Among the changes taking place in Christendom in recent decades, none is more radical, or more controversial, or fraught with more serious consequences, than the Church’s understanding of its role in society.

Traditionally the Christian Church has devoted its major resources to the evangelization of individuals. But recently a number of church leaders, both ministers and laymen, have embarked upon a campaign to persuade the churches to use their resources to bring about a social revolution. Sometimes this movement is described as the evangelizing of social institutions, in contrast to the old plan of evangelizing the people who operate these institutions. At other times its proponents say it is designed to change social structures rather than to change human hearts.

The movement seems to be gathering more force than its most zealous leaders could have dared to hope. At recent national and international gatherings, some churchmen have enthusiastically proposed that social revolution become the primary task of the Church in our times. In the National Council of Churches’ Conference on Church and Society last year, a main topic for discussion was, “The Role of Violence in Social Change.”

A leader of one large denomination has been pleading with his fellow churchmen to accept the new idea that power in the hands of the Church is a legitimate instrument of social change. He calls for a “willingness to use power in the secular sphere with varying degrees of sophistication to influence political, social and economic decisions in the community and the nation.” It is not uncommon these days to hear the phrase, “the power-wielding role of the Church.”

Those who speak of this are not hesitant to specify what kind of power they have in ...

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