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NEW ISSUES FACING CHRISTIANS TODAY
FULLY REVISED EDITION
President, the Institute for Contemporary Christianity
New Issues Facing Christians Today
Copyright © 1984, 1990 and 1999 John Stott
First published in Great Britain in 1984 by Marshall Pickering
Second edition first published in 1990
This edition published in 1999
John Stott asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
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The biblical text quoted is normally that of the New International
Version. If another text is used, this is stated.
Arndt-Gingrich A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
and Other Early Christian Literature by William
F. Arndt and F.Wilbur Gingrich (University of
Chicago Press and Cambridge University Press,
AV The Authorized (King James') Version of the
JB The Jerusalem Bible (Darton, Longman and
NASB The New American Standard Bible (Moody
Press, Chicago, 1960).
NEB The New English Bible (NT 1961, 2nd edition
1970; OT 1970).
NIVThe New International Version of the Bible
(Hodder & Stoughton, NT 1974; OT 1979;
revised edition 1984).
RSV The Revised Standard Version of the Bible
(NT 1946, 2nd edition 1971; OT 1952).
CHRISTIANS IN A NON-CHRISTIAN SOCIETY
IT OUR CONCERN?
It is exceedingly strange that any followers of Jesus Christ should
ever have needed to ask whether social involvement was their
concern, and that controversy should have blown up over the
relationship between evangelism and social responsibility. For it is
evident that in his public ministry Jesus both 'went about … teaching
… and preaching' (Matthew 4:23; 9:35 RSV) and 'went about
doing good and healing' (Acts 10:38 RSV). In consequence, 'evangelism
and social concern have been intimately related to one another
throughout the history of the Church … Christian people have
often engaged in both activities quite unselfconsciously, without
feeling any need to define what they were doing or why.'
The evangelical heritage of social concern2
There were some remarkable examples of this in eighteenthcentury
Europe and America.The Evangelical Revival, which stirred
both continents, is not to be thought of only in terms of the preaching
of the gospel and the converting of sinners to Christ; it also led to
widespread philanthropy, and profoundly affected society on both
sides of the Atlantic. John Wesley remains the most striking instance.
He is mainly remembered as the itinerant evangelist and open-air
preacher. And so he was. But the gospel he preached inspired people
to take up social causes in the name of Christ. Historians have attributed
to Wesley's influence rather than to any other the fact that
Britain was spared the horrors of a bloody revolution like France's.3
The change which came over Britain during this period was well
documented in J.Wesley Bready's remarkable book, England Before
and After Wesley, subtitled 'The Evangelical Revival and Social Reform'.
His research forced him to conclude that 'the true nursingmother
of the spirit and character values that have created and
sustained Free Institutions throughout the English-speaking world',
indeed 'the moral watershed of Anglo-Saxon history', was 'the
much-neglected and oft-lampooned Evangelical Revival'.
Bready described 'the deep savagery of much of the 18th century',
which was characterized by 'the wanton torture of animals
for sport, the bestial drunkenness of the populace, the inhuman
traffic in African negroes, the kidnapping of fellow-countrymen for
exportation and sale as slaves, the mortality of parish children, the
universal gambling obsession, the savagery of the prison system and
penal code, the welter of immorality, the prostitution of the theatre,
the growing prevalence of lawlessness, superstition and lewdness;
the political bribery and corruption, the ecclesiastical arrogance and
truculence, the shallow pretensions of Deism, the insincerity and
debasement rampant in Church and State - such manifestations
suggest that the British people were then perhaps as deeply degraded
and debauched as any people in Christendom.'
But then things began to change. And in the nineteenth century
slavery and the slave trade were abolished, the prison system was
humanized, conditions in factory and mine were improved, education
became available to the poor, trades unions began, etc., etc.
'Whence, then, this pronounced humanity? - this passion for
social justice, and sensitivity to human wrongs? There is but one
answer commensurate with stubborn historical truth. It derived
from a new social conscience. And if that social conscience, admittedly,
was the offspring of more than one progenitor, it nonetheless
was mothered and nurtured by the Evangelical Revival of vital,
practical Christianity - a revival which illumined the central postulates
of the New Testament ethic, which made real the Fatherhood
of God and the Brotherhood of men, which pointed the priority of
personality over property, and which directed heart, soul and
mind, towards the establishment of the Kingdom of Righteousness
The Evangelical Revival 'did more to transfigure the moral
character of the general populace, than any other movement British
history can record'. For Wesley was both a preacher of the gospel
and a prophet of social righteousness. He was 'the man who
restored to a nation its soul'.
The evangelical leaders of the next generation were committed
with equal enthusiasm to evangelism and social action. The most
famous among them were Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson,
James Stephen, Zachary Macaulay, Charles Grant, John Shore
(Lord Teignmouth), Thomas Babington, Henry Thornton, and
of course their guiding light, William Wilberforce. Because several
of them lived in Clapham, at that time a village three miles south of
London, and belonged to Clapham Parish Church, whose Rector
John Venn was one of them, they came to be known as 'the
Clapham Sect', although in Parliament and in the press they were
mocked as 'the Saints'.
It was their concern over the plight of the African slaves which
first brought them together. Three days before his death in 1791,
John Wesley wrote to Wilberforce to assure him that God had raised
him up for his 'glorious enterprise' and to urge him not to be weary
of welldoing. It is largely to the Clapham Sect (under Wilberforce's
leadership) that the credit belongs for the first settlement of freed
slaves in Sierra Leone (1787), the abolition of the trade (1807), the
registration of slaves in the colonies (1820), which put an end to
slave smuggling, and finally their emancipation (1833). It is true
that 'the Saints' were wealthy aristocrats, who shared some of the
social blindspots of their time, but they were extremely generous in
their philanthropy, and the range of their concerns was extraordinary.
In addition to the slavery question, they involved themselves
in penal and parliamentary reform, popular education (Sunday
Schools, tracts and the Christian Observer newspaper), Britain's
obligation to her colonies (especially India), the spread of the gospel
(they were instrumental in the founding of both the Bible Society
and the Church Missionary Society), and factory legislation.
They also campaigned against duelling, gambling, drunkenness,
immorality and cruel animal sports. And throughout they were
directed and motivated by their strong evangelical faith. Ernest
Marshall Howse has written of them: 'This group of Clapham
friends gradually became knit together in an astonishing intimacy
and solidarity. They planned and laboured like a committee that
never was dissolved. At the Clapham mansions they congregated
by common impulse in what they chose to call their "Cabinet
Councils" wherein they discussed the wrongs and injustices which
were a reproach to their country, and the battles which would
need to be fought to establish righteousness. And thereafter, in
Involvement: is it our concern?
Parliament and out, they moved as one body, delegating to each
man the work he could do best, that the common principles might
be maintained and their common purposes be realized.'
Reginald Coupland in his biography of Wilberforce justly commented:
'It was, indeed, a unique phenomenon - this brotherhood
of Christian politicians. There has never been anything like it since
in British public life.'