Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 21, 1967
NUMBER 33, PAGE 10b-12a

Social Reform — Impossible And Imperative

Edward Fudge

Injustice, hunger, poverty, disease — these are not 20th-century inventions: Jesus' world was characterized by all of them. And whether the politicians believe it or not, tomorrow's world will still face these timeless rogues.

And yet the Son of God came into this world "to save sinners" (I Timothy 1:15), "to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Will anyone say that Jesus Christ was neither unaware or unconcerned with regard to such problems? Was Jesus indifferent to "the whole man" because His ministry and purpose concerned itself with man's soul rather than his body?

This certainly does not say that our Lord was cold or heartless. Nor was he blissfully unaware of men's problems on earth. He was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief' (Isaiah 53:3). "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). He "went about doing good". (Acts 10:38.)

How do we reconcile these two sides of our Lord? And how should we regard our work and role in the world? Are we supposed to "minister to the whole man," as many insist? Can the Good News be spread and the Lord's way followed through spiritual emphases? Just what role would Jesus play today in a world of confusion and chaos, of civil rights and civil wrongs, of disease and degradation and death?

Through Spiritual Eyes

Paul insisted that the Christian's outlook is spiritual, not merely physical and outward. And by saying this, he knew that some would think him "beside himself" (II Corinthians 5:13). The man who thinks and sees through "soul-colored" glasses does not react to situations the same as other men. He is turned to another channel. He is "marching to a different drummer."

When a man really comes to believe that this earth will one day be destroyed, he begins to see farther than this earth. And before long this man realizes that his job is not to prepare a heaven on earth — God wants him to prepare earth people for heaven. The man with spiritual glasses knows that he has no lasting, earthly hope, nor does anyone else. But the Christian does have a hope far greater than this earth can offer. And that hope causes him to live on this earth according to God's directions (I Peter 3:15, 16; I John 3:3). And those directions will make the very best parent, child, employer, citizen or neighbor possible.

Because some people have substituted a false "piety" and "intellect-religion" for Christian concern and Christ-likeness, we must not become over-balanced to the place of making purely social concern either the aim or means of our true purpose on earth. Although Jesus went about doing good, He did it to show who He was — not from purely humanitarian motives. He was not a social reformer as such, yet no reformer has influenced society as has He.

"Make my brother divide the inheritance with me," one man said to Jesus. "Take heed, and beware of covetousness" was the Lord's answer. And whether or not the brother ever did the right thing with regard to the estate, this man could be satisfied in the teaching of Jesus (Luke 12:13,15).

Part of the problem today lies in a misunderstanding of what the church actually is. Some, seeing the need for Christian salt and light in a dark and spoiling world, have concluded that God's people must create a great, institutional Church, through which to save the spoiling and to illuminate the darkened. Such a concept invariably results in a Church that emphasizes the physical and passing, to the neglect of the spiritual and lasting.

I have not seen this better said than in these words of Donald H. McGaughey.

Disciples of Christ are not social revolutionaries. They are not humanitarians under the banner of Christ. The Social Gospel of the nineteenth century came close to this. In so doing it failed to see that the only ultimate hope for a hapless humanity is the redeeming cross of Christ. ("Following Jesus." Mission, July, 1967.)

Others have become so involved in the doctrinal and mental part of their religion that they forgot about their social and physical responsibilities as Christian men and women. James W. Adams recently stated this problem very well in these words.

There is a ministry to God which is accomplished through ministering to men. Some ...err when they assume that certain aspects of the ministry of Christians to men are purely "humanitarian" in character and do not, as such, relate to God.

...The christian must demonstrate to men and God the practical application of the spirit and will of Christ in all of the relationships of life — spiritual, moral, intellectual, social, political, or economic. Jesus said, "Let your lights so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). ("Idleness is Passive Guilt," THE PRECEPTOR, Sept., 1967.)

The extremes with which both these brethren deal result from a loss of perspective. It is not a matter of either-or, regarding the spiritual and physical ministry of Christians. It is a problem of relating the two, by a correct understanding of the relation of Christ to both.

A Transforming Church

For the church, social reform is both impossible and imperative. Impossible because the church is a spiritual fellowship of individuals, not an organization. Imperative because these individuals have been transformed, and by nature are transforming. The congregations can NOT reform society; the Christian individuals MUST exert themselves to do so.

The church is the creation of God. It is created when men accept the gift of God in Christ by a proper response of faith. It has been created "unto good works," prepared by God (Eph. 2:10). When Christians realize that they are saved by grace and not by their own works, they quit working and they begin working. They stop working from compulsion, fear and anxiety. They begin working because of what God has done for them and for what He now is doing through them. And when the work is done they still are "unprofitable servants," not "great Christians of today" or "outstanding men of God of the 20th-Century."

Christ is head of the body — but only as the body, member by member, is guided by His instructions. When each Christian has the mind of Christ, all Christians have the same mind (Phil. 2:2,5). This is God's ecumenical plan -- for the Roman Age or the Rocket Age. And when men begin to function as members of the very body of Christ. guided by His mind, the social and physical finds its proper place.

This might seem to be the slower way to change the world. I am reminded of a statement made by Bro. Paul Southern, that "mushrooms spring up overnight, but mushrooms are often poisonous!" There is no substitute for spirituality. And, although some who claim that trait do not possess it, we must not think that it can be counterfeited by enthusiasm, emotionalism or humanitarian projects. For, after all, these too shall pass.

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