Jesus’ command to his followers to be salt and light requires presence, perseverance and paying heed to “prophetic pioneers,” the president of the Baptist World Alliance said at a September Micah Challenge Conference in Chang Mai, Thailand.
The Micah Challenge is a 2-year-old global movement by Christians advocating governments to enact policies to reduce global poverty by half by the year 2015. Supporting organizations include the BWA, a worldwide fellowship of Baptist conventions and unions with <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. members including AmericanBaptistChurches, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist state conventions in Texas, Virginia and Missouri.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
In remarks to 325 Christian leaders involved in relief and development work from 52 countries, BWA president David Coffey said the challenge for the Micah Network is “constant renewal of the imagination.”
“When Jesus urges his followers to be salt and light, he is making a bold claim for his church,” Coffey, who retired in July as general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, told delegates. “At all times and in all places the church is salt and light.”
Coffey said the church’s primary role in being salt and light is to serve as “the counter culture,” preserving what is best, while exposing what is wrong.
“We are called to be concerned for the well being of every human being made in the image of God,” he said. “We are sent to create salt and light communities.”
One way the church does that, Coffey said, is by being present.
“Christian presence has a transforming influence in the life of a community,” Coffey said. “But this presence is not to be dominated by the meeting of human need.” Coffey said community programs too often fail not due to unwillingness on the part of the community, but rather because of possessive attitudes of workers who want to gain credit, keep control and micromanage people’s lives.
Coffey said the church can best help the poor “if we ourselves are poor in spirit; if we mourn over our sin and the effects of sin in our society; if we are meek and hunger for justice.”
“The Micah Network should be fostering a theology from the streets,” Coffey said, “a theology from communities not just for communities.”
“Christian presence makes space for the theological voice of the people,” he said. “This theology of the streets is a profoundly important part of our advocacy to those in high places.”
A second quality of the salt-and-light church, Coffey said, is “the Christian value of perseverance,” or what has been termed the enduring principle of “keep on keeping on.”
“You cannot be intimately involved with Micah Network without experiencing bouts of compassion fatigue, cynicism at the broken promises of government leaders and a chronic disappointment with the church,” he said. “There needs to be a spiritual perseverance with a cutting edge purpose to bring us through the inevitable setbacks
“The scriptural word is: ‘Do not lose heart. By God’s mercy we (still) have this ministry’ (2 Cor 4:1).”
“The apostle Paul knows it is possible to be in Christian ministry and to lose heart, Coffey said.
The third feature of living as salt and light, Coffey said, is “prophetic pioneering.”
Coffey observed that in revolutionary periods of world history, the church divides itself into at least three camps. There are “pioneers,” which blaze a trail where there is no existing path; “travelers, who catch the vision of the pioneers and are among the first to travel a new road, and “settlers,” who are uncomfortable outside the camp and will not set out for a promised land until they know the journey is safe.
“The truth is we need to honor and listen to all three groups in order to be the people of God in such times as we are living,” Coffey said. “But I plead that we hear the voices of the pioneers. They are God’s gift to the church for such a time as this.”
Coffey said he meets pioneers everywhere he travels, Christians who “have discovered that the church can have a prophetic agenda as well as a pastoral agenda.”
“We may be called to be peacemakers, but this does not imply a calling to be meek and mild,” Coffey said. “Pioneers are sometimes angry prophets.”
Coffey cited a recent Christianity Today article by Martin Accad, academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon, expressing anger at evangelical Christians in the United States for their unqualified support of Israel.
“Pioneers can burn with prophetic anger and overturn our tables of silent complicity and passive indifference,” Coffey said. “Pioneers can be awkward and difficult and abrasive. They do not fit easily into the structures of our Christian institutions.”
“We need them to challenge our comfort zones,” Coffey said. “They need us–for anger must be tempered with mercy.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
E-mail David Coffey.
See our special resource section on Christians and global poverty.
Suggested resource for group discussion:
Leading Churches Into 21st Century Missions