A Response: The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

The Gospel and the Christian’s response to social injustices in their periphery are not mutually exclusive. Trusted Christian voices have made it their business to convince you that the two supernaturally repel one another. Because these voices are trusted, there is the temptation to swallow their assertions whole. In view of this, it is imperative that their claims be evaluated.

In fact, the gospel and appropriate social activism are not even mutually exclusive to many of the signers of the Statement on the Social Justice and the Gospel [“The Statement”]. They openly express biblical opinions on social issues such as abortion, adoption, and sexual preference. They sometimes publicly indicate their preference for political candidates with particular worldviews. They take action against sexual traffickers and those who persecute Christians abroad. So, it is not true that they actually believe that any social activism is incompatible with the gospel or that social activism somehow nullifies our ability to be witnesses to the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

No, once one examines the Statement On Social Justice and the Gospel, it quickly becomes apparent that the category of social activism that has such a deadly effect upon the primacy of the gospel is that activism related to racial or ethnic issues.[1] It appears that it is mainly this particular category of social activism that is referred to as  “these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.”

This reasoning and conclusion will be demonstrated to be wrong scripturally, logically and morally. The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is a political statement looking for a biblical argument. It is the latest in a long history of efforts by some Christians to maintain a social order by the use of faulty biblical arguments. These arguments actually do what “social activism” is accused of doing:  render the gospel impotent to accomplish the very ends which it intends to achieve in redeemed men and women. The Statement ignores the divine purpose of the creation of man, demands that we not acknowledge the command for personal sanctification and holiness, and that believers disregard the stewardship God has provided to them as family members, neighbors, employees and citizens. The Statement does all of this, not in general, but specifically when the social issue pertains to race and ethnicity.

Section One: The Central Problem of the Statement-Using The Gospel As A Shield Against Sanctification

At many crucial points in the history of the last four hundred or so years, apparently theologically orthodox Christians have utilized biblical arguments to avoid the confrontation of oppression in their times. In so doing, they have used a variety of arguments, but mostly, they have relied upon an artificial truncation of the gospel. Truncated in its power to change the life of the one who is born again and thereby rendered impotent in its ability, through saved individuals, to provide salt and light to those in their periphery [Mt 5.13-16]. Through loud proclamations of their commitment to defend the gospel, they hoped to drown out the demands of Christian sanctification, when those demands for sanctification are connected to the social or political issues that they wish to avoid. However, it is the practical outworking of the new birth in the decisions and actions of the believer [i.e. sanctification] that are the true issue when one speaks of the categories of impact that the Christian may have upon the world. These decisions and actions of saved individuals actually complement and fortify gospel proclamation. It is the call to this very outlook and behavior that the Statement maligns as an appeal to false teaching:

“It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course. We must remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

“The Apostle Paul’s warning to the Colossians is greatly needed today: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The document that follows is an attempt to heed that apostolic command.”

By contrast, the scriptures teach expressly that the new birth results in Christian attitudes and actions which have direct social effects. The bible uses explicit language to show that it is the intent of God that believers, in their pursuit of holiness, will become influencers of this fallen world for good.

 Ephesians 5:8–11 (KJV 1900)
8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: 9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) 10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

James 1:27 (KJV 1900)
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction[2], and to keep himself unspotted from the world. [Jas 2.14-17]

Isaiah 1:16–17 (NKJV)
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.

The bible does not confuse these influences with the gospel, nor does it make world transformation the objective of the Christian. Despite this, the real power of Christian spiritual maturity [i.e. sanctification] upon the world is a part of that policy of conviction that leads to gospel opportunity.

