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How Do Christians Change Society?

Our question this time is: "How should a Christian change society, i.e., Christian participation in politics?"

The part of the question dealing with a Christian's involvement in politics we have answered in a previous issue.  In that article we showed that Scripture does not forbid a Christian's involvement in politics.  So we are left here with the question concerning changing society by politics or other means.

We do not believe that it is a Christian's responsibility to change society or even to try to do so.  Nor do we believe this is possible.  Note the following, none of which can be reconciled with the idea that it is our calling to change society:

(1) Those passages of Scripture that speak of the Christian's life in the world clearly show that his calling is to be a testimony against the world and society in which we live (Eph. 5:11-13, Phil. 2:14-16).

(2)  Among other things he is to do this by separating himself not only from wickedness, but from wicked men and from their "world" (II Cor. 6:14-18, I Jn. 2:15-17).

(3)  Thus, though there will be individuals whom it pleases God to save by the Christian's witness, the general result will be that he suffers persecution (Rom. 8:16-17, II Tim. 3:12).

(4)  Not only that, but the society in which we live cannot be improved.  It is thoroughly corrupted and estranged from God and will only increase in wickedness (II Tim. 3:13, II Pet. 3:3-4, Jude, 17-19).

The idea that it is the Christian's calling to change society is usually connected with the idea that the kingdom of Christ is to be identified with a future Christianized world.  For this there is no Biblical basis at all. First, Christ makes it clear that His kingdom is heavenly (Jn. 18:36); and, second, insofar as that kingdom is manifested in this world it is manifested in the inward work of grace in the heart of every believer (Lk. 17:20-21).

Matthew 5:13 is the passage that is usually used to support the idea that the Christian even by his presence in the world has a preserving and enlightening influence on society.  This interpretation, however, is wrong for several reasons.

First, the doctrine of total depravity forbids it.  As someone once said, "Salt has no preservative value on rotten meat."  Second, though the passage speaks of a positive fruit that is the result of this salt and light - it is not a general influence on society that Jesus has in mind, but salvation.  There is nothing in the passage about changing society in any other way.

Indeed, most older commentators do not even refer the passage to believers in general but to the ministers of the gospel (J. Calvin, D. Dickson, M. Henry, A. Pink).  According to that interpretation, if there is any good effect mentioned in the verses, it is wrought by the preaching of gospel in the salvation of men and women.

That the preacher or Christian is salt and light refers, then, to the fact that he is this in distinction from the world.  They are darkness, he is light (II Cor. 6).  They are without savour, he has savour with God through the work of Jesus Christ (and never apart from Him).  Let us be light and salt in that true sense.

Last modified on 27 March 2013
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 5
  • Issue: 4
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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    360-527-6633

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