Q: What do you mean by an "outreach" project?
As an example, last winter, COG piloted our first outreach project - “Bags of Love” - and invited all UK ecclesias and individual members to participate.
We decided to raise money to provide water resistant sleeping bags to those who find themselves sleeping rough on Britain’s streets, where temperatures typically drop below freezing. You can see how this project went by looking at our 'COG project' page.
Q: What was the scriptural basis for “Bags of Love”?
It is important to be clear about the firm scriptural principles upon which this project and others are founded. It is not a preaching project. Preaching should always focus on the gospel message: “A review of the words ‘preach’ and ‘gospel’ shows that the subject of the preaching is what is taught about beliefs. The doctrines that comprise the gospel... are propositions to be believed about the nature of God and Jesus, redemption through Jesus’ resurrection, judgement,and his return to establish the Kingdom as Lord of peace.” 
The “Bags of Love” project might well start conversations about the hope that we have in our Lord Jesus Christ, but it is not preaching in itself. It is primarily an act of service, or worship, as a review of some key Bible passages will confirm.
The Bible is full, “pressed-down” and “running-over”, of commands to “love our neighbours” as Jesus has loved us: to take care of our brothers and sisters and the strangers, widows, orphans and the materially poor: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19). 
How does God provide the foreigners with food and clothing? Surely one way should be through his own people sharing what they have with the refugees currently flocking into our country?
On reading the gospels, Jesus’ definition of “neighbour” would simply be “anyone with whom he came into contact” - regardless of their class, race, religion or way of life. He clearly rejected the Pharisaical definition of neighbour, which appeared to be restricted to members of their own club - and certainly not materially poor Jews or the Gentile dogs. This would be unthinkable!
Q: Is outreach a Biblical Practice?
Romans 12 is a key passage in thinking about the strong scriptural foundations for COG’s type of outreach work. We read: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).
Notice that offering our bodies, or our lives, is our true and proper “worship”. The Greek word for worship (translated as “service” in the KJV) is “latreia” defined as “the service or worship of God according to the requirements of the Levitical law”.  In Romans 9:4, the same word is used of temple worship. This is a word which should make us stop and think. Surely, we are no longer under the Levitical law? Surely, God would not expect the believers in the first century to keep the ceremonial laws and temple rituals? Obviously not.
So why use that particular word for worship? Paul, through the spirit, goes on to explain what our true and proper worship now entails in our Lord Jesus  : “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully...” (Romans 12:4-8).
It is vital that we grasp Paul’s argument here if we are to wholeheartedly embrace outreach as an important spiritual sacrifice in our worship as individuals and as a community. We all have different skills. We are not all able to preach or teach from the platform, especially in the case of sisters. But many of us have the ability to worship by:
- Serving (v7);
- Encouraging (v8);
- Giving generously (or sincerely) (v8), and
- Showing mercy  (v8).
The “Bags of Love” project allows us to worship as a community in that it allows us to “give generously” and “show mercy” to those at “our gates” who, like Lazarus the homeless beggar, have absolutely nothing (Luke 16:20). It is an opportunity to “do good to all people” whilst not forgetting our special responsibility to those who “belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).
It is worth noting here that the apostles were given the command to preach the gospel of salvation. And we notice their reluctance to be distracted from this mission when they delegated the ecclesial feeding programme to seven deacons (Acts 6: 1-7), so that they could devote themselves to: “prayer and the ministry of the word”.
Jesus had the same priority as his apostles: “Jesus’ primary focus was the word of the Gospel. At times he even had to enforce this! We are told in the beginning of Mark that the Lord Jesus had ‘healed many who were sick with various diseases’ (Mark 1:34). Following that, the Lord went away to pray, but the disciples soon found him, saying, ‘Everyone is looking for you’. Rather than stay and heal their sick, and deal with other problems, Jesus said, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.” 
