8.15.2017

WHEN YOUR PASTOR BECOMES A SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTION HERO

I know it has become en vogue in our day for pastors to think they're doing their congregations a great service by framing their sermons to deal with the social justice issues of the day. Obviously, the problems are many and we’re never short of issues to address: environmental problems, racial tensions, poverty, a sexual revolution, and more. No one questions, of course, that God’s truth should be applied to the contemporary societal challenges people face. The law of God certainly applies to these issues. A faithful pastor will do this wisely when appropriate.

I fear, however, that a kind of bully pulpit is (re)emerging by pastors who are pushing harder than ever these societal struggles upon their congregation (and everyone else), to the distraction of the one thing that is lasting and eternal. "Gospel" in this scheme is nothing more than the deliverance of people from societal abuses. God’s word is simply a tool of the pastor to fulfill that agenda. The congregation is slowly conditioned to expect the pastoral tangent from the pulpit every Sunday usually over one issue the pastor has become obsessed with. 

As times goes on, the people are being programmed to believe that the faithfulness of a church is dependent upon the degree to which these social abuses are addressed. Something happens in the news Saturday night, things are all the worse Sunday morning from the pulpit. Everything must now revolve around solving the new societal evil as the pastor becomes a kind of social justice action hero that everyone else should aspire to be. "A round of applause for the pastor," they say, "he was very bold today in rising up against injustice." All of it was very entertaining and socially acceptable, ironically. But the actual consequence is a weariness that envelops the congregation and compromise of the ministry of Christ. 

This social gospel approach is nothing other than a bullying technique and classic legalism. In this way, the ministry puts a guilty hold on its own people for never doing enough, condemning every other church that does not follow the same trajectory. 

It’s important to say, pastors are not commissioned by God to solve all the world’s problems. In fact, the Bible tells us that the very horrible things we are seeing unfold are actual expressions of judgment upon the earth. In Revelation 6, a white horseman is bringing conquest, a red horseman is bringing division among peoples, a black horseman is hitting economies, and a pale horseman has death and Hades following him. All expressions of division, war, lawlessness, natural disasters, etc., are birth pains leading us to a final judgment (Matt. 24). The wrath of God is most certainly being revealed from heaven—now, and many of the social problems we are facing are consequences of these judgments from the throne. 

The one thing the church offers is an answer to the wrath of God because of sin. As the world remains under judgment, the Christian gospel offers a way of transference out of a kingdom of darkness and into a kingdom of light, out of Babylon and into the heavenly Jerusalem. We do this by faithfully preaching the everlasting gospel made known in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, calling all people to put their trust for life and death in Jesus. "We preach Christ", in order that "we may present everyone mature in Christ" (Col. 1:28). Here we must stay as our primary calling when all the pressures lead us elsewhere. 

Will this effect change in the world? Will the law of God still matter? Certainly and most effectively. When we faithfully fulfill our primary calling in the true preaching of the Word, our people are motivated to take the love they have received in Christ back to their communities in the service of their neighbor. They have been properly motivated by the love of God in Christ.

It’s worth observing that this very approach we are seeing unfold in our times became the cause of the emptying of the churches in the U.K. We should learn from this. This "emptied" the churches in the U.K.!

Martyn Lloyd Jones’ caution is timeless and cannot be overstated in our current context.

"The people, they say...are interested in politics, they are interested in social conditions, they are interested in the various injustices from which people suffer in various parts of the world...so they argue, if you really want to influence people in the Christian direction you must not only talk politics and deal with social conditions in speech, you must take an active part in them...

But I have no hesitation in asserting that what was largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain was that 'social gospel' preaching…It was more responsible for doing so than anything else...


This concern about the social and political conditions, and about the happiness of the individual and so on, has always been dealt with most effectively when you have had reformation and revival and true preaching in the Christian church... 

My argument is that when the Church performs her primary task these other things invariably result from it." Martyn Lloyd Jones, Preachers and Preaching

38 comments:

  1. Concerning ourselves more with the sins of those "out there" rather than with that of those who are in our churches also tends toward self-righteousness, pride, and legalism.

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  2. A very good point, it creates Pharisees.

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  3. We should also be careful about categorizing the 3rd use of the law with "social justice" and become inadvertently neglectful of *our* sins when *we* go "out there."

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  4. John, absolutely. So many dangers here.

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  5. Great article, Chris. Still not so sure about MLJ's conclusion. I don't see transformation of society or neighborhood promised. Seems to function as a nod to the social gospel impulse.

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  6. Chris,

    MLJ is the man.

