@afaiththatworks Thank you for this question.
I will confess to being even less of an expert on this question than I am on other questions. But I have had a look into this since you raised the question and have come to a conclusion or two, so I will put out some thoughts on the subject which you can take or leave as you will.
Firstly, and most telling, is there is no explicit biblical directive on this subject. This leads me to believe that there is no imperative for all Christians to go about their lives trying for reform either socially or politically. It should also not be something that becomes the core of our purpose (as it has become in some churches), because that should always be the preaching of Gods Word. That being said, I think you can certainly point towards biblical examples that show it is certainly something we should have a concern for.
If you look at some of the minor OT prophets like Amos, you’ll find that he is extremely outspoken against the leaders and people of Israel in terms of their behaviour towards one another.
Amos 5:6-15 “Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; … … You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain … … I [God] know how many are your offenses and how great your sins … … Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.
Amos, among other things, makes comment on the treatment of the poor and maintaining justice in the courts. There is a concern for the welfare of the people.
Paul the Apostle, too, can be seen trying to bring about change albeit in a slightly different forum. You’ll notice in Acts 17:2; “As was his custom” he went to the synagogues to “reason with them from the scriptures”. This was to show that Jesus was the Messiah, but you’ll notice that those who were convinced of the truth of the gospel were Jews, Greeks and Women. While this may not be much of a shock in today’s age, back in Paul’s day this was highly unusual and showed that the message was to reach everyone… not just those he was close to or knew personally.
And, of course, our Lord Jesus definitely did not sit idly by and ignore what was the norm in the culture. He healed on the Sabbath in contrast to the Pharisees of the day. He didn’t negate, but raised the bar for Mosaic law;
Matt 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
He challenged the cultural norm of the day. He certainly didn’t shy away from displaying and teaching how we should live.
So while I don’t think that everyone as a Christian will be called to making a stand on these issues, I absolutely think that some people will be called to challenging them in the public forum. However, I think, especially in this day and age of technology and publicity, we must be incredibly careful how we put across these ideas. Not because we are afraid of speaking the truth or being rejected or persecuted, but because we are to speak the truth in love and for the purposes of God’s glory. So we must keep that in mind as we witness and try to show God’s good intentions for us as his creation.
God does have good intentions for us…
Before I conclude, I think it is something that we need to be reminded of. I get the feeling that as Christians in today’s society, we feel like the laws and God’s guidance given out for Christian living in the Bible are a bit out-dated, or more for the sake of having rules rather than for our (human) benefit. Maybe we’re even a little bit ashamed of them.
But if I can only emphasize and encourage you in one point it’s this… Everything that God prescribes for us is for our good. I think we doubt this and we mustn’t! We may not interpret His teaching correctly. We may not see why He has told us to do certain things. We may not even agree! But let me say again that Everything that God sets out for us is for our good.
Rom 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
There is a comfort and a challenge for us here.
The comfort should be obvious – we can take heart, firstly, that the God of the Universe has taken the time and has the inclination to be loving enough to us that he instructs us in how best to live our lives. Secondly, that though we may be ridiculed by others by living and sharing how we think we are to live; that we know that the Lord is good and intends good for us, so we need not be ashamed of what is true.
The challenge for us is this – that, firstly, we need to dig deeper every day into the scriptures and wrestle with them to understand more fully what his commands for us are. Only in this way can we be (2 Tim 17) “fully equipped for every good work”.
The second challenge is that I think we ought to think through and understand the why of why God gives us these commands so that when we are asked questions about them from non-believers; that we are able to give them answers that they may be willing to understand and accept; that is, “the reason for the hope that we have” (1 Pet 3:15).
Practical examples of social or political reform
To conclude my point that we should, as Christians, be involved in the social and political arena to some extent; I want to give you just two simple examples of some moral issues that we can probably all see that need to be challenged today due to the severity of the issue and it’s consequences.
Abortion and euthanasia are fairly hot topics at the moment with motions in governments looking to liberalise their policies regarding these. I think that these things are morally wrong and should be stood up to in a public forum. These are not issues that can be left by the wayside. The consequences of allowing these are to the detriment of everyone in society and must be fought against.
So, personally, I do feel that there are some issues which Christians should make a stand. But we must be able to point out to the world that these ideas are not just right “because God said so” (which is a good enough reason to us as Christians, but not a good enough reason in an unbelievers eyes). We must be able to share with them why things should be the way God intends, because he intends them for our good.
This will not be something, I think, that all Christians are called to. But because we do not know if we are called to it or not… it is something we should all think about.