What is the Church’s Social Responsibility?

I believe the primary mission of the local church to the lost is to provide not material, but spiritual relief by proclaiming the good news of eternal life by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In times of crisis, our primary mission as the local church is to offer comfort, hope, and biblical counsel to help people respond to trials and suffering in a way that glorifies God and helps them grow to better know, love, and follow Christ.

This position is rather unpopular in our current climate, especially in light of the recent conversations surrounding social justice and the gospel. One of the issues that I’ve seen rise to the surface in the midst of the vitriolic attack, debate, and defense of the SJ&G Statement, is a failure to distinguish between an individual Christian’s responsibility and interaction with the world, and the local church as a corporate body holding the keys of the kingdom. That distinction is crucial in understanding our role in the community, culture, political sphere, and world.

It’s challenging to sort through the various factors at play in seeking to understand the church’s social responsibility, and especially difficult to articulate this position, for a number of reasons. I encourage you to prayerfully consider this list of resources as you seek to understand the church’s responsibility, our responsibility as individual Christian citizens, and the relationship between evangelism and material aid.

The Social Responsibility of the Local Church and the Mission of Missions

Series on Christians, the Church, and Culture

Are All Biblical Commands Corporate?

My Church Loves the Poor, So I Don’t Have To

Discontinuity, Israel, and the Church

Mercy Ministry is not Kingdom Work

Responding to Tragedy by Giving Money (practical steps)

The Call to Minister to the Poor

Dispensationalism, Keller, and the Poor

Biblical Pillars of Mercy Ministry

Examples of Mercy Ministry

What’s Wrong With the Recent Evangelical “Social Justice” Movements?

“Churches” or “Christians” and Culture?

How Christians and Churches Prioritize Going About the Doing of Good

Transforming Culture with a Messiah Complex

The Social Responsibility of the Church (PDF by Benware)

Problems with Social Action in Missions (Cripplegate Series):

Missions: Ecclesiology with a Passport

2 Problems with Social Action in Missions

8 Problems with the Theory of “Social Action” Missions

8 Problems [part 2]

So, What is the Mission of Missions?

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How You Respond to Conflict

Here’s a helpful summary of different responses to conflict from Peacemaker Ministries.

https://peacemaker.training/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Response-Spectrum.pdf

 

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More Than You Wanted on Social Justice

The recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel has sparked an abundance of articles both in praise and critique of the statement at various levels, and from various angles. Allow me to point you toward some of the notables for those who are following this conversation or would like to understand the issue in more depth.

First, Tom Ascol wrote (on the day the statement was released) some short reflections on his involvement with the conception of the document.

I must also begin by recommending the articles being put out by the SJ&G website itself. Primarily from the original team involved with the statement, there are some excellent articles on the site addressing different aspects of the social justice controversy in more detail. So far, they have published some good articles on things like the nature of division and unity in the church, the problem with being “woke,” and the sufficiency of Scripture. You can find all the articles here.

And don’t forget about John MacArthur’s recent series on the fallacies of social justice.

Toby Sumpter has given a simple, but thoughtful and very helpful defense of the statement in this post—correcting the detractors, but being careful not to make the statement more than it was meant to be.

There has, of course, been a tsunami of articles attacking the statement. I’m going to, for the purposes of this post, ignore the responses that have come from those who are precisely the ones the statement is addressing. I’ll also leave out those responses that are simply unreasonable. However, there have been a few articles that have reasonable and helpful critiques that are worth being aware of.

Here is the first article I saw, in which Steve Hays explains why he decided not to sign the statement.

T. Neil Daugherty gives some thoughts from a Christian Libertarian perspective here.

Michael Bird also offers some critiques of the statement here. As I’ve said before, Bird is one of my favorite theologians (of those with whom I often disagree). His critiques are worth reading, but again, he falls into some of the same traps as other “balanced” voices. For example, Bird notes that salvation includes good news for the marginalized and oppressed. Of course, the problem in this whole conversation is that most of the players seem to be running on established assumptions concerning the definition of “marginalized,” the identity of the “oppressed” groups, and the kind and severity of the oppression. That’s precisely what Aniol and others would like to challenge.

Bird also mishandles Luke 4:16-21, but it’s a common interpretation he goes with. There, and several other times in the article, Bird betrays a faulty hermeneutic that leans postmillennial. He also suggests that any attempt to pursue true justice necessarily entails the approach and philosophy of the social justice movement.

To quote James: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27 NIV). To do that kind of stuff requires a social justice approach!

Not quite. Again, Bird misunderstands the SJ&G Statement’s very point of contention—that a genuine pursuit of justice does not mandate the methodology and “approach” of the social justice craze, and that, in fact, we may radically differ on our definitions of what justice will even look like for various individuals and groups.

That being said, Bird then has some quite helpful criticisms of Union Seminary’s radical progressivist response to the SJ&G Statement. Even when I disagree with his stance, I’ve always appreciated Bird’s ability to honestly push against both sides and look for the balance.

In this post, the author addresses two of the more prominent negative responses to the Statement, and explains why she decided to sign it.

Along that vein, Doug Wilson has also responded to McDurmon’s critique with some helpful thoughts of his own here, here, and (a valuable and insightful addition to the discussion) here.

Josh Buice explains his involvement with the statement here, and writes on feminism, liberation theology, and the sufficiency of Scripture, here.

And I’ll end, for now, by directing you back to an article on the SJ&G website again.

Some find The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel unhelpful and behind the times. “It is not sensitive to the present moment” they say. “It is not strategic” is the word on the street. But our Lord did not tell us to go into all the world and “be strategic.” He told us to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey all his commands. A rebellious world has always found that commission distasteful.

