Every now and again I find myself in the company of agitated Christians. These believers in Christ are put out, vexed, quite irked, unhappy, and they say as much. Surprisingly, their irritation is aimed at a group of people who are just like them—it’s other Christians that they are mad at. They are frustrated with their brothers and sisters for not assuming responsibility for society and allowing it to wallow in disrepair. Every time a report of decay or injustice is heard (which is too often) they want to know where the Christians are. In their estimation, our communities are suffering because too few Christians are contributing to their wellbeing.
I would be quick to agree with some of this sentiment. I too believe that every believer should be engaged in some form of service. As followers of Christ we are called to do good to everyone (Gal 6:10) and thereby magnify God in the world in which we live (Matt 5:16-17). The scripture repeats this expectation frequently and there is no escaping our responsibility to others. If we love God we will seek the good of our neighbor. However, in spite of these clear commands, many Christians are willing to live in a protective bubble, insulated from the ugly realities that surround them. This selfishness is indefensible. To follow Christ obligates us to act for the benefit of others.
But even while I agree that passive Christianity is wrong, I disagree with the driving assumption behind many of my sibling’s complaints. I do not believe that Christians should assume responsibility for society. Nor do I think that the persistence of every social ill is a failure of God’s people. It is fatally naïve, and thoroughly unbiblical, to assume that the Christian community has the means or the mission to eradicate society’s troubles. This world we live in will one day be redeemed, but it will not be through our efforts, it will be through fire and judgment. God promises a new heaven and a new earth, and they will be entirely his accomplishment (Rev 21:1). We ought to seek the good of society but assuming responsibility for society is unhelpful.
The problems that come from shouldering the fate of society are many—the most significant is the neglect of the gospel, but close behind it is the discouragement that often results. Those who zealously claim a new day for their community can easily loose heart when they find their efforts inadequate to the task. Good has been done but renewal eludes them and the strain of perpetual labor coupled with unrealized expectations can break the spirit. Sadly, many passive Christians started the race assuming too much responsibility and were crippled by the weight.
How then should we live? Isolation, neglect, and indifference are prohibited by God’s word and will ultimately harm the people of God. We can’t do nothing. Triumphalism and stoic-determination are misguided and ultimately harm the people of God. We can’t do everything. We can do good. While we are not responsible for our community we are responsible to love it well. Christians should happily give themselves and their resources to bless others. We need not worry about the final outcome since that is God’s concern. Taking comfort in God’s providence, we are at peace even when the evening news is glum and our city struggles. We can grieve over sin and seek to help, but let us not denigrate the Christian community for failing at something that was never hers to accomplish.