Have We Been Taught that the Gospel is Incompatible With Social Justice?
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
I am a conservative, Bible-believing Christian, and I intend to remain one. I have had to make many changes in my thinking in the last few years, especially as I have learned about abuse, but those changes are in me, not in the Word of God. God’s Word is truth. It stands forever. Every jot, every tittle, shall be fulfilled. Trust God’s Word and it will never fail you. Our problem is that we so often get our word, or man’s word, all jumbled up with God’s Word and then we are in trouble.
In past years, when I heard or read about the topic of domestic violence, I skimmed over it. I was largely ignorant of it’s real nature and of it’s prominence, and how erroneous teaching in my own arm of Christianity was contributing to it. So I blew it off as far as my ministry went. But there was another reason for my blindness to it, and I think that this reason is something that Christians like myself need to name, claim, and own up to. We have been taught for years and years in the conservative, Bible-believing church, that there is a great evil called “The Social Gospel.” As I understand it, what we mean by that term is the emphasis upon changing this present world through education and various social programs, civil rights activism, anti-poverty movements, and…. yes, feminism. We recognized, and correctly so, that fundamentally Christ has not called us to give our central mission to reforming this present world. It is perishing. We are on more of a rescue mission, calling people through the gospel of Christ to repent, turn to Christ in faith, and be saved from this present evil generation. We know that it gains a man nothing if he gain this whole world, yet lose his own soul. Our power is Christ’s power, and that power is found only in the power of the cross and its proclamation to everyone. These ideas are biblical and absolutely correct.
However, we have done what we so often do – the baby got chucked out with the dirty bath water. As we have stood against the errors of theological liberalism, rejecting notions of a social gospel that says if we just remedy man’s external and social conditions, we will “save” him, we have rejected social justice almost entirely. And yet, God’s Word shows us that the Lord is intimately concerned with social evils and their remedy. He sends preachers to denounce these evils. He calls His people to come to the aid of the downtrodden. James says, in fact, that these kinds of things lie at the very heart of true religion –
James 1:22-27, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (23) For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. (24) For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (25) But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (26) If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (27) Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
And so it is in the Old Testament prophets that we find God denouncing social evils and calling upon His people to repent of and remedy them. Notice in the following example that the context of the well-known passage, “come let us reason together…they shall be as white as snow,” appears right in a context that identifies the specific kinds of sins the Jews needed to repent of. We often think of this call to forgiveness as connected more with personal, private sins — lust, greed and so on. Surely those are included, but specifically in this context the Lord is calling for repentance from social evils – the oppression of the fatherless and the widow:
Isaiah 1:15-23, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (16) Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, (17) learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (18) “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (19) If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; (20) but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (21) How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. (22) Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. (23) Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.”
You can find many more examples of the very same kinds of prophet-sermons in Scripture. In the New Testament as well. In the end, what we find is that any Great Commission preaching of Christ that is devoid of the seeking of justice for the oppressed is a Great Omission and is deplorable to God.
And we are guilty. We have not rendered justice to the fatherless and the widow. How? By not giving justice to the abused woman and her children. We need to do right and get the blood of the innocent off our hands. How did it get there? Through our ignorance. Through our not wanting to know. Through our oppressive teachings that victims are victims by God’s will and need to remain in their abusive environments. “Come, let us reason together… your sins are dark, deep, stains of red… I can make them white, IF you are willing and obedient.”