In the book of Hebrews we read “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Heb 12:1, 2)
Sometimes as Christians we can become discouraged and feel despondent as we look the state of the world and its many problems. It can all feel a bit overwhelming. At a personal level we are caught in the struggle between the ideals of our faith and the reality of life in a broken and sinful world. During these times it would be helpful to remember the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, but how can we remember what we don’t know?
Whenever William Wilberforce is mentioned, his name is almost immediately recognised. Most of us know something about his role in the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce was a Christian politician with a deep sense of calling to fight against slavery. He is possibly one of the greatest Christian social reformers. Let me mention three other names and see if you recognise them - Kagawa Toyohiko, Hannah More and Pandita Ramabai. Many of us would not be that familiar with these names, and that is understandable. There are so many other people we can add to this list – who are part of the great of cloud of witnesses who have engaged in Christian social reform.
Kagawa Toyohiko was a Japanese Christian who served the poor and sought to empower them. He campaigned for universal adult male suffrage, and also organised the Japanese Federation of Labour. Hannah More was a British writer, educationalist and campaigner who mobilised people to join the anti-slavery movement, supported education for the poor and promoted the impact of women on the public sphere. Pandita Ramabai was an Indian who championed the emancipation of women from lower caste backgrounds. Each of these Christian social reformers had a sense of calling from God to serve others, especially the poor and needy, by changing the conditions and structures of society. They faced opposition and challenges, and persevered against the odds. Their lives made a lasting impact and changed the world for better.
So what is social reform? Distinct from social action or service, social reform is about engaging the social structures and institutions that govern our lives with the goal of transforming them for the better. It’s about dealing with the causes of the problems, not just focusing on the symptoms. Another feature of social reform is its long-term focus and emphasis on sustainable change rather than looking for immediate solutions.
So is there a distinctively Christian and biblical approach to social reform? Many of the social, economic and political problems facing society, which are often complex and interrelated, are the result of broken and dysfunctional relationships. Biblical revelation is all about right relationships, between God and the human being, and between human beings at every level. The heart of the gospel message is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God wants to heal and restore all broken relationships. Working out the implications of the gospel for public policy, in institutions and at a personal level, is the big idea for Christian social reform.
At the Jubilee Centre we believe God is calling a new generation of young Christians to become involved in social reform and do this in a Christ-centred way. We need training to be salt and light in the world, and this summer we are offering a fantastic opportunity to do that, through our three-day Cambridge Summer School from 14th-17th July. If you are passionate about the gospel transforming all of society, not just individual believers, and keen to meet other like-minded Christian leaders from around the world, then come and be part of our first Social Reformers Summer School in Cambridge. This could be the start of life-changing journey…
Check out the Summer School here
Our guest blog comes from Philip Powell (Jubilee Centre Training Manager)