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Narratives - October 12, 2022

Narratives - October 12, 2022

by Jason Cook on October 12, 2022

Question: Are We Becoming A Social Justice Church? (This is part one in a 3 part answer to this question. Check back in next week for part 2 where we look at what the Bible says about social justice).

Answer: Yes and No…But I don’t fully understand the question.

Ok, hear me out. I know that answer is a bit vague, but questions like these require a bit more than a yes and a no. George Bernard Shaw once said that the greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has happened. He’s right. In this case, I don’t know what someone means by “social justice” because it changes based on where you are socially located. I’m not a sociologist or a historian, nor am I an attorney. I’m a pastor. So I’ll approach this from the vantage point of Senior Pastor at Fellowship Roswell instead of borrowing the valor or credentials of one speaking authoritatively from their field. Let’s begin with a little history.

Evangelical roots of Justice

David Bebbington is a distinguished history scholar who has been studying Christian movements for decades. He’s widely known today because of the four pronged definition of what an evangelical is, otherwise known as Bebbington’s Quadrilateral. Here are the four markers of an evangelical:
  1. Biblicism - The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  2. Crucicentrism - Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  3. Conversionism - Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
  4. Activism - It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Another way to say #4 is: the gospel should be proclaimed and lived out in one’s life. This fourth prong of the quadrilateral is what is particularly interesting to me today. In large part, because #4 has historically extended beyond simply evangelism. Churches for centuries has been “activistic” — actively working to show the gospel — through mercy and justice ministry. The early church rescued children in places where infanticide was common. They valued and honored women and widows and provided for them. It was the Church that fed the hungry, visited those in prison, and clothed those who were naked— served the least of these. Christians have always been activists because that is what Jesus was and is.

Modern evangelicals, regardless of where they land on the spectrum, would agree that faith without works is dead — which is why Christians founded hospitals, the Red Cross, schools, social programming for the underserved, and the non-profit boom. Evangelical Christians have been and continue to be a massive source of contributions for charity and non-profits. When you consider the hospital you were born in, there is a high likelihood it has its origins in Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, or Catholic roots. Why? Because Christians have always been in the business of living out their faith in tangible ways that bless the world by bringing shalom into it. Another way to say this is that Christians have always been engaged in social justice.

Every time you serve at the Atlanta Mission, bring clothes for a child who needs them, foster or adopt a child, visit someone in prison, advocate for a mother to keep her child, share your faith with a friend, donate resources to the church or missionary you are engaged in a form of social justice. You are helping make right what is broken in the world. You’re engaged in the fourth prong. Social justice is classically Christian. Social justice is classically evangelical. Social justice is classically biblical.

Compassion International, a global ministry that aims to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name defines social justice this way: “Social justice is an extension of God’s love and work in protecting and defending those who can’t defend themselves.” What a beautiful and thoroughly Christian endeavor!

Fellowship Bible Church and Social Justice

So why this long diatribe about Bebbington and quadrilaterals? Well, because our church stands in the long tradition of being a traditionally evangelical church. We don’t have a traditional theological stream as a non-denominational church (we are Baptistic —another blog post for another time) but when you look at who we are at our core we are evangelical. If you were to poll most people in our body, they would say they agree with all four of Bebbington’s descriptions. I, myself, am proudly a traditional evangelical. When you think about the mercy ministry in our church over the past 43 years there is a long history of faithful generosity, justice-seeking, and social justice activism. From Mimosa elementary in the early days all the way up to our recent aid to our partners in Ukraine. This type of work is baked into our DNA. Praise God for that!

So are we becoming a social justice-oriented church? In a very real and tangible way we’ve always been a social justice-oriented church. So no we are not becoming a social justice-oriented church. We can’t become something that we’ve always been. It is one reason why I’m so proud to be a pastor of our flock. The love of neighbor, the love for the least of these, and the active work done toward extending God’s love to defend those who can’t defend themselves is an inextricable part of who we are. Praise be to God!

Now, I want to acknowledge that some don’t share the same view of social justice and the ways that the world and political partisans have co-opted that definition away from its traditional view and into a more modern expression. We will get to that in part three. Next week I’ll be tackling how the Bible understands and teaches us to see Justice — not as an exclusively political and culturally leftist enterprise but a core component to the character and nature of God.

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