The great evangelical leaders of the Nineteenth Century and earlier often exhibited a strong commitment to social justice and compassionate ministries. Wesley, Wilberforce, Finney and Spurgeon are but a few obvious examples.
But during the Twentieth Century many evangelicals departed from this heritage. It is well and truly time we got back to a full Biblical gospel.
The Bible explicitly commands both care for, and speak out on behalf of, the powerless (eg James 1:27, Proverbs 31:8). And both Jesus and the early church provide clear examples to follow.
Jesus consistently taught a radical ethic of love that put him at odds with the religious establishment of his day. That ethic remains revolutionary for many Christians. We are tempted to tame the gospel to suit our middle class-ness.
On one occasion (Luke 10: 25-37) Jesus was asked by a theologian what must be done to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by joining two parts of Torah into what we call the Great Commandments - love God wholeheartedly and love your neighbour.
So far, so good. Christianity 101. But then the theologian, wanting to justify his lack of radical love, asked, "And who is my neighbour?" That one defensive question elicited a response so radical it has challenged all who would walk in the way of Jesus ever since.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. What is the point of this story? Dave Andrews, in The Jihad of Jesus, pages 159f, suggests three increasingly confronting expectations of Christ: 1. We need to extend compassion to others. But there is more .... 2. We need to extend compassion to others who are very different to us. Jesus is saying that anyone in need is your neighbour. Wherever there is need - there the love of God is to be expressed. 3. But then Jesus chooses to shockingly twist the story to show that it may in fact be someone of a different race and even a different faith who will showcase how to love one's neighbour.
Spiritual pedigrees don't impress Jesus at all for he says, "Go and do likewise." Indeed on one of the rare occasions Jesus gives detailed teaching about judgment, love is the only criteria mentioned (Matthew 25: 31-46).
When we seriously begin to walk this path we soon discover Jesus is leading us to speak and act for justice, truth and love. We are to denounce the exploitation of the poor and powerless wherever it is seen. We are called to engage in a non-violent war against those who abuse power, as well as the spiritual forces at work behind them.
We speak truth to power as Jesus did to the High Priest and to Pilate - and with him we risk "persecution because of justice" (Matthew 5:10).
The good news is that God's kingdom has and is coming through Jesus and his followers. No power can withstand its coming.
We live out that new kingdom even in the midst of the old ways of this world. As citizens of heaven (Philippians 3: 20) we invite all we can to join us in living Jesus' way - a way that we live out in our faith communities - by loving each other, loving those in need and speaking up for those who are powerless or oppressed.
The time has come. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and show you believe the good news (Mark 1:15).
I invite you to stand up with other Australian Baptists in joining the Campaign for Australian Aid at https://australianaid.org/ and so follow the commandments of loving God wholeheartedly and loving our neighbour as ourselves.