This week, a number of prominent evangelic Christian leaders released a signed statement of faith that addressed their beliefs on the role of social justice and the church. The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel was signed most notably by John MacArthur, but has now been signed by over 6,000 additional men, women, and religious organizations. I wish I could say that this statement encouraged Bible believing, Born-again Christians to go out into their world and right wrongs in the name of Jesus, but it did not.
I have read the statement in it’s entirety, as well as some oppositional responses. It has evoked strong feelings in me. I suspect I have several more posts to come. One of my greatest internal struggles has been that I agree with much of what the statement says, but not all. However, what I disagree with is important enough to sway my feelings on the content of the entire statement. While not a theologian or an expert in apologetics, I feel that the whole counsel of God when taken in context, says something very different from this creed.
Here is the one quote I want to focus on today:
“WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church. Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head. We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.”
What is the mission of Christians? What was the mission of Christ?
So I look to what Jesus said his mission was:
“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on her. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'” (Luke 4: 18-21, ESV)
Now, certainly we can interpret this as spiritual bondage and the shackles of sin. We can talk spiritual poverty and blindness and the oppressiveness of our own sin nature. But if we look at the life of Christ found in this same Gospel, Luke spends nearly half of his book recording the teaching of Christ and the rest in his actions. We see Jesus healing physical disabilities and illnesses, feeding the poor, and raising the dead. We see his compassion on the outcasts and the hurting.
Matthew records one of Jesus’ teachings where he tells us that how we treat “the least of these” is the way we treat Christ himself.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46, ESV)
It seems that our active approach to correcting injustices and caring for those people in our society that are often overlooked, cast aside, or have fallen through the cracks, is somehow deeply connected to our faith. While I believe in grace by faith and not by works, my faith should motivate me to love my neighbor as myself, and that neighbor is not limited to my literal neighbor (think Good Samaritan) but includes the refugee, the prisoner, the prostitute, and the homeless to name a few.
If we want to look back at the Old Testament, let’s look at the context of the scripture Jesus quotes from, found in Isaiah (61:1). Isaiah is speaking to the Israelites. God is unhappy with them, and one of the things that he mentions to them is that he will not listen to their cries that come from them because their hands are covered in blood. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:16-17, ESV). Isaiah’s voice is not alone in his pleas to God’s people. Similar words are echoed by Hosea, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah. Repeatedly, God implores his people to live rightly through justice, compassion, and mercy.
“But let justice roll down like water,
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24, ESV)
The entire story of the Bible is a glorious oxymoron. Is is the story of a Holy God who must punish sin because he is just, but who forgives because of his mercy. Jesus comes to die as an atonement for a sinful people, taking our punishment and imparting on us his reward. We love because he first loved us, and we work for justly in part because we were spared the justice due us. Mercy motivates action.
So the message of the gospel is an unmerited gift of salvation, recorded in scripture from Genesis to Revelation, that tells of a God who loves his people and wants his people to love each other. We cannot separate justice and the gospel message because God could not.