What does evangelism have to do with social justice? For more than a decade, Christians have battled over this issue. Many evangelicals believe that proclaiming the Gospel to individuals is, as Billy Graham said in his Lausanne address, “the vital mission of the Church.” The World Council of Churches, on the other hand, has focused most of its activity on social justice and then redefined evangelism to include socioeconomic liberation.
I want to argue that the disagreement results from insufficient attention to Scripture. Evangelicals have often defined the Gospel in an unbiblically narrow way. And they have failed to see that evangelism is inseparable from—though by no means identical with—social concern. Conciliar Christians (i.e., those identified with the ecumenical movement) have often broadened the definition of evangelism and “Gospel” in a biblically irresponsible fashion. Only individuals—not nations or corporations—can repent and enter into a personal, saving relationship with the Risen Lord. Hence it is confusing nonsense to talk of evangelizing political or economic structures.
We stand at an important juncture in Christian history. The Minneapolis Congress on Evangelism (1969), the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern (1973), and the Lausanne Covenant (1974) all point to a conviction by growing numbers of evangelicals that a full commitment to biblical revelation necessarily entails a concern for social justice. The World Council of Churches, on the other hand, issued an urgent call for evangelism at its Fifth Assembly in Nairobi (1975). Surprisingly, the Assembly document on “Confessing Christ Today,” unlike earlier WCC statements, even distinguished pointedly between evangelism and social action. ...1
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