Article XV of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000: The Christian and the social order

Following is another in a series of columns on The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

The Bible instructs Christians to value our neighbors, society, and nation. This means taking an active role in the laws, customs, and moral fabric of our society.

Article XV of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:

“All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.”

Human beings cannot be made right with God through political processes, social programs, or religious affiliations. Only the transforming grace of Jesus Christ, the power of the gospel message, and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit are able to breathe new life into the spiritually dead and make them adopted children of God the Father.

Even so, the Bible instructs Christians to value our neighbors, society, and nation. As the apostle Paul writes, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). This means taking an active role in the laws, customs, and moral fabric of our society. 

As followers of Jesus, we begin by confessing that we are redeemed sinners who have not yet been fully conformed to the image of Christ. Put more plainly, we are far from perfect. Further, we live in a sinful and fallen world that groans beneath the weight of sin and waits eagerly for the return of Jesus to set things right (see Rom. 8:18-23). 

Jesus prayed, not that we would be removed from this world, but that the Father would protect us from the evil one, sanctify us in truth, and send us into the world to be salt and light (John 17:15-19; cf. Matt. 5:13-16). While we lack the power to create new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13), we are given the privilege of bearing testimony of the one who, one day, makes all things new (Rev. 21:5).

Promoting good, punishing evil

The Bible teaches that government has a legitimate, God-ordained purpose in promoting good and punishing evil (Rom. 13:1-7). Even the first-century Roman Empire, with its cult of Caesar worship, infanticide, and oppression, operated under the sovereign hand of God to maintain order, build roads, and advance commerce – all of which enabled the gospel to spread. 

This prompted Peter to write: “Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:13-17).

Christians today bear the responsibility to engage the political and social order in ways that are faithful to Christ and his commands, knowing that these systems are tarnished and temporary. As Charles Kelley, Richard Land, and Albert Mohler write, “We understand that the church is the eternal people of God and the only institution on earth that will exist in the age to come. Governments and social orders will pass away, just as history records the rising and falling of countless empires, kingdoms, and nations.”

Herschel Hobbs points out that Jesus sought to change society in a responsible, constructive way – not in anarchy. He began with the individual and worked his way into society. “Rather than picket the home of Zacchaeus, he entered it and led him to become his disciple. Thus he changed a crooked chief publican into a philanthropic tax commissioner (Luke 19:1-10).”

The Baptist Faith & Message lists several areas of social responsibility the New Testament embraces, reminding us that we are to oppose:

Racism. This has been a blight in our nation’s history, and in the chronicles of the Southern Baptist Convention. Racism denies the Imago Dei – the image of God – in which every person is created. And it runs counter to God’s design for people of every kindred, tongue, and nation to worship before the throne in heaven (Rev. 5:9). 

Greed. Christian stewardship requires us to regard everything God has entrusted to us – material wealth, time, talents, family, etc. – as belonging to God. 

Selfishness. Contrary to the desires of our flesh, Christians should follow the example of Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

Vice. Christians should speak against degrading practices as we model Christlikeness, being salt and light in a world that loves darkness. 

Sexual immorality. In whatever form it takes – adultery, homosexuality, pornography, etc. – sexual immorality robs God of the glory that is rightfully his through the proper exercise of the sexual gift (Exod. 20:14; Heb. 13:4).

At the same time, Christians should work to improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us: the orphaned, needy, abused, aged, helpless, and sick. Southern Baptists in general, and Missouri Baptists in particular, address these needs through foster care and adoption ministries; rescue from human trafficking; homes for the aged; hospice care; healthcare ministries; disaster relief; feeding programs; and much more. These ministries are funded in part through the Cooperative Program and are sustained by professional and volunteer labor. 

Southern Baptists often partner with non-SBC ministries, and even with secular organizations, to serve people in need. This is carried out in the spirit of Christlike love without compromising loyalty to Christ and biblical fidelity.

As M. E. Dodd, SBC president from 1934-35, once wrote, “The God whom Jesus Christ revealed to the world is not a tribal, national, or racial God. He is for all men of all races, classes, and colors, in all nations and throughout all ages. The gospel is so elemental and fundamental in its application to humanity that it meets the needs of all kinds of persons in all places and at all times.” 

Herschel Hobbs notes: “The Christian, while a citizen of the kingdom of God, is also a citizen of some nation. He should be a good citizen of both.” 

Next: Article XVI of the BF&M: Peace and War    

Order your copy of Understanding The Baptist Faith & Message at