One of the most striking features of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS), in my view, is the set of social principles by which it is governed. These principles are firmly rooted in the teachings of Scripture and are in harmony with the social teachings of the Church that can be traced to the work of Augustine in the fifth century.
They not only present a Christian vision of how human society should be ordered, but they also delineate the responsibility of the Church and every believer. Furthermore, they stress that Christians are not only to seek each other’s welfare but that of every member of society, regardless of their race or creed.
In other words, it is the responsibility of every Christian to serve the common good of the society in which they live.
The common good is the fundamental concept in the Church’s social doctrine since the inception of Christianity, even though the term itself is of a more recent coinage. “Common” simply implies “all-inclusive”, which means that no sector of society or the population should for any reason be exempted or excluded.
The idea of the common good is based on the basic truth that all human beings are of equal value and worth. It further insists that this fundamental truth must relativise all forms of social stratifications and classifications.
This means that every individual, regardless of their social status, has the responsibility to promote the welfare of the community as well as the right to benefit from that welfare.
The Christian understanding of the common good is based on what the Bible has to say about human beings. In the opening chapters of the first book of the Bible, we find the remarkable declaration that human beings are ordained by their Creator to be bearers of His image (Gen 1:26–27).
Theologians have interpreted this profound assertion in many different ways in the history of the Church. But they all agree that as bearers of the divine image, human beings are given an uncommon dignity that distinguishes them from the rest of God’s creation.
Furthermore, because God by His grace has bestowed dignity on every human being, this quality is not dependent on any human attribute or accomplishment. Neither is it tied to race, gender, age or economic status.
This conviction is clearly articulated in Section II (1) of Social Principles of MCS: “We believe that God is the Creator of all people, regardless of race, creed, status or sex, and that each person is of infinite worth. We believe that all persons have supreme value in the sight of God and ought to be so regarded by us.”
The social doctrine of the Church, however, also stresses the need to focus on a particular group of people in our society that is sometimes pushed into the shadows. They are the poor, the elderly, the sick, weak, the destitute and the unborn—our community’s most vulnerable members.
A society will be judged by its attention to and care for “the least of these” (Matt 25:31–46). In order to truly serve the common good, we must never regard the poor and the vulnerable as merely a burden that we must bear. Rather, we must regard them as our neighbours and our brothers and sisters whom we must love.
The Church’s social teachings drive home the fact that there is a social dimension to the Christian faith. Christian piety has to do not only with the believer’s relationship with God. How the believer treats his fellow human beings is equally important and reveals the authenticity of his devotion to God (1 John 4:2).
Christians must develop an informed “social conscience”.
This requires a special “sight”—a deliberate effort to become aware of the needs of the people around, a purposeful endeavour to “see” those who can so very easily be ignored. It also requires a certain kind of resolve to reach out to them and offer our assistance and our friendship.
The social teachings of the Church do not only show us how to become better Christians. They also help us to be good and responsible citizens.
For they stress that Christians must take their responsibilities for the welfare of society seriously and that the discharge of these responsibilities is not an optional extra but part of their devotion to God.
“Soundings” is a series of essays that, like the waves of a sonogram, explore issues in society, culture and the church in light of the Gospel and Christian understanding.
Credit: Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity (http://ethosinstitute.sg).