Wineskins Archive

January 21, 2014

Passion for Justice is a “Mark of the Church” (Aug 1992)

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Editorial by Rubel Shelly
August, 1992

4The hope of God’s people is not concentrated on Planet Earth. There is a real senses in which “this world is not our home,” and we must always remember that we are “just a-passin’ through” lest we become too attached to this-worldly concerns.

At the same time, however, we must not think that a heavenward goal exempts us from responsibility to our planet, our fellows, and social institutions. The church of Jesus Christ is called by its founder to help make the world better for all its creatures. The church need not be conceived as a political action committee in order o be an instrument of God’s righteousness. A religion so other-worldly that it does no good for the people of this world will be neither salt nor light.

To understand Scripture is to be warned against making the church into an institution allied with the rich and powerful. When faithful to its calling, the church always takes the side of the powerless and becomes an advocate for oppressed, poor, and victimized persons.

If “the Lord is known by his justice” (Psalm 9:16a), his people must exhibit the same concern. If Jesus chose a prophecy about ministering to the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed to explain the nature of his ministry (Luke 4:14-21; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2), the church as his spiritual body must identify with what he started. And if the Judgment Day will call us to account for how we have treated the hungry, strangers, homeless persons, and the sick (Matthew 25:31-46), we had best be encouraging each other to these tasks daily.

Dozens of workers and millions of dollars have been sent to help with medical missions and evangelism in Africa. Yet some of the very churches that were contributing most heavily to those works in the 1960s set themselves to deny blacks in the United States the right to worship in their assemblies. Christian schools had to be forced by the federal government to permit African-Americans the experience of “Christian (?) education” in integrated classes. Such inconsistencies reveal a fundamental blindness to the issue of justice.

The social justice issues facing this generation are monumental. We have a spotty record in responding to them. This issue of Wineskins calls all of us to examine our hearts again for evidences of our identification with Jesus’ ministry to the poor and outcast.

Is abortion a concern to you? It is one thing to protest the destruction of infants in the womb and something else again to open your home to a pregnant teen as she awaits the delivery of her baby. How dare we convince her to forego abortion and then not care for her?

Does the AIDS epidemic frighten you? Do you see moral implications about teaching our children sexual purity? Are you willing to affirm celibacy rather than “safer sex” for sexually active adults – whether heterosexual or homosexual? But what about the HIV-infected babies who have been abandoned by their drug-using mothers or whose mothers have already died of AIDS? Will you help take care of one of these helpless, hopeless babies?

Suggesting that we be hands-on with this world’s problems is not an invitation to the social gospel as an alternative to the New Testament message. To the contrary, it is an appeal for us to face up to the social implications of the true gospel. We have neither right nor credibility for offering people a better prospect in the new heaven and earth if we are not actively concerned about justice for them in today’s anguish. God has acted in history to show his passion for victims of injustice, poverty, disease, and evil. A widespread sin of the church in our generation is its lack of passion for these same people. We betray our distance from God whenever we can be indifferent toward those for whom he feels such commitment.

The things that are the concerns of God will not be neglected by his people. It is a “mark of the church” to teach and practice justice and for its members to be advocates for the powerless. While not neglecting the traditional items of worship, organization, and the like, some of us must also begin to see that holy compassion must be added to the items they look for in order to be Christ’s church.Wineskins Magazine

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