The National Association of Evangelicals took a daring plunge into world issues by inviting U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon to their recently-held "Global Leaders Forum."
The event, which the NAE hosted together with Micah Challenge USA, drew hundreds of evangelicals from around the world in an effort to awaken their commitment to public life – particularly to help the world's poor and hungry.
Many of the gathering's attendants and observers were encouraged by the NAE's growing involvement in matters such as poverty, hunger, and HIV/AIDS.
Some, however, expressed concerns and uneasiness over the invitation of the head of a secular institution viewed negatively by two-thirds of evangelicals and the NAE's noticeable drift towards issues more traditionally addressed by left-wing Christian groups such as the National Council of Churches.
Is the NAE leaning too far into "the dark side?" some may ask.
While certainly the great commission given to believers specifically entails reaching, discipling, baptizing, and teaching people of all nations, God's call to His people is obviously not limited to these alone. There are many social ills in the nation and the world, for example, that Christians in America cannot simply ignore or avoid engaging in.
"Disengagement is not an option," the NAE states in the preamble of its "Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility" – the historic document that NAE's vice president of governmental affairs, the Rev. Richard Cizik, led the 30 million-member alliance to adopt in 2004.
"Evangelical Christians in America face a historic opportunity," it begins. "We make up fully one quarter of all voters in the most powerful nation in history. Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy in ways that could contribute to the well-being of the entire world."
The challenge, of course, is how to engage with society while maintaining doctrinal and ethical integrity.
It's a challenge that groups such as the NCC have been stumbling over as a strong emphasis on "Diakonia," or service, has not been well balanced with "Kerygma," or the preaching of the Gospel. It's also a challenge that groups on the other side would rather not face as the focus of God's people, naturally, should be on heavenly matters and not earthly ones.
"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's," the latter groups might say.
However, while it is true that we are not of this world, we are in this world. Furthermore, we are Christ's ambassadors to this world.
For many evangelicals in America who have problems with social relevance, there needs to be deeper commitment to serve Christ by serving those in need of compassion and care and working to bring social change that restores, reforms and transforms.
Meanwhile, for groups like the NCC that find themselves facing an identity crisis, there needs to be greater emphasis on preaching the gospel and on the essence and spirit of the Gospel.
As the Apostle James had said, "faith without deeds is dead." Conversely, "without faith it is impossible to please God."
Both are needed.
In its "Evangelical Call," NAE acknowledged that only half of all evangelical Christians bother to vote "[a]lthough we have the privilege to help shape the actions of the world's lone superpower."
Furthermore, as New York Times bestselling author Dinesh D'Souza has noted, when Christians leave the public square, it not only leaves a void in the place from where God's people can help and protect society; it leaves behind a space that is increasingly become dominated by atheists and secularists.
And, consequently, militant members of those groups not only want to create a secular society, they want to drive Christians out, remove Christian symbolism from coins, the Pledge of Allegiance and public buildings, the noted author said recently.
The NAE also noted that "[t]he presence and role of religion in public life is attacked more fiercely now than ever, making the bias of aggressive secularism the last acceptable prejudice in America."
"Ultimately, they want to discredit Christianity as something that is incompatible with modern life and modern thought," said D'Souza, who is calling Christians back to the public square.
The call to believers to become engaged in the public arena is not a call to "blue-state Democrats, the U.N. types and misinformed evangelicals," as Cizik recalled Jerry Falwell saying.
The call is to those who have been chosen to represent God in a world where so many have yet to come to know Him.
As Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world."
Salt must interact with the very things it seeks to change just as light is meant to go where it is dark.
In his speech, U.N. General Secretary Ban, who is Christian, quoted Isaiah 58:10 – "If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness" – and urged the NAE to "give a voice to the voiceless."
"It is intolerable that half a million women died from complications of child birth and pregnancy and that 10 million children die each year before their fifth birthday," the U.N. head stated.
As citizens of this world and of heaven, we have the duty to take action for the sake of the world and the people that God wishes to save – whether that action is physical or spiritual or even political.
As long as the focus of evangelicals remains on the Lord and His Word, their engagement in the world and with the world will serve as a light that shines before men and garners praises for our Father in Heaven. Similarly, as long as salt does not lose its saltiness, it will not be thrown out and trampled but will change the state of that which it touches.
NAE leaders would be wise to check frequently on this as it continues plunging ahead to tackle the increasing number of problems facing the world that God so loves.