On Social Justice

The larger conversation on social justice has taught me to think hard along one very critical line as a Christian minister alive today. I’ve come to conclude that The Gospel must be acontextual. What I mean is that if it’s truly “The Gospel of Jesus Christ” we’re proclaiming, while it will apply to any generation’s questions in necessary ways, it cannot ever become equated with just that generation’s issues. A dogged separation must be made as to the priority of the church. History helps shape this exegetically for us. From the pulpit, the overall message of the church catholic must itself point somewhere. Where exactly is that? That somewhere is what we could call the main message. I’m no reductionist. I’m no mere Christianity advocate, but there is a needed prioritization in ministry when we try to define what it is we’re principally to be about as a Christian church. Consider the first century of the apostolic church under Roman rule. The murder. The rape. The long-standing occupation of a brutal foreign army in Israel. The corruption. The huge population of slaves in Rome. The greed, etc. Then consider the context of Paul’s missionary works throughout their known world, even just in a place like Corinth, along with his stated apostolic prioritization that he’d everywhere demonstrated that nevertheless he, “determined to know nothing among [anyone] except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” He knew what Christ sent him to do, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17. He did that as an Apostle everywhere he went. Framing the context of my next statement as what I feel must remain the determined priority of a church I’d say, “the church’s main job is to proclaim the full counsel of God along with the Gospel- the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. This is the years/decades/centuries/millennia/last days of what we’re to be about as those to whom the Faith has been entrusted. Jesus was slain to redeem men from sin. After that and only after that, there is anything else. This is the primary motive given by Jesus in Matthew 26:28 for why he died. The Gospel, if our priorities are right, must remain separate from, but yet in this truth be ever-linked to, anyone in full address to any generation’s greatest need. We all need righteousness. That will not change. We mustn’t let approach be Gospel. We must acontextualize it. Example: If knowing what I know now, I could go back and preach “the Gospel” on 10 September 2001 to the people who worked at the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, I couldn’t tell them the “modern gospel” that “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” It’s very popular today for God’s judgment on our land for our preachers to talk of such things, but my message wouldn’t be the Gospel if that’s what I told them. The Gospel wouldn’t apply to them if that was what I falsely called it. God did not have a wonderful plan for them, hence, since that contextualized message didn’t apply to them, it cannot be the Gospel because the Gospel always applies. The Gospel must transcend. It must remain acontextual. Our need isn’t a God who’s got a wonderful plan for us (retirement, cars, health, homes, etc). “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Matthew 16:26. Our Gospel must decidedly remain the forgiveness of sin and then, only then, can it address anything and everything else at any time…as the truth of God always should and will. If “the Gospel” is racial reconciliation (whatever that is) then what is it when that’s “done” in a local assembly? What if an assembly is all black or all white? What’s “the Gospel” there? If “the Gospel” is only the stop of the Nazi Party in Germany back in the 1940s, then what was it in the 1490s? If “the Gospel” is the obliteration of governmental persecution in China in the 20th century then what is it in the next generation when that’s gone? Now, of course, we cannot turn a blind eye to the Nazis, or avoid an atheistic government’s actions, but still, “the Gospel” is a message that transcends, that must by definition transcend, or it’s at least perhaps not the Gospel Jesus preached at all. In each generation, what the Gospel promises is reconciliation with God. Peace with God now through the Cross. A full pardon for all sin that brings the sure hope of loving deliverance from the penalties of sin before the judgment seat of an incomprehensibly holy, holy, holy God. This truth (the Gospel) is needed when times are good and when they’re bad. This message transcends and yet reaches each of us where we are. It applies entirely both in the castles, and in the slums. It alone addresses most directly the eternal things. This message is for both the rich and the poor, the murdered and the murderers, men and women, slaves and free. Coming to our setting today: the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains the forgiveness of sins. Not social action. Period.

I happily signed the recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel because I would stand concerned for anyone who failed to prioritize the preaching of the Gospel as the message of the forgiveness of sin. It’s not that those who could be identified as the “Social Justice warriors” are outright claiming something opposite, but if you make the current plight of culture and racial reconciliation indispensable to the proclamation of the Gospel, so much so that if you’re not talking from the pulpit on “racial reconciliation” or “racial issues” today that you’re denying the Gospel (as some have said) or try to make the church’s main mission some sort of cultural shiftwork, then you’re mistaken. I oppose you. Men like James Cone and the black liberation heresy he rambled on about that’s revived among many today is near entirely to be discarded. “The Gospel” is not its stance on race even when slavery was alive and well. “The Gospel” is not its stance against homosexuality. “The Gospel” is not its stance against the goofiness of Darwinian naturalism. “The Gospel” is not what it says to the evil insanity of a culture that feels gender’s a fluid concept. “The Gospel” isn’t a denial of the sin of pornography. “The Gospel” isn’t what it means to marriages. It’s all these things secondarily in that the full counsel of God addresses each thing, but none of these things can become “what we’re about” or we’re not about what I feel we should be principally about. This is why I signed the statement. The issue is one of prioritization, not obfuscation. The signers of the statement who are leaders in their churches don’t turn away from injustice. Such would be sinful. They know it. They are prioritizing what they must. “The Gospel” by nature makes everything else secondary. Distantly second.

All this talk on social justice lately has not been totally lost on me. As far as I can tell, the conversation really heated up earlier this year with the 50th anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. Everyone, in a general sense, is now calling themselves “woke” about it. I think it’s mostly political. I had one very long conversation on it with a brother I’d just met that day about a month ago, and I’ve heard a lot on it from several sides. I’ve heard the opinions of several leaders I respect on seemingly opposite sides of the matter for numerous reasons. It’s not a major issue in my ministry. I’m in the Army. I’ve been in the military since 1998. Skin color, in my long experience here, is just not an issue. As a microcosm of American culture at large, this is one area I’m happy to report that it seems we’re a bit ahead in the conversation of the larger culture. I have not had an issue with a black (or any other color individual) in leadership over me in my 20+ year career. I’ve never talked to someone who has.

What I’m sadly seeing is many preachers going after this current cultural dialogue. If it wasn’t accompanied by a seeming denial of the church’s priority in Gospel ministry, I’d not say anything. We need to repent of sins dealing with race if we’re guilty of them. The solution is the Gospel. The acontextualized, glorious, reconciling Gospel. At the Cross, the answer to racism is given…just like the answer to sexism, naziism, totalitarianism, fascism, and every other wrongism. Future generations should see us remain undeterred to presenting it just like we look to history now for those convicted enough to do so who’ve gone before us. What was the answer to Catholicism in the Reformation? The Gospel. What was the answer against slavery? The Gospel. What was the answer in Rawanda? The Gospel. What was the answer to Rome’s oppression in the days of Jesus? The Gospel. See a pattern? God’s word as full counsel speaks to everything, but if we don’t prioritize the Gospel as “what we’re about” then we’re failing as a church.

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