I want to briefly consider the issue of the church and its role in pursuing social justice. It is clear in Scripture that God wants His people to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 24:20-22; Isaiah 1:17; James 1:27). Our Church Constitution (ca. 1914) contains a statement on social order (which I suspect because of other statements in this document may have been motivated by a postmillennial viewpoint). Here is that statement:
Every Christian is under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in his own life and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus. The Christian should oppose in the spirit of Christ every form of greed, selfishness, and vice. He should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends, Christians should be ready to work with all men to good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of live without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.
I’ve been teaching through the Biblical roots and practical uses of our Church Constitution on Wednesday night in a study I’ve called “Firm Foundations”. Here are the points I am emphasizing to my church regarding this statement in our Constitution:
First we need to consider the gospel’s effects on society. The gospel transforms people which should transform communities and cities. The gospel’s effect on an individual should have an effect on the community the individual lives day to day. For example if a large church is baptizing over a hundred every year shouldn’t the crime go down? Shouldn’t the divorce rate decline? Shouldn’t more people be standing up for social justice, fight poverty, condemn racism and argue for the right to life of unborn children? The reason these effects don’t take place is because Christians often choose to compartmentalize their lives. They see the gospel and their salvation exclusively as an internal and heavenly thing.
Second we need to consider the spiritual realities of the world we live in. We must acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and sin will reign until Jesus establishes His millennial kingdom (I’m not a postmillennialist). Social justice as a result of the gospel and as a means of spreading the gospel is not the same as Christian Socialism. Our church provides a food bank once a month. We do this in part because it leads to direct witnessing opportunities- it is a foot in the door. We also do this because ending hunger and poverty is a natural overflow of the gospel’s effect on our own lives. The gospel reverses the effects of the curse.
Third (and most importantly) we need to consider what the gospel is and what it is not. Let’s not confuse the gospel. The gospel is not that men do good and compassionate things in society. The gospel is that which enables men to do good and compassionate things in society for the praise of God’s glory. The gospel is the satisfying of God’s holy wrath on sinners by the gift of God’s grace through the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. Social justice is not the gospel. Social justice is a consequence of the gospel consuming a person’s life.