The Gospel and Social Reform

Can Faith Change the World?

When we think of the word “prophet,” we usually picture a melancholy, old man with a long, white beard and a robe forecasting gloom and doom. This stereotype has its basis in the long list of Old Testament characters who were called prophets. Most of these men called the nation of Israel to repentance. If they didn’t change their ways and obey God’s law they were going to be destroyed by the hostile nations that surrounded them.

Of all the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah stands out as unique. Isaiah was an optimist. Historians tell us that Isaiah appeared on the scene to forecast Israel’s destruction. After a few years of preaching and writing he mysteriously disappeared. There is a twenty year gap in his recorded prophecies. No one knows for sure what he was doing during this time.1

We are told in Isaiah chapter six, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” One day Isaiah was a famous prophet; his family was of a royal lineage; and he may have also been a priest ministering in the Temple at Jerusalem. Then Isaiah had an experience that was so shocking that it put him out of business for twenty years.

Isaiah’s prophecies were recorded and circulated by his young disciples who kept preaching and teaching until the day when Israel was destroyed. Twenty years later Isaiah reappeared, only this time he spoke of Israel’s restoration, the rebuilding of the Temple, the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom age. His message was no longer one of despair but of hope.

Now he prophesied things like: “The nations shall come to the brightness of your rising” and “Behold I create a new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” and “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall no more be heard in her, nor the voice of crying.“2

What was Isaiah doing during those twenty years? We might guess that he was shut up alone with God, totally isolated and cut off from the prominence and respect that he once had. But during that time he had a revelation of faith in which God showed him all of human history culminating in the glorious kingdom that was coming on the earth.

Faith That Changes the World

What then is the “revelation of faith?” Simply put: “It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the ability to know the heart and mind of God. We are also told: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.“3

Now this verse appears to mean that the physical, material universe was spoken into being by the word of God. But this is not what this means at all! The word in the original Greek language rendered “world” in English is not the word kosmos which is most often used in the New Testament. In this verse, the Greek word aion is used for “worlds,” but it is better translated as “ages.”

Through faith we understand that the ages were created by the word of God. The world that is now – the kingdom of this age which is characterized by sickness, hunger, war and death – this age is coming to an end. The world that is to come – the kingdom of God which is characterized by health, prosperity, peace, and abundant life – this age is about to appear in its fulness.

We live in an age of transition. The world that is now, is passing away, while the world that already is, but is yet to come in its fulness, is forcefully advancing in the world. In this state of dynamic tension, God is releasing a people into the earth, who will understand that the ages were created by the word of God.

The writer of Hebrews wanted us to understand that the age that is to come, the Kingdom age, will be brought into being by our faith. Through faith, we act as a catalyst to bring the age to come into being. The great prophets of history were not justified by their words, but by the faith they had in God. Yet their words were necessary in order to determine the course of human history.

Isaiah was instrumental in getting the thoughts and desires of God into the minds and hearts of God’s people. When the truth of God’s Word was diffused en masse, people began thinking the thoughts of God and speaking the Word of God. This will always precede the reality of God’s will coming into being.

All of human history has been the manifestation of God’s forethoughts from the beginning of time. God’s ultimate purpose is being revealed in an unfolding plan in history. God told the prophet Amos: “Behold, I do nothing unless I first reveal it to my servants the prophets.“4

Abraham was just one man – but his faith brought the kingdom of God into being in this world. We are told in Hebrews that Abraham looked for “a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.“5

Through faith his wife, Sarah, conceived though she was well past child bearing years. Through Abraham’s faith the Jewish nation came into being in the course of history, as well as the Messiah – Jesus Christ. Abraham believed all the promises of God and spent his whole life looking for a city of promise.

What is this city of promise? Although Abraham never saw it during his lifetime, his descendants built an earthly kingdom which still exists today, Israel, and ultimately the Messianic kingdom with its eternal ruler Jesus Christ, which is now coming into being in the earth.

Yet how many of us today really believe that one person can have an effect on an entire nation? Let’s take a look now at a few notable examples of men and women who had the faith to change the world.

A Tale of Two Cities

Voltaire was a vicious atheist. He wrote a satire Candide, in which he wrote off any possibility of Christianity doing any good in the world. His message was essentially that the whole world is a horrible place to live in with disease, famine, and war and that faith isn’t going to change anything. “It is not the best of all possible worlds.” He scoffed at any thought of the Bible having the answers to the problems that the world faces.

But on the other side of the English channel – one man – John Wesley – changed his nation. Historians credit Wesley with having caused the great revival that restored social order to England. John Wesley, by faith, believed in the promises of God. He saw God’s promises fulfilled in the return of his nation to the principles of biblical Christianity.

