Friday, August 27, 2010

christian in a non-christian society.



It is exceedingly strange that any followers of Jesus Christ should

ever have needed to ask whether social involvement was their

concern, and that controversy should have blown up over the

relationship between evangelism and social responsibility. For it is

evident that in his public ministry Jesus both went about teaching

and preaching (Matthew 4:23; 9:35 RSV) and went about

doing good and healing (Acts 10:38 RSV). In consequence, evangelism

and social concern have been intimately related to one another

throughout the history of the Church Christian people have

often engaged in both activities quite unselfconsciously, without

feeling any need to define what they were doing or why.

The evangelical heritage of social concern2

There were some remarkable examples of this in eighteenthcentury

Europe and America.The Evangelical Revival, which stirred

both continents, is not to be thought of only in terms of the preaching

of the gospel and the converting of sinners to Christ; it also led to

widespread philanthropy, and profoundly affected society on both

sides of the Atlantic. John Wesley remains the most striking instance.

He is mainly remembered as the itinerant evangelist and open-air

preacher. And so he was. But the gospel he preached inspired people

to take up social causes in the name of Christ. Historians have attributed

to Wesleys influence rather than to any other the fact that

Britain was spared the horrors of a bloody revolution like Frances.3

The change which came over Britain during this period was well

documented in J.Wesley Breadys remarkable book, England Before

and After Wesley, subtitled The Evangelical Revival and Social Reform.

His research forced him to conclude that the true nursingmother

of the spirit and character values that have created and

sustained Free Institutions throughout the English-speaking world,

indeed the moral watershed of Anglo-Saxon history, was the

much-neglected and oft-lampooned Evangelical Revival.

Bready described the deep savagery of much of the 18th century,

which was characterized by the wanton torture of animals

for sport, the bestial drunkenness of the populace, the inhuman

traffic in African negroes, the kidnapping of fellow-countrymen for

exportation and sale as slaves, the mortality of parish children, the

universal gambling obsession, the savagery of the prison system and

penal code, the welter of immorality, the prostitution of the theatre,

the growing prevalence of lawlessness, superstition and lewdness;

the political bribery and corruption, the ecclesiastical arrogance and

truculence, the shallow pretensions of Deism, the insincerity and

debasement rampant in Church and State such manifestations

suggest that the British people were then perhaps as deeply degraded

and debauched as any people in Christendom.

But then things began to change. And in the nineteenth century

slavery and the slave trade were abolished, the prison system was

humanized, conditions in factory and mine were improved, education

became available to the poor, trades unions began, etc., etc.

Whence, then, this pronounced humanity? this passion for

social justice, and sensitivity to human wrongs? There is but one

answer commensurate with stubborn historical truth. It derived

from a new social conscience. And if that social conscience, admittedly,

was the offspring of more than one progenitor, it nonetheless

was mothered and nurtured by the Evangelical Revival of vital,

practical Christianity a revival which illumined the central postulates

of the New Testament ethic, which made real the Fatherhood

of God and the Brotherhood of men, which pointed the priority of

personality over property, and which directed heart, soul and

mind, towards the establishment of the Kingdom of Righteousness

on earth.

The Evangelical Revival did more to transfigure the moral

character of the general populace, than any other movement British

history can record. For Wesley was both a preacher of the gospel

and a prophet of social righteousness. He was the man who

restored to a nation its soul.

The evangelical leaders of the next generation were committed

with equal enthusiasm to evangelism and social action. The most

famous among them were Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson,

James Stephen, Zachary Macaulay, Charles Grant, John Shore

(Lord Teignmouth), Thomas Babington, Henry Thornton, and

of course their guiding light, William Wilberforce. Because several

of them lived in Clapham, at that time a village three miles south of

London, and belonged to Clapham Parish Church, whose Rector

John Venn was one of them, they came to be known as the

Clapham Sect, although in Parliament and in the press they were

mocked as the Saints.

It was their concern over the plight of the African slaves which

first brought them together. Three days before his death in 1791,

John Wesley wrote to Wilberforce to assure him that God had raised

him up for his purpose.

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