Responsibility for Our World: A Deeply Evangelical Heritage


Again and again the question poses itself, to what extent Christians should attend to the social, political and economic needs in the world? The concern behind it is that, with such engagement, we could be busying ourselves with issues of secondary importance and thus stray from the goal to testify Christ to the world. If we go back to the beginnings of the evangelical movement, we will discover that this artificial separation of evangelism and social responsibility hasn’t always existed. It was, rather, an expression of a deep love for God to carry the new life through Christ into every area of community life. People were expected to develop a new relationship with God, their neighbour and with society.

Spener – Father of Pietism with a Heart for the Hardships of Society

Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), the father of pietism, is widely known for his “Pia desideria” which, to this day, is seen as the manifesto of pietism. In this work, he calls for a reform of personal spiritual life, of theology and of church life. His deep inner motivation was “the work of God calling the human to implement his loving divine will in the world.” This motivation not only directed him to name spiritual deficiencies, but also led him to found a communal workhouse in Frankfurt for the poor and orphans – because, for him, poverty was an “eyesore of our Christianity”. In addition to that, he established a help organization for fugitives of war, caring for up to 1000 people a day. But Spener also went beyond the approach of providing individual help by at the same time standing up for structural changes in society. Thus, he developed a new communal regulation for the poor in the cities of Berlin and Frankfurt . His plan for a national social insurance system was created 200 years before it was realized under Reich-chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Mez – Revivalist of Baden (SW-Germany) with a Social-Political Vision

Carl Christian Mez (1808-1877) was one of the leading figures in the revivalist movements of Baden . He once summarized his conviction, based on his entrepreneurship and political involvement as follows: “In my opinion Christ’s commandment to “love one another, for you are brothers” contains the only policy that can make humankind happy.” Because of this, his enterprise with over 1200 employees pioneered establishments like a home for single women, a company canteen, compulsory health insurance, a company savings bank and employee’s participation in the enterprise. He achieved reduction in working hours and did it without the customary child labour. Mez also tried to enforce these innovations at a political level (he even became a member of the Frankfurt National Assembly). If more Christian entrepreneurs and politicians had picked up on his ideas, the tendency of the working class, which became apparent then, of turning away from the Christian faith and the church would probably not have happened to the extent it did.

Carey – Pioneer of World Mission and Social Reformer

William Carey (1761-1834) is known as the father of “Modern World-Mission”. He had the burning desire to mobilise the Christians of his days for the issue of world mission. Because he encountered incomprehension and denial in his surroundings, he founded his own mission organisation. He himself worked in and became a professor of Bengali and Sanskrit. Carey learned about 40 Indian languages, into which he then translated the bible or parts of it. These efforts also entailed the founding of a school, a university and a hospital. His institutions became models frequently imitated in . Carey never feared conflicts with ‘the powerful’ of his time. He was a politically very influential personality, standing up against the burning of widows, the oppression of women and the killing of infants as well as the repressive caste system in . He also established an agricultural society to improve the dietary situation in the country. In an article, Carey demanded an agrarian reform for – a revolutionary thought in those days. In his now famous piece of writing concerning mobilisation for world mission, he also called a sugar boycott because then the cultivation and production of sugar always involved slave labour. He was convinced that when you consume sugar you are guilty of innocent blood. To find supporters for his social-ethical goals, he started the journal “Friends of India”.

Wilberforce – an Evangelical Fighter for Human Rights

A prominent figure among English Evangelicals was William Wilberforce (1759-1833). He was known for his pronounced and intensive prayer life. It was, therefore, not unusual, in a meeting with his friends, if they prayed for up to three hours. His name also stands for the abolition of slavery in . At that time, world trade was partly based on the oppression and exploitation of slaves. Wilberforce, a professional politician who saw himself as commissioned by God, didn’t resign himself to the state of affairs that many had accepted as unchangeable. On the basis of faith and Christian ethics, he questioned the whole world trade system and challenged it politically. Wilberforce was convinced that the socially accepted sin of individuals had become fossilized into ungodly society structures. For 20 years, he fought this backbreaking and exhausting battle, which he finally won shortly before his death when abolished slavery. Later, this nation even became the forerunner in fighting slavery in other countries.

Wesley – Revival Preacher with a Social-Ethical Dimension

Wilberforce, along with other English social reformers, was very strongly influenced by the work of John Wesley. As a revivalist preacher, John Wesley was convinced that “love for God and all people is the heart of religion. This love, we believe, is the medicine of life, the never failing means against all evil in a broken world.” The thought that faith had an answer to all grievances in the society of the early industrial revolution called forth Christian social reformers in like Wilberforce, Shaftsbury and Peel. They reformed the inhumane working conditions in the mining and textile industry; they stood up for regular working hours, limitation of child labour, protection of pregnant female workers, sanitation of slums, and the building of council flats. Historians are convinced that it was due to these faith-inspired social reforms that was spared a revolution like the one that took place in .

Love for God and love for the neighbour belong together

What basic conviction can we detect in all of these personalities who were used by God in these special ways? It was a deep love for God as described in Matthew 22:37-39: “Love the lord your God with all your heart. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Whoever is infected with God’s love does not only love God with all of their heart, but also all those created and loved by him. Love for God and love for your neighbour are inseparably intertwined with each other. In this context, the neighbour, however, is not only the individual; the commandment of love is extended to societies and cultures to the ends of the earth. These men of God wanted to carry God’s new-creating life into all areas of human existence. It should be apparent in everything that God makes new life possible through his son Jesus Christ – eternal life and also a humane life, here on this earth. This is why there is no difference in value between activities involving evangelistic or social goals: whatever is born out of a relationship of love for God will serve his ends, his worship and the advancement of his kingdom. Johann Christoph Blumhard (1805-1880) spoke the truth when he said: “Jesus is the defiance of God against sin, poverty and misery.”

(Dr. Andreas Kusch, lecturer for Transformational Development at the Academy for World Mission, Korntal, ,