Matthew 5:16 (NKJV)
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. 1Pet 2.12

The central problem of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is a misrepresentation of the Gospel itself. This is the reason that the Statement does not provide a systematic biblical treatment on why the pursuit of justice for people in the community, workforce and elsewhere is such a negative influence upon gospel primacy. To attempt to do so would throw open the floodgates to host of scriptures[3] which describe God as concerned about the oppressed in this world and this life, and Who directs the righteous to their support. Instead, the document creates the false issue of an alleged manipulation of the gospel by a conspiracy of unidentified, misguided Christians. It then “defends” the gospel by cutting it off from that portion of scripture[4] that teaches what the gospel actually accomplishes in the world through a person who is born again. These arguments are advanced  in order to absolve the church from its responsibility to oppose certain categories of evil that American conservative Christians have traditionally avoided confronting.

Section Two: Defining  Social Justice in the Christian Sense

The issue of social justice, framed biblically, is not today an issue of replacing the gospel with some liberal counterpart. The Statement has not pursued a frontal assault on liberalism, the Emergent Church and such groups, but rather have associated faithful believers[5] with post-modernism and a false gospel. The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel fails to define Social Justice, the apparent purpose for which it was written. We will attempt here to define Social Justice as a product of effective Christian Discipleship.

  • Social Justice is one consequence of the creation mandate by which God ordained man to rule the earth according to the impulses arising from the Imago Dei. The ability to fulfill this original command today is found in its most complete form in the redeemed individual.
  • Social Justice, however imperfectly achieved, is the outcome of the believers’ interaction with the individuals and institutions of society when that believer is filled with the Spirit and committed to righteous living. Therefore, Social Justice, to one degree or another, is the product of the irresistible impact of the holiness of God working through believers who are growing in their sanctification.

A pastoral commitment to sanctified individuals having a positive impact upon their families, workplaces, communities and nation, sowing each with the divine influences of righteousness and justice is not a false gospel, but the same gospel affirmed in the Great Commission by Jesus Himself. No one is claiming that men are saved through the sinister and undefined concept of social justice alluded to in the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

Matthew 28:18–20 (KJV 1900)
18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Jesus did not send the disciples into the unsaved world with a truncated gospel, but a command to evangelize the world to the end of making disciples. Disciples are made by following the gospel with instruction in “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” It is this entire command, called the Great Commission, that not only saves the lost but, through the Spirit’s power, also convicts and influences the world. By this command, Jesus is not adding to the gospel, but explaining what the church is to do, which is to make disciples. Disciples exercise a powerful spiritual influence upon the world that impacts individuals and institutions, which are merely the divinely designed organization of individuals under systems of authority. The gospel has, and must have, implications that extend beyond the spiritual changes wrought in the individual, no matter what the Statement says. The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is a mighty effort to render these implications not only irrelevant, but to categorize them as false teaching and their exponents as false teachers.

Section Three: Avoiding Cultural and Political Implications of the Gospel

The above is theologically elementary and obvious. What makes it the equivalent of quantum mechanics to the authors of the Statement is the inclusion of the issue of race into the social justice equation. Historically, race has been an issue that has been the kryptonite of both American and European conservative theologians. It is this matter of race that has made it necessary for the obvious doctrinal symmetry of the above to be perverted into Marxism, liberalism and post-millennialism.

It is not necessary for this document to retrace the history of how the cultural and political calculus of race has forced American conservative Christianity into its own descent into irrelevance. Dr. Joel McDurmon clearly shows the historical context that reveals the actual purpose[6] of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. In his well-documented article, he summarizes this context as follows:

“From the Calvinist ministers who captained the ships bringing the first black bondservants to the shores of Virginia (1619), to the Southern antebellum pulpits, to the minister-fueled creation of the Lost Cause, to the damnable silence of the pulpits in the face of known lynchings, segregation, and all the way up to the official silence of the NEA, and beyond—the story has always been the same. The arguments and tactics have always been the same:

“We stand for orthodox theology.
We stand for religious liberty.
The church is spiritual, not political or social.
The spiritual Gospel is above social activism.
Changing culture is not our job.
Everything is really not so bad.
The problems are exaggerated by liberals.
The real problem is outside agitators.
We are defending the church against [fill-in-the-blank] (Marxism, atheism, radical egalitar­ianism, Jacobins, feminists, race hustlers, etc.)