Can Christians be unnecessarily combative? Of course. But the fact that some have leveled that claim against the careful and measured statement on social justice and the gospel warrants what theologians in days gone by have called the hearty horse laugh. — Jared Longshore

I’m sure I’ll come back around to the topic a few more times. But what about you? Have you found any of the discussion surrounding social justice and the SJ&G Statement helpful? Frustrating? Enlightening? What are some other articles, authors, and pastors that you’ve found to offer valuable wisdom?

 


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How to Be Free From Bitterness

Jim Wilson, the father of Doug Wilson, has a superb little booklet on How to Be Free From Bitterness, and it is a jewel of a find. It was encouraging and challenging to me personally, but will also be a frequent and valuable resource to use in my own counseling and discipleship of others. You can find other PDFs of Jim Wilson’s, like this one on being a responsible man, on this page.

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The Gospel of Social Justice

“Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.” If the doctrines of God’s Word are not uncompromisingly reasserted and defended at these points, there is every reason to anticipate that these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.” — The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

The topic of so-called “social justice” has exploded on the evangelical scene in recent months. There has been a subtle yet dangerous conversation growing amongst evangelical leaders, including many conservative evangelical pastors and theologians for whom I have great respect, concerning the issue of social justice—tying it perilously close to the very essence of the gospel itself.

In some ways, this has been going on for several years, with leaders like Tim Keller or Russell Moore being on the cutting edge of evangelical compromise with progressivist ideology. But the roots have spread into almost every corner of the evangelical world of late, making the issue of social justice something significant enough, and often complicated and confusing enough, that a few strong, conservative men have found it necessary to take a stand for the pure gospel.

A few of those men, including Voddie Baucham, John MacArthur, Josh Buice, Phil Johnson, and Tom Buck, recently met in Dallas to compose a statement of official affirmations and denials, in the format of the Chicago statements, addressing their primary concerns and the dangers of the social justice movement, the biblical truth of the gospel, and the proper Christian response to this growing movement. This will probably become a very important statement (already being dubbed by some “the Dallas Statement”—I hope that sticks), and it will certainly separate out those who are willing to stand for the truth of God’s Word over against man’s word, and those who are willing to reinterpret God’s Word for the sake of “respectability” and having a seat at the secular table.

The one critique I have, at this point, is the way they use the term “racism” in article XIV, with little definition or clarification. This is a word that’s been weaponized to make Christians, white people, and men, feel guilty for being so, and thus required to apologize perpetually for sins they didn’t commit in order to atone for their existence in a condition they didn’t choose (and if you have the combination of all three—Christian white man—you’re probably the literal spawn of Satan). Anyway, racism is a rather muddled word these days, so some clarification would have been helpful. For a good discussion of the issue of racism and racial “reconciliation” or harmony, see Doug Wilson’s book of essays entitled Black and Tan.

For more information on the issue of social justice from a biblical perspective, I’d recommend this series from John MacArthur, and this article from Religious Affections. Religious Affections also has some links to other relevant articles in that post; I promise if you follow the links you will find a goldmine of information on the Christian perspective on culture, cultural engagement, and related issues. You may also find this article helpful, in which Josh Buice explains why he partook in the project and attached his name and reputation to the statement. Doug Wilson has posted his thoughts on the statement and related issure here. And, lastly, I have a post coming up soon in which I’ll point you to a number of articles that deal well with the question specifically of the church’s responsibility to the poor.

There will, undoubtedly, be a great deal of criticism aimed at this statement and the men who’ve written it. I’m sure there are some critiques that will be legitimate. It would have been beneficial if they had gone deeper into several of the issues addressed; but overall, the statement is well-written as far as it goes, and it will be helpful in what it does touch on. There have already been accusations of divisiveness hurled at these men, and certainly there will be some division as a result of this statement and the surrounding conversation—after all, doctrine divides precisely because truth is, by definition, exclusive.

Yet I’m thankful for the stand these men have taken, and I think this statement, despite any potential shortcomings, will still serve as an important document to spark conversation and reflection, and give valuable expression to the biblical worldview that many Christians know in their hearts to be true, but would have a difficult time articulating themselves had not wise men come together to clearly defend the purity of the gospel in an age when believers want their ears tickled and their feelings validated.

The other unfortunate reality you may notice is the lack of any more of the prominent, respected pastors and theologians as drafters or signers. The sad reason for this absence is that these very same prominent and respected Christian leaders are the ones who are giving in to the compromise, and leading the slide toward progressive, soft, trendy, “respectable” Christianity. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many Christian leaders have not signed the statement. They are the reason a statement like this is even necessary in the first place.

I’ll come back to update this post as I learn more. There’s also now, due to popular demand (myself being one of those who requested a copy to share), a PDF copy of the statement available for download to save, share, post at your church, etc.

I encourage you to take the time to read this important statement, and, if you’re a pastor and you believe you’re able, to add your name to it.

“Our hope is the clear sounding of the gospel. We must be heralds of truth—not political ideas or cultural trends… Far too often people are unwilling to stand for the gospel publicly because they are afraid of rebuke, criticism, and the loss of support for their ministry. Many people are willing to work long hours on their ministry strategy in order to protect their brand and their image, but they’re unwilling to subject themselves to heavy criticism that could potentially cause their brand to lose support in the end. Interestingly enough, Jude never says to protect your ministry strategy. The calling for Christians is to contend for the gospel. Jesus never promised us an easy life without trouble. In fact, he promised us much worse.” — Josh Buice

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