There is no doubt in my mind that the Bible teaches that the church is to have a public voice on social issues and, especially, the needs of the poor. The question is how is this voice to be manifested. I will agree the are numerous, relevant applicable ways this voice can be heralded, but by actual words and social action means. Yet, we seem divided: Half of us church people seem to think the “voice” is setting a good example by maintaining and raising Christian-acceptable families, promoting education and hard work, and, of course, getting a job–if others would just follow our example all the social problems would be ameliorated and the poor wouldnt be poor. The other half seem to focused “activism” at some level that seeks to change the systems in place–if our government didn’t have a law or had a certain law, or this company had to do this or that, or if that social group had to do this our that, things would change for the better. And, don’t be fooled, both sides believe our “God-given voice” is in voting correctly, as if voting–and some truly believe and act this way–is the church’s weapon of choice for change or for maintaining what we already have.
For those who see the church’s voice as “activism” of some sort (and I am not necessarily against activism as Christians or even as church), but this means (i.e., method or way of having a voice) produces leaders whose personalities and resources create platforms for celebritism (yes, I invited a word, but it is am important word) and this means (i.e., method or way of having a voice) shortly degenerates into one power to replace the other power we don’t want or to maintain what we do want; so, that we can create and apply law in our social (preferred) image, which is accompanied by the power to punish the law-breakers. [Seriously, Christians, are you okay with church having such power–and it wouldn’t be the church in general, but powerful church individuals.] We are accustomed to this means of social reform–it is however the language and method of Caesar not Christ.
The means presented to us in the New Testament (and seems to have been true of the early church for about 300 years) is, well, church: the messy yet discipling life of the church that is (supposed to be) made up of strangers and unequals, loving one another. The public voice of the church is how it does church. This is the church’s voice on social issues and the needs of the poor.
I am more and more convinced of this.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.