I was doing some research today regarding a classical issue that has come to my attention when I stumbled upon an Schaver’s The Polity of the Churches. First published in 1937, my copy was from 1947. It is a kind of church order commentary, if you will from its day. The chapter that caught my attention was entitled “Social Problems”. Let me excerpt a small sections from the opening paragraph for your reflection:
When Social Problems Ecclesiastical: It is declared “that political, social, and economical questions are ecclesiastical matters only when doctrinal and ethical issues of sufficient moment and magnitude are involved according to the Word of God and our Standards.” (Acts 1937, Art. 17, p. 11.
What so many people have forgotten is that there are political, social and economic questions that do have bearing upon the Christian faith and that the church should address these things from her pulpits, but not every question is an ecclesiastical one. Rather, there must be moment and magnitude, or stated another way – the issues/questions must be ones that influence the direction of things AND are large enough according to the Word of God to merit the Church’s involvement. For example a question about taxation on a particular commodity is likely not a concern of ‘sufficient moment and magnitude’ but a discussion of abortion, prostitution, bribery in the government would likely fall under that banner.
The chapter goes on to discuss Capital and Labor with a significant section on Labor Unions (and other social organizations), as well as Marriage, Divorce and Birth Control, War and Peace and Women’s suffrage. While each of these are interesting to explore, I want to stick with the sections on social organizations and particularly The Question of Corporate Responsibility. Here is an excerpt from page 221:
(1) Active participation in the sinful practices of an organization to which one belongs not only renders one guilty before God but may even make one an object of ecclesiastical discipline.
(2) In order to be responsible for the sinful deeds of the organization or the group with which one is associated it is not necessary to be an active participant, in the usual sense of that term. By requesting, promoting, encouraging or in any manner abetting the wrong-doing, one is rendered responsible, even if the support which one gives amounts to no more than consent or approval. In connection with all this the discipline of the Word should be vigilantly exercised.
(3) In order to be responsible for the sins of the group one need not even be an abetter; mere passivity or silence also renders one guilty; failure to reprove makes one accountable before God.
(4) It is possible, moreover, that one neither engages actively in the sinful acts or his associates (a), nor promotes them or consents to them in any manner (b), nor even fails to reprove them (c), and yet involves himself in co-responsibility for these evil practices; namely, if one remains a member of such organizations which refuse to mend their evil ways when the latter have been exposed and reproved.
(5) Finally, it is even possible that, although a person does not become guilty of any of the sins described in the preceding four points, he, nevertheless, becomes responsible, in a measure, for the evil decisions and practices of the group, namely, by becoming a member of the organization whose aims or practices are known to be evil. (Acts 1945, Art. 100, p.103)
These principles are intended to be applied not only to labor unions, but also to all industrial, business, and professional organizations, as well as to any other types of group activity…
Wow! What a list or indictments which would render every member of the National Association of Educators guilty. It would bring judgment down upon the BLM movement and those participating in their ‘peaceful marches’ which turn violent. It condemns those supporting movements that take stands against life and for the promotion of abortion – whether political or social. The idea that one can be aligned with evil and not guilty of it because you are not personally participating in it was a foreign concept to our Christian fathers and mothers in the CRC just 75 years ago. They understood that one’s membership in a group and presence at its functions is the same as actively endorsing all the sin which that group perpetrates. What a powerful set of words which many in our churches would be served to remember.
A final caveat
There are some who may read these words and would seek to twist them from their context and declare that being a white male makes me guilty of all the sin of every white male…Such a reading would be completely out of the spirit and intent of the declarations above. The declarations above were directed to voluntary organizations or meetings with one chooses to participate in, not related to ones biological sex or ethnicity. If as a white male, I joined the KKK, then I would be responsible individually for the corporate sin which that group perpetrates and has perpetrated, but merely existing as a white male is not a socially guilty reality any more than existing as an black female or any color of male or female.
So, as you reflect and consider the groups which you participate in, consider if their stated purposes, their actual activities and the manner in which they carry out their proceedings and pronouncements is in line with the Word of God. Reflect upon your political alignments, your social marches, your labor union involvements and every other activity you engage. Your corporate responsibility may be greater than you think for the sins of our world.