I have read quite a few blog posts dealing with the issue of “social justice” of late. I can certainly understand where they are coming from, as some proponents of “social justice” are mirror images of conservative pundits hiding a political agenda behind religious talk, in this case using the Biblical call for self-sacrifice and caring for the poor to push for government enforced wealth redistribution. Unfortunately, many of these posts strayed away from “why socialism is not Biblical” and into “why capitalism is Biblical”. Neither position is tenable from Scripture because Scripture doesn’t address secular economic issues but rather deals with the responsibility of Christians in light of their redemption to care for the poor, widows, orphans, etc.
I find it troubling that so many conversations starts with “Well of course we are supposed to care for the poor…” which is then followed by a whole bunch of reasons why that is not nearly as important as the Bible seems to clearly make it out to be. Unfortunately, in spite of the clear Biblical command to care for the poor and be self-sacrificial, we are often pretty darn selfish people. We trade the way of the cross for the American way of life and feel not the slightest qualm that we live in very self-centered lifestyles while fellow believers here and around the world suffer abject poverty. We can try to excuse it away by giving some money to foreign missions boards or claiming that our mandate only extends to members of our local church but that falls pretty short.
I find it odd that we spend so much time explaining why we are not really responsible to care for the poor and indeed that we are not called to be self-sacrificial beyond a meager offering on Sunday morning. While there certainly is no justification for using the state to seize money through taxes and under the threat of force to redistribute to people of a lower income, there is also no warrant for Christians to backpedal away from mercy ministries and constantly question ourselves regarding our commitment to being agents of mercy.
Perhaps “social justice” just carries to much baggage. When we mention the words “social justice”, it might just evoke such a negative response that we overreact to it. It certainly has been championed by people who take the Biblical doctrine of works of mercy to promote all manner of political social solutions. Or perhaps that is just a convenient excuse. While I do think that “social justice” has been compromised as a liberal religious slogan, I don’t that this is the core problem.
So what is the problem? One word: Money.
Every day Christians live out the exact behavior being condemned in James 2: 15-16:
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2: 15-16)
We are not called to outdo one another in our grandiose building programs or in bragging about our various ministries and how great they are. We are to be known for our love for one another, to boast about Christ (and that doesn’t come in the form of palatial buildings built “for the glory of God”) and to be marked by humility and self-sacrifice.
The reality when you strip away the political rhetoric and pragmatic backpedaling comes down to this:
- Scripture does not imply or directly call for the state to be either capitalistic or socialistic. Nor does the clear call to aid the poor envision a government mandated solution to that problem.
- Scripture likewise doesn’t excuse a consumerist, what’s mine is mine mentality. If you deny a brother in need, if you refuse to open your home to the downtrodden, if you think a small offering on Sunday makes your life of excessive consumption OK, you are completely misunderstanding what the Bible teaches about wealth, possessions and stewardship.
When we read about the day of judgment, one thing seems to stand out as being indicative of a faithful Christian. It is not “church membership” or even attending “church” on a regular basis. It is not being able to exposit a passage of Scripture or being on the right side of the debate over baptism or holding to the right confessional statement from the reformation. Nor is it that you chained yourself to a redwood or helped get “progressive” politicians elected or drove a Prius. The only thing that matters is that you rightly confess Christ as the risen Son of God who died for the sins of His people, a confession that is not merely lip-service but reflected in a transformed life.
Why are we so afraid of these words from our Savior? Perhaps because we find condemnation of our selfish lives in what He said and perhaps that is precisely why they were spoken.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 31-46)