This highlights the point that we all have different jobs to do and different priorities; we are all the Body of Christ but not everyone has the skills, or authority, to devote themselves to preaching as the Lord Jesus and his apostles did. For some of us outreach is our forte, it is our act of worship, our calling in the Lord Jesus Christ. This act of worship, or spiritual sacrifice , should not be dismissed as unimportant by others who have different abilities or positions of leadership. We need to encourage one another.
As Brother Gordon Hunnings pointed out: “It must be remembered that at least half our members are women and their function in the Church is surely more than purely passive or indeed ornamental. Add to this the great number of brethren who do no public proclamation of the Gospel, and we have the vast majority of our members with little or no opportunity of service as we have tended to interpret service in the past. They greatly exceed the number of ecclesial appointments available, including the demands of inter-ecclesial work as well. We have a great reserve of manpower and we have the financial resources too to increase the scope of our work considerably without detriment to our existing commitments.” 
Acts of worship
Other passages which support Paul’s words in Romans 12, that outreach is worship, or a spiritual sacrifice, and different from direct preaching, are Isaiah 58 and James 2. Isaiah talks of what the Jews of his time saw as worship: to fast and to keep the Sabbath day. Yet whilst they were fasting, they were doing what they wanted, rather than what God wanted, and mistreating the poor in exploiting their workers (58:3). The type of fast, or worship, that God was looking for is explained in verse 7. He wanted his people to: “Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help” (NLT).
On this basis, as part of their worship, some ecclesias have started to collect food on Sundays to drop off at the local food bank. Others are collecting clothes for Jewish relief. These acts do not detract from our exhorting, preaching and caring for our brothers and sisters, but rather are part of the whole gamut of “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6) which is pleasing to our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus.
James underscores this point: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Again, the Greek word for religion here is: “threskeia” which is defined as “religious worship, especially external, that which consists of ceremonies”  . For the Jews, this word would perhaps have reminded them of their ceremonial worship under the law - animal sacrifices, tithing, offerings and perhaps of the legalistic practices that had been mistakenly built up around this system. James calls us away from this kind of ritualistic worship. Now we are to worship in a different way, a practical way of “faith expressing itself through love”, by looking after the orphans and widows in their difficulties. This kind of worship means that those of us who have these skills have to get up out of our seats, leave the comfort zone of our ecclesial halls, and reach out.
Q: Aren’t these acts of worship for individuals and not for organised groups?
Some might agree that helping others is an act of worship, or service, but that the service should be kept for strengthening the body of believers, or that we should only help those outside of the faith as an individual and not an organised group. Where is the precedent set by the apostles for helping non-believers as an ecclesia? Good question.
A similar list to that in Romans 12, of the practical jobs of different people, is found in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church:
- first of all apostles,
- second prophets,
- third teachers,
- then miracles,
- then gifts of healing,
- of helping,
- of guidance, and
- of different kinds of tongues.”
Whilst these appear to have been spirit gifts, they can also be natural talents that God has given us. Note that precedence is rightly given to preaching and apostleship, but some members have the gift of helping. These gifts weren’t just to be kept within the body - obviously apostles preached to unbelievers and performed miracles and healing to confirm that their message was from God. Would we argue that “helping” has to be confined to the body? Would we argue that we could preach together on campaigns and as organised groups, but could only help unbelievers as individuals?
It is clear that Jesus and the apostles were first and foremost to preach, teach and heal. Yet, they clearly made organised provision for the poor as a group of believers (Matthew 26:9, John 13:29). We discover this almost by accident, as the record focuses on their skills set and God-given preaching mission.
So yes, the message was of paramount importance and it is such an encouragement to have brothers, who have the authority and ability to devote themselves in this way, and to enjoy a fulfilling role in Christ's service. But what of sisters and those brothers who do not find such a fulfilling role? God has also given them skills to perform different acts of worship in caring for the needy . It is so much more enjoyable and uplifting to do this work together: to preach together, to look after the household of faith together. Why say that it is only caring for the unbelievers that has to be done individually? Isn't this robbing our members who can do this together from having a purposeful, collective role?