    Since this post came out subsequent to the events in Charlottesville, it sounds like you are primarily addressing pastors who spoke publicly or preached on issues of racial (in)justice in America. Can you provide some examples of when you thought it appropriate to address social issues?

    You're a Reformed pastor. I'm assuming this is largely the sub-culture you spend most of your time in and thinking about. Are there particular churches and pastors in that sub-culture you have in mind in writing this post, i.e. where are the re-emerging bully pulpits? Seems like people should be warned explicitly of these kinds of teachers if they are distracting others from the gospel, as you said.

    I'm curious if you have any examples of congregations in the Reformed/Pres world who are wearied of the preaching addressing social evil and compromised ministry of Christ? Could you point me to some Christian pastors who believe they are "solving" the problems of the world by addressing them publicly through Scripture?

    Are social evils, ills, and injustices ever connected with the gospel in Scripture? If so, how are they addressed by the prophets and apostles?

    Going back to Charlottesville, what's the ethnic demographic makeup of the church you pastor and the city where the church is located?

    Thanks,
    -Eric

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  7. Dear Eric,
    gotta love a good ole bait and switch

    as for MLJ--Yeah, isn't he great?

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    1. You caught me! Was actually just trying to find some common ground in mutual appreciation of MLJ. But I would be interested in engagement with some of my questions. You made the post and are an ordained minister who is writing publicly. I'd be curious how you think ministers can substantively engage in the issues for the good of Christ's body and the world.

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  8. Thanks, Sean. I think his last statement is only saying that when we fulfill our primary responsibility to preach Christ, the consequence, as the believers have been taught love, will be the benefit to society that all the SJ warriors are trying to achieve.

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    1. Chris, right. I think the 'benefit to society angle', is more wish fulfillment than reality. It would seem that the promise in scripture is a society that will scorn you, persecute you and at best see you as irrelevant. I don't see sanctification being extended to cultural institutions, which is what the SJW's are animated by.

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  9. Good questions Eric. I've never really seen or heard of any of the concerns raised in this article actually happening in a reformed church. I'm wondering too about the questions you've raised because I've not seen any of them handled in really any capacity even outside of the pulpit by ministers of the gospel especially in reformed circles.

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    1. I've been in Reformed/Pres churches for 30+ years and I never remember hearing a pastor address racial (in)justice. I was discipled without any categories for applying the gospel in this area. It's sad that leadership (myself included) are depriving so many people from the fullness and richness of Christ's work. We have much repenting to do.

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  10. Good thing the Apostles weren't caught up non stop in the ongoing drama of Rome & the Republic with all its twists & turns, they never would have gotten the NT written.

    As for the Church, now thats where the focus all seemed to be, was the Church believing the right gospel, walking in it & growing in grace & truth, oh for the days when we could go back to that instead of being told non stop it's the Church's job to transform the culture.

    The sad fact is ...that ain't happening & the Church is wearing herself out trying to do so ...at the expense of those in our covenant community. We're constantly being directed to this social issue & that social issue & at the end of the day, as a layperson you begin to believe that's what you were saved for as God's elect, to transform the culture to have God's kingdom here & now, creating an earthly Utopia.
    Sorry this is so very long but so many in the pews are so weary ....& have become so tired of being directed to look at the world & all their ills instead of Christ in all His glory.

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    1. Hey Anon,

      There's a lot of things I could say. But first, could you provide me a link to your home church so I could listen to some of the wearying preaching you are sitting under? I'd really love to not be a wearying preacher.

      Also, have you followed Matthew 18 and gone to your local church leaders and pastor and talked to them about this struggle you are having with preaching that's always directed towards social issues? That might be a helpful way of addressing some of your concerns.

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    2. Sorry. Haven't figured out how blogspot works. This is the "eric" from the above comments.

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  11. Dear Eric, The issues are certainly worth engaging. It's only that you are not the fellow with whom I desire to have this debate, if only for your sake. Best, Chris

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  12. I'm so very glad this Article! Thanks for posting "WHEN YOUR PASTOR BECOMES A SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTION HERO"....http://aazae.com/

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  13. Is the Nashville Statement a good thing for pastors, professors, churches, and Christian leaders to sign, or does that fall under "social justice" as well?

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    1. Maybe you missed this part? Purposely? "No one questions, of course, that God’s truth should be applied to the contemporary societal challenges people face. The law of God certainly applies to these issues. A faithful pastor will do this wisely when appropriate."

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    2. Then, should pastors, professors, churches, and Christian leaders sign similar statements on, as you listed, "...environmental problems, racial tensions, poverty, a sexual revolution, and more"?

