public market” of his day: “The poor are defrauded every day, and new burdens and higher prices are imposed.” Luther urged Christians instead “to promote and further our neighbors’ interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes.” As a way for the government to respond to

the needs of the vulnerable, Luther and others in Wittenberg established a “Common Chest” in 1522. The chest offered financial support for orphans and poor children, dowry support for poor women, interest-free loans, refinancing for high-interest loans, education or vocational training for poor children, and vocational retraining for adults. Health care was added later, as the Common Chest funded the services of a town physician and paid the cost of hospital care and other treatments. The Wittenberg Common Chest order spread to

other cities and towns and became a model for how church and state could work together for the sake of all neighbors.

Hand in hand:

ELCA action, accompaniment and advocacy

The Reformation legacy of social action, rooted in a theological identity of freedom in Christ to serve the neighbor, can also be glimpsed in the history of Lutherans in North America, who built not only churches but also schools, hospitals and other social agencies. The ELCA’s first social statement was “The

Church in Society: a Lutheran Perspective,” adopted in 1991 ( It reads in part: “In faithfulness to its calling, this church is committed to defend human dignity, to stand with poor and powerless people, to advocate justice, to work for peace, and to care for the earth in the processes and structures of contemporary society.” “This is Lutheran theology,” Malpica Padilla

said. “We are free to see and engage the other, and mission cannot happen unless we see the face of God in the other.” This theological orientation provides the

foundation for accompaniment and advocacy, two related approaches to ELCA social action. “The other is not the object of my action. It is not ministry to, but ministry with and among the neighbor,” he said. “When we engage in social activity, it’s not ‘for them,’ but because, in working together, we are dismantling systems that prevent humanity from living in the full abundance promised by Jesus: life in relationship with God and with one another.” Malpica Padilla knows that many Christians,

especially in a divided and partisan culture, are reluctant to think of faith as “political.” This, he urged, should not prevent us from recognizing that “it is the work of Christians to advocate for the poor and marginalized.” Citing Luke’s Gospel, which consistently frames

Jesus’ mission as a reversal of an unjust social order, he added, “I cannot allow political ideology to claim for itself what belongs to the gospel. I am a committed follower of Jesus Christ; I do [what I do] because of the gospel.”


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