This is a great quote from the Manhattan Declaration about the role of Christian faith in the renewal of human society (ht):
Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.
While fully acknowledging the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages, we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the Empire’s sanctioning of infanticide. We remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord.
After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines.
In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible. And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement. The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.
This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes – from providing clean water in developing nations to providing homes for tens of thousands of children orphaned by war, disease and gender discrimination.
Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good. In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.
I agree…. but struggle when in conversations with those who adamantly believe that the over-riding purpose of the church is to “get people saved”. Once “saved”, all other problems will be solved! Not keeping that as a priority seems to fly in the face of all we’ve been taught. Good! I like that!
So, has Jesus commissioned us to get people “saved” or to relieve their suffering?
Which leads to questioning, then, what is “saved” and how do people get there? Our tradition says that we lead someone to the point where they pray the “sinner’s prayer” with us and then they are “in”.
I don’t think that’s it anymore (am I actually saying it this publicly!!). I’m wondering if we are commissioned to see people’s suffering and be so moved with compassion that we embrace them. Is that how doors in their heart are open for God to work (instead of the “sinner’s prayer”)?
Ben Sternke says
I think you’re on to something, Clara, in saying that as we rmbrace the suffering, their hearts will be opened to God.
I agree that for today pushing people toward a sinner’s prayer is not the best strategy for bringing people into the life of the kingdom. Sometimes people think of the sinner’s prayer as a kind of “gospel magic,” where if you can get someone to say the words just right, they’re in! Job completed, put another notch in your gun. But for most people this just feels too much like an aggressive sales job. True conversion to Christ is a much deeper thing, and is usually a lot longer process than simply praying one prayer. I think we can learn a lot from the early church and the more ancient Catholic and Orthodox traditions on this one – getting “in” was always a long process of teaching, confession, repentance, exorcism (!!), etc… it was a long, steady turning away from evil and toward Christ that tended to produce people who really remained disciples of Jesus and continued to grow in the kingdom. Many times pushing for the “sinner’s prayer” merely produces people who get disillusioned that their life didn’t change the instant they said the magic words.
In many ways, I think we’re heading into times that demand the “strategies” of the early church: they simply allowed the good news to permeate every aspect of their lives (discipleship to Jesus producing radical transformation of character), and thus showed people a better, happier, more secure way of life, and people were compelled to take a closer look at what made these people tick, and why they did the things they did.
When people are actually asking questions (because of our actions), then the door is open to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” and to “do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
But until people see a different kind of life, lived out publicly in community, they won’t be asking the questions, and thus won’t care what we have to say.
Really appreciate your reply. My questioning was actually more rhetorical because I’ve been thinking about stuff like this for a long time, but mostly been rebuffed for it. Glad to know someone thinks like this too. Thanks!