A group of evangelicals recently released what they call “The [sic] Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.” The reactions I’ve seen have either been totally affirming or totally rejecting. These are my thoughts.
I agree with them that the Bible is God’s inspired Word and is the source of all Christian teaching and the norm for Christian behavior. All teaching and practice must be judged by it. This is a fundamental principle of the Protestant Reformation: Sola Scriptura. This is non-negotiable for Protestants. And that means no tradition, no philosophy, no social movement, no feeling, no individual inspiration can take its place. All must be judged by the Word and the Word alone. The Christian is a Christian first and a student of the Bible—its principles may at times be reflected in the positions of the “right” or the “left” of the political spectrum. But Christian faith and the Bible must judge both. This was the fundamental principle of the 1934 Declaration of Barmen which critiqued the National Socialist movement in Germany—a document all Christians should be rereading.
I agree with them that all people are crated in the image of God. And that’s why racism, nationalism, sexism and the like are such evils. They deny that image of God.
I agree with them that a holy and just God demands justice in the world. And justice is defined in the law and the prophets as justice for the poor and the oppressed, justice for the widow and the orphan, justice for the alien and the stranger.
I agree with them that the Ten Commandments endure as the standard of righteousness. God gave them to a people he had freed from slavery. He called them to live according to his character. He called them to rest in him on the seventh day of the week (and to extend that rest to their servants and animals). He told them not to kill, not to steal, not to lie. And in Jesus Christ, through whom he made the world, who was the rock and pillar that accompanied the children of Israel, we see that if we are not to kill, we must not hate. If we are not to lie, we must speak the truth to all. If we are not to steal, we must respect the rights of the poor to what little they have. Jesus gives us also the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes, which give a positive statement of the values of the kingdom. He says the law is summed up in the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that neighbor is the one in need, the one beaten down by the side of the road. He tells us that the standard in the judgment will be whether we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned. Like the rich young ruler, they proudly declare they have kept all the commandments. Jesus says to them and to us as he said to that rich young ruler—have you really?
I agree with them that we are born in sin. There is no one righteous, no, not one. But that does not mean we have no obligation to do justice. The same prophets who railed against the sin of Israel and her rulers also pointed them to the obligation to do justice for the poor. Contrary to what they profess, guilt can be carried by a nation for the sins of a few (Jeremiah 26:15).
I agree with them that the Gospel is the message of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ. And I would go further and say that we must make a proper distinction between Law and Gospel—that was a fundamental principle of the Reformation. And yet I read that Jesus said that he came especially to preach “good news to the poor.” If their gospel is not good news to the poor, the immigrant, the victim of injustice, the one trodden down by the world and its powers, what good is it? James said what good is your faith if it doesn’t manifest itself in works of compassion? They would do better to proclaim the truth of God’s word to those in government who cling to the evil philosophy of selfishness of Ayn Rand than to those who cry for bread for the poor.
I agree with them that salvation is received through faith in Jesus Christ alone. All who are washed by his blood are equal. All who are united to Christ are also united to one another. This is the basis for our corporate responsibility, not grounds for individualism. Through baptism we are incorporated into the body of Christ, together with those of every nation and kindred and tongue and people. There is no place for Christian nationalism. There is no place for racism. There is no place for saying one earthly nation is better than another. There is no place for letting walls stand between our obligation to the poor.
I agree with them that heresy is a denial of revealed truth and the elevation of one truth disproportional to another. And I believe they are guilty of it, for embracing a gospel that consists only in individuals getting their soul to heaven, and which ignores so much of what Jesus and the prophets taught.
I agree with them that God created us male and female, and that Biblical matrimony is between a man and a woman, and this union is forever. I agree that sin has infected us, and drawn us into ourselves, and disordered our affections. I agree that we need to stand on the Bible even when it is unpopular, and the world is against us. But sin does not erase the image of God in us, all sinners are to be treated with compassion–and states are not bound to obey the standards of conservative Christian theology.
I agree with them that God made us male and female at the beginning, and clearly we have differences that are complementary. But the same Bible says that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I agree with them that our unity in Christ transcends all racial and cultural differences. But this cannot blind us to the fact that sinful societies have subjugated men and women on the basis of race and sex and culture. A recognition of human sinfulness must affirm that sin has pervaded our societies and blinded Christians and caused Christians to try to defend evil by quoting the Bible. Their statement sounds too much like the apologetics for slavery and segregation made by many professing the name of Jesus in the US South. These are the blinded ministers Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
I agree that some cultures and societies have done more to reflect the Biblical values of freedom and justice. But all are part of this world, and Jesus’ kingdom is not. The values of God’s kingdom transcend the values of this world, and these transcendental truths are printed on our hearts and minds as part of our being made in the image of God. No earthly state can claim to represent the kingdom of God. And to them all is announced the prophetic warning of God’s judgment.
I agree with them when they say that racism is an evil. But what makes it an evil is not merely that it is a disdain for those who are different, but that it is linked with power and becomes a tool of oppression and injustice in the Church and society. We see that spring up so quickly in the Book of Acts, when Greek-speaking Christians are looked down upon by the Hebrew-speaking community, and seen as inferior, and neglected in the distribution. And under the inspiration of the spirit the apostles saw that this must be addressed. They didn’t say “We’re too busy preaching the Gospel, don’t worry about it.” Recall again Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. This is what the life of the Christian community must look like. He says to those who claimed his name and preached his Gospel but ignored the poor, “I never knew you.”