Social Justice Or Preaching The Gospel?

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.

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.

I’m listening.

I’m learning.

But I know that social justice and the preaching of the gospel must go hand in hand.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Self-Help and Gimmicks

“If you go all in and all out for the cause of Christ, there will be setbacks along the way. But remember this: Without a crucifixion there can be no resurrection! And when you have a setback, you do not take a step back, because God is already preparing your comeback.”

This afternoon, I was hanging out at my house, striving to finish a popular Christian book that has come out in recent years. When I read this quote I couldn’t help but pause and be taken aback. Here we have the ultimate moment of human history, the defining moment of our faith, used to talk about how I shouldn’t give up in pursuing my dreams.

This is what inundates the evangelical world these days, and I honestly cannot help but feel a whole lot older than 25.

The above quote is not heretical, it is not sinful, it is not vile or vehement. But the above quote does stir up frustration in me, it does make me feel like an old soul.

The reason being is that I see a plethora of these types of takes on Scripture all over the place in evangelical circles these days. When I see what’s getting shared on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram; when I see what is getting preached at churches, when I see what fad gains all the hype, they all seem to come back to this style of the faith.

Here’s what I see Christianity to be about. The Christian faith is about using the Bible (often incorrectly or inappropriately) in order to achieve your dreams, in order to grow your self-image, in order to be okay with the fact that you’re not okay, in order to fit in more with the culture at large. The Christian faith for a lot of people these days is about clawing and crawling and fighting our way back into the center of society instead of assuming our rightful place in the margins.

It’s about using Snapchat and Instagram and other pop culture references like TV shows and movies to make following Jesus seem legit, seem relevant, seem worth a student or adult’s time. It’s about wearing t-shirts that say “I’m a Christian, but I cuss a little”. Now to me, cursing is not the unforgivable sin. That being said, why in the world should we be parading around acknowledging sinfulness in order to be relevant and relatable?

When I look around me at churches and sermons and podcasts and videos, etc., what I see is that we’ve lost a vision for what it is that we are to offer the culture around us.

What we have to offer the culture is the incredible gift of God’s grace poured out on anyone who puts their faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross through His death and resurrection. That’s it. That’s what we offer. Now I’m all about striving to make our churches and our Christian culture places where people feel loved and welcomed, that’s why I speak out adamantly against hatred based on politics and other frivolous stuff. But at the end of the day, what I have to offer someone down the street from me is the love of God, not how cool or relevant it is to be a Christian.

I’m supposed to be on the margin, and I’m supposed to be a fool, not cool.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

We know the cross has power, but to the outsider looking in on my life, if I look like a fool instead of being relevant, that’s what is to be expected.

Here’s what I plead for our churches to do, our people to do:

PREACH GOD’S WORD, NOT SELF-HELP

Let’s be honest. This is hard. It’s hard to not slip into morality, into ‘be better’ sermons and speeches. The best way I know how is by preaching through books of the Bible. Immersing our people in the flow of the book. David and Goliath is not about overcoming obstacles. Jonah is not about overcoming fear. Samson is not about strength to fight the enemy. Philippians 4:13 is not about sports. We fall into all of these assumptions about Scripture because we never get a full story. If you’re reading this and you’re not in vocational ministry, model this in your home or your area of spiritual influence. Dig deep. Don’t settle for less.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. – 2 Timothy 4:2-4

PREACH GOD’S WORD, NOT GIMMICKS

I have fought the pressure countless times to be relevant. I’ve come to learn that our society is so fickle, and fads are so quick. Nothing lasts. Well, except the Bible of course. Right now we are preaching through Deuteronomy in our youth group, and we’re growing. Not because the preaching is amazing, but because relationships are being built. The students have been taking notes, and although many I find in the trash, growth is happening through God’s Word. I’m an old soul and love liturgy and the simplicity of the Bible. What I know about my faith didn’t come from gimmicks in youth group, it came from God’s Word being taught.

FIND COMMON GROUND IN HOLINESS, NOT SIN

Here’s the reality. To a culture that is pushing us to the margins, our calls to holiness are not popular. If we read Scripture, we are reminded that they were never meant to be. It is a travesty, a heart-breaking one for me, that we have tried to fight our way back into the center of society by illuminating and emphasizing our sins instead of our Savior. Let us be people who acknowledge our faults no doubt, but find joy in speaking about our Savior and the way He has redeemed us. In Christian circles specifically, may we never find camaraderie in our porn, alcoholism, selfishness, anger, greed, envy, cursing, or any other sin. Let us find camaraderie around the cross of Christ.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE SCRIPTURES, NOT CHRISTIAN FADS

Brothers and sisters, those who know my heart know that I don’t intend to berate or reprimand. Instead, I seek to inspire and encourage and remind. I pray that you and I would be people who dive deeply into Scripture. Not those two minute sermon clips on Facebook or the latest book by a popular Christian author. Rather, get into God’s Word. You’ll find that even books like Deuteronomy are full of amazing reminders of God’s grace for us.

