16th Apr, 2008

Synchroblog – Social Activism and Christian Mission

There are those who see the Christian Mission as learning the right theology and planting churches that will teach others the right theology. They might say, “Social activism is a nice bonus if it happens, but it isn’t nearly as important as the right theology.”

Others see the Christian Mission as social activism. It might be said, “Jesus is a nice guy and lived a socially active and just life, but it’s not as important that you get all the details about Jesus and the bible right as it is to do good works.”

Nevertheless, GOD continues to reveal Himself to a number of people and they are awakening to the fact that it isn’t about our mission or even Christian mission – it is about the Great Co-Mission and joining up with God to be a part of His purposes and plans prevailing. Many call this “missional living.” It is never about us or what we can do so much as it is about God and His authority and character. And His Mission has been the same from the beginning – a people, living in relationship with Him, receiving His blessing and pouring it out on others. When we live in right relationship with God (that is, love God) we cannot do anything but pour out blessings (that is, love) on others.

This is part of a synchroblog, where a great number of bloggers are putting down thoughts on the same topic. At the end of this longwinded post you will find several other great authors thoughts on social activism and Christian mission.

Since Christian Mission is all about God and His mission, it seems we must see what He is up to, and a great place to start discovering that is in His written revelation, the Bible. As you will see in my conclusion, (sorry it is so far below) the next place to go is directly to Him in prayer. But first, His word…

In Genesis 12:1-3 we see God establishing His covenant with Abram – and it was radical:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Early “religions” all were created by humans to get blessings from gods, but never for the purpose of blessing others and especially not to bless the entire world. It was about getting blessings of rain and fertility for one’s own survival. It was beyond understanding that God wanted to bless the whole world, especially that He would want to do that through a relationship with humans.

For me social activism is just a means to social justice. That is the biblical concept. The first time we are introduced to “justice” (tsedaqah) in the bible is in Genesis 15:6, there translated as “righteousness,” which really is as simple as making something that is wrong right. We see Abram, by faith believing in God in spite of his own understanding, and it was that faith that God credited to Him as righteousness (Justice). Abraham, who was wrong or broken through sin, was made right before God and enjoyed relationship with Him again. Then, in Genesis 18:19, we see two biblical concepts that are tied together and are inseparable – tsedeqah (justice/righteousness) and mishpat (judgment/justice) – and God says that Abraham and his people must do these things so that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through them as promised in the Abrahamic covenant. In other words, man acting in accordance with God’s justice and righteousness are the means through which God will work to bless the peoples of the earth.

In Deuteronomy 6, where we are first introduced to the greatest of commands – to love God with all that we are – we see God teaching that careful obedience to the law is tsedeqah – righteousness and justice. Interestingly, when one begins to study the law carefully, it doesn’t take long to realize that the Hebraic law put in place a great number of protections for the poor and needy – it was extremely “liberal” and, if followed, would provide for everyone. It was codified social justice! God told the Israelites to leave crops along the edges of their fields unharvested so that the poor could pick them for food; God told the Israelites to apply their laws to the aliens living among them in the same way as they would an Israelite; money lent was lent without interest; anyone who became poor was to be taken care of; there was no permanent land ownership and all land was to be returned to the original owner every Year of Jubilee; all debts were released, including slaves, every Year of Jubilee; and the list goes on.

God’s perfect law demanded social justice. But it is never just for the sake of social justice – it is for His name’s sake – it is for His glory because it is through His blessing that we can then bless others. Social activism done with God is social activism that points to God. All of God’s purpose continues to be revealed through Genesis 12 – blessed to bless others.

In fact, in Zechariah 7 we see that the Israelites’ disobedience with regard to justice led to their captivity:

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’ “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.

If this weren’t all enough to demonstrate to us God’s desire that we be socially active and just to His glory and praise, we should consider that part of Jesus’ purpose was justice. Consider Isaiah 9:6-7, 58:1-14, and 61:1-3 (also found in Matthew 4 and Luke 4). There we see that Jesus comes to establish His Kingdom, ordering it with righteousness and justice, and