“The old south theologians did it. The slaveholding Christians did it. The KKK did it. The segregationists did it. John C. Calhoun did it. George Wallace did it.

“They had some fine orthodox theology on the main things, though. They “preached the Gospel.” They upheld the right view of the inspiration of Scripture. They defended their local churches from “dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values.”

“In short, they all could have signed this document in good conscience. This document represents virtually no more progress in the area of racial healing than the theological constructs in which those old guys operated, and the social evils continued right under their noses.”

Perhaps all of the authors and the signers of the Statement are sincere in their desire to defend the gospel. However, this sincerity does not negate the deficiencies of the document, or the terrific negative impact the document will have spiritually and politically in the world.

Section Four: Some Definitions

The Statement does not make an effort to define many of the concepts it uses, which is a significant flaw of the document. However, it does seek to provide some definitions of its own, and without apology. We will do the same, without apology.

A word on defining things. Defining things is a critical part of the construction of one’s worldview; and although one’s worldview is often not an entirely faithful reproduction of reality, it is an essential tool for perceiving the world. It is dangerous to concede all definitions to others. It has never occurred to most of us that we are free to accept or reject many definitions, especially sociological definitions and those purported to be a consequence of cultural anthropology or historical analysis.

Race

Race is the arbitrary categorization of people in order to divide, conquer and maintain social and financial control over vast sections of humanity.

Race is arbitrary in that racial distinctions are not scientifically or even rationally based. Racial distinctions are not based upon biochemical or genetic realities.

Prejudice

Prejudice is the individual human decision to prefer or not prefer someone or something. It is an attitude.

This decision may be based on facts or opinions, experience or the influence of others. The decision to prefer or not to prefer may be rational or irrational, beneficial or self-destructive.

Racial prejudice is prejudice based upon one’s beliefs about a man-made category of people.

Discrimination

Discrimination is the externalization of prejudice. It is the outworking in action of the attitudes of the prejudiced individual.

Discrimination can be practiced by individuals or groups. Discrimination can be organized or disorganized.

Racial discrimination manifests itself in any and all human activities, social, political,  economic and religious as the actions of one individual or group of individuals to deny to one group what they would not deny to others and to attach to one group what they would not attach to others.

Racism

Racism is the science of discrimination. Racism is the calculated introduction of discrimination into the institutions of society. Racism is a conspiracy to scientifically marginalize or destroy a specific racial group by the manipulation of the organs of society such as the family, government (including legislation, law enforcement and the courts), academia, the media and the church.

By definition, racism is cultural warfare, or the extension of conventional warfare to the cultural sphere.

Section Five: Evaluation of the Affirmations and Denials of the Statement

An examination of the Statement provides several reasons for concern on logical grounds.

  • The Statement maintains, but does not demonstrate, that the gospel is threatened by the social justice agenda, which it does not define.
  • The Statement conveniently confuses what is a real question regarding sanctification and its effects in society with an attack upon the doctrines of salvation.
  • The Statement addresses racism, also without defining what it is.
  • The Statement appears to confuse the Church organization with the Body of Christ, thereby obfuscating exactly who is responsible to live out the gospel in sanctification.
  • The Statement makes a highly questionable and dangerous statement regarding Culture, which reveals its inner thoughts perhaps more than intended.

Dr. McDurmon provides his own list of objections:

“While there is much in it that is agreeable, the document has flaws that will produce serious consequences. I will not sign the document for several reasons, among them:

  1. The document leaves crucial terms undefined.
  2. The document nevertheless makes spiritual judgments and condemnations based upon undefined terms.
  3. The document combines disparate social issues (race, marriage, sexuality) under one overgeneralized label.
  4. The document marginalizes Christian social responsibility.
  5. The statement and its theology provide no alternative.
  6. The document weakens the truths of Lordship salvation.
  7. This document could have been signed by the antebellum slaveowners, etc.
  8. What the document seeks to condemn can be condemned in better ways.
  9. The fundamental principles the document upholds are protected better by other statements.”

