By Edward O. Bragwell, Jr.
As we look out into the world that we live in, we see many things that are not right. We are distraught over the wicked behavior that we observe around us day to day (cf. 2 Pet. 2:8). Because of this, it is easy for us to desperately seek some way to change the conditions that we observe to make this world a better place to live in and a better place in which to bring up our children. Therefore, the question that we so many times find ourselves pondering is just how can we go about accomplishing this task? I think in answering this question, however, we need to be careful about the kind of solutions we propose.
Just how does one go about making the world a better place and solving the problems that exist among its people? What kind of steps must we take? How do we change the world?
Not Through Political Reform
Many have the idea that the world’s problems can all be solved through political reform and the proper kind of government. We are told that if we just have the right kind of government, then we won’t have anything to worry about. I see many of my brethren caught up in this kind of thinking. They get all wrapped up in all kinds of political crusades that are designed to change our society into a more “God-fearing,” “moral” society. They seem to think that if you reform the government that it will solve all of the problems of evil and immorality that we see about us.
Indeed it is sad to see the condition that our government is in. But is it really the mission and responsibility of Christians to see that our government acts in a certain way? I hear people talk of the Constitution of the United States as a “God-given document.” It is believed therefore that the reason we are in so much trouble is because the country has gotten away from the principles of that document and therefore from the God fearing nation desired by the founding fathers. Is this really true? I always thought that the constitution was written by men. When I read about these men, I find that many of them did not believe in the God I believe in and that some were as immoral and corrupt as any of the politicians today. While the constitution of the United States is a wonderful document, it is not a divine decree and certainly not inspired of God. It is funny how many Christians will get all up in arms when people do not remain true to the constitution or make attacks on it, but will sit by and say little when an attack is made on the Bible, a document that is truly “God given” (2 Tim. 3:16). Now don’t get me wrong. I am proud to be an American. I know of no other country that I would rather sojourn in than these United States. I respect the constitution. I don’t know another earthly document that I would rather be governed by. However, I will not elevate it to a position that it does not deserve.
Is it the mission of Christians to make sure the government that they live under is “moral” and to do all that they can to change it if it is corrupt? Now I may be missing something somewhere, but when I read the New Testament, I read of Christians living under one of the most corrupt governments that has ever existed on this earth. However, I don’t remember ever reading where Christians were ever instructed by the apostles or any other inspired teacher what they were to do to change that situation. I don’t ever remember reading where they were instructed to band together and petition the government for this reform or that reform. I don’t remember much said about the government that they lived under except that they were to submit to it (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). If ever there was a corrupt government that needed reform, it was the Roman government. Yet I see very little said about how the early Christians were to go about reforming it.
Now I am not saying that it is wrong to do what we can to change things through whatever means are available to us, but when we get so caught up in our political crusades that we forget what our real mission is, then something is wrong. Remember, whatever political reform we might be able to instigate is only of value in this present age. It might make this world a better place to live in now, but will not matter beyond the grave. Let’s remember where our real citizenship is (Phil. 3:20). It always bothers me to see Christians spending more time and energy trying to convince those about them of the need for supporting some amendment or candidate than trying to convince them of the need for obedience to the gospel of Christ.
Not Through Social Reform
Many also think that the way to really change things in this world is through high power social programs. Therefore, many commit themselves to various social crusades. We hear much today about African relief and world hunger programs. Many devote much time to various social agencies, inner city missions, soup kitchen programs, etc. This is not only true in the secular portion of our society, but much more so in the religious portion. The social gospel has taken root in almost every denomination in this country. Churches are believed by many to be nothing more than social relief agencies. To many that should be the primary mission of all churches. It is believed that a church is not doing what it is supposed to do if it does not minister to the “whole man.”
Now, I certainly believe that we as Christians need to be doing all that we can to help relieve the hunger and sufferings of our fellow man (Gal. 6:10; Jas. 2:14-16). But if we make that our primary goal, we have missed the boat. We must be more concerned with getting something to the people of the world that they have greater need of – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even if we were able to relieve all men of their hunger and suffering and failed to teach them the gospel we would have done them no lasting good. We would have just made things better for them in this present world while they wait for destruction.
Also, as Christians there is nothing wrong with our helping all who we can on an individual basis, but we need to recognize that the general relief of all the needy of the world is not the obligation of the church and it must not assume that work. If the church wishes to do so, we must be ready to produce the authority for us to engage in such work. While such authority does not exist, many try to justify such actions by saying that since Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, then his church certainly can do the same. It is argued that the church ought to carry out the same mission on earth that Jesus carried out while he was on earth. But think about it. What was Jesus’ mission on earth? Was it to feed the hungry? If it was, then he failed. Many still went hungry in his day. If that was his mission then he certainly would have had the power to accomplish it and hunger would have been completely eradicated while he was ministering here on earth. The same thing goes for disease. But that was not his mission when he came to the earth. His mission was to save, men from sin (Matt. 1:21; Luke 19: 10). He did accomplish this mission by making salvation available to all men (John 3:16).
Through Spiritual Reform
So the only way that we can really change the world is by changing the spiritual status of men. We might change one’s political or moral status for the better and still not save his soul. We might change one’s social or economic status for the better and still not save his soul. What real service have you done anyone, if you do not change his spiritual status? What real service have you done for the world? What real change have you made?
As we have already said, Jesus changed the world. He made real changes by making salvation available to all men. He did not bring about political or social reforms, but he brought about a significant spiritual reform in the lives of all that accepted him. Oh, some came to him at times and tried to use him as a means of political or social reform, but he refused to be so used (John 6:15; 18:36).
The apostles and early Christians changed the world (Acts 17:6). They did so by preaching the gospel and converting sinners (Acts 8:4; Rom. 1:16). They did it by carrying out the great commission (Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18-20).
We, too, can really change the world in the same way. Do we spend most of our time and energy in political programs or in taking the gospel to others? Are we more concerned with getting food and other material things to the people of the world or getting the gospel to them? If all men received and followed the gospel of Jesus Christ, there would be no problem with political oppression, social unrest, world hunger, etc. We must realize that we can’t change people from the outside in, but from the inside out. Preach the gospel to the world and let it bear its fruit. That is how to really change the world.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 18, pp. 554-555
September 17, 1987