Wesley was misunderstood by the people who upheld the religious status quo of his day. (And here I must emphasize that there have always been religious hypocrites who lacked love, and gave men like Voltaire ammunition for their cynical attack on Christianity). Barred from preaching in the rich Anglican churches of his day, which were deader than a doornail, Wesley went out to the open places and lifted up his voice for Jesus Christ. The poor and outcast people of England – the coal miners, prostitutes and drunks – flocked to hear him by the thousands.

And in the message of hope that Wesley offered, so many had their lives changed that all of England was born again; the entire English society was transformed.

Wesley labored for 53 years, preaching the Gospel, aiding the poor, building orphanages and schools. Wesley was a demonstration of what one man, empowered by God, can do to transform a society. Meanwhile on the other side of the English channel, Voltaire taught that human being needed to be liberated from the moral teachings of Christianity. Out of Voltaire’s revolutionary ideas came the savage and brutal breakup of social order in France.

By comparing the destinies of these two nations, we can see the great transforming power that can come from just one person believing God and laboring to bring His kingdom on the earth. In stark contrast to the great light that can be unleashed on a nation, we also see that spiritual darkness and the legacy of war, disease and social unrest that can come from the ideas of just one person who hinders the faith of God’s people.

Yet the faith of men such as John Wesley is the force in the earth that is destined to overtake the ideas of men such as Voltaire.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Another woman in history, Harriet Beecher Stowe, single-handedly brought the anti-slavery movement to a fervency. Harriet Beecher, as a young woman, had already experienced the personal spiritual renewal which characterized the lives of many during the Second Great Awakening of early 19th century America. But she also experienced the radical social commitment of that great revival as well.

Harriet’s father, Lyman Beecher, was the president of Lane seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio when she first encountered a radical group on that campus, the Anti-Slavery Society, which entered into a series of debates on the slavery issue. This hotbed of controversy led Harriet to enter into her own study of slavery. Cincinnati’s proximity to Kentucky gave Harriet access to firsthand knowledge of the slavery system. She spent time watching slaves and their owners on a nearby plantation and carefully recording her observations.

“The slave system,” she wrote, “as a system perhaps concentrates more wrong than any other now existing.” Later she prophesied: “No nation can remain free with whom freedom is privilege and not principle.“6

Harriet Beecher Stowe, now married and living in Brunswick, Maine, began to pen Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1850. By this time, she had interviewed hundreds of former slaves and had carefully verified their tales of abuse and cruelty by their former masters. The slavery issue began to weigh on her like a heavy burden.

The inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin was birthed out of her prayers concerning the plight of the slaves. She began to feel a divine call to write out the case histories of the slaves she had interviewed in the form of a novel. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was finally published in 1852; it sold more copies in the next few years than almost any other book in the history of American publishing.

By faith, Harriet Beecher Stowe stirred up waves of anti-slavery sentiment through her novel and influenced the course of events that led to the Civil War, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the end of slavery in America.

The Common Denominator

The common denominator in both of these stories is the word “compassion.” Wesley felt deeply for the English coal miners. Harriet Beecher Stowe had a burden for the African slaves.

The compassion of just one person can change the world. It doesn’t matter if the whole world is set against you. One plus God makes a majority. When we act as ambassadors of love, we represent the purposes of God in the earth. This is a love for people that is birthed out of a deep revelation from God.

It is not surprising, then, when we learn that, according to the Bible, “Faith works by love.“7

Communist China

Call it fate – or call it destiny. Either way, there seem to be some people who are born for greatness.

A young man named Kristin Ang was one who was destined to quietly turn an entire nation on the hinges of God’s purposes. Kristin had an express route in and out of China during an era when the bamboo curtain was still intact and Mao’s bloody regime – the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) – gave the term “Red China” another meaning.

After losing his passport in the Spring of 1989, during the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre, Kristin returned home to the Philippines with an exciting and insightful story to tell. Because Kristin’s parents were Chinese citizens, a quirk of Filipino law allowed him to travel freely in and out of Mainland China with no restrictions as if he were a Chinese citizen.

As an exchange student at the university in the coastal city of Xiamen, Kristin was instrumental in planting an underground “house church” that quickly grew to over 100 believers in less than two years. When Kristin first arrived at Xiamen University, he was a new believer of only six weeks. He had had no missionary training and had no burden for the Chinese people.

“I didn’t care,” he remembers, “All I wanted to do was sightsee and shop.” But then one day, Kristin had an experience which changed his life forever. Looking out across a dormitory courtyard he saw a Chinese student. “The Lord showed me that there were millions of people in China, just like this one, who were not saved.”

Over a period of time, Kristin began to aggressively share his faith in Jesus Christ with the Chinese students. In a two year period, he saw over one hundred students come to know the Lord and become a part of an illegal church that met on that campus. Several PLA officers became Christians as well as some students who were Communist Party members.

But perhaps most significantly, one young man that Kristin led to the Lord, organized a pro-democracy rally in Xiamen City that occurred the same week as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. When the massacre broke out, Kristin was in Hong Kong attempting to smuggle Bibles into China for the numerous students who were becoming Christians. When a state of martial law was declared and rioting broke out in Hong Kong, Kristin had his passport revoked and had to return to the Philippines.