Ryan Burton King, a person who was asked to sign the draft document,  provides the following reasons why he would not sign the document:

“Purporting to address an alleged shift in evangelical circles away from the biblical gospel towards a false social gospel, the new Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is driven by people I would like to believe are well-meaning but frankly not at all “getting” what those whom it primarily addresses are saying. That is at best. At worst, it represents a toxic agenda to discredit and undermine godly men and women crying out for biblical social justice, national and ecclesiastical repentance, and meaningful reconciliation. I certainly hope that this statement will not become a litmus test for orthodoxy, as if those who don’t sign it should be written off as “not sound”. If so the people implicated would include (barring the unlikely event one of them were to sign): Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, H. B. Charles, Charlie Dates, Ligon Duncan, Mika Edmondson, Carl and Karen Ellis, Steve Gaines, Philip and Jasmine Holmes, Eric Mason, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Trillia Newbell, Preston and Jackie Hill Perry, John Piper, David Platt, Kevin Smith, Robert Smith, Walter Strickland, Ralph Douglas West, and so on and so forth. These are names of people off the top of my head listed alphabetically, all of whom have spoken out on abiding racial sin in America and its churches this year and many previous years. In their number are the very people the statement erroneously has in view as in some way abandoning the gospel for a social gospel. An examination of their ministries, their sermons, writings, music, and so forth should decisively demonstrate their Christo-centric, gospel ministries and serve as the context within which, the backdrop against which, the lens through which their (in my estimation very helpful and necessary) contributions should be understood.

“Others will doubtless speak out on various part of the statement that concern them – and I may be inclined to later add their contributions as a post-script at the bottom of this post. For now though, here are some by no means exhaustive points on my behalf. I wrote and sent these by email several weeks ago, after receiving a draft of the statement with the request that I sign. I could not in good conscience sign then, and despite areas where the statement has been tweaked and in one instance substantially revised (revisions that I have taken into account to amend my response), I will not now. The statement remains in my view a cynical, misguided document that has been pitched by the wrong people, at the wrong time, in the wrong way, and with wrong ideas and understandings in the background.”

Again, the fundamental problem with the document is that it promotes a false issue: that the issue of social justice in the Christian church is one of an adulteration of the gospel; that bible believing Christians are incorporating postmodern concepts into the gospel formula, diluting the gospel by adding works to grace, worse yet, social works.

“We have a great Lord and Savior, and it is a privilege to defend his gospel, regardless of cost or consequences. Nevertheless, while we rejoice in that privilege, we grieve that in doing so we know we are taking a stand against the positions of some teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides. It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course.”

We maintain that this is a false agenda. We maintain that the document is an effort, in a long line of similar efforts throughout American history:

  • To absolve the church from the conflict with societal injustice: to acknowledge individual sins, but to label the systematic and enduring societal injustice either countenanced or participated in by large groups of Christians as outside the scope of Christian activity and therefore impervious to the gospel.
  • To avoid, at all costs, the Christian’s responsibility for his/her role in the cumulative impact of individual sins upon groups and institutions and to assign these effects to the victims themselves by making their victim status itself a sin. “Yes I shot you, but it’s your fault that you died.”
  • To deny that the intent of these collective sinful institutional tendencies, aided and abetted by pastors who enable congregational denial, is to maintain a specific social order that is just as inconsistent with scripture as postmodernism and Marxism.

Selected Affirmations and Denials

Scripture

WE AFFIRM that the Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by him. It is inerrant, infallible, and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live). All truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God’s final Word, which is Scripture alone.

WE DENY that Christian belief, character, or conduct can be dictated by any other authority, and we deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching. We further deny that competency to teach on any biblical issue comes from any qualification for spiritual people other than clear understanding and simple communication of what is revealed in Scripture.

