Social justice and the church

Social Justice
Copyright: gajus / 123RF Stock Photo

I find that writing is the best way for me to work toward clarification on an issue. So in this post I will share some thoughts, admittedly incomplete thoughts, on the relationship of the church to the need for social justice in our society.

The Bible has a lot to say about social justice. Even a casual reading of the Old Testament prophets reveals God’s heart with regard to how the poor and disadvantaged are treated by society. God cares about how people are treated.

Also, in the Garden, mankind was given the responsibility to have dominion over the earth with the goal of proper stewardship of what God has created. God cares about the world around us.

But what is the role of the church in bringing about necessary change?

As I have looked back in history, it seems obvious to me that every time the church has tried to wield political power or influence, things have gone badly for both society and the church. Nor can I find any indication in scripture that the church should look to the political process to bring about social change.

We do, however, have a direct command from our Lord to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). That is the call and the duty of the church.

When God has used the church to bring about changes in society, it was not because the church focused on bringing those changes about. When God has used the church to bring about social justice, it is because the church focused on its mission to make disciples.

That mission cannot be accomplished without a proper understanding of the gospel. We are, and remain, sinners in constant need of internal transformation. God has provided the means for that transformation in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Sharing the good news of that transformation is our proper mission.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, and through the transformation that the Gospel brings, we are called to fulfill two commands. We are to love God with our entire self and love our neighbors. The love of God is the vertical component and the love of neighbor the horizontal. Full compliance to the horizontal command is only possible when the vertical relationship is properly established.

For the church to focus on social justice without putting it in the proper context of the Gospel is at best confusing and at worst subversive to the true mission of the church.