Social Justice And The Gospel

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle in the cyberworld because of a statement Pastor John MacArthur made, and thousands of other evangelical Christians signed, about Social Justice and the Gospel.

In essence MacArthur’s statement is a call for Christians to hold fast to the teaching of God’s word and not get swept up in the rabbit trails the world would lead us down.

I’ve been listening to MacArthur most mornings for about the last six months or so. Maybe longer. I have to say, I often disagree with him. Not substantively, but in places where he is so absolute, so dogmatic, that he doesn’t leave room for honest disagreement by others who are just as serious and knowledgeable about God’s word as he is.

From my perspective, I think he comes across a little arrogantly. I say this with love, mind you. Because I do think he cares deeply for God’s word and makes a great effort to help people grasp the truths of Scripture. And hold on to them. Without error. But still, at times he can be abrasive and seemingly, callous. But he’s right more than not.

As anyone who is paying attention knows, error does and has and is creeping into some bodies of the Church. Hence, in a recent blog post, MacArthur states

The besetting sin of pragmatic, style-conscious evangelicals has always been that they shamelessly borrow fads and talking points from the unbelieving world.

I don’t disagree with him.

Our sin is no different from the people of Israel worshiping Yahweh and some Egyptian idol or Canaanite god. Sadly, we are just as prone to look around, see what people in the world are doing, and say, “Let’s do that!” Because, you know, people will like us better. People will come to Jesus more, and isn’t that our goal?

That actually puts in the best light the desire to do what the world is doing, but some groups have motives that aren’t that noble. Yet even the most upright of motive misses the point that we don’t save anyone. The Holy Spirit does. We are to do the works of righteousness, to be ambassadors for Christ, telling the world near and far that we have a Savior who will rescue us from the kingdom of darkness.

But recently we’ve headed down some of those cultural rabbit trails that MacArthur is warning us about. We’ve set the gospel aside to proclaim social justice instead.

The confusing thing is that the gospel is all about social justice, so by proclaiming it we are simultaneously, and more effectively, dealing with the glaring ills of society.

In some ways you could think of social justice as a subset of the gospel. I think it’s sort of like the Pharisees who locked on to the command to keep the Sabbath. After all, some of the prophets reamed the nation of Israel for not keeping the Sabbath—a contributing cause of God turning them over to Babylon and Assyria.

I suppose the Pharisees were determined that would never happen again, so they came up with an elaborate system of laws to make sure that someone didn’t work on the Sabbath. Their motive seems like it was good, but they were not dealing with a person’s heart. They were simply concerned about the outward appearance.

Social justice is like that in many respects. There are needs—homelessness, crises pregnancies, homosexual lifestyles, gender confusion, race relations, and more. So let’s clean up these problems, social justice seems to say.

But the real problem is in the heart. Cleaning the outside of the cup will only give a cup that looks clean, but all the germs are still on the inside and that’s what can cause real problems.

The Bible takes on the heart first, but also requires believers to take on the things that create confusion in our culture. Not by creating a Moral Majority or an evangelical voting block or some other system that copies the world. We already have our “system.” It’s called the Church.

And the Church is designed to equip the saints to go out into the highways and the byways and preach the gospel and love our neighbors and tell the world about Jesus.

Sadly, the poor we will always have with us. And yet we are to create a Church environment that makes room for the poor. We are to care for widows and orphans in their distress. We are to share Christ with the tax collectors and the Samaritan woman equally.

But we aren’t simply to clean the outside of the cup. That’s inadequate and doesn’t address eternal needs.

Back to the internet controversy about MacArthur’s statement, I think there is some disingenuous opposition and some genuine concern. Some people say, a lot of his statements give those who are racist a reason to hate and claim that they are doing so according to the Bible.

That’s a sad misreading of the text, of both Scripture and MacArhur’s. One can only reach that conclusion by ignoring the clear statements that present what the Bible actually says about Christian unity. Of course, there very well might be some people who want an excuse to hate. I don’t know that the Church can do anything to change that, apart from proclaiming the truth to them, too.

On the other hand, there are people who believe what the world is saying about feminism and homosexuality and gender, and they simply hate what the Bible says about those issues. Their criticism of MacArthur and his statement is disingenuous. They don’t really have a quarrel with him. Their quarrel is with the Bible because they don’t want women to accept roles that aren’t identical to men’s roles. They don’t want to bow to the authority of Scripture when it comes to sex.

They are like the children of Israel who made alliances with the nations they were to steer clear of, who later wanted a king rather than God to lead them, who drifted from worship until the temple was in a ruined state and the Law had been forgotten.

This is what John MacArthur is warning the Church about. When we follow in the footsteps of the people of Israel, we are jeopardizing our witness in the West.

No fear. The Church will flourish. The gates of hell won’t prevail against it. But maybe in the West, the lamp will go out. Like it did for a time in Ephesus and Laodecia and the other churches in Revelation. It just might depend on what this generation does.

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good post, Becky! Well done. I think you’ve dealt with it all in an even handed way. I can’t see any real disagreement here.

    Just a side note, “social justice” where I live, is almost entirely in the hands of Christians, that is pregnancy crisis centers, food banks, foster care, housing, even more leftward leaning into immigration and lgbt issues. It is atheists, the far left, and often local gov that shames the “social justice” work of churches. They of course, want government to
    solve all social ills and so “social justice” in my neck of the woods is perceived as a threat to secularism and government.