These terms [intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory] are not defined in the Statement, but they are weaponized to use against unidentified adversaries. Neither we or future generations are provided any information regarding the specific infractions against scripture being generally alleged. Although the Statement acknowledges the institutional impact of sin [see Section: ”Sin”], it seems that the attempt to specify those impacts against as against women, or ethnicities or the intersections thereof is improper and an attack upon the gospel, simply because the authors of the Statement say they are.

Gospel

WE AFFIRM that the gospel is the divinely-revealed message concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ—especially his virgin birth, righteous life, substitutionary sacrifice, atoning death, and bodily resurrection—revealing who he is and what he has done with the promise that he will save anyone and everyone who turns from sin by trusting him as Lord.

“WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel. This also means that implications and applications of the gospel, such as the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel.”

Again, a false issue, first, because it has not been established how the gospel is specifically under attack. It is also a false issue because those “teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides,” have not been shown in the Statement to have called the gospel into question but to have called the church to be held accountable for the “implications and applications of the gospel.” This is the real center of the objection of the writers of this Statement and the objection of every generation of Christians who wish to use the authority of the scripture to promote or to maintain a social order. In these paragraphs, the gospel is being used as a shield to defend a segment of the Church against legitimate debate, not about the content of the gospel, but upon the extent of the sanctification of believers who ignore or abet widespread discrimination in their own families, on their jobs and in their communities.

The Church

WE AFFIRM that the primary role of the church is to worship God through the preaching of his word, teaching sound doctrine, observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper, refuting those who contradict, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost. We affirm that when the primacy of the gospel is maintained that this often has a positive effect on the culture in which various societal ills are mollified. We affirm that, under the lordship of Christ, we are to obey the governing authorities established by God and pray for civil leaders.

WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church. Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head. We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.

Who on earth, other than an unvarnished liberal, would consider social activism of any kind to be an “integral component(s) of the gospel?” The writers have already said that liberals are not the target of this Statement. As everywhere else, there is a lack of sufficient definition.  What is “political and social activism” but the use of “all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society.”  The backbone of the case against these “implications and applications” is the erection of straw man arguments such as these. There are precedents to this kind of behavior in scripture.

Mark 7:9–13 (KJV 1900)
9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. 12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

There is a social and political tradition in America that is characterized by discrimination and oppression towards certain ethnic groups. Dr. McDurmon in his article refers to elements of the Christian Church that have always come to the aid of this unjust system providing theological and homiletical support to its maintenance by fervent arguments claiming that the scriptures and the gospel were endangered. In our opinion, these Christians are using a spiritual principle, like “Corban” to invalidate another spiritual principle. The Statement uses “defending the gospel” to actually defend the social order by relieving the believer of his responsibility to seek justice and righteousness in all his relationships, personal and institutional. For “the sake of the gospel,” today’s “Corban,” the believer is freed from speaking truth to power, except perhaps with the exception of abortion and homosexuality, during the political season.

There is also in this affirmation and denial, a confusion of the local church organization with the actual Body of Christ. Members of the Body of Christ have jobs, vote, pay taxes and raise children, and these activities would also be included in the things that are being denied as “either evidence of saving faith or constituting a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head,” however all of these things are necessary for an acceptable Christian witness before the world. This is another of example of using the gospel to obfuscate that real issue.

This kind of obscurantist thinking is demonstrated by the statement that “We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.” This inability to perceive the function of law when applied to contemporary social relations is one of the clearest evidences of the actual character of this argument against what is being called social activism.  Law, all legitimate human law, finds its source in God. God established the civil authority not to save souls or to change hearts, but to protect people from violations or morality, another concept that finds its source in God. Law properly designed and enforced, prevents slavery, lynching, housing and workplace discrimination, gerrymandering and so on. The Christian should stand for proper laws and their fair implementation as a function of his own stewardship over his home, workplace and community, as an extension of the divine mandate that God provided the human race and as a function of his witness to righteousness and justice as God’s representative in the earth. Silence regarding injustice is neither a Christian virtue or an aid to gospel proclamation.

