The Gospel and Social Structures?

Let me begin with one thought.  The Lausanne Theology Working Group states the following:

When we talk about “the world”, we cannot only think numerically about “all the people who live in the world”. We must think contextually about all that is in the world that impacts the lives of individuals, the social structures that shape them, and the physical environment upon which they depend. Our missional calling demands more careful and critical consumption, creative production, prophetic denunciation, advocacy for and mobilization of the victims of world injustice. While we stand with the Micah Challenge in holding our governments accountable to their commitments to “make poverty history”, we also dedicate ourselves to “making greed history” in our own lives, churches, communities, countries and world.[1]

While the task of evangelism must impact the lives of individual, I found myself brooding about “the social structures that shape them, and the physical environment upon which they depend.”  My heart is broken for the individuals, but I often do not think enough about the social structures that shape them.  What happens when we fail to take that into consideration?

The church in Rwanda is a good example of this.  In 1994, Rwanda suffered the tragic effects of genocide against the Tutsis.  More than a million people died.  What is more tragic is that the population census of 1991 shows that 89 % of Rwanda was Christian.

Think about that.  Over a million people killed in a country where 89% claim to be Christian.  That means that many of the killers were professing Christians.

Sobering.  What happened?  In “Rediscovering the Gospel of Reconciliation,” Antoine Rutayisire takes an “autopsy” of the church’s failure.  How could a country with so many Christians have such a massive genocide?  Rutayisire says:

It is very clear that the message that was presented was not contextualized to respond to the needs and problems of the nation. When the missionaries arrived, they found a unified nation with three groups: Hutus, Tutsis and Twas, the power being in the hands of the Tutsi monarchy. These groups were more social classes than ethnic groups. But there were already some seeds of future evil in their relationships, such as inequalities in power distribution, negative social stereotypes, contempt for the poor and other social ills. Rather than correcting the injustices and the negative social biases, the colonial authorities and the missionaries built on them, favoring the Tutsis over the other two groups. The gospel that was presented never addressed these social problems to correct them. In some cases, hints of what could have been done were visible during the revival when people repented of contempt and lack of love between the different ethnic groups and even between the missionaries and the local population.[2]

Hm.  “The gospel that was presented never addressed these social problems to correct them.”   What did the gospel address?  Rutayisire goes on to speak of how the pastors taught the people Bible verses and catechism but did not show them how they can experience and live out the gospel

As a result, many people turned to Christianity but kept finding answers to their daily problems in the ancestral religion, relying on their traditional perceptions to define their ethnic, racial and tribal identities and relationships. It is then no wonder that in times of conflict, people did not rely on their Christian faith but rather on “what their fathers had told them.”[3]

Consequently, a thin veneer of Christianity covered over their traditional ancestral religion.  Their faith was branded Christianity, but the core of it was paganism.

Does this apply to us at all in Warrenville today?  Is the gospel addressing the social problems of our society today?  Do we help new Christians really find answers to their daily problems in the faith of Jesus Christ, once for all delivered to the saints, or do we simply cover over our consumerism, or lust, or pride, or selfishness with a thin veneer of Christianity?  On a more personal level, if Jesus Christ is the answer, are we finding our answers in Him?  Or do we trust in ourselves more?  What do you think?  Post a comment below to join this conversation.


[1] “The Whole Church Taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World,” Reflections of the Lausanne Theology Working Group, emphasis added.  Accessed at http://www.lausanne.org/documents/twg-three-wholes.html

[3] Ibid.

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2 Responses to The Gospel and Social Structures?

  1. Jennifer Nielsen says:

    so true….lets here is for sociology and theology!!! woot woot

  2. Ryan W says:

    Yeah, I think it does if we believe that the gospel is more than making a statement of faith that makes you “in.” For some, once you’re “in,” God is removed from day to day life. Part of Jesus’ commission was to make disciples under his teachings. Disciples being apprentices of Jesus, that is, people who are like him and living under kingdom realities on earth. This motivates me to understand more the way Christ made himself available and relevant to the ordinary aspects of life around him while he walked the earth.

    I’m often humbled by those individuals in my life who have a heart for the social problems of our day. To what degree are we ALL, as Christ followers, to have that kind of a heart while at the same time God specifically convicts and gifts certain people in these areas more than others?

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