Jerry Cain, who retired in 2012 as president of Judson University in Illinois, recently challenged Baptists to view their calling to be more than just evangelism.
Speaking at the annual gathering of Churchnet (formerly known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri), Cain insisted churches must also be socially involved to challenge economic exploitation.
“The church is not only an evangelistic church that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against, but it also is a socially transformative church,” Cain argued.
Focusing on Revelation 18 and 19, Cain noted the prophetic role churches should play in challenging injustices of political and economic rulers.
The passage features the fall of Babylon, noting who mourned (in chapter 18) and who sang “hallelujah” (in chapter 19).
“There are two forces that mourn when Babylon falls,” Cain explained. “One of them’s the kings, and the other one’s the merchants.”
“It was in 1961 that President Eisenhower warned us of a military-industrial complex,” Cain said. “I like to remind us that there might be a financial-legislative complex we need to be watching out for as much as that industrial-military complex.”
“That financial-legislative complex has significant power in our legislatures, more than it has ever had before,” he said. “It’s the kings and the merchants who mourn when Babylon falls because the kings and the merchants have done well as long as Babylon was in power.”
“In that complex, when people come and say ‘we want to create jobs,’ it’s those people who created slavery,” Cain argued. “It’s those people who created child labor … and it’s those people who pay women 23 percent less than they pay men. … It’s those folk who created the Great Depression and the Great Recession.”
Cain added the focus is not really on “we want to create jobs” but “we want to create profits.”
Cain noted that the early Christians were known as the ones who took in unwanted, abandoned children.
He added it was Christians during the birth of the modern missionary movement and the Second Great Awakening who challenged colonialism and slavery.
Cain argued that Christians 200 years ago “read the Bible and … saw that evangelism and social involvement were two sides of the same coin.”
Noting the bloodsports and exploitation that dominated society at the time, he insisted that Christians changed the culture and society.
He pointed to missionary William Carey challenging sati, author Harriet Beecher Stowe challenging slavery, and preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon challenging child labor.
“The church is the one who made the difference in the culture,” Cain argued. “The church is the one who made the difference in society, and it’s the church that will stand and sing the songs in Revelation chapter 19 as the merchants and the kings mourn in chapter 18.”
Cain spent 14 years as president of Judson University – a school affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA – that is named for early U.S. Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson.
Before that, Cain also worked for two Southern Baptist universities (Wayland Baptist University in Texas and William Jewell College in Missouri) and a public university (New Mexico Highlands University).
Last year, Cain worked with American Baptist International Ministries to produce a DVD series with six sessions about Adoniram Judson and the birth of the modern missionary movement among Baptists in the U.S.
Founded in 2002, Churchnet’s ministries include a three-fold focus on relational evangelism, congregational ministry and community advocacy.
Cain noted this focus in his remarks as he similarly encouraged ministries that include both evangelism and social advocacy.
During the annual gathering, which was held at First Baptist Church of Farmington, other speakers included author Jonathan Hartgrove-Wilson and Churchnet president Donna Potts.
Re-elected this year to a second term, Potts is the first woman and first layperson to serve as Churchnet’s president.
The annual gathering also featured a screening of the new EthicsDaily.com documentary, “Through the Door,” which looks at issues of faith and prisons. Hartgrove-Wilson also talked about ministering in prisons, which he wrote about in his newest book, “Strangers at the Door.”
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.