What should be the driving goal for the life of a follower of Jesus?
Social justice or preaching the gospel?
This is the raging debate both explicitly and implicitly in our midst today. Some think that our primary purpose as the church is to be involved in social justice efforts. Others think that we should simply preach the gospel and trust that the Kingdom of God at work in our churches will bring change.
There are a plethora of men much smarter and wiser than me that have preached, written, and taught on this topic. But I’ve had this on my heart for almost two months now, and I feel it’s time to wade into the conversation myself.
So what do I believe?
Is our primary goal social justice or preaching the gospel?
My prayerful, hard-fought answer is both.
As a Christian, as a pastor, I should be an advocate for social justice, inasmuch as it adheres with the Kingdom of God and Biblical mandates. As a Christian, as a pastor, I should be proclaiming the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at every opportunity.
I want to share my opinions, my experiences, and my studies that have brought me to this position. I want to share first the dangers of pursuing one of these things without the other, before showing how they come together beautifully in our lives.
Social Justice without the gospel.
If you look around, most in my generation have a heart for social justice. They see it as a clear next step after receiving the good news of Jesus. I admire and affirm this.
Where I see danger is when advocating for social justice is completely separated from a local body of believers. When we separate ourselves from a church community, striving to be the hands and feet of Jesus while detached from the bride of Jesus, that’s where things can get wonky.
Praise God for my peers who are boldly stepping out and saying that in Christ, all are created equal.
But what are we drawing people into?
Say we met every barrier in society for every person in need. What a glorious goal. But if we are not drawing them into a church community, we are only doing half the work. The greatest barrier any person faces is the one that separates them from the Father.
May God help us to pursue His church, His messy, hypocritical, judgmental, broken church (often referred to in horrifically explicit terms by God in Scripture). It is only through the body of Christ that real community is found.
My heart mourns over the myriads upon myriads from my generation that left the church to be Jesus. I want to listen and hear why. But I also want to advocate for us to love Jesus AND His broken bride.
The gospel without social justice.
If you want to know what side of the pendulum I fall on, it’s right here. I talk and preach often about the importance of being engaged in society as the people of God (Just Mercy) but struggle to live it out.
I’m a nerd.
A Bible nerd specifically.
Across from my laptop are thirty books on theology and commentaries that I’m wading through currently.
I love to read and write and think.
Action is hard for me. It doesn’t come easy.
This has led me at times to preach the gospel without even an iota of concern for the men and women made in the image of God that are sinfully, unBiblically treated in our world.
Father forgive me.
In the blog I linked above, I share how I came to a stark realization in Isaiah 1 that God hates me when I offer up praise to Him with blood on my hands. That stung. But it also empowered. I want to be a man who stands up for what is Biblical in society. Most importantly in terms of all being made in the image of God.
Yes, the gospel is the best thing I have to offer a hurting world.
The message of a Savior who came to deliver them.
But how many can’t hear that message because I sit in my fancy office in a Baptist church instead of engaging them?
I put zero hope in politics.
I don’t believe that legislation and law are the way that the country will change.
I believe the world will change as the people of God obey the two key commands of God: love Him and love others.
I believe the local church is the agent of change God has given to the world. I stand on that.
But here’s the thing.
If my advocacy for Biblical treatment of others is the avenue through which some enter into the Kingdom community I’m a part of in Vernon, then so be it.
If my proclaiming of the gospel is written off because I don’t seem to actually get in the midst of the hurt people are experiencing in my community, then I’m in the wrong.
I believe the Kingdom communities in our cities are where we should strive for the Biblical treatment of all. That’s my priority. My heart, my church, then my community.
I’m young. I’m learning. I’m trying to grow.
Here’s where I’ve landed however.
Social justice is an extension of the gospel.
Social justice as an extension of the gospel.
I’ve not put a whole lot of Scripture in this post. I’ve merely wanted to share my experiences and mindsets. I have done this in part because while I study Scripture deeply, I don’t have clear-cut interpretations of every verse I reference. So as I now share the verses the Lord has used to work in my heart, I share them with the caveat that I am not a Biblical scholar that fully grasps the message of each of them.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clear; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:16-17
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? – James 2:15-16
These are just a few that I’ve thought a lot about.
The prophets of the Old Testament are teachers I wish the modern church would read and study regularly. The difference between the world then and now is that the ‘nation’ of God was Israel. Now the people of God are transcendent beyond national boundaries. The Christian nation in our world is one composed of people from every earthly nation.
The prophets said that sacrifice without mercy was detestable.
James stated that offering spiritual health without meeting physical health needs was no good.
So in summary, I’m still thinking about all of this.
My hope isn’t in the public forum. My hope is in Jesus. But my hope in Jesus should lead me to change my heart, to advocate for the Biblical treatment of all in my church, and when necessary, in my culture as well.
But I know that social justice and the preaching of the gospel must go hand in hand.
In His Name,