In his provocative book, The Problem of Poverty (previously published as Christianity and the Class Struggle), Abraham Kuyper devotes a section to sketching how the church was influential in society at the time of its founding. Kuyper highlights how the church addressed the class conflict, economic oppression, and injustice which festered in the civil and cultural milieu of the first-century Roman Empire.
According to Kuyper, Christ founded the church to “triply influence the life of society” and address social injustice as follows (emphasis in original):
First, through the ministry of the Word, insofar as the Word constantly fought against greed for money, comforted the poor and oppressed, and in exchange for the suffering of the present time pointed to an endless glory.
Then, second, through an organized ministry of charity, which in the name of the Lord, as being the single owner of all goods, demanded community of goods to this extent, that in the circle of believers no man or woman was to be permitted to suffer want or to be without the necessary apparel.
And, third, by instituting the equality of brotherhood over against difference in rank and station, through abolishing all artificial demarcations between men, and by joining rich and poor in one holy food at the Lord’s Supper, in symbol of the unity which bound them together not only as “children of men,” but, more importantly, as those who have collapsed under the same guilt and have been saved by the same sacrifice in Christ.
This revolutionary sociology enacted in the life of the church inevitably caused ripples in the broader culture. For Kuyper, this is entirely fitting, because the church “was instituted so as not only to seek the eternal welfare of its followers, but also very definitely to remove social injustices.” Kuyper says that “the Church forsakes its principle when it is only concerned with heaven and does not relieve earthly need.”
Note carefully that Kuyper is not speaking merely of an inner change in individual Christians which may affect their personal conduct in the world. Rather, answering injustice belongs to the very organization, institution, and mission of the church: its social structure, communal life, and public witness and work.
Given Kuyper’s status as a seminal reformed theologian, his views on the role of the church in the world are significant and relevant for contemporary discussion. Kuyper certainly does not restrict the scope of the church’s mission to preaching or even individual conversion, but understands it as encompassing societal reformation.<>