Monday, September 17, 2018

Justice and the Gospel, My Statement


Justice and the Gospel

Introduction

In light of the recent controversy regarding what has long been labeled “social justice” and the response from the crafters and signees of “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel”, it is necessary for every teaching elder in a local church to carefully consider his own position.  Since God is a God of justice (Genesis 18:25), it behooves pastors and local churches to consider how they are going to relate to the issue of justice as Biblical congregations.  I do not believe it is enough to sign a blanket statement which has some very grievous omissions and language which is too general to be helpful to the issues at hand. 

This statement is solely my statement (Pastor Jon Speed) written for Christ is King Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY.  It is written for the purpose of explaining why I did not sign the recent statement by providing a clear statement on my own position on the issues.

I do not believe that the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is sufficient for many reasons.  Perhaps my greatest concern is the inadvertent and unintended message it may send to many of our African American brothers and sisters in Christ.  That message might be communicated as, “Your concerns about race are not valid.  Now shut up and sign this document or else.” 

Martin Luther said that church history is like a drunk man who falls off of one side of his horse, gets back on, and then falls off of the other side.   It is my opinion that the recent brouhaha over the issue of social justice represents exactly the present discussion regarding the issue.  The positions stated are two ends of an extreme pendulum swing.  There must be a third option, an option where pastors seek to stay on the horse. 

By the grace of God, I hope to be Biblically consistent without identifying with either side of the pendulum. 

Racism.

Racism exists as long as sin against a holy God exists.  Hatred of one another is characteristic of total depravity (Romans 3:13-17).  While the term “racism” or “race” does not accurately represent the truth that we are all “one blood” (Acts 17:26)—one family created in the same image of God (Genesis 1:26-27)—it does conveniently describe the hatred that exists between people groups which is based on nothing more than the color of one’s skin. 

Media Influence

Racism is largely propagated by local and national news media outlets which emphasize crimes in urban centers while de-emphasizing the same kinds and frequencies of crimes in rural and suburban neighborhoods.  I have heard Christians in Onondaga County, NY joke about riots starting in communities like the South Side of Syracuse (an African American community) because Syracuse University lost in the Final Four a few years ago.  Riots did not happen. 

This is also why Christians from a suburban church which supported our church plant were hesitant to attend a prayer meeting or even have a lunch meeting in our neighborhood (The Valley of Syracuse).  When they did, the comments made about the “dangerous neighborhood” we chose to live and serve in were offensive to me as a member of the neighborhood.  This is a neighborhood I have raised my family in for the last seven years and I love it. 

Finally, this is also why some suburbanites will not come to our book store, which is located within walking distance of the Onondaga Nation (Native American tribal land).  The media and urban legend has it that the Nation is a dangerous place to be and I have heard some people say that they will not come here because of the “danger” (although I have never been scalped).   Furthermore, many of the Onondaga people are my friends and customers.  I am offended for them.  I can only imagine what they think. 

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism has existed in this nation in our history, some of it recent.  Of course, American slavery is the most obvious example.  American slavery was nothing more or less than kidnapping and those who were involved in it would have born the consequences of that sin in a just society (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7). 

The practice of “red lining” neighborhoods by banks and other financial institutions is another example.  Urban African American neighborhoods were marked on bank maps with a red border to remind lenders not to grant mortgages to residents in those areas.  In more recent times, the neighborhoods were erased from maps altogether (2015).  This is a violation of the command of God regarding just balances (Leviticus 19:35-36). 

The current practice of racial profiling by law enforcement is another.  The Law of God never commands that civil authorities should anticipate crime, much less based on the color of someone’s skin.  The Law of God deals with penalties when real crime is actually committed. 

Acceptable Racism

But there is an even more despicable form of racism.  It is the acceptable racism that often exists where it should never be named--within the Church. 

It exists where racial jokes are told within family and church circles and are left uncontested because the tellers “are from another generation”. 

It exists where interracial dating and marriage are discouraged because “those people are just different.”  Where pastors and other ministry leaders quit their positions because interracial children and minorities are involved, it exists. 

It exists when minorities are broad brushed in political conversations as “lazy”, “welfare recipients”, and “dangerous to America”. 

It exists whenever a professed brother or sister in Christ will not consider the claims of racism of another brother or sister in Christ merely because of political ideologies. 

It exists every time the presence of minorities in a worship service make the membership visibly uncomfortable. 

It exists every time we assume that another brother or sister in Christ is a default racist because of the color of his or her skin. 

