You only have to read a little about Jesus’ life to see his compassion for people and ability to bring about change in lives. Can we learn from this? Gary Colville considers this here
Christians, particularly in the Western world, have wrestled with the issue of how we should speak into the life of the world. In New Zealand, we Baptists have historically been active in social action like Prohibition, made strong public political statements, provided social services, and at times preached to the already converted about such issues.
Not long after making my first steps to being a follower of Christ, one wizened man from the local Anglican church told me to watch out for the Baptists as they were, in his opinion, heretics: Baptists were seen as too radical, too political, and too aggressive by this old character. I soon discovered where this understanding may have come from.
In joining Colombo St. Baptist Church, I came to witness some of the impact that John Kendrick Archer had had. Archer was a pastor, activist, politician, and Christian socialist – he was one of the most radical Baptist leaders in our history and he had a huge impact on the church and New Zealand. Unfortunately, this impact was not always positive. Archer was trying to make a difference, but, as was seen by my conversation with my old Anglican, his efforts did not necessarily go down well. Some of the Baptist action was instead seen as apparent madness in the eyes of the world.
I want to pose a question: Is it possible that attempting to change society primarily through political or social action may not be our way forward? Now bear with me. First I want to make it clear that some Christians will be called by God into the political world. If we consider someone like William Wilberforce who led the charge to address numerous issues including slavery, we are inspired – and rightly so!
But I would argue that the church can be a very peculiar and even unbiblical place by attempting to be the unelected de-facto political voice. I propose that we as Christians do have the right to call on our politicians to make decisions that are in the best interests of society. But I equally want to suggest that the Bible does not model political activism based on our desires or persuasions.
I’m not recommending that we should avoid helping our neighbour in need. We at Hosanna Baptist have a foodbank because we believe that there are people who Jesus would feed. But I do believe that we need to be like Jesus who gave the gospel message with the food and also readily challenged people’s singular pursuit of the physical instead of the spiritual.
Before we consider this a little more, I want to challenge us: Christians have at times been self- righteously judgemental towards society and yet Scripture roundly condemns that attitude. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 reads: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” If we become too preoccupied with looking at the problems in society, the flaws of our education system, all of our neighbour’s issues and the wrongs of others, we can avoid seeing where there are issues in our own lives that need dealing with. Should we instead be asking of ourselves: What needs to be transformed in our own minds and lives? Are we hesitant to share the good news of hope to a world full of hopelessness? Is the power of the Holy Spirit emanating through our lives?
More often than we realise our motives for wanting to change society may not be as pure as we might imagine. Jesus himself addressed the issue of hypocrisy on the part of the religious leaders, but interestingly in the world of Rome’s dictatorship and abuses, he didn’t utter a word challenging the secular government of his day. His focus on speaking into the life of the world was clearly around the need for people to live differently, free from the trappings of society or individual sin. He knew that when you change the inner person, the world is changed.
Jesus addressed matters that were beyond the three dimensions of knowing, seeing, and feeling that all humans live with. He instead talked about a fourth dimension of participation in, and expression of, the spiritual dimension that all humans are designed to experience. Jesus spoke about a personal relationship with God – a relationship that involves faith, power, peace, joy, comfort, and love. He constantly demonstrated those things in the way he lived, spoke, taught, healed, and performed miracles, evidencing his relationship with Father God that permeated everything he did. He caused attitudes that many had to change in regards to children, the poor, sinners, the sick, eternity, taxes, hatred, influence, family, who God is, heaven, the rich, and evil in the world - through his day-to-day interaction with people. The centre of everything that Jesus said revolved around his repeated mentions of the kingdom of God.
In fact, when he sent the disciples out he equipped them to share the kingdom of God: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases; he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9: 1-2).
Now this is a totally different approach to speaking into the world than had ever been seen in history. Yet you only have to look at the lives of the disciples to see the impact that they had. They took Jesus seriously, did what he said needed to be done and many in the world have as a consequence experienced life like never seen before. Jesus’ life became the model that he calls us to follow - but he calls for total commitment.
To close, I am suggesting that speaking life into the world is therefore not about trying to convert society to patterns of behaviour that will make us feel more comfortable or even put a Christian veneer on society.
Speaking life into the world is really about losing ourselves and our sinfulness; not being trapped by busyness, self-centredness or disobedience. It’s about touching the world through being obedient to Jesus by sacrificing, caring, loving, inviting others into the kingdom, and operating in God’s power. We are to show that it is not about us, but about God in us, working through us. This is what Jesus has called us to.
This is the real gospel lived out. This is the gospel that brings personal freedom which is life-giving, powerful, and eventually world-changing. This is my love, my life, my passion, my desire, and my hope.
Story: Gary Colville
Gary is a pastor at Hosanna Baptist and is passionate about seeing sustained healthy growth in churches.
- Consider your own life. Take some time with God to ask what he may want to work on with you.
- If you are involved in politics or social services, we want to encourage you and support you. What are some of the struggles you come across in regards to seeing change? What might help?
- The way that Jesus lived was radical and deeply challenging. Is following his model something that you find easy? Are there things that need to change? How could you go about seeking this change?
Photo credit: Andrés Carrió
This article is from the August 2016 issue of Baptist Magazine.
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