Christian and Social Responsibility

By Nathan Amerson (1)

How should the believer live out their faith in the world and in the communities where we live? What is the responsibility of Christ followers outside the four walls of the churches we attend? In a divided world of parties and politics, this piece is by no means intended to influence your vote. While certainly our responsibility as Christians and as citizens is to cast our vote, let us examine some foundational principles that should further guide our interaction with the social sphere.

Each of us may fall somewhere along a spectrum that spans from being totally passive in our faith to being activists politically and in the civic sector. This, however, points us to the first principle that we should avoid, which is passivism. No longer should the believer cloister themselves in a monastery, thereby avoiding any interaction that may be difficult or awkward. Rather, we are called to show our faith and live it out in the world. Does that mean you have to have a fish sticker on your car or a scripture in the signature line of your emails at work? Not necessarily, and one should always navigate the particulars of your environment with grace, especially in the professional realm.

We are all members of our respective communities and each day have unique opportunities to show God’s love and care for others. No believer should be the one whose friends would be surprised to learn you are a Christian. Christ tells us: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mat 5.16 NIV). Additionally, we should avoid being pushy about our faith either, rather showing God’s love graciously and humbly. Let our words be gracious, seasoned with salt (Col 4.6).

As regards our social responsibility, each person needs to answer this for themselves. Not everyone is comfortable on the picket line across the street from an abortion clinic or welcomes every stranger into their home. Instead, we can all employ some biblical guidelines for our social interactions while recognizing that sometimes God does intend for us to go outside our otherwise comfortable expectations. Christ understood this first-hand when He directed His followers to preach the news of the kingdom, recognizing that not everyone would welcome His disciples and they may even fall afoul of civil authorities. Boldness in challenging our own comfort zones will be rewarded.

Max Stackhouse, in his excellent small work Public Theology and Political Economy, says, “humans can know something reliable about ‘godly’ matters, that these are pertinent to and can be argued in the public domain, and that a primary responsibility of the church is to preach, teach, and actualize these ultimate principles of mean and life in social life”(2). This clearly demonstrates not only that Christians can know the truth because we have the truth of God revealed in Scripture, but also that our responsibility is to bring those truths to the public sector in which we have influence. 

As for rules to live by, first do vote. Vote your morals and not just your pocketbook. Vote for those officials who will stand for the truth of God’s word, who will be bold in establishing policy which reflects Christian moral virtue, and who will dare to counter the establishment to uphold Scriptural values. Be bold yourself and vote for independent candidates when the mainstream ones do not reflect Christian ethical standards. With this in mind, William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II tells us: “Nine-tenths of the work of the Church in the world is done by Christian people fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which in themselves are not part of the official system of the Church at all”(3). By this he means that Christians working in the political sector can accomplish as much for the Kingdom as the minister operating within the religious sector. 

Second use your money to further the kingdom. No one should dare to tell you how much you should give or to what causes. That is for you to decide as God works on your heart. However, using our money in ways that furthers the kingdom is a responsibility we all share. Each of us should give to our church. This principle is established in Matthew 23 where Jesus chastises the Pharisees not for their tithe, which is a good thing, but in failing to show mercy and compassion. Also, the principle of the church being the distribution center to the community is established in Acts 4. At the same time, we can multiply our effect in the world by giving to any of the vast number of faith-based ministries working to share the Good News, end hunger, minister to the poor and homeless, conquer the evils of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and the list goes on. Support some local ministries or get involved with caring for the homeless or engaging in prison ministry. In short, use the monetary resources God has given you to care for your community.

Finally, take action. This action may be evidenced in any number of different ways, but we are called to live out Christ’s kingdom in love, service, and compassion to those around us. When we work to correct a wrong, or merely serve the less fortunate, we fulfill God’s commands. T.S. Eliot states: “It is not enough simply to see the evil and injustice and suffering in the world, and precipitate oneself to action. We must know, what only theology can tell us, why these things are wrong”(4). In this way we must both be bold in recognizing and correcting injustice in the world, and wise in our associations as we do so. Additionally, we know that in serving those less fortunate we in turn serve the King Himself, as we are told in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25. 

Let us strive then to live out our Christian responsibility in service, in love, and in care toward those in our immediate circle of influence. Let us be bold to follow Christ’s leading that may take us outside our own comfort zones. And let us never forget that the purest form of living out our faith is espoused in James 1: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Notes:

  1.  Nathan Amerson is an adjunct professor of theology at New Hope Christian College, Eugene OR.
  2.  Max Stackhouse, Public Theology and Political Economy. University Press of America, 1991.
  3. William Temple. Christianity and Social Order. Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 1976.
  4.  T.S. Eliot. Christianity and Culture. Harcourt, 1948.

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