Race / Ethnicity

WE AFFIRM God made all people from one man. Though people often can be distinguished by different ethnicities and nationalities, they are ontological equals before God in both creation and redemption. “Race” is not a biblical category, but rather a social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority. All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace. All sinful actions and their results (including evils perpetrated between and upon ethnic groups by others) are to be confessed as sinful, repented of, and repudiated.

WE DENY that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ. We deny that any divisions between people groups (from an unstated attitude of superiority to an overt spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed. We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.

“While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.” What kind of theological statement is this? It sounds like snarky whining. Then, there are the bigoted code words “entitled victims of oppression” as if blacks and others are lining up to be beaten, shot and cheated so that they can become “entitled victims.” Why does it feel as if you have no intention of weeping with certain people who weep?

The problem in these statements regarding race is no so much in what is included, though that is problematic, but what is excluded. There is the typical implicit denial that there exist systems of inequality based on race that some racial groups benefit from and sustain by the calculated non-application of the principles of sanctification, in the workplace, voting booth and other realms cordoned off from the power of the new birth. This section also goes to the heart of the issue with this document: its unspoken intent to provide the doctrinal cover for the systematic disregard of systems of evil that are participated in and enjoyed by American believers. If the subject of race is to be explicitly addressed, then these realities should be addressed as well. While the document mentions the existence of racial injustice, its main efforts are exerted to insulate believers from personal responses to injustice in their periphery.

Culture

WE AFFIRM that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions. Those elements of a given culture that reflect divine revelation should be celebrated and promoted. But the various cultures out of which we have been called all have features that are worldly and sinful—and therefore those sinful features should be repudiated for the honor of Christ. We affirm that whatever evil influences to which we have been subjected via our culture can be—and must be—overcome through conversion and the training of both mind and heart through biblical truth.

WE DENY that individuals and sub-groups in any culture are unable, by God’s grace, to rise above whatever moral defects or spiritual deficiencies have been engendered or encouraged by their respective cultures.

This is perhaps the most frightening and dangerous section of the entire document. The first sentence is the heart of the problem. “WE AFFIRM that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions.“  It could have as easily been written by those studying the “Jewish Question” in pre-WWII Germany. The word “operate” like many of the other key words in the document remains undefined. The entire issue of social justice and the church rests upon the assertion by many that neither Christians or their pastors are “operating” on the basis of the alleged Christian assumptions that they lay claim to. The idea of cultural superiority itself implies a willful and systematic blindness to the moral, social, political and military excesses of the very cultures who are implied to have these superior values. A casual perusal of history affirms this with finality. The fact that they did not decide to eliminate this section altogether shows that there is a great deal to fear in the thinking, the actual thinking, that lies behind this Statement.

Racism

WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people. Such racial sin can subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory. Such sinful prejudice or partiality falls short of God’s revealed will and violates the royal law of love. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.

WE DENY that treating people with sinful partiality or prejudice is consistent with biblical Christianity. We deny that only those in positions of power are capable of racism, or that individuals of any particular ethnic groups are incapable of racism. We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions. We deny that the Bible can be legitimately used to foster or justify partiality, prejudice, or contempt toward other ethnicities. We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another.  And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.

It is worthy of note that this section is placed directly after the statement on cultural superiority.

“We deny that only those in positions of power are capable of racism, or that individuals of any particular ethnic groups are incapable of racism.”

How can you affirm or deny something that has not been defined? If the word is changed to from racism to discrimination then I could live with the statement, however, the ability to effect racism as I have defined it is not possible for the powerless or the near powerless. The Samaritans could be and were prejudiced and discriminatory towards the Jews, but they were in no position to accomplish the systematic marginalization of the Israelites, which was indeed what the Jews did to the them.[7]

“We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another.”

There is another confusion of one group, the Evangelical Movement, with another group, white believers. The social justice issue remains the issue that it is because so many Christians do not stand up to injustices practiced by their own family members, they practice injustice in their positions of authority in the workplace and in the church itself. The Evangelical churches in America are segregated in their membership and leadership not because there is an Evangelical conspiracy, but neither is it by accident.

