Council for World Mission (CWM) General Secretary Collin Cowan delivered a lecture at the International Reformed Theological Institute (IRTI) International Summer School in Amsterdam on July 5, emphasizing how our Christian identity and vocation is inextricably linked to our engagement with society. Organised by the IRTI, this lecture on “Church and Society” examined two common theological perspectives – the church should either contribute to civil society and the ‘common good’, or form a ‘counter culture’ to be a catalyst of positive change in society.
“As a mission organisation committed to mutually challenging, encouraging and equipping churches to share in God’s mission, CWM claims that justice is at the heart of faith; and the church is duty bound to advocate for justice as a core function of its calling,” Rev Dr Cowan stated, asserting that neutrality on our part and its resultant passivity and inaction inevitably leads us to be spectators to society’s eventual disintegration.
An example is our member church Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN), which embraces social engagement as part and parcel of its mission mandate. They partner the City Council to address social issues together as a foundation, targeting and supporting those on the margins. “It is a coming together of convictions…and a common agenda to courageously confront power, challenge systems of injustice and call for an alternative”, he added.
Rev Dr Cowan recounted how he was inspired during his visit to Hague and Rotterdam with Mission Secretary of CWM Europe Wayne Hawkins, witnessing how churches saw their own humanitarian aid in welcoming refugees, migrant workers and the poor as a partial response to the socially disadvantaged, and their commitment to advocacy for justice and a transformation of the prevailing system.
In conclusion, he reminded the audience of “that which gives credence to the church’s contribution to society” – its theology, ethics and values, grounded in the Word of God and the collective discernment of the community of faith. He also stressed the importance of the Church opposing systems and structures that serve a few at the expense of many, “not because the church is anti-society, on the one hand, or irreligious on the other, but because of the Church’s duty to society”.