Methodist Social Principles: An Overview

Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash
Source: Unsplash.com/@eutahm

Every Christian aspires to obey God, avoid evil and do good. But some modern-day predicaments are not discussed specifically in the Bible. How then can we apply its principles to our lives? This essay is from a 9-part series of reflections on the Methodist Social Principles, which will help all Christians live by God’s principles in today’s complex world.

Why do Methodists focus on Social Principles?

The answer is summarised in the opening section of our Social Principles. “Christian social responsibility is rooted in the teachings of the Bible and guided by Christian tradition.”

In this overview, I shall comment briefly on the teachings of the Bible and Christian (Methodist) tradition.

Firstly, Bible verses like Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV) fire our passion for social work and social concerns: For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

The Bible says that God has made or created us for a clear purpose in life: for good works. Doing good works in Christ Jesus for our world and neighbourhood is the great commission, given to us by God. This is not a theory of earning salvation by doing good works. The two preceding verses make clear that “it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We are not saved by, but we have been created for good works.

Romans 8:28 (RSV) reinforces the same point: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

The better-known English translation “God works for the good of those who love him” (NIV) obscures the emphasis of the Greek verb which is “to work” or, more literally, “to synergise” with someone rather than for someone.1 The God of the Bible works “with those who love him”, and God is working with us “for good”.

Our Social Principles inspire us to work with God to do whatever good we can in the different spheres of life in today’s world.

Secondly, to do whatever good we can introduces a traditional paraphrase attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can
In all the ways you can
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
John Wesley

In a sermon titled “On Zeal”, Wesley said that Christian disciples ought to be zealous in doing both “works of piety” and “works of mercy”. By “works of piety”, Wesley meant the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer and Christian worship. “Works of mercy” referred to acts of charity and compassion for the distressed in society, or what The Methodist Church today refers to as Social Concerns. John Wesley regarded “works of mercy” (social concerns or doing good for your neighbour and community) as the most important mark or characteristic of Christian godliness. Whilst “works of piety”—prayer, Bible reading, fasting and Sunday worship—were important, Wesley said that godly persons should be “more zealous for works of mercy.” And, should there be occasion where “one interferes with the other, works of mercy are to be preferred. Even reading, hearing, prayer are to be omitted, or to be postponed, at charity’s almighty call; when we are called to relieve the distress of our neighbour, whether in body or soul.2

To “relieve the distress of our neighbour, whether in body or soul” is what Methodists refer to as our social principle and social concern. Our Social Principles currently list eight spheres of modern life in which we encourage one another to do all the social good that we can.

  1. The Family
  2. Economics
  3. Politics
  4. Community Life
  5. The Internet, Sciences and Technologies
  6. Social Well-being
  7. Creation Care
  8. The Church

In these and all spheres of life, “in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good.

Visit the link below to watch the videos on the Methodist Social Principles.

1 The NIV translators did, however, add an alternative translation in their footnotes which, in my opinion, is the correct emphasis: in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good.

2 http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-92-on-zeal/

Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020. He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2013 to 2020.