Whenever the word social is used in church contexts, the connotation is something not as a serious. A church social would not be an event one would expect to include deep theological reflection. The social Gospel has often been characterized by more conservative Christians as a watered down Gospel that doesn’t have the teeth of real faith. Social Justice Warrior is now a pejorative epithet used in many online conversations.
If I were to ask a hundred Methodists what the first clause of the UMC Social Creed would be, I have no idea what they would say. I would probably get a hundred different answers, none of which coming close to the actual first clause and grounding of the social creed.
The word ‘social’ itself comes from the Latin word ‘socius’, which means friend. Friendship is a concept integral to the Scriptures. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that there is no greater love than this, that one lay down one’s life for one’s friend. To say something is social is not to say that it is practical or non-doctrinal. One way to understand this is by analogy with the Apostle’s Creed. “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” The Apostles Creed was originally a baptismal creed to be recited by those who are about to be baptized. It is a set of assertions about who God is as Trinity. Each assertion is a faith claim. Instead of the first person pronoun, the social creed begins with a ‘we’ and also begins with God as Trinity.
We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.
Christians cannot act in the world in a way that is not grounded in the life of God. Social justice is the life of God lived out. This does not mean that good is not done in the world for reasons beyond God. Instead, Christians should understood that all good works come out of the fruit of grace in our lives. Grace can work in anyone’s life without them even knowing it.
God is the creator of all and the giver of life. Yet we, as humans, have not always received God’s gifts rightly. We have abused creation, we have abused our fellow people. We should not stand in a posture of arrogance with humanity and creation. Instead, by looking at who God is we can learn who to relate to our neighbors and to our world out of humility. We must repent to the ways we fall short of kingdom life. Repentance is not a mushy claim or an online epithet but an act of faith. We can only repent if we believe in the God who forgives. If we don’t believe in the power of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, repentance itself is idolatrous.
To be Christian in the world begins in the humility of acknowledging our creator and acknowledging that we are created. From that, we can begin our attempts at ordering rightly our way in the world through grace by faith.