I affirm that racism exists both within and without the Church Visible.  It exists in the words, thoughts and actions of sinful men.  I affirm that racism is a destructive evil which can only be remedied by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As it is essentially hatred, it is a form of murder (Exodus 20:13; 1 John 3:11-15), a sin for which Jesus Christ died (1 Corinthians 15:3).  I affirm that whenever I have been guilty of it, I have sinned and must repent. 

I deny that there is a permanent remedy for racism apart from the application of the gospel of Jesus Christ and obedience to the Law of God.  In Jesus Christ, there is no division over race (Ephesians 2:11-22). 

Abortion

The slaughter of millions of unborn babies in the name of convenience is a sin that has been passed over by social justice advocates and many of those who oppose them.  God regards the intentional death of a baby in the womb as punishable by death (Exodus 21:22-24).  He knows the names of babies in the womb before they are conceived (Jeremiah 1:5).  It is the duty of Christians everywhere to intervene for the lives of these precious children (Proverbs 24:11-12).  Abortion advocates are engaged in a genocide of the African American race, statistically speaking.   If we love our unborn neighbor, we will intervene.  We must proclaim the truth that abortion is murder (Exodus 20:13), both within our churches and to this culture of death. 

I affirm that we must make every legal effort to end abortion now, simply because it is right.  I affirm the right and duty of local magistrates to criminalize abortion in their respective municipalities.  I affirm that a gospel presentation coupled with an offer of real help to abortive parents is the right way to intervene at the abortion clinics. 

I deny that pro-life incrementalism is an ethical or just methodology to end this slaughter.  I deny that overturning Roe v. Wade will end abortion on demand in the United States since all it would take to reinstate abortion would be actual legislation making it legal on the Federal level, which to this point has not been done.  It could be done very quickly. 


Socialism

Socialism is theft (Exodus 20:15). 

I deny the idea that promoting thievery is a valid way to approach issues of race. 

I affirm capitalism (2 Thessalonians 3:8-12). 

Feminism.

Feminism exists as long as sin against a holy God exists.  The desire of Eve to rule over Adam passes on to every woman under the transmission of original sin from our representative heads of the human race (Genesis 3:16; Romans 5:12).  God, in His Sovereignty, has established that the creation order of man and woman has permanently placed men in places of authority and women in submission in the home, in church and in government (1 Timothy 2:12-14; Ephesians 5:22-24). 

I affirm that God’s clear revelation on this issue is just and transcends cultural norms.  I affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ values women and their role in the local church as disciplers of younger women (Titus 2:3-5). 

I deny that any attempt to place women in authority over men is just or prudent.  Such an effort is a sure sign of the judgment of God on a culture (Isaiah 3:4).  I further deny that the example of Deborah the judge is anything other than a historical record of what happened to Israel under divine judgment and should not be considered normative for the Church (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7). 

Gender

God created male and female (Genesis 1:26-27).  There are no other genders.  In so doing, He established the institution of marriage (Genesis 2:18-25), forever defining it as one man and one woman for life (Malachi 2:16).  Homosexual marriage is an abomination and merits the wrath of God as evidenced by the example of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) and the clear teaching of Romans 1-2. 

I affirm the Biblical definitions of gender and marriage.  I affirm that my homosexual friends can find grace and forgiveness through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  When they do, I will affirm them as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

I deny that either marriage or gender is fluid.  I call the American evangelical church to repentance over its compromised view of divorce and remarriage, including and especially the Reformed leaders who have redefined marriage to include remarriage under certain circumstances.  In so doing, we have encouraged a form of polygamy within our own churches while calling the culture to repent over homosexual marriage (as it should).   

Law & Government. 

The Law of God as it is revealed in the first five books of the Bible is the starting point to guide us regarding issues of government and law.  While the United States is NOT Israel, there simply is no other place to look, in context.  The evaluation of candidates and policies should be viewed through the lens of the Law of God.  Jesus Christ summed up the entire Law with the theological statement that we must love the LORD our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  He summed up our ethical responsibility before God with the statement that we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). 

The New Testament reveals the standard by which human government is judged.  According to Romans 13, human government’s duty is to bear the sword against the evil doer.  The Word of God defines good and evil by the standard of the Law of God.  Therefore, the Apostle Paul presupposes that good government knows the difference between good and evil, which further presupposes knowledge of the Law of God.  He also presupposes that good government will literally “terrorize the evil” by its application of capital punishment on the criminal who is worthy of it, as defined by the Law of God. 

