By last night (20/03/’10) the popular charity initiative Sport Relief had raised almost £30 million for charitable causes both abroad and in the UK. Via telethons and sponsored events such as running the Sport Relief Mile huge sums have flooded into the charity and much more is expected to be raised in events up and down the country this weekend.
You would have to be churlish to the point of perverse to not celebrate the good-hearted generosity of people and the great and practical good that is done as a result of such events. From the now historic Band Aid concert, through the well established British institution Comic Relief to Sport Relief and even the money raised for causes by the National Lottery much good is done.
However, I can’t help but think that when we look back at 19th century missionary societies and, indeed, their 21st century counterparts, and consider how they are represented in our social and cultural histories they don’t come out well. Yet they did, and continue to do much the same in raising resources to help developing societies, feed the hungry, teach the ill-educated, protect the vulnerable – and share the gospel. This last is what our secular society finds little to celebrate about, being suspicious about the fact that what they do is done in the name of Christianity. But what is the difference between going into a country in the name of liberal democracy and insisting that something must be done and things have to change and doing the same in the name of Christian charity?
Christian teaching, building, nursing and, yes, evangelistic missions are carried out by people who have chosen to serve a moral cause because they have committed their lives to a moral course. Unlike the celebrities who front events like Sport Relief and who fly in for a few days filming and then fly out to talk endlessly into a camera about how harrowing and moving was their experience, Christian missionaries devote years, sometimes their whole lives in the cause to which they are committed. Sometimes they sacrifice their lives to serve their God by serving “the least of these” (Mt.25:45)
The difference, it seems to me, and the great advantage to a secular society of such charitable events as Sport Relief is that, where Christian missionaries serve a moral cause because committed to a moral course, here people can serve a moral cause without making a commitment to a moral course. In this way they can salve their conscience, feel they are doing some good, but make no fundamental change to the way they live their daily lives.
It looks as though they are living their lives in a morally neutral world. One in which they can give and serve if it suits but pass on the other side if not. But this is not a morally neutral world and the requirements, indeed commandments of the God who made us apply equally to everyone in it. That is why mission exists in its most fundamental, evangelistic form. It is ironic that, while many perhaps feel that charity without religion is the best of all possible worlds, the greatest good that can be done them in this world is to remind them of their obligations to God and of what he requires of them “in these last days” (Acts 17:29-30)
Every effort at helping and serving the needy and vulnerable is to be applauded but as Christians the greatest help we could ever offer is to pray for and be involved in the mission of the church to “go into all the world and tell the good news” (Mt.28:16-20) It is not always popular but we may as well nail our colours to the mast – the world has.