As some of you will know, I am part of a Social Concerns Committee that has been organized by the Evangelical Mennonite Conference. It has been started largely because “social” concerns is an area that the EMC feels has lacked attention in its recent and not so recent history of teaching, theology, and practice. My question, however, is what is a “social” concern? Is the very need to classify a concern of the church under the category “social,” illustrative of the fact that the church has largely come to think of itself both ideologically and practically either in asocial ways or in downright anti-social, individualistic terms. Of course in this way it is also legitimate to use the term in order to draw out a certain lack of vision or scope within the church. Yet there is a danger that “concerns”, especially those social ones, become departmentalized and specialized in such a way that sidesteps the need for a more broad involvement of all community members in the work of reconciliation among and outside of our communities.
I guess a way of summing this all up is to say that ultimately the church is by its nature a social reality in that it deals with life together. Indeed, the latin socialis means “living with others” of “fellowship”. Furthermore, this word has, at least on the surface, a close connection to the greek work ekklesia which denotes a gathering of peoples. The New Testament church was always a corporate reality. Paul’s epistles were not written to individuals. Rather, they dealt with issues of life together. The Corinthian church is a great example:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-34
Paul’s words are pretty strong: are we discerning the body in our churches (the body here referring to more than just the “insiders”, of course – see Matt. 7:21)? What are the social concerns of our day, in our community?
P.S. If you are interested in reading the mandate of the Social Concerns Committee, click here.