What's Social Justice Without Jesus?

I had the opportunity to visit a college-town mega-church this past Sunday. It had a huge campus, a coffee bar, great decor, a ton of young people and a rockin' praise and worship service. It's truly remarkable what God is doing there, and I was certainly happy to be a part of the service.

The sermon was good, too. Its title was "Kingdom Living," and the pastor asked, somewhat rhetorically, if we truly understood what it means to live the way Jesus told us to live. He explained, quite rightly, that Christ's way of living is radically different from the way our culture tells us to live. Naturally, he incorporated some manifestations of "Kingdom Living." Cleaning up at a homeless shelter. Buying food for an orphan in Honduras. And so it went.

It's amazing to witness what God's Church is doing in what we're told is a post-modern world. Oh, His people have always been generous to a fault. Studies show Christians are much more philanthropic than the public at large. Even Christians in lower tax brackets are prone to giving what they have much more readily than those who make more money but don't identify with a specific belief system.

But what's changed in the last generation or so is an awareness of social issues that may have escaped Christians in another time. Evangelicals today focus their energies on environmental issues, believing it to be a moral cause and worthy of their God-given mandate to change the world for the better. We care about fair trade; sure, Christians have always been aware of global poverty--one of my Sunday School classes when I was a child sponsored a child in El Salvador--but today we think twice about buying a cup of coffee. Was the man who grew these beans paid a fair price, and can he feed his family in the name of my desire for a latte? That silk shirt I'm wearing--was it stitched by an eight year-old boy in a Indonesian sweatshop?

These are all critically important issues, and I'm so very thankful that today's Church cares about--and works toward a solution for--these and other problems of social injustice.

But there's an inherent problem that comes with this new worldview. It walks a dangerous tightrope between faith- and Grace-based salvation and a works-based system of belief. Scripture tells us Christ's sacrifice on Calvary was an act of supreme Grace, one that we could never merit, deserve or accomplish on our own. In short, there's nothing we can ever do to bridge the gap between our humanity and God's divinity. 

We must be very careful, then, that we keep spreading the Gospel forefront when confronting social justice. The old saying goes "No Jesus? No Peace. Know Jesus. Know Peace." That's doggone right, trite though it may be.

Fighting social injustice without incorporating Jesus into the mix doesn't mean anything to the one ministering or to the one being ministered to. That's because the minister isn't able to reconcile himself to God through works, and the one being ministered to cannot hope to find reconciliation to God through someone other than Jesus.

What's your take? Is tackling social injustice without the Gospel message worth anything? Why or why not? Share your thoughts...


Katy said...

Wow! That's exactly what I was thinking about after hearing that sermon.A couple times I thought that he was getting close to talking about works-based Christianity and i started to get worried. But what he was talking about what spot on... it's not about giving EVERYTHING we have to the poor.. but doing what we can to help.

I think you need to write a post about legalism in the church today. I'd be interested to see what you have to say about that. LOL

Chris Davis said...

Right on man.

Tackling social injustice without the Gospel is like feeding a homeless person for a day... yet they may end up eternally separated from God.

Sure Jesus ministered to those who were battered by injustice, but He also made it clear that the Kingdom that He rules is not of this world.

Sandy said...

People who "do" social justice do it because of the broken hearts God gives them when they see the suffering of their brothers and sisters. They do it because they are servants of Christ and hear his call. They do it because they are saved--not because they believe these good works will save them.

One poster said that Jesus made it clear that his Kingdom was not of this earth. Then why did he keep saying "The Kingdom is here"? "I've come to proclaim the Kingdom--to free the captives, heal the blind, etc"? We are living in the "kingdom" NOW and that means making it, with God's help, the kind of world that Jesus will want to return to. A world where we are doing what he taught us to do--feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.

Jesus also taught us to pray "Thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.

I differ with the poster who said "it's not about giving everything away." It certainly IS if Jesus tells you to. Jesus told people who wanted to be saved different things. He told Nicodemus to be "born again" but he told the rich, young ruler to give everything he had to the poor.

We are to be servants and present ourselves as living sacrifices, whatever the cost.

Are you saying is that acts of mercy and justice don't mean anything unless you also bring people to a "saving knowledge of Jesus"? Some people feel called to serve quietly as the hands and feet of Jesus quietly, when appropriate, share their faith.

I must say that I really hate those homeless shelters that hold the hungry people "hostage" with a sermon before they will let them eat. I think that it would be much more Christ-like if they were able to listen to the sermon with a full tummy. If they want to leave, that means the Holy Spirit hasn't opened their hearts to the Gospel yet.

Please don't use a fear of risk-taking mission make you criticize those who are "walking the walk".

Anonymous said...

I know heaps of social activists who don't follow Jesus, and heaps of people who follow Jesus who don't push for social justice. And I don't think that either without the other matches up properly to what Jesus taught.

Andrew Beckner said...

Right on, Sandy. Especially like this comment of yours: "It IS about giving everything away." Yes it is, if that's what's required of you. Haven't yet found in scripture where Jesus wants me to have my car...but I can come up with a number of scriptures that tell me to sell it and give the money to the poor, if that's what's required of me.

Anonymous: unpack that statement a little...I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this. Do share?