Why would we argue that apostles and teachers can use their gifts in the body and outside the body of believers as a collective group, but when it comes to those of us who are humble helpers - then we can only do this as individuals? Is there an explicit scriptural statement to support this view? A wonderful example of the UK Christadelphian community coming together as an organised group was during World War II. Brother Alan Overton organised the housing of 250 Jewish child refugees as part of the Kindertransport initiative. He could not have done this as an individual - but needed the organised support of his brothers and sisters. Without the help of our community, the lives of those children could have been lost.
Incidentally, historical documents from the third century, show that the believers helped unbelievers as an organised group. One commentator writes:
‘Eusebius [c. AD 260 – 340] recorded that during the plague in Caesarea, “All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”...the Christian conquest of the Roman Empire came not by the sword, but by the preaching of the gospel joined with acts of compassion. Eusebius goes on to state that because of their compassion in the midst of the plague, the Christians’ “deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.” A few decades after Eusebius, the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, recognized that the Christian practice of compassion was one cause behind the transformation of the faith from a small movement on the edge of the empire to cultural ascendancy. Writing to a pagan priest, he said, “[W]hen it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans [i.e., Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy.” To another, he wrote, “[They] support not only their poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”’ 
Q: Isn't this type of public outreach against Jesus' command not to let people see us doing good?
In all these things our motives are so important. We want to show love to all, regardless of race, class, gender and lifestyle, because that is what our Father does: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that... But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6: 32-36).
As Matthew says, God provides for the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). So should we.
But isn’t this type of outreach, in publicly giving sleeping bags to rough sleepers, going against the Lord’s commands? He clearly instructs us: “‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’” (Matthew 6:1-4).
Firstly, it should be noted that, in Matthew 6, Jesus is addressing his hearers as individuals: “you” in verses 1 to 4 is singular, not plural. So this is not talking about how we give as a group of believers, or an organisation. By contrast, as a group we are commanded to: “Let your [you plural] light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Secondly, and more importantly, the motive of our outreach is not to gain praise of men (Matthew 6:5) but simply to worship and to be like our master: “Our motives should be the compassion that the Lord Jesus showed, and we should be willing to do what good we can, irrespective of whether others will see what we have done. Then, if it should happen that others see our good works, it should be our Father in heaven who will be glorified, not us as individuals, not CBM, not even the Christadelphian community.” 
Just like the widow who publicly cast her two mites into the temple treasury, the Lord’s teaching here is about our motives - not necessarily whether we will be physically seen or not: “Observe that the Lord Jesus did not say, ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men.’ Such a command, if not impossible to carry out, severely limits the field in which almsgiving may be practised, and limits it in directions in which it is most desirable that it should be practised. There are many works of righteousness which must of necessity appear before men, for the simple reason that men are the subjects of them. No; Christ said, ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them.’ In other words, do not practise the giving of alms merely to be seen of men as these ostentatious hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets. That is the whole point of the lesson. Whether men see our works of righteousness or not, should be of no importance to us. Our motive should be as far removed as possible from worldliness in this feeble imperfect state, and that man is happy who can, without shame and without privacy, cast his pence into the Treasury (as did the widow woman), knowing that his sacrifice is acceptable to God.” 
On reading other about examples in the New Testament, such as Cornelius and Dorcas, it is evident that sincere brothers and sisters were known for their good deeds - it was their motive in not doing good to be seen of others that was the important thing. Indeed, the widows had to be known for good deeds: “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Timothy 5:9-10).
If we are noticed doing good, we should not become proud or show off as the hypocrites did in Jesus’ day. The feel-good factor should be kept between ourselves and our Lord.
Q: What types of outreach projects are UK ecclesias already doing?
