Gospel. Wrong. That's not the Gospel. That's being nice. That's meeting a left hand need. There's a place for it. But it's not the same thing as proclaiming Christ. I put it this way: I can rake my neighbor's leaves for the rest of my life. And be kind to her. I can smile at her. My wife can bake cookies and take them to her all the time. We can be great neighbors for her. Is that the Gospel? No. She is -- has not heard the Gospel until I go and I open my mouth and I speak to her of the law and the Gospel and I give her Christ. Christ has to be delivered or we have not done the Gospel. And so I get fired up about this and rather irritated when I see churches doing good works had in the name of the Gospel as if that's the Gospel. It's not. It's not evangelism until Christ has been proclaimed. So there's a big difference. So you there in LA. You've got people who have needs. They are hungry. Can you feed them? Yes, do it. Organize a soup kitchen. Go ahead. Meet their physical needs. But then also realize they have spiritual needs. And you as the church have as your No. 1 task, your goal is the proclamation of the Gospel so people are right with God. So go ahead and do your soup kitchen thing. But don't do that so much that it begins to overwhelm the real responsibility, proclaiming Christ. Now, it also helps to have this distinction. Because if I understand the place of my soup kitchen, it's a left hand thing. And I understand the place of the proclamation of the Gospel. It's a right hand thing. I can see them as two distinct things. And this helps. Because that means you don't have to somehow baptize your soup kitchen. In other words, you don't have to slip a Gospel tract onto the tray to make it legitimate. Nor do you have to say: Okay. They came for their meal. Now we're going to preach to them. No. Don't play this bait and switch game. Meet their physical need. Be a neighbor. Take care of their immediate situation. Help them. Just show some kindness. Show some love. It's an appropriate thing to do as a fellow creature. You have left hand responsibilities. Go ahead and meet them. And then decide how you can aggressively do the work of proclaiming the Gospel to them, as well. They are two different things. Both important. Now, obviously there's some overlap. If you're meeting their left hand needs, they are going to tend to be more interested in listening to you. And they are going to sense that you're genuine. You're an authentic person. You've got something to say. They'll pay attention. So there's definitely some overlap here. But they are really two different things. You don't have to somehow sort of sneak the Gospel into everything you do in the left hand. Just do left hand stuff. It's okay. And then go ahead and do your right hand stuff. And do it well. Give them their meal. And maybe sit down and have a conversation and talk to them about Christ. Or invite them to come to your worship service. Make it easy for them to come. Make them feel comfortable. Offer the invitation. Speak to them of God's law and Gospel. But don't make the criteria for the meal. Say somebody comes to the meal and then they blow you off. They never come to church. You say: Oh, you can't eat here anymore. No. They still have left hand needs. Go ahead and meet them. That's what you're doing. You're in the business of meeting that need. Just be careful, as I said, that you don't let this new work of the left hand soup kitchen get so big and become so overpowering that it starts to push out other elements of the real -- of the church's work. Because no one else in the world is doing the Gospel. Only the church is. Plenty of people are doing left hand stuff. I mean, government work does that. All kinds of service organizations are meeting those needs. There's no one else doing the Gospel. So if we in the church get so caught up in doing left hand stuff that we begin to neglect the Gospel, Satan really has won. Because then the only voice that speaks the Gospel has grown silent. So don't ever let your service in the left hand get so overpowering or so big that it overwhelms the work of the right hand. Can you do both? Yeah, I really believe you can. You need to be careful. And need to have some wisdom. Pay attention to how it's all balancing out. But you can do both. And I would say the church that ignores left hand needs of the people around it is really doing a disservice and is giving a lousy witness to Christ's Word in the community. Because they are not taking care of all the needs of the people. They are simply focusing on right hand stuff and ignoring left hand realities. Both are important. Both have a place.