    Of course in Seattle, LA, and Chicago, “social justice” looks a bit different, but something I think MacArthur and others may not have taken into account, is what a buffer the church can be against Gov abuse of power. The church actually solves problems, heals some people in the process, and so we “rob” the gov of people as commodities, as political pawns in a war for grant money and political power. Without the homeless, poverty, the oppressed, there is no political cause to rally government around, no persecuted victims in which to use as an excuse for votes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • IB, you said, “So ‘social justice’ in my neck of the woods is perceived as a threat to secularism and government.” Kind of like Christian schools here in SoCal. They are perceived as a threat to secularism and government, so great lengths go into defeating any kind of vouchers that would “take money away” from the secular powers.

      I think what MacArthur should have been clearer about is the difference between what the Church is to preach (the gospel) and what the Church is to do (love our neighbors). I listened to a short video of his on YouTube about social justice, and he started out by saying that the gospel does not contain social justice. I know he’s referring to salvation. The good news is that Christ died to take away the sins of the world. And in that sense, he’s right. Our works contribute nothing to our salvation.

      But we should be living in the book of James (go Wally!) because there the word of God makes it clear any faith we espouse is not alive unless it’s lived out. So saving faith is of necessity doing faith.

      I don’t know how that all works out practically, because I think some are sent and some stay home to hold the coats. And coat holders don’t look like they’re doing the hard work of the front liners. Who’s to say except God? But I think a lot of criticism gets thrown at the Church because of the coat holders. I saw that at my church when we had a new pastor (not the man we have now) basically chastise us Sunday after Sunday for what we weren’t doing. Yet our church has a history of missionary involvement, we had food collections for the homeless back in the 80s, long before it was in vogue for churches to take an active interest in the poor. We had prison ministries and ministries for international students and neighborhood work days and on and one.

      All that’s well and good, but all those activities don’t address the heart issue. As it was, they arose organically because of the teaching of God’s word.

      Behind them all were those who donated the food and clothes, provided the monetary support for those who went on short term missions to build churches and dig wells, who year after year donate furniture for the international students, and on and on. And then there are those who pray for all those things.

      So who is involved in living out their faith? I think all of these. But I don’t think all are equally visible, and so the Church can take some flack.

      Anyway, thanks for your feedback, IB. It’s interesting to see the various things that influence our ideas, and how God’s word continues to bind us together. Pretty cool!

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good word. We see the final church of Revelation is in apostosy. The western church is very close to that now. We can only cure the ills of society by kingdom growth and power of the Holy Spirit. Holiness, righteousness, and spiritual warfare lead the battle. Those things are missing in an apostate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amen. Thanks, Colleen. It really does seem rather simple: preach the word so that hearts turn from sin, and the problems that sin cause will no longer control our society. Of course that’s a process, and meanwhile we are still to love our neighbors. Scripture doesn’t say we only love them when they become Christians, but even when they need us to go the second mile or to give them our coat.

      But loving our neighbors is not the First Command. It’s the second. Loving our neighbors (and it’s doubtful creating government programs to alleviate a perceived or real problem actually constitutes loving our neighbors) is not the gospel.

      Rather, the gospel, and the resulting relationship we enjoy with God makes loving our neighbors possible.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion, Colleen.

      Becky

      Like

  3. Great article! It’s not an either/or thing. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus said,
    “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” God calls us to both holiness and compassion.

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    • Excellent, Cyndi. The verse you quoted is so applicable. And I love this: ” God calls us to both holiness and compassion.”

      Becky

      Like

  4. I have heard both points of view about MacArthur’s sermon. Not all the criticism comes from secular liberals or progressive lefties either. The complementarian movement tries to combat the misandry of third wave feminism by doubling down on “traditional gender roles” to ridiculous extremes.

    Jeff Crippen and other Christian bloggers are upset that high ranking church leaders deny the spouse abuse that goes on in the church to preserve the illusion of perfection. Piper and MacArthur do not advocate wife abuse but by failing to address it when it occurs and encouraging a subtly demeaning view of women–also created in God’s image–they are not solving the problem.

    Social justice is an oxymoron (actually it’s antisocial vengeance) as well as an idol. But family values can also be turned into an idol.

    I do wish there were better advice to Christians on forgiving other people. Just because you have forgiven someone doesn’t make the pain and anger vanish immediately. We need to acknowledge this. And to many it seems like some conservatives side with the strong–yelling at the weaker folks they have wronged to give them those who wronged them the forgiveness which “they owe them.”

    Forgiveness is not the kind of thing you can demand from someone as something they OWE. If you have wronged a spouse or friend the best way to drive a bigger wedge between you is to demand forgiveness as your lawful due. Going the second mile is admitted to be beyond the call of duty. Beyond what we owe someone.

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    • Yes. Forgiveness is essential for Christians.

      I view it as something I owe God Who forgave me so much more and has ordered me to pay it forward. Undeserving as my debtor may be.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Rachel. But I tend to think criticism from both left and right must mean MacArthur came the middle on this. Because you’re right–social justice can be an idol but “family values” can be an idol. And people in power positions, like men in “complementarian” churches or homes can misuse and abuse their authority. Doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong because someone misuses it, but I can see why people are suspect of MacArthur’s call to follow the Bible. I thought His statement covered the questions people might raise from either camp, but I think it matters how firmly entrenched a person is regarding their particular views. They each have Scripture passages to back up their opinion. They just can’t answer their critics who also have Scripture.

      Yes, forgiveness is a huge element in our relationship with one another, and you’re right again that it can’t be demanded. It’s sort of funny thinking that a person is truly repentant if they are demanding forgiveness.

      Glad your here, Rachel. I could tell from that FB group discussion you’d have good things to say.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person


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