Christian missionaries in China report that since the time of the massacre, as much as ten percent of the student bodies of Mainland China’s most prominent universities have become Christian and the numbers are growing. This is significant because only the future leaders of China are allowed to attend the universities. Many speculate that sometime within the next year China’s Communist government will fall. The difference these new believers will make in determining the fabric of Chinese society will be crucial.

Kristin Ang, now living in Manila, plans to go back to China when this revolution takes place. Kristin plans to continue his work among the students. “Some of them are going to become government officials,” He says, “If they become Christians, China is going to have hope.”

“The situation in China is amazing,” Kristin said, “When I talked to the people, I saw so much emptiness in their lives that it made me want to cry … Jesus is the only answer.”

Once again, we see that the compassion of just one person can affect change in an entire nation.

An Estonian Pastor Brings Revival to the USSR

Others are not born great, but attain greatness after a long, hard struggle.

After over 20 years of eluding the KGB, Jaanus Karner escaped from the death grip of communism and narrowly missed being sent to a labor camp in Siberia. Jaanus is an Estonian pastor, whose ministry is responsible, in part, for revival in Estonian churches and other parts of the Soviet Union.

The sudden and drastic changes that have been occurring in Eastern Europe are the result of the struggles of just a few heroes who resolutely stood against communism. In June of 1940, Estonia was invaded by the Soviet Union and forcibly annexed. Shortly after this, Jaanus was born. Growing up in a repressive world in which your neighbors could be informing the KGB about your activities, Jaanus struggled his whole life against the repression.

The faith of Jaanus’ mother was responsible in part for this young man’s desire to know more about the things of God. “I wanted to be a youth pastor,” Jaanus remembers, “and I started a music ministry among the young people.” This worked marvelously because Estonians love to sing; it is not unusual for up to a million people to gather in nationalistic festivals to sing about their yearning for freedom.

A youth movement sprung from Jaanus’ church and spread to Lithuania and Latvia, the neighboring Baltic States, and when visitors came to their meeting from Russia, Jaanus became a catalyst for revival in the east as well. But this new spiritual freedom did not come without a price to be paid. Some informers told the KGB about their meetings and they began a long investigation of Jaanus and his family that has lasted 20 years.

By faith, Jaanus was able to resist the KGB for so long. Finally Jaanus and his family were able to escape to the United States. Now after ten years in America and the recent changes in the Soviet Union, Jaanus is thinking of returning to his country. Jaanus says that he is getting over the long years of harassment now and that he has compassion for the Russian people.

“As a Christian I cannot feel resentment toward them,” Jaanus says. “The Russian people are victims. I hope for a universal revival in the Soviet Union. I yearn for a day when 280 million people will be touched by God.”

The move of God which has continued to occur in Estonia has been called the “Singing Revival.” Since Estonians love to sing, Christian missionaries have recently been appearing at nationalistic festivals to lead the people in songs which speak of something greater than national freedom. They are getting to the point where they realize that freedom can only come from God. This realization which began with just a few people like Jaanus, is now spreading all over the Soviet Union. And the power of this realization is destined to change the whole world

God’s Army of Reformers

The point of this article is to get you out of the rut of living for the kingdoms of this world, into the understanding of the Kingdom age that is coming on the earth. You, too, can be a world changer. Even now, God is grooming a troop revolutionaries who will accomplish great things simply by making themselves available to God. The primary characteristic of this end time army will be their wisdom and compassion for the lost and dying souls of this world.

“What do I have to do then,” you may ask, “to get into the purposes of God, and radically affect change in my world?”

First, you must have a total reliance on the Spirit of God to direct and order your life. Many of the plans that we devise look wise and wonderful in our own eyes, yet they are a hindrance to what God wants to do with our lives. Seek the wisdom of Christ in every matter. God’s wisdom is a mystery which is now hidden, but it is being revealed in the last days through His people.

Second, you must have faith that causes you to hope for great things. This will automatically set you apart from the type of Christianity that is currently in vogue in America today. While many of God’s people survey world events with pessimism, God’s wisdom will cause a faith to grow in your heart that will enable you to understand how every event is just another step toward Christ’s victorious kingdom being established on the earth.

And finally, you must learn to love. When you begin to experience this love, you will see that there is a “hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory.”

“Things which eye has not seen
and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the
heart of man,
All that God has prepared for
those who love Him.“8

1 Halley’s Bible Handbook, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1962), pp 290, 291.
2 Isaiah 60:3; 65:17, 19.
3 Hebrews 11:1,3.
4 Amos 3:7.
5 Hebrews 11:10.
6 Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Uncle Sam’s Emancipation,” Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Biography (New York: Praeger, 1976), pp. 104, 79.
7 Galatians 5:6. 8 1 Corinthians 2:7,9.

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