The church is on the margins.

That’s where we’re supposed to be.

Enough with the gimmicks and self-help style Christianity.

Let us be men and women who proclaim the true message of Scripture and parade around God’s holiness rather than our sin.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

God Speaks

I’ve never heard audible words from the Lord. I’ve never had some overwhelming Damascus road experience where I saw with my own eyes the risen Christ. I’ve never had some immensely emotional response in worship. But even still, God has spoken to me time and time again. And today, He is speaking to you. In creation, In His Word, in the preaching of a pastor on a Sunday morning and the words of a friend on a Tuesday afternoon. God speaks to us daily.

That is something I wish I had come to grips with a long time ago, and it is something I think many of us will fight to believe in during our lifelong walks with the Lord. For me, I would have seasons of my life where I struggled with doubt and disbelief because I had never had some amazing emotional response to the gospel where I heard the Lord audibly speaking to me. For me I was a seven year old who accepted Christ and placed my faith in the gospel in my parents’ bedroom. It was childlike faith, living and moving and having my being in the Lord from day to day.

Somewhere along the way I accepted a lie. Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that if I wasn’t hearing from God in some awesome, audible, amazing Exodus-style way then I wasn’t walking with Him well. So I would try and conjure up these emotional experiences. I remember sitting on the back row of youth group trying to will myself into an encounter with the Lord that I would be able to look back on as some incredible moment where I heard from God. Embarrassingly enough now, I would try and conjure up tears so that if I emotionally responded to some message than surely God would reward that with some indisputable word from Him.

This lie lingered in my mind throughout the years. It was triggered by sin. I would fall into a sin of some sort and immediately begin to doubt the strength of my relationship with the Lord simply because I felt like I wasn’t hearing from the Lord. Now this wouldn’t happen all the time but it would rear its ugly head over the years.

These past few months in Phoenix has simply obliterated and decimated that lie.  I’ve come to realize that God speaks to all of us daily through creation, friends, the truth of His Word, and the preaching of the pastoral shepherd we are under.

Creation. Scripture testifies over and over that creation speaks to us about God. The stars proclaim His glory (see Psalm 19:1-2). Looking at creation proves the existence of a Creator much as a painting proves the existence of an artist. Beaches, forests, mountains, sunsets, birds, dogs, snow, rain, stars, moon, sun, the Grand Canyon. When we immerse ourselves in creation we can find ourselves overwhelmed with the magnitude and creativity of the Lord. Open your eyes to the world around you and worship Him who made it all with just the words of His mouth. Worship in wonder.15226581_1112302335554109_839234830_n

Friends. This can also extend to family, or anyone at all you are in Christian community with. The Lord uses the words of a friend or family member to remind you of the truths of His Word. Don’t discount the words of a friend spoken in love. It’s been crazy to me how often God has reminded me of one of His promises or truths just in the middle of simple conversation while playing ping-pong, watching TV, or eating dinner. The Lord speaks to us daily through normal conversation.

God’s Word. My mom recently told me, “If you want to hear God audibly speak to you, then read the Bible out loud.” How impactful is that. What a beautiful reminder. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed. The entirety of Scripture is God’s written words to us His church, useful for teaching and correction and reproof and training in righteousness. Don’t discount getting in God’s Word. Dive deep and discover the depths of God’s grace in every story, song, and letter. Let His Word be ever in your mind and on your lips.

Preaching. As followers of Christ we should all be engaged with a local body of believers. As a result of being a part of a local congregation, we are all under the preaching and teaching of the pastor, the shepherd God has appointed to care for us and teach us God’s Word. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes from hearing the message of Christ. A sermon is more than just a thirty minute scolding or fortune cookie anecdote. It is God speaking to us through a man He has chosen. This should lead us to all pray for our pastors, that they would weekly preach the gospel, no more and no less. Listening to God’s Word through the preaching of our local pastor is a way to hear from the Lord.

More often than not our lives will be more like the book of Ruth than the book of Exodus. It will be a life filled with normal activities rather than miraculous signs and audible voices. Yes God speaks audibly to whom He wills. Yes there are more avenues of God’s communication with us than just the ones I have listed. Yet if you like I have struggled to see the extraordinary and eternal in the ordinary and temporal, let these ways I have listed above be an encouragement to discern and discover God’s voice and communication with you.

God speaks to us all each day.

In His Name,

Nate Roach