Throughout church history, individual Christians have always been championing campaigns for social justice in their communities or worldwide. They have made it their duty to penetrate the places where injustice is at large and due to their evangelical convictions have sought to do something about it. They were not content with the current situation and willed to change it, dedicating themselves to it. They were rooted on gospel principles as well as seeking to change policies that could alleviate and eventually eradicate the sufferings. The most famous example is William Wilberforce dedicating all his life and political career to the abolishment of the slave trade. In parliament, there was a group of them known as he ‘Clapham Sect’ and usually mocked in the press and in parliament as the ‘Saints’. John Wesley, three days before his death wrote to Wilberforce to assure him that God had raised him up for his “glorious enterprise” and to urge him not to grow weary of well doing. Due to their perseverance in the cause for Justice, the slave trade was finally abolished in 1807 and finally their emancipation in 1833. If we are in the cause of social justice and if the current situations seems hopeless and we feel helpless and the devil whispers in our hears ‘what’s the point? your attempts are meaningless’. Let us remember those words from Wesley to Wilberforce, ‘do not grow weary of doing good’. And let us remember Wilberforce himself and how he persevered and let us remember that we have a Great God who works all things according to his purpose.
If today, we are to fight for social justice, we need to maintain a healthy balance of enthusiasm for evangelism and social action, for both go hand in hand. Our Lord often Healed the sick but also made it his constant aim to preach the good news.
“Whence, then this pronounced humanity? - this passion for social justice, and sensitivity to human wrongs? There is but one answer commensurate with stubborn historical truth. It derived from a new social conscience. And if that social conscience, admittedly, was the offspring of more than one progenitor, it nonetheless was mothered and nurtured by the evangelical revival of vital, practical Christianity - a revival which illuminated the central postulates of the new testament ethic, which made real the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of men, which pointed the priority of personality over property, and which directed heart, soul and mind, towards the establishment of the kingdom of righteousness on earth”. John Stott wrote of John Wesley that ‘Wesley was both a preacher of the gospel and a prophet of social righteousness’.
We need a new social conscience and that will come from the word of God. Below are five reasons that should convince us of why we should get involve in social action and care for justice.
1. A Fuller Doctrine of God
We need to remember that God is a God who is concerned for the whole of human kind. God is not a tribal deity like Israel of old tended to make him out to be but He is also God of the whole earth. When God chose Israel, God didn’t loose all interests in all the other nations for Amos proclaims the word of the Lord to the people of Israel “ Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites (or Ethiopians)?… Did I bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor (Crete) and the Arameans from Kir?” (Amos 9:7). Neither should God just be alienated to the realms of religion as if God's chief concern is primarily religious things such as worship and prayer, hymn books and rituals. Of course God is concerned about these things as long as it relates to all of life lest we be condemned as the Pharisees for their hypocritical ways.
God also cares about justice everywhere, and throughout the old testament God is constantly denouncing Israel and the nations for their injustice. God does not remain silent about it and neither should we. God cares about all the different aspects of human living and having this fuller view of God would mean that we can see beauty in all of human life and strive to bring God’s rule in whatever area we might be endeavouring in.
John Gladwin sums up why Christians should be engaged in the fight for justice everywhere because in his God’s people in God’s world: “It is because this is God’s world, and he cared for it to the point of incarnation and crucifixion, that we are inevitably committed to work for God’s justice in the face of oppression, for God’s truth in the face of lies and deceits, for service in the face of the abuse of power, for love in the face of selfishness, for cooperation in the face of destructive antagonism, and for reconciliation in the face of division and hostility”.
2. A Fuller doctrine of human beings
Secular humanist at times appear to be more humane than Christians in their cause for humanity but if asked why are they are so committed to the humankind, they are likely to reply with Julian Huxley that it is because of the human potential in the future aeons of evolution. The inadequacy of this as a basis is obvious. If the unimpeded progress of evolution is our chief concern, then why should we care for the disabled, or senile, the psychopath or the starving? (John Stott). Would it not make logical sense to send them to the dungeon of euthanasia but thank God that their ‘hearts is better than their heads and their philanthropy than their philosophy’.
With the Christian view, this is not the case. For we believe that we are all made in the image of God (though fallen) that we are godlike beings. We serve are fellow humans because of what they already are not what they may become, so we can look at the senile and see the glory of God in them. We are concerned for their whole beings, their soul, body and mind.
3. A Fuller Doctrine of Christ
Many have tried to reinterpret the biblical Jesus and have come up with different variations of who the real Jesus was. Sadly, many have wandered from what the new testament clearly presents of a radical Jesus who in his paradoxical fullness was both the suffering servant and king. Those who have erred from the clear representation of Jesus from the new testament have provided us with the ascetic Jesus, the sufferer, the monarch, the revolutionary, the guerrilla, the socialist, the wonder drug. This representations are wrong and we need to immerse ourselves in the Jesus of the bible who left the safe abode of heaven and emptied himself to serve sinful humanity, who dedicated himself to the will of God, healed the sick and proclaimed the good news. The Jesus who bore our sins in his own body and commissioned us to go into the world as the Father sent Him.
Therefore we are to go into the world as Christ came into the world. “In evangelism it will mean entering their thought world, and the world of their tragedy and lostness, in order to share Christ with them where they are. In social activity it will mean a willingness to renounce the comfort and security of our own cultural background in order to give ourselves in service to people of another culture whose needs we may never before have known or experienced. Incarnational mission , whether evangelistic or social or both, necessitates a costly identification with people in their actual situations”, John Stott. d
4. A Fuller Doctrine of salvation
Salvation goes beyond the scope of self redemption. Biblical salvation is concerned with all of life and the eventual redemption of all God’s creation. We must move past the self tendency of minimizing salvation to a mere passport to heaven or self reformation. ‘For salvation is a radical transformation in three phases, beginning at our conversion, continuing throughout our earthly lives and brought to perfection when Christ comes’, John Stott.
5. A Fuller Doctrine of the Church
‘Many people think of the church as a kind of club, rather like the local golf club, except that the common interest of its members happens to be God rather than golf. They are religious people who do religious things together’, John Stott. The church needs to recover its biblical identity and save itself from wrong portrayals it manifest to those who are on the outside. The church has a double identity which is that 1. the church is a holy people called to be separate from the world and 2. The church is full of worldly people in the sense that we are not yet taken out of the world but are called to witness and serve.
The church is a people belonging to God, that they may declare the praise of Him who called them out of darkness into His wonderful light. The church is to manifest the Love of God, to live as aliens and strangers in the world but yet living such good lives that the pagans, though hey may not accept the church’s standards may see their good works and glorify God on the day he visits them. Therefore let us be active in our communities and seek to fight against injustice collectively as well as individually. We must aim to influence our societies with the view of reforming it not redeeming it because individuals are redeemed which thus lead to the transformation of society.
With the current political situation in the UK, with corrupt politicians, Christians should get involve and demonstrate gospel integrity rooted in evangelical convictions. Christian students should be active in their SU if time permits to fight against inequality and injustice. Let us take the initiative and penetrate all areas with the evangelical conviction that our God is a God of justice who at the same time forgives wrongdoers due to the effective work of Christ on the cross.
My prayer is that as Christians we may have great enthusiasm for evangelism and social action, caring for the soul as well as the physical. May God bless all our endeavours in reaching out to our fellow man.
Materials was taken mainly from John Stott’s book called ’Issues facing Christians today’.