While it is NOT the primary duty of the Church to address political issues, it is at least a secondary duty under the ethical command to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Further, Jesus Himself instructed His disciples to teach disciples to “observe all things whatever I have commanded” (Matthew 28:18-20).  The political duty of the Church does not end at the voting booth.  It includes instructing elected officials as to their responsibility before the King of kings and Lord of lords.  The job of the Church is to speak prophetically to elected officials and assist in crafting laws that honor the Giver of Law. 

Applying these principles to the current political scene reveals quickly that no political party accurately represents a Biblical standard of justice.  A cursory glance at evangelicalism shows that there is an inordinate idolatry of big government, a trusting of horses and chariots rather than in God and a supporting of evil that good may come (Psalm 20:7; Romans 3:8).  In short, the prevailing attitude in evangelicalism is Statism: a trust in the State that should only be given to God.  More specifically, this Statism is combined with an allegiance to the Republican Party which defies all logic considering the record of that party on issues evangelicals care about like abortion on demand and homosexual marriage. 

It is this prevailing attitude, coupled with a misinterpretation of Romans 13:1-7, which has given the government (especially in the case of Republican politicians) carte blanche by many evangelical leaders to do whatever it likes.  In their view, our only responsibility is slavish obedience, even when we must choose to obey men rather than God (cf. Acts 5:29).  Therefore, the execution of citizens by law enforcement (often relating to the color of their skin) and the inevitable acquittal of the officers in question must be accepted as just.  In their view, we do not owe even brothers and sisters in Christ a word of defense when they are the targets of such behavior, much less unbelieving neighbors.  Therefore, following such logic, racial profiling by police departments must also be accepted even though the Law of God never advises suspecting one’s neighbor until an actual crime has been committed. 

If we love our neighbor we will find ways to speak up about these (and many, many other) issues.  We can do this without sacrificing the primacy of the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ for the same reason we can chew gum and walk at the same time without choking to death.  Multi-task. 

I affirm this understanding of the relation of Biblical law and government. 

I deny the idea that political involvement and robust Christianity are mutually exclusive.  I deny that the Republican Party is the sole option for Christians who desire to be Biblically and ethically consistent.  I deny that we must vote for a lesser of two evils in order to save our own skins.  I deny that it is ethical to vote for men of questionable character in order that good may come. 

The Gospel and Culture.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ declares that Jesus, the eternal Second Person of the Triune Godhead became flesh and bore the sin of His people to the Cross (John 1:1-18; 1 Corinthians 15:3).  He died and rose again from the dead (John 19-20).  When the Spirit of God regenerates sinful man with new life, they are given the gifts of repentance and faith (2 Timothy 2:23-25; Ephesians 2:8-9).  They are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Romans 5).  They are sanctified (Romans 6-8). 

This message is not a pietistic expression of personal salvation which has no effect on the culture.  As believers whose old lives are gone and replaced with a new life, everything changes (2 Corinthians 5:17).  In the Sovereignty of God, when the gospel finds large scale response in any nation, one can expect that the predominant sins of that nation will be reduced simply as a matter of mathematics.  This is a recurring theme in the history of the Church.  It has been evidenced during the Reformation, the First and Second Great Awakenings, and the missionary and evangelism efforts post-World War Two, to cite only a few examples.  The missionary advance of the 19th century further shows the redemption of entire cultures in places like Africa and Asia, at least temporarily.  To deny this is to deny the historical record and a vast literature on the subject. 

Further, this is the very nature of the Kingdom of God.  Isaiah 9:6-7 makes it clear that from the time of the Advent of the Messiah to the consummation of His Kingdom, “…Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end…”.  Jesus taught that the Kingdom was like leaven, which spreads by nature until it consumes all (Matthew 13:33). 

Of course, this will happen by the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As we obey the Great Commission people repent and believe the gospel.  They are baptized and they are taught to observe all things the Lord has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).  As they are taught to love their neighbor as themselves and as they study the Law of God, they discover righteous principles to conduct their lives by and the resulting transformation of individuals results in a transformed culture.  It is the nature of salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). 

While some have tried to distinguish between the power of the gospel in sanctification and the goal of redeeming culture it appears to this writer that this is a distinction without a difference.  It is obvious that the primary goal of the Church is the proclamation of the gospel.  Such a goal will result in cultural transformation as the power of the gospel plays out in the lives of individuals and as Christians obey the Word of God applying the Law of God to issues of governance and policy. 

I affirm this understanding of the relationship of the gospel to culture. 

I deny any monastic, pietistic attitude which ignores the evils in a culture because our duty is theological rather than ethical.  Such an attitude is unknown in the Scriptures. 

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