By Brent Nix
I just got off the phone with someone who tried to convince me that I should be outraged enough about a recent political scandal to send money to support an effort to do something or other about it.
After listening for a couple of minutes, I hung up. Rude, you say? Perhaps, but I’m growing weary with these kinds of calls. The sad part is that I’m generally in agreement with the groups who are calling. I guess that’s why I’m on their lists. This small episode brings to mind a question I’ve been contemplating for some time. What is the responsibility of the Iocal church and individual Christians with regard to social reform?
I may need to clarify. I’m not talking about reaching out to those in the community who are hurting. Instead, I’m talking about groups and organizations whose goal is to reestablish high moral standards and virtues in our nation. They use various forms of media, lobbying efforts in Congress and argue weighty cases in court.
This has become a topic of some debate in recent years among believers. Some groups and leaders in Christian ranks (James Dobson for example) are committed to pushing as hard as they can for reform. They point out that Christians are commanded to be salt and light in the world.
Others (syndicated columnist Cal Thomas) believe that the existing social structures—schools, state universities, media and entertainment industries—are beyond redemption. They say that time and effort should not be wasted on trying to change these institutions. They advocate that Christians withdraw from these arenas with an eye toward creating our own establishments. The suggestion recalls the Protestant reformers who separated from the Roman Catholic Church because corruption had become too entrenched to be eradicated.
As for me, I do not believe it is wasted effort to seek to influence our society. Some abominations present in our midst—like abortion—must be resisted. I am grateful for the legislative and legal victories that stifle, or at least slow, such evils. I have supported these efforts with my time and money, and I have encouraged my members to be involved. I am not for completely disengaging from the conflict. B
But as a local church pastor and individual Christian, I must ask myself, “How much priority should I put on these kinds of social reform efforts?” This is especially true in cases where the Word of God does not give a clear mandate.
To answer this question, I have tried to glean from the examples of Jesus and Paul. It seems to me that both were balanced in their approach to government and society. Inasmuch as it did not conflict with the commands of God, they submitted to the lawful authorities by paying taxes and living in an orderly fashion. Paul, in particular, used his Roman citizenship to his advantage when possible. Neither disconnected from nor revolted against the governing powers (which were at least as corrupt as those with which we contend).
There were sundry social issues, but neither organized marches or petitions to address them. What they did do to change society was to emphasize the life-changing power of the gospel. They did not get so entangled in side issues that they neglected the only thing that will ever make a real difference. I think they understood something we sometimes forget, that lasting reform only comes from within. As the old saying goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” We can get the laws passed, but until hearts and attitudes are transformed, nothing has really been gained.
Am I for righteousness? Absolutely! Do I think we Christians should sit on our hands and let evil prevail? Of course not! But the question remains, “How will I spend my time and resources?”
I submit that the best way to change our communities and our country is to introduce people to Jesus one at a time. Social ills come and go; human life is at best a vapor, but a soul won for Christ will live eternally.
About the Writer: Reverend Brent Nix pastors New Hope Free Will Baptist Church in Kent, Washington.
Adapted from Contact Magazine, October 2002.