I made a slight blunder that has been brought home to me by two Grove City College professors, Dr. Gary Scott Smith and Dr. J.D. Wyneken, in their article “The Church and the Social Gospel.” I failed to articulate the Church's role in promoting social justice in my recent article “The Social Gospel and Eternity.” Their question is, “Should churches and individual Christians seek to help people with material problems and social needs, remedy social ills, and improve social institutions?”
Quoting my article and those of two others, the professors maintained that the three of us, and other conservative Christians, advocate that people flee from churches that mention social justice.
At the outset, let me say this: we, you and I, are the Church, that is, the body of Christ, and we worship within a community of believers. God has given us both a Great Commission and a Cultural Commission. We’re to winsomely bring light into dark places, we’re commanded us to help those in need, as I mentioned in my piece, and we’re to work within our sphere of influence, like William Wilberforce, who was a member of Parliament (Drs. Smith and Wyneken mentioned him in their piece). You might be interested in reading my article “In the Age of Wilberforce,” about how Wilberforce and the Clapham group were instrumental in changing a number of continents during a time in England when the Church was failing to do its duty. While we’re not all William Wilberforces or for that matter Chuck Colsons, God has given each of us talents to use in His service.
Having worked at Breakpoint, a division of Prison Fellowship, for close to 20 years, I, too, have been at the forefront, by word and deed, of its efforts in seeking justice. I’ve been with groups working on Capitol Hill to promote justice for the persecuted church (North Korea, China, etc.) and promote human dignity (fighting bad laws like embryonic stem cell experimentation and euthanasia) and visiting those incarcerated for crime. I call myself a mere Christian, though I’m a member of one of the CANA (Anglican) churches in the D.C. Metro area. Amongst a plethora of outreaches here at home, the church to which I belong has sent people to wartorn areas like Rwanda to bring aid and comfort, to name just one effort. We work with International Justice Mission, which, among other things, is working to stop the human slave trade. There are other missions we support with people and money, too. Other parishioners work on the Hill or in other governmental agencies doing good work, in hospitals and art studios. I also occasionally visit other churches like the Catholic Church on the east side of town, the Presbyterian Church closer to home, or the Methodist Church a town away. Like the church to which I belong, the priests and ministers at those churches promote social justice.
Back to my point: How you think about people and their problems, how you think about the here and now and eternity do have lasting consequences. Ultimately, Christians (the Church) are called to bring Shalom to the earth, which includes social justice; the important thing is how you go about promoting it.
Lastly, there is a new book and video about this very topic, Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives in Need, that I recommend for those interested in learning more.