From our survey ( see https://goo.gl/forms/rtgD2eKGg3uPytct1 ) we can see that many ecclesias are already reaching out to those around them in different ways. Sometimes outreach is balanced with preaching, for example in Bible Learning Centres, toddler groups, kids holiday clubs and so on. Other initiatives reach out without the need to be justified by direct preaching. As spiritual sacrifices, they are justified in and of themselves: donating to food and clothing banks, helping to run soup kitchens, running art classes in ecclesial halls for destitute refugees etc.
But such worship often provides brilliant opportunities for meaningful conversations about our faith, for example:
- Ecclesia 1 used its hall as a collection depot for food and clothing for refugees, which a brother then delivered to Calais. This meant that residents had a non-threatening opportunity to come into the meeting room to drop off items - which led to conversations about our faith: “You don’t have an altar. Why is that?”
- Ecclesia 2 is a small and elderly meeting - probably like many other UK ecclesias - where most members are aged 70+. They recently became involved in helping and feeding the homeless. They report that: “In helping the homeless it has brought our meeting together with a real purpose. It has also involved the willing help of partners and children who are not Christadelphian and has raised our profile in the community. Our oldest helper who is our “chief washer up” is 90 years old. What it has meant is that people who thought they couldn’t be involved in projects like this have found ways of helping.”
- Ecclesia 3 has run a community cafe for many years. The initiative was recently featured in an article in August’s issue of The Christadelphian. A sister writes: “The cafe runs every Thursday at our hall from 10-12 p.m. We ask for donations only for refreshments; there's home made cake and drinks. We advertised with flyers initially. Now have a short 5 minute Bible thought at 11am, but for the first 5 years there was no formal Bible time. We have regular visitors and new ones each week. They all attend our seminars on a monthly basis. We have 15-20 regular faces. All the people who come face social problems: drugs, alcohol, poverty, learning disabilities. All are from marginalised areas of society and all are in desperate need of friendship, someone to talk to and most of all - love. One of our visitors from the cafe has now been baptised and two more are receiving baptismal instruction.”
- Ecclesia 4 regularly shares the asset of its ecclesial hall, not only with different Christadelphian organisations, but with community groups - such as the nearby Doctor’s Surgery where many of the brothers and sisters are patients. “The doctors have used the hall for mental health and cancer awareness days. One of our our members is always present. These types of events have led to personal conversations about our faith and people take the literature that is on display.”
- Ecclesia 5 reports: “We (both ecclesias in our town) now have a food bank box at the back of our hall since we ran a collection during December 2016. This is regularly taken to the food bank collection locally. A small step (but hopefully only the first step of many) on our way to becoming more active in outreach, which we have not really done before.”
Ultimately, we are all broken human beings who desperately need the healing and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ both now and in his coming kingdom. Outreach is a practical way of serving the master and loving our neighbours as we have been loved.
Q: What if you belong to an ecclesia where you want to start an outreach project but individuals are strongly opposed?
In our community, there are differing views as to whether brothers and sisters should be involved in this kind of work. There are four main positions in my own ecclesia - see the bullets - with fewer people holding the more extreme opinions in the red text:
- Should only help those inside and outside of the faith as an individual. It is wrong for ecclesias to be involved in organised outreach in their local communities.
- Should only help those outside of the faith as an individual, but can help brothers and sisters as an organised group, e.g. visiting rotas. Has no problem with others being involved in communal, organised outreach according to the individual’s conscience.
- Should help everyone according to opportunity – both inside and outside of the Christadelphian community – either as an individual or in an organised group.
- Should help those inside and outside of the faith as an individual and as an ecclesia. It is wrong for ecclesias not to be involved in organised outreach in their local communities.
First of all pray about it! God can move mountains. If you have a similar mix of opinions in your ecclesia, it is hoped that you can discuss matters together in a spirit of love, rather than “quarrelling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). It is hoped we can all “submit to one another in love” and move to more central ground - moving from the views in red, to the views in green. If we take an extreme view, we cannot, and should not, force our opinions on others. It is hoped that if enough members of an ecclesia want to conduct an outreach project together from the hall, that they would not pressurise people to join in, when it is against their conscience. Equally, one would hope that individuals would not prevent or discourage a group in their ecclesia from participating in an outreach project, and allow use of the meeting room if necessary.