“And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel” [emphasis added]

Who exactly is recommending lectures on activism? A responsible pastor teaches his people how to avoid adultery in the workplace, the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, the importance of setting a holy example for others, this, apparently, is biblical teaching. It becomes “lecturing”  when it comes to social issues, which are liable to become a “distraction” and a “departure from the gospel.”  Which is it? Is it any teaching on how a Christian should live that is a departure from the gospel, or only those issues circumscribed as “social issues?” Are abortion, child trafficking, homosexuality and packing the Supreme Court social issues? Should we stay away from lecturing on these as well?

Conclusion

The believer in Jesus Christ should want to live a life that has a powerful and eternal impact for the gospel. The penetration of the gospel into all aspects of the believers personality will result in genuine desire for justice and equity in our relationships and within the institutions with which we interface. This consistent testimony is a source of conviction to the world, who will see that the God of the Christian is a God of righteousness. Unbelievers are spiritually blind, but they are not fools. They can tell if the believer is as invested in the inequality and systems of injustice embedded in our society as everyone else. The lost know what segregation is and the fact that it is in your church does not render that reality invisible to them. The gospel invitation given in the “integrated” church where 99.8 percent of the leadership is of one race may require an extra unction for the Spirit to quiet the reasonable questions of the unsaved listener. Unbelievers can see who Christians hire and promote in the workplace, they can see problems in these areas just as they can see any other sinful inconsistency in the life of a believer. If pastors and teachers are really concerned about the purity of the gospel witness, social justice must begin, not in some public demonstration, but in the pulpit, the classroom and the small group bible study. It should happen-but I’m not optimistic.

 

[1] The statements on gender issues in the document appear to be thrown in, almost as an afterthought. Bible believers are not attempting to justify homosexuality. Believers exist on both sides of the complementarian/egalitarian issue. I myself am complementarian.

[2] 22.2 θλῖψις, εως f: trouble involving direct suffering—‘trouble and suffering, suffering, persecution.’

Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 242.

[3] Ex 22.21; Lev 25.17; Dt 24.14; Judg 2.18; Job 36.15; Ps 9.9; 10.18; Ps 62.10; 103.6; 146.7; Prov 22.22; Isa 1.17; 5:7; 33.15; Jer 7.6; Zech 7.8-12; Mal 3.5; Acts 7.24;

[4] Prov 11.10-11; 14.34; 28.12; Acts 10.34-35; Eze 8.1-9

[5] “Nevertheless, while we rejoice in that privilege, we grieve that in doing so we know we are taking a stand against the positions of some teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides. It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course.” Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel-Introduction

[6] All of the signers of the Statement do not have to be consciously aware of this purpose for it to be so. The genius of institutionalized discrimination [see: Definition of Racism in Section 4] is that all may share in its benefits without having to directly participate in the maintenance of the oppressive social order.

[7]      ” SAMARITANS

The relation between Jew and Samaritan was one of hostility. The expulsion of Manasseh by Nehemiah for an unlawful marriage, and his building of the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim by permission of Darius Nothus, took place about 409 B.C. The inhospitality (Luke 9:52-53) and hostility of the Samaritans induced many pilgrims from the N to Jerusalem to go on the E of the Jordan. The Samaritans sometimes, using rival flames, perplexed the watchers for the signal fires that announced the rising of the paschal moon from Mt. Olivet to the Euphrates. They rejected all the OT except the Pentateuch, concerning which they claimed to have an older copy than the Jews and to observe the precepts better. The Jews repaid hate with hate. They cast suspicion on the Samaritan copy of the law and disallowed the steadfast claim of the Samaritans to Jewish birth (John 4:12). Social and commercial relations, although they could not be broken off (4:8), were reduced to the lowest possible figure. “The Samaritan was publicly cursed in their synagogues-could not be adduced as a witness in the Jewish courts-could not be admitted to any sort of proselytism, and was thus, so far as the Jew could affect his position, excluded from eternal life.” (from The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s