Is Social Justice a Threat to the Gospel?

Is Social Justice a Threat to the Gospel?

Submitted by Brethren Church on Mon, 10/08/2018 - 7:00am

Recently, a statement has been published online declaring that Social Justice is a threat to the Gospel. This statement, authored by Pastor John MacArthur, has been signed by over 5000 people, including churches, pastors, and christian organizations. This statement and reactions to it has once again reignited some pretty interesting and at times some intense conversations and debates about Christians and their involvement in Social Justice. I know for me and the church which I pastor, we too have wrestled with our involvement in Social Justice. And there’s plenty to talk about because the questions are many: Does the Bible advocate for Social Justice? Is Social Justice a part of the Gospel? What is Social Justice? Is Jesus only concerned about the spiritual life and not the physical? Will our involvement mean that we are liberals, or will our lack of involvement mean that we’re conservatives? How will our people react to our involvement in Social Justice? What is the Brethren view of Social Justice? 

There are no easy answers to these questions, but that doesn't mean we are completely without answers. I believe we, as Brethren, have a response to Social Justice that can offer us a way forward. 

How we define Social Justice matters

How we define Social Justice is important, because the definition we have may decide our involvement in it. Social Justice is a term that was first coined by an Italian Catholic priest in 1840 to highlight the problems families. Problems so serious that unless addressed, would threaten to break up the family unit and with it society in general.

[1]

Since then, the definition of Social Justice has morphed to a common understanding in our culture to mean the equal distribution of resources and opportunities to every individual within society.  In this definition, fairness is the desired result. It is because of this definition, which by the way the definition John MacArthur is working from, that Social Justice is a threat to the Gospel. Here’s why:  we, as Christians, are the first to admit that life isn’t fair, and this is because of God’s grace. We have a saying at my church, “Life isn’t fair, and thank God for that!” The beauty and scandalous message of the Gospel is that we don't get what we deserve rather we get what we don’t deserve.

With this in mind, a Biblical view of Social Justice involves obedience to the Bible, where we are to reflect the character and heart of Jesus by preaching the Gospel to the poor, recovering the sight of the blind, and free those who are oppressed (Isaiah 61:1). 

Our response: Non-Conformity

As Brethren, we have always been different. From the way we dressed to our worship, to the way we do communion, we have lived and acted differently than the culture around us so much so that we have made it a part of our identity. We call this  Non-Conformity and it is one of three values or three negatives that define us. The other two being Non-Swearing and Non-Resistance. In Non-conformity, Brethren have sought to live differently from the world and the culture around us. This began in the earliest days of the Brethren movement when founder Alexander Mack, a well-off sawmill owner,  who sold his business and gave away his possessions generously to pay the fines of those who were imprisoned for their religious beliefs as well help refugees who came to Schwarzenau, Germany to escape religious oppression.

[2]

In non-conformity, we believe that having faith in Jesus is expressed in our actions. For Brethren, it is not enough to say ‘I believe in Jesus’. As 19th Century Brethren Elder, John Kline shares,

“...We, as Brethren believe and teach that ‘faith without works is dead.’ All good works are done in faith. And no man can believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with his heart, without loving him; because faith is a loving acceptance of all truth revealed by the Lord to man. Our heartfelt reception of that truth leads to obedience, and obedience is good works.”

[3]

The Apostle James is blunter,

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

[4]

 

There has been a lot of debate within evangelical circles on the issue of social justice. However, the undercurrent of much that is debated is does our theology shape our views on social justice or does social justice shape our theology? For Brethren, I think the answer is simple, our obedience to Jesus Christ informs our view of Social Justice. Working from a secular definition of Social Justice is a threat to the Gospel, but embracing our value of Non-Conformity we seek to alleviate the suffering of the poor, because that’s what Jesus Christ did, and that’s what the Scriptures teach. In this way, Social Justice is not an addition to the Gospel, rather it is a part of the Gospel. So, As Brethren, let’s embrace non-conformity out of our obedience to Jesus. Let’s feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the poor, give voice to the voiceless, protect the widow and the orphan. In other words, let’s proclaim the Gospel!

 

 



[1]

Michael Novak, "Social Justice: Not What You Think It Is," The Heritage Foundation, , accessed September 18, 2018, https://www.heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/social-justice-n….

[2] Dale Rupert. Stoffer, Background and Development of Brethren Doctrines, 1650-1987 (Philadelphia, Pa: Brethren Encyclopedia, 1989), 66.

[3]

Dale Rupert. Stoffer, Background and Development of Brethren Doctrines, 1650-1987 (Philadelphia, Pa: Brethren Encyclopedia, 1989), 112.

[4] James 1:27

Comments

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48 years 11 months

Submitted by Eric Burch on Thu, 10/18/2018 - 4:03pm

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I believe that all people are intrinsically valuable. They are uniquely created in the womb in the image of God and as such deserve to be treated as such. They desrve to be loved as we are loved. My focus on social justice is about not treating anyone as less or more than anyone else. So everyone deserves an opportunity to be educated, be safe in their neighborhoods, have access to healthcare, to be treated humanely, etc. There is a balance between justice and mercy - if the world were just we wouldn't need nearly as much mercy.

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48 years 11 months

Submitted by Wayne on Fri, 10/19/2018 - 12:24am

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This is a well thought through article. But my only problem with it is, what are you saying to embrace a Non-Conformity, Non-Swearing and Non-Resistance lifestyle or socialism. With this kind of argument against another minister for a sermon he preached we need to remind ourselves not to cross over the line into politics.

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