In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20 (“teach all nations…”), Christ calls Christians to be agents of social change in non-Christian cultures. Making the world’s nations disciples of Christ requires that Christians see themselves as commissioned by Jesus Christ — to act and speak by His authority, empowered by His Spirit, and to accomplish social change according to His Word in those nations.
Today American politics is all about social change, whether one is a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, Christian or anti-Christian. This has been true of our nation since the appearance of the Social Gospel movement in the mid-19th century.
The Social Gospel was … an attempt to socialize the Gospel, to give it a sociological frame of reference and purpose, and to make it a decisive force in the shaping of the new America of the twentieth century. In order to do this, the historic Gospel had to be brought into a harmonious relationship with evolution in such a way that it was … scientifically respectable....1
But not all social change is good. Some is devastating to a free and just social order. Just because a candidate advocates changing society for the better does not mean he should receive the Christian’s vote. Marxists and Muslims are also working for social change.
So then, how do we know when social change is good and when it is bad? How do we know when change is needed? How do we determine the goal and methods of social change? Is it even possible? Where do we begin? The Christian goes to the Bible for answers to these questions because it is the inerrant and all-sufficient written revelation of the Creator; all human beings are accountable to live in submission to His revealed will in all facets of their life on earth.
When Is Social Change Necessary?
A culture, like the United States, needs changing when it abandons its Christian foundation for a principle of revolt against Almighty God and His moral order. That change will manifest itself throughout the culture.
Our analysis of the needs of society must be based on God’s analysis of man and society revealed in the Bible. The Word of God speaks with absolute and comprehensive authority to all aspects of human society and activity. Biblical law must always be our one standard in determining the direction and nature of social change.
The goals of social change must be a free, just, prosperous, secure, and loving Christian civilization — a second Christendom. Our methods as well as our goals must be taken from the Bible because God’s goals can be reached only by God’s revealed ways and means. Godly goals cannot be reached with ungodly methods because this amounts to “abandoning Christ for the methods of His enemies.”2 Furthermore, God has promised us that we can reach His goals: “Do not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9).
Where to Begin
Where do we begin in our work for social change? One’s answer to this question will determine the nature, goal, and morality or immorality of the social change he seeks. Because many Christians have not thought consistently about this question, “[O]ne of our persistent problems today is that so much ‘reform’ approved by Christians and non-Christians, and liberals as well as conservatives, is simply immoral.”3 This is true for two primary reasons.
First, much social reform presupposes that the political, economic, and social environment is the cause of man’s problems. We are told that human beings are basically good, but victims of their evil environment. Jesus refuted this in Mark 7:14–15: “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.”
Therefore, “much of our ‘reform’ legislation justifies the sinner in his sin. According to the logic of this view, the tempter, rather than Adam and Eve, should have been at least cast out of Eden, if not killed; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil should have been demoted and sued for creating the possibility of temptation and sin.”4 But this view makes the sovereign Creator the ultimate culprit.
Much of social reform is aimed at removing God from the institutions of society to escape His moral order so that fallen man can be free to establish his own immoral order (Ps. 2, “The kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord….”). This amounts not to freedom but to slavery.
Many Christians fail to recognize that because human beings are pervasively sinful and in rebellion against God, social change must begin not with politics, but with the regeneration of the heart. This means that political, social, economic, institutional, and societal change must be spearheaded with evangelism and Christian education:
Basically, the difference between all these plans of salvation and Christianity is this: the non-Christian believes that the problem is not in man but in something outside of him, in his environment, family, heredity, schooling, or some like external factor. Thus, to change man, you first change the world around him. The most logical and thorough-going expression of this faith is revolution. It is held that the transformation of man must begin with the radical transformation of his social order. Then man will himself be changed. Liberation theology is the application of this faith within the church: change the world, it is held, and then man can become a Christian. This is the same faith set forth by the tempter to Jesus in the wilderness, Matthew 4:1–11. (Ed., “‘All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me,’” said the Devil.”)
Biblical faith holds the contrary view. For Christianity, man must be changed by the sovereign grace of God through Jesus Christ. Then the changed man can change the world. Salvation cannot come to man nor to society apart from Christ’s atonement and His regenerating power. The dynamics of society are from God to man to the world.5
The Top-Down Approach
Social reform that begins with changing society and that is “top down” (beginning with political legislation and directives) is:
…disruptive and threatening to those below, and the result is the creation of a rootless mob below, whose life-style has been broken, their loyalties shattered, and their conditions all too little improved. The time is ripe for a strong and virile Christianity, one firmly committed to Biblical law, to command the day. Nothing else can provide a comparable motive force for the reconstruction of all things. Change is certain, but whether or not it will be progress depends on who controls it.6
How do we apply all this to our choice of candidates when all candidates say they are for reforming society for the better?
Christians must vote only for those candidates who do not see themselves as agents of social change, but as men who are to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, according to its original intent, and who are not afraid to confess publicly that the God of the Bible is the sovereign source of law, liberty, and justice for all. As R.J. Rushdoony taught us, elected officials are either champions of Biblical law or hatchet-men for the humanistic status quo.
For extended studies on the subject of social change, see the following: (1) R.J. Rushdoony, “False Morality and False Reform,” “Revolution or Regeneration,” “Responsibility and Change,” and “Rational Reforms” in his Roots of Reconstruction; (2) Garry Moes, ed., Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on Change in the Social Order, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1990–1991; and (3) C. Gregg Singer, “The Social Gospel and its Political Effects in American Life”
in his A Theological Interpretation of American History.
1. C. Gregg Singer, A Theological Interpretation of American History (Nutley: NJ: The Craig Press, 1964), 150.
2. R. J. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 427.
3. Ibid., 391.
4. Ibid., 393.
5. Ibid., 426.
6. Ibid., 926.