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    3. Please note the specific blog commands that specify naming oneself before commenting. This keeps things socially honest. As to your question, I have signed the form of subscription in my church that binds me to our confessional documents. In those documents are detailed applications of the law that would include your singular concern of racism under the rubric of the sixth commandment. So, yes, I have signed a statement on these things.

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    4. 1. Were pastors who signed the Nashville statement who have already signed a confessional statement like yours therefore in the wrong? For example, a PCA, opc, urc pastor who have signed their denominational standards? Were they wrong to sign the Nashville statement?

      2. Does signing a confessional document prevent a pastor from falling to speak on the issues he signed off on?

      3. My question isn't about racism but about your list you wrote in your blog (environmental, sexual ethics, racial tensions, etc.). Is it wrong for pastors, Christians to sign these sorts of statements?

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    5. Good questions Jo.

      I was particularly thinking of #2. If my recollection of history is accurate, Presbyterian and Reformed confessional subscription did not prevent ministers and congregations in both traditions from justifying slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow in the American South, and apartheid in South Africa. And if those who signed off on Reformation confessions didn't actively perpetuate these injustices many of them were complicit in their silence.

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  14. I've already answered this: "No one questions, of course, that God’s truth should be applied to the contemporary societal challenges people face. The law of God certainly applies to these issues. A faithful pastor will do this wisely when appropriate."

    Pastors are not independent actors, to sign an official statement would come as an act of consistory, and if our elders felt it was appropriate, we would do it. But that is a far different thing than a hipster pastor turning the pulpit into a platform to drag into church the world's struggle with social justice. It will kill the church.

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    1. Can you name a couple "hipster pastor[s] turning the pulpit into a platform to drag into church the world's struggle with social justice"? If this is as rampant of a problem in reformed circles as you say it is, maybe you can provide concrete evidence? Which of these pastors are replacing the gospel with social justice masters? If you don't name names, your claims are unverifiable.

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  15. Dear JO LL SUP

    The anxiety expressed by someone who keeps pressing for actual names is a pretty dead give away that he probably is the pastor in consideration. Use wisdom, God gave it to you to apply principles. Direct applications shouldn't always be spoon fed. Paul didn't even do that.

    Paul: "For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ."

    JO LL SUP: "Hey Paul, just 'who' would be doing such a thing, these people who are 'so many'. Tell us, Paul, tell us, or else, it's unverifiable."

    Paul: "You can't see them? Maybe you should take an honest look at yourself"

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    1. Actually, I'm not a pastor. Just a curious layperson in a Reformed church who wanted to hear how a Reformed pastor would respond to follow up questions to something they said in a public blog post as a representative of Christ.

      I was curious to see how a Reformed pastor representing the wonderful Reformed heritage would charitably, respectfully, yet pointedly name the names of other Reformed pastors that he has identified as being "social justice action heroes," similar to how Paul himself named names throughout the New Testament.

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    2. As I said, applications that are overly specific tend to lose the general application that should be applied to the whole. As a believer, God gave you wisdom and his Spirit, you should be able to apply what was said and steer clear of anyone who would turn the preaching of Christ into something else, effectively dragging the world's SJW issues into the pulpit. Paul, more often than not, did not use names, nor soon feed applications for this very purpose. That said, I also think Brady below provided a helpful lead that other Reformed churches would do well to study.

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  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  17. Dear Eric,
    I've already said I'm not interested in having a public conversation with you, or through someone else, about this. Your comments elsewhere in public have raised some real concerns for me, so it's best that two neighboring pastors do not engage in this kind of public forum. But if you really, really need to know who I have in mind, and how best "I" approach this issues, you're welcome to come to my study, call me, or meet downtown at your hangout. Largely, the brief write-up was well received and provided the same appropriate concern as MLJ, both without specificity of name. Only you and JO LL SUP keep pressing me on of names, but that, IMO, is a distraction, as demonstrated above. Best, Chris

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    1. Great. How's Blue Mug the week of September 25?

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    2. Hey Eric, the next few weeks are really busy for me, and I never know what comes after that. Just give me a call that week and you can drop by my study for a chat.

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  18. Dude, hipster pastors are everywhere. need an example? ever heard of the CRC? I can't believe people, its like they used to say about us psychology majors, the reason why we are psychology majors is because we are all crazy. the reason why all these pastors are obsessed with making the pulpit into a social justice grandstand is because they are all social justice hipsters.

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  19. There has never been a hipster in the CRC

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  20. really? You've never seen their beards, flannels, and short shorts? Whether they're cool is another issue, but they're most certainly hipster, and own the Johnny come lately PCA.

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  21. Let me rephrase that: there has never been a hipster in the CRC

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  22. Anon, such oppression and hate against CRC hipsters that you can't even see them, must be nice to be a hipster moderate.

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