The same principles apply to donating to appeals from COG. Some individuals might not have wanted to donate together from the ecclesial coffers, but as a way of living in “harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16) they might have put a collection box at the rear of the hall for individuals to contribute, so that those who feel strongly about the appeal as an act of service would not have had their views totally dismissed.
For me, the most compelling reason to worship by caring for the needs of others - both inside and outside of our community - is found in those powerful words of our master:
“‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?” ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34-40).
Upon closer investigation, it seems that these words should not be applied only to our brothers and sisters in Christ: “There's an interesting detail in the looking after, providing for, behaviour as unto the Lord. When those found worthy ask (with considerable honesty I always feel): “When did we see you hungry?” (etc), Jesus answers: "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me". Viners and Thayers both confirm that the word for “brothers” covers a very wide spectrum - it's not exclusive [to our fellow Christadelphians]. When those who were not aware of the need of others angrily ask the same question, Jesus' reply is subtly different: "as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me". No "my brothers"........why so? Why the difference? Is Jesus reminding us of the power of ministering to all, who may then truly become his brothers and sisters?” 
- Outreach is an act of worship, which need not be justified by direct preaching, though it often does lead to conversations about our hope in Jesus
- Our neighbour is anyone we might meet – even our enemies
- We can worship (reach out) together or as individuals
- Outreach is: serving, encouraging, giving and showing mercy, just as the Good Samaritan showed “mercy” to the man who was beaten, stripped, robbed and left for dead 
- It is a different act of worship, or spiritual sacrifice, from preaching and teaching, but equally as valid
- There is one body, we have all been given different abilities. We need to encourage and support those who are able to reach-out, just as we support our speakers, preachers and teachers
- Our motives in reaching-out must be sincere - and not to be deliberately seen by others so that we can massage our own egos
- Outreach can provide sisters, and those not comfortable on the platform, with a fulfilling role and purpose
- If there are differing views on outreach as an ecclesial activity, rather than arguing, we need to submit to one another in love, and find a “win-win” solution.
When we think that Jesus might also have slept rough on occasions (Matthew 8:20) it seems so appropriate to be able to worship him by caring for those who are sleeping out on our cold, wet and violent streets: “Whatever you did for the least of these… you did for me.”
And so, COG’s “Bags of Love” appeal gave us all a unique opportunity to worship together in providing some compassion and warmth for our fellow countrymen and women this winter: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17).
 "Preaching Social Involvement" (Stephen Palmer and Arthur Gibson, first published in The Testimony, vol. 49, no. 581, May 1979, p. 171, reprinted September 2016).
 All references from the NIV, unless otherwise stated (my emphases)
 Brother John Carter also takes the same view that verses 3 to 8 make an application of the principles laid down in the first two verses (Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p130, The Christadelphian, 1978). So too do other commentators such as Ellicott.
 The Greek word for mercy here is eleeo, and means to help the afflicted or those seeking aid, or to be compassionate in word or deed.
 "Our Preaching Focus",The Christadelphian Magazine, June 2011, John Owen
 1 Peter 2:5
 "Do Good to All Men", The Christadelphian, Volume 96, 1959 (electronic ed.), 161–162, Gordon Hunnings
 Interestingly, the majority of individual cheques for the Bags of Love appeal are coming from elderly sisters.
 "Preaching and Welfare", The Christadelphian, September 2012, Andrew J Walker
 "On Almsgiving", The Christadelphian, volume 54, 1917 (electronic ed.), 170–171, E.W. Newman
 Gordon Dawes, 28 Days with Jesus https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294461360579917/?fref=nf , see also: "The Salt of the Earth", http://living-faith.org/2016/12/27/the-salt-of-the-earth , Nat Ritmeyer
 Luke 10:37