Where is the theology which can give to Christian social thinking and prophetic witness its sanctions and its impetus, the theology which can justify the Church in its attempts to say what ought or ought not to be in the social order? I offer no more than some introductory hints.
We start with the doctrine of the Church as standing over against society. “The Church is the redeemed community comprised of redeemed men and women and children. It is Christ’s new creation: its life is already the life of the world to come. Ontologically, its members are reborn. Sociologically, they have fellowship with the Father and the Son through the indwelling of the Spirit, and no secular concept of fellowship means the same thing. Morally, they are able to fulfil the hardest of Christ’s commandments because his grace enables them so to do. They can turn the other cheek, abandon their goods in a vocation to poverty, or retain their wealth and (only just) be safe in its possession: they can follow a vocation to celibacy or carry out the marriage vow as the heathen cannot be expected to who lack the grace which is at work within the Church. Here is a realm in which Christian sociology is possible, an island-realm amid the perishing world. But do not expect such possibilities in the world that lieth in the evil one. Any moral impact the Church may have upon the world is in God’s hands and cannot be made the subject of theory. Furthermore, expect that any approximations to God’s Kingdom from the side of the world may be bogus and misleading, because pride and titanism infect such efforts and bring them to grief.”
I start with this doctrine of Church over against world because it seems sensible at first sight, and indeed it can claim much support in the New Testament. But we must see how it needs modification, and as it becomes modified the possibilities of Christian social action begin to arise.
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