By Ian McCaulley
In my last post, I discussed the reason that the world is in such bad shape (sinful people). Biblically, the answer is the sin that infests the heart of every man, woman and child, as it says in Romans 3:23. In this post, I intend to lay out the biblically prescribed way to combat evil in the world.
As of this writing, social activism is all the rage out in the world. Many (though by no means all) in the church have begun to call for the church to likewise engage in social activism in the name of Christ. Social activism isn’t necessarily bad, so long as you’re not violent, hateful, and un-Christian (which basically describes activism today.) There’s nothing wrong with helping others and trying to influence national policy through the legal avenues afforded to us. (And only through legal avenues.) As nice as social action is, it doesn’t actually fix anything.
Social activism, even when done correctly, is nothing more than a band-aid fix. Just doing nice things for people won’t change their sinful heart. The very best we can hope for by changing laws is to repress peoples’ sinful urges, but no amount of repression will change the sinful heart of humanity. An example of this, in our own history, is the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. For a time, racism was repressed fairly effectively; despite the KKK’s terrorism, and many black people were even elected to public office. For a while, we were making progress, at least externally, in civilizing the South. Then, Rutherford B. Hayes, after a backroom deal with Democrats (those always end well), pulled the military out. That done, human sinfulness took over and all the gains of Reconstruction were undone.
I could multiply examples, but you get my point. No amount of military occupation, inspirational speeches, protest, or scolding TV commercials can purge sin from the human heart. Sin, as anyone who has read history knows, is very hard to kill. It takes power beyond what humans can muster to change the stony hearts of sinners (in other words, everyone).
Only God can change the human heart, through regeneration, salvation, and sanctification. How has He chosen to do this? By the preaching of the gospel, which is the mission of the church. Now, the primary purpose of our preaching of the gospel is not to affect social change, but so that people may be saved. As more people are saved and sanctified, society becomes better, because rather than loving their sin and harboring it, people are hating and turning from their sin. As people are increasingly conformed to the image of God, they will behave more justly towards their fellows, whether they (the fellows) are saved or not. This is what the church should be about, preaching the gospel to people on both sides of an issue, rather than picking sides and joining the fight (which totally won’t alienate anybody on the other side). De-emphasizing the gospel in favor of the latest social issue is the equivalent of a soldier throwing down his fully functional M16 in favor of charging the enemy with a pointy stick. The gospel is powerful. Social activism… not so much.
This doesn’t mean that individual believers can’t push for social improvement, so long as they do it in a Christ-honoring (i.e. not like AntiFa) manner. Justice matters to God, and working for real (not social) justice is a way to love your neighbor. It does, however, mean that they shouldn’t place all of their hopes in their social action. Believers shouldn’t make the gospel secondary to social action. Rather, any social action a believer chooses to engage in should flow from the gospel and our love for our neighbor, and should point back to the gospel.
It also means the church shouldn’t put the gospel to the side for social activism. The church is not called to improve society, but to preach the gospel and disciple believers. That the proclamation of the gospel brings about social improvement is an example of God’s common grace, that even unbelievers get collateral blessings. If a church gives up the preaching of the gospel for social activism, it becomes little more than a Christian social club. Social causes are nice, but only the gospel has the power to truly change society for the better, by changing the hearts of sinners that make up the society.