From “Christianity and the Social Crisis”
by Walter Rauschenbusch, 1861-1918
The first apostolate of Christianity was born from a deep fellow-feeling for social misery and from the consciousness of a great historical opportunity. Jesus saw the peasantry of Galilee following him about with their poverty and their diseases, like shepherdless sheep that have been scattered and harried by beasts of prey and his heart had compassion on them. He felt that the harvest was ripe, but there were few to reap it. Past history had come to its elimination, but there were few who understood the situation and were prepared to cope with it. He bade his disciples to pray for labourers for the harvest and then made them answer their own prayers by sending them out two by two to proclaim the kingdom of God. That was the beginning of the world-wide mission of Christianity.
The situation is repeated on a vaster scale today. If Jesus stood today amid our modem life, with that outlook on the condition of all humanity which observation and travel and the press would spread before him, and with the same heart of divine humanity beating in him, he would create a new apostolate to meet the new needs in a new harvest-time of history.
To anyone who knows the sluggishness of humanity to good, the impregnable entrenchments of vested wrongs and the long reaches of time needed from one milestone of progress to the next, the task of setting up a Christian social order in this modem world of ours seems like a fair and futile dream. Yet in fact, it is not one tithe as hopeless as when Jesus set out to do it. When he told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world,” he expressed the consciousness of a great historic mission to the whole of humanity. Yet it was a Nazarene carpenter speaking to a group of Galilean peasants and fishermen. Under the circumstances at that time, it was an utterance of the most daring faith (faith in himself, faith in them, faith in what he was putting into them, faith in faith). Jesus failed and was crucified, first his body by his enemies and then his spirit by his friends; but that failure was so amazing a success that today it takes an effort on our part to realise that it required any faith on his part to inaugurate the kingdom of God and to send out his apostolate.
Today, as Jesus looks out upon humanity, his spirit must leap to see the souls responsive to his call. They are sown broadcast through humanity, legions of them. The harvest-field is no longer deserted. All about us, we hear the clang of the whetstone and the rush of the blades through the grain and the shout of the reapers. With all our faults our slothfulness we modern humans in many ways are more on a level with the real mind of Jesus than any generation that has gone before. If that first apostolate was able to remove mountains by the power of faith, such an apostolate as Christ could now summon might change the face of the earth.
The apostolate of a new age must do the work of the sower. When sowers go forth to sow their seed, they go with the certainty of partial failure and the knowledge that a long time of patience and of hazard will intervene before they can hope to see the result of their work and their venture. In sowing the truth people may never see or trace the results. The more ideal their conceptions are, and the farther they move ahead of their time, the larger will be the percentage of apparent failure. But they can afford to wait. The powers of life are on their side. They are like a man who has scattered his seed and then goes off to sleep by night and work by day, and all the while the seed, by the inscrutable chemistry of life, lays hold of the ingredients of its environment and builds them up to its own growth. The mustard seed becomes a tree. The leaven assimilates the meal by biological processes. The new life penetrates the old humanity and transforms it. The future belongs to sowers provided they scatter seed and do not mistake the chaff for it which once was so essential to the seed and now is dead and useless.
It is inevitable that those who stand against conditions in which most people believe and by which the strongest profit, shall suffer for their stand. But Jesus told his apostles at the outset that opposition would be part of their day's work. Christ equipped his Church with no legal rights to protect it; the only political right he gave his disciples was the right of being persecuted. It is part of the doctrine of vicarious atonement, which is fundamental in Christianity, that the prophetic souls must vindicate by their sufferings the truth of the truth they preach.
Disappointment's dry and bitter root,
envy's harsh berries and the choking pool
of the world's scorn, are the right mother-milk
to the tough hearts that pioneer their kind
and break a pathway to those unknown realms
that in the earth's broad shadow lie enthralled;
endurance is the crowning quality,
and patience all the passion of great hearts;
these are their stay, and when the leaden world
sets its hard face against their fateful thought
and brute strength, like a scornful conqueror
clangs his huge mace down in the other scale,
the inspired soul but flings his patience in
and slowly that outweighs the ponderous globe,
one faith against a whole earth's unbelief,
one soul against the flesh of all mankind.
( James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891 )
The championship of social justice is almost the only way left open to a Christian nowadays to gain the crown of martyrdom. Theological heretics are rarely persecuted now. The only rival of God is mammon and it is only when its sacred name is blasphemed that people throw the Christians to the lions.