By Graham R. Hodges
Christian Action League
December 10, 2020
The following article was first published in ‘The Christian Advocate’ and reprinted in the June 1952 issue of ‘Tomorrow’ magazine. ‘Tomorrow’ was the journal of the Allied Church League, the organization that would become the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. Although the article is posted here with certain edits, after 68 years, its message is even more relevant today.
“The church should stick to religion!” That is the insistent cry to those who want to restrict the church in Europe and America to baptizing, burying, and marrying – the three main functions performed by the Russian Orthodox Church in the decades while it allowed conditions to ripen and burst into the Communist revolution.
“The church should not get into controversial subjects!” “The church should take no firm stands on liquor, gambling, war, or other matters of debatable nature!”
Plenty of folks think this. And when the great church of Christ follows this line of reasoning, it betrays its mission to change men to be the salt of the earth, the yeast in the dough, the light set on a hill.
From the first, the church has meddled. This is why the Founder of the church was crucified. He meddled. He, a carpenter of Nazareth, dared to go down to the nation’s capital and openly defy, among other practices there, the outlandish charges made for sacrificial animals.
Yes, the church must be a meddling institution. Its ministers must be eternally sticking their noses into matters of mundane, dollars-and-cents significance.
The church has protested against the slave traffic and slave ownership. It has crusaded against liquor, and it is now intensifying its interest in this crusade. It fought against child labor in the coal mines. It now pleads for racial justice, even though the church itself is one of the worst offenders in racial segregation. Its best leaders worked for an eight hour day instead of a fourteen-hour day. It stands against gambling.
For more than one-hundred and fifty years, it has supported and maintained a world-wide missionary program to preach the gospel, heal and feed the sick and hungry, and educate the ignorant. It now strives, in many places, to stop colonial exploitation. In some Communist nations, church leaders are giving their lives for raising their voices against terror and brutality. The church has always meddled in current affairs when she has been conscious of its God-given mission.
Every member of the church has not always agreed on the meaning of mission. No, there were good deacons, preachers, and even bishops who defended slavery one-hundred years ago and denounced those Christians who pleaded for the liberation of human slaves. There are those who say, even now, ‘Selling liquor is a legalized business. The liquor folks are minding their business. Let us mind ours. ‘If people want to drink, it’s their own affair.’
Only twenty short years ago in Germany, the home of Martin Luther [Father of the Protestant Reformation], the church took this stand: ‘Let Hitler and his government run the state, make the laws, and we’ll stick to church matters. If he thinks it best for the Fatherland to kidnap Jewish friends and send them to addresses unknown, then we have nothing to say.’
Not many years before that, the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century took place in Russia, where the vicious Czarist regime was replaced by a regime even more cruel and unscrupulous. For decades and centuries, the church had assumed a let-alone policy while the nobility and government ground down the common people.
Had the church meddled more in Czarist Russia…had it concerned itself with people’s needs, we would have no atheistic leaders and anti-church program today…
Should the church meddle in public affairs in the United States of America?… As this is being written, there is an ample field in our country for the church to use its influence in molding public opinion.
Long before we fought for better housing, better labor conditions, and other social improvements, our religious pioneers won for us the freedom of thought and speech. Just because we have taken them for granted is no indication that they are here to stay.
Yes, the church should meddle – for men cannot be saved from sin in groups. To ‘neglect so great a salvation’ for the individual while concentrating on social improvement would be as one-sided a religion as the opposite viewpoint that promises ‘pie in the sky’ while utterly ignoring man’s physical needs here and now. The church should affect men’s private lives.
Did not Jesus invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house and after that cause him to restore stolen goods? Did he not tell a rich young man to sell all his property and give the cash to the poor? Did he not command young men to abandon careers and follow him to suffering and the cross? Did he not taken it upon himself to drive the money-changers from the temple?
The church, at its best, pokes itself into all sorts of situations. It dares to tell men they are sinners, and it calls them to repentance. What other institution is guilty of such impertinence? The church speaks with authority because it dares to be the church. And if the church doesn’t do this very thing, the world is doomed, and individual souls are doomed.
Yes, the church meddled when Paul felt called to Macedonia, Athens, and Rome. Why did he not stay in Palestine, where plenty of lost souls waited for the gospel? Why did David Livingstone choose to push into Africa when so many Scotsmen were pagan in heart? Why did Carey go to India and Laubach to the Philippines? Was there not work to do at home?
Why? Because they felt the divine imperative to spread the gospel – to change these lands and these people by the power of the Good News. But bet your life, there were people in those days who said, ‘Let the heathen live their own lives. Don’t meddle!”
Christ still calls for us to interfere in the course of the world’s wickedness and humankind’s selfish ways. He told a story about the man in the roadside ditch on the way to Jericho. Two men came along – a priest and a Levite [two religious leaders] and felt they should not get involved with a man stupid enough to be robbed. Then a simple-minded Samaritan came along who did not reason, but responded to a need.
When the church becomes staid, stolid, and proper, it says: “We don’t want to get involved in such unpleasant public affairs or interfere with mens’ habits.” That is a danger sign.
For the Christian church is a meddling church.