Reformed Theology, Social Justice

Social Justice and the Christian

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.” (Lk. 6:20-21a, NIV)

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.” (Lk. 6:24-25a, NIV)

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Lk. 6:43, NIV)

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 4:46, NIV)

In terms of the doctrine of the ministerial nature of the church, there are certain responsibilities in Scripture given to the church itself, such as teaching, sacraments, and diaconal ministry, and there are certain things Christians are called to do as individuals and groups as citizens in their culture. The so-called “Protestant liberals” have understood this in terms of social justice, and so the church advocates that its members participate locally, civically, and politically in seeking the kind of mercy and justice which Scripture tells us to seek. More conservative churches completely ignore this aspect of Scripture, and it makes them a laughing-stock in the late-night infotainment. Pundits on certain networks even claim the idea that “God helps those who help themselves” is a Christian one, when it most emphatically is not.

Social justice activity by Christian citizens is a fruit of Reformed theology. “As the natural consequence of a proper understanding of the doctrine of predestination the Reformers saw a great deal of energy released for serving the needs of other people. Luther said there was no reason for buying indulgences; it would be better for people to spend the money instead on food for the poor.” ( Freed up from their “spiritual navel-gazing”, Christians are able to deny themselves and become more altruistic for the sake of the rest of God’s image-bearers.

The Presbyterian church identifies social injustice as one of the enemies of the church, and recognizes in the Confessions a “[r]allying-point in times of danger and persecution. Confessions have often prepared and strengthened Christians to stand together in faithfulness to the gospel when they have been tempted to surrender to powerful forces of political, racial, social, or economic injustice.” The confessions give us a concise and unified overview of the theological content of God’s word (theologians having wrestled with its interpretation for thousands of years), which helps us to see when someone’s Scripture it for their own purposes. It was the German Confessing Church which stood up against Nazism.

Reformed believers may look like they are compartmentalizing in a sense with the Two Kingdoms doctrine, but we also believe God is sovereign ruler of both kingdoms, and therefore we seek that his “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is our responsibility as citizens of both kingdoms to do justice and love mercy. And so the lives of Reformed believers look much different from the lives of other Christians who may only seem different from the rest of the world on Sunday mornings.

I recognize that the point of the Gospel is not what we do for Jesus, but what he did for us, objectively, on the cross 2,000 years ago. But we are also to preach Law, as to conviction of sin; and the walking out of sanctification, as a sign to our souls that we are bearing fruit. And I cannot ignore the fact that so often, Jesus said things like, “Obey me”, and “keep my commands”, “as you’ve done unto the least of these”, etc. His brother James the Just, a pillar in the early church, said our religion can be defined as seeking social justice by visiting orphans and widows while everyone else is telling them to better themselves.

Our new church does social justice. It supports local ministries geared towards low-income individuals and recovery programs. In addition to their evangelistic tasks, missionaries also build schools, with a goal to improving the temporal lives of the children, not just teaching them about Jesus.

Jim Wallis wrote:

An enormous public misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. Many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American? And how do we get back to a historic, biblical, and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from its contemporary distortions?

When Jesus tells us he will regard the way we treat the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner as if we were treating him that way, it likely means he wouldn’t think capital gains tax cuts for the wealthy and food stamp cuts for the poor represent the best domestic policy. Or when he tells us ‘love your enemies’ and ‘blessed are the peacemakers,’ it might be hard to persuade him to join our ‘war against terrorism,’ especially when there is so much ‘collateral damage’ to civilians, including women and children.

Yes, Jesus is a problem—for many of our churches, the Wall Street traders, and the powerful people in Washington who maintain the American Empire. But for millions of people, religious or not, Jesus remains the most compelling figure in the world today. The church may not be much more credible than the advertisers, the media, or the politicians, but Jesus remains far above the rest of the crowd. Somehow, Jesus has even survived the church and all of us who name his name but too often forget most of what he said.

Jesus, the incarnate God who had no place to lay his head, has been commandeered by the Republicans and über-rich conservatives like Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, and even Dave Ramsey, to convince the “faithful” that these rich people are on their side, that trickle-down economics (serfdom) is the WWJD take on economic policy, that rich people should pay less taxes than the middle class, that there’s no need to take care of the earth because “it’s all gonna burn” anyway, that PBS is satanic because the science shows teach evolution and an old earth, and that we should bomb all the Arabs because the sooner Armageddon comes, the sooner Jesus can come back.

It’s all bullshit. My prayer is that more and more Christians will start to see it that way, too, and that more churches will become Gospel-centered while simultaneously becoming more obedient to Jesus commands for justice, bearing the fruits of that Gospel in our communities and the world around us. Jesus said our eternal destiny hinges on it.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” —Jesus (Mt. 25:41-46, NIV)


2 thoughts on “Social Justice and the Christian

  1. Pingback: Two Kingdoms: Natural Law, Common Grace and the Spiritual Nature of the Church | I must follow, if I can

  2. Pingback: I Have Issues With… | I must follow, if I can

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