*Below is my 2017 FHU Lecture Manuscript for my assigned topic in an Ethics track called “Should Christians Seek Social Change? from Daniel 4:27. I hope it is helpful for you.
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ETHICS — SHOULD CHRISTIANS SEEK SOCIAL CHANGE? (DANIEL 4:27)
Daniel, the prophet of God, was disturbed by the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. He realized its tremendous implications for the king (Dan. 4:19). He counsels the king, with the hope of him avoiding such a fate, to “break off [his] sins by practicing righteousness, and [his] iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of [his] prosperity” (Dan. 4:27). [All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise stated.] Daniel’s clear message to the king involves him bringing about spiritual and social change. He is called to repent from sins and practice righteousness, while displaying mercy and compassion to the poor and oppressed. Being in the capacity of the king, he had the power and authority to bring about these social changes for his nation. This text brings forth the question many Christians are struggling with today, “How do they bring about social change consistent with the gospel of Christ?” How do we influence and call, as Daniel did, our governing authorities to break off from sin and show mercy to the oppressed? In our democratic form of government, what level of involvement politically and socially should Christians seek? Should we place our confidence in legislating morality, or should we remove ourselves completely from the political realm? This author believes we have a divine duty to seek social change and will offer some suggestions on how we can best fulfill this duty in our present context.
WHAT SOCIAL CHANGE SHOULD NOT MEAN FOR THE CHRISTIAN
Before diving head long into social change, we should note some possible extremes to be avoided. First, Christians should realize that seeking social change does not mean putting our hope in a political system. It seems that some Christians have often tied their social change hopes for the nation to a political candidate or party. This brings about feelings of desperation and hope for an election result and a candidate’s victory. Christians and “evangelical” groups have spent billions on political activism with little positive social change to show for it (MacArthur 123). The nation continues to go deeper and deeper into sin. Second, and closely tied to this thought, is that social change does not mean we change our gospel mission to social activism. There should be a healthy tension and cooperation between physical and spiritual ministries, Jesus certainly conducted both, but we must not lose this balance. The gospel should not be modified with the adjective social! While much good can be done in providing humanitarian aid, working against sinful moral issues in our state, and being an advocate for the poor and oppressed, we must not allow them to replace the message of the gospel to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10; John 3:16; 6:26-29; Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18-31).
WHAT SOCIAL CHANGE SHOULD MEAN FOR THE CHRISTIAN
The Christian is a citizen of heaven who is representing his heavenly Father with good works on earth (Phil 3:20; Mat. 5:16). “Thus, he must plunge into social and political problems in order to have an influence on the world, not in the hope of making it a paradise, but simply in order to make it tolerable . . .” (Doster). A Christian is a change agent for our culture because we are called to be salt and light to this dark world (Mat. 5:13-15). I would suggest there are three principles we can use to guide our decisions about seeking social change.
Compassion to the Oppressed
Daniel’s counsel to the king to show mercy to the oppressed is a common biblical theme. The Psalmist said, “Blessed is the one who considers the poor, in the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land” (Ps. 41:1-2). God has always expected his people to have concern for the poor. The Law of Moses had various components to provide for the needy and oppressed (Ex. 22:21-24). The prophets regularly cried out for Israel to care for the oppressed (Isa. 56:1-12; Amos 5:15). Job in avowing his innocence claims he, as is expected from a righteous, wealthy man, had provided for the poor and widows (Job 31:16-21). Jesus consistently reached out to the poor and oppressed through his ministry, even pointing to the prophecy of Isaiah as being fulfilled through his work (Luke 4:17-21). Paul taught Christians to work with their own hands so they could share with anyone in need (Eph. 4:28). In a world where Christians are considered judgmental and intolerant, we must demonstrate to the world the love of Christ. Local churches must reach out to single mothers, the divorced, the disenfranchised, the poor, the grieving, widows, and orphans. When we have mercy on the oppressed we present a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ to the world and open doors to convert those we serve.
Cognizant of our Citizenship
Christians have a duty to be good citizens of their nation. Jesus taught us to give our nation their necessary taxation and due, certainly this would involve our concern and dedication for the social well-being of our nation as well. Paul and Peter teach us to submit to the governing authorities and display proper honor to them (1 Pet. 2:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7). We are to pray for our leaders regularly and recognize the God-given role governments play for the good of humanity (1 Tim.2:1-4; Rom. 13:1-7). Atheist obey laws, vote, pay taxes, and help needy neighbors, but Christian citizens “feel compelled to give a moral account of their country” (Doster). The best citizens of a nation should be those who have a higher allegiance to God and care about the moral integrity and virtue of their nation. Christians have a duty to work through civil authority for the advancement of justice, righteousness, and human good. Politics determines important issues that are central to the gospel. Issues like war and peace, abortion, immigration, marriage, human rights, public education, and even our freedom to express our faith are all impacted by the government. Thus, it should behoove us as citizens to be concerned about local and national leaders and laws. Good citizens should exercise their available freedoms to vote, advocate, lead, and serve for the good of Christ and country.
Confrontational with the Truth
Christians must determine to be truth-tellers in a world that is being swept away with the deceit and lies of Satan. Our Lord’s vision to the seven churches of Asia relies heavily upon the concept of “testimony” or “witness.” Jesus calls his church, despite their current persecution, to be a witness to the dark world. They are to hold forth the lamp of truth. The role of witnesses is to bring the nations to faith in Christ through their testimony of Jesus (Rev. 11-12). The message for the Christian is to conquer, not through military or political power, but to conquer as Jesus conquered through love, submission to God, and telling truth to the world. His army wins today through witnessing and death! Like the prophets of old who spoke God’s truth to a wicked and stubborn people, God calls preachers and Christians today to speak truth! Yes, we speak truth in love (Eph. 4:15), but we don’t allow the culture’s hateful tone against truth to keep us from speaking truth. Elizabeth Randle Charles wrote, “It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity . . . If I protest with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity” (Platt 18). Christians must not sin through silence! We must be willing to speak truth and the significance of the gospel message into the current cultural issues.
WHILE SEEKING SOCIAL CHANGE WE REMEMBER . . .
When we seek social change there are three principles we need to keep in mind in order to keep from becoming discouraged and losing heart.
The World Is Going to Be The World
First, we keep in mind that the world is going to be the world. We have often too quickly believed the concept that America is this great “Christian” nation or that America was perfect decades ago. We pray that we can “return to God” which implies we used to be with God. We must remember our history is riddled with various sins and problems. Christians should expect the world, and the governments of the world, which are run by sinful men to be sinful (1 John 2:15-17). We should not be surprised when those who are under the influence of Satan do sinful things!
In God we Trust
Second, we must remember what our money has inscribed upon it —“In God We Trust.” We are strangers and exiles here who are sojourning to our true heavenly country (Heb. 11:13-16; Phil. 3:20). Before Jesus enters into the long visions of Revelation chapters six through twenty-two, which describe the great spiritual conflict between Christians and the forces of Satan, he first presents the vision of the great heavenly throne-room (Rev. 4-5). Jesus wants them to know that though it may seem like Rome is the supreme power on earth, Christians are losing on every front, and evil is winning, God is on his throne! “He is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8). Just as Nebuchadnezzar learned long ago, God is in charge and is sovereign, even the most powerful king on earth can be made to be a beast of the field through his might (Dan. 4:33-36)!
We Serve Because of Jesus
A third word of encouragement I would share to social change agents is to be aware that you will fail in overcoming the social ills of our world. I know this doesn’t sound encouraging, but for the Christian the issue is not about success, but fidelity. For example, our commission and responsibility is to help the poor and needy. Righteous people have had this responsibility throughout time and God has a heart for the poor, but Jesus also says, “you will always have the poor with you” (Mat. 26:11). No matter how much we work to relieve the poor, their will always be poor. Our motive for serving should be to serve Jesus. We love others because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Christians are not focused on the results, or live under the illusion that a social utopia can ever be developed, the world is going to constantly have problems. We love and serve because Jesus calls us to be salt and light. Even our Lord in the days of his flesh did not eradicate all of the sickness, poverty, or social ills. But he ministered and made a difference in the lives of the ones within the scope of his ministry. So must we!
Christians have a responsibility to seek social change, but we must do it in ways that do not compromise or conflict with our primary message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must show mercy to the oppressed, be model citizens, and confront the world with truth. While seeking change we expect the world to be sinful, place our hope in God, and serve Jesus as our motivation!
Doster, Richard. “Politics: Why Christians Must Be Involved.” By Faith. 4 Sept. 2014. 15 Sept. 2016. <http://byfaithonline.com/politics-why-christians-must-be-involved-2/>
MacArthur, John. Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong: A Biblical Response to Today’s Most Controversial Issues. Eugene, OR: Harvest House P., 2009
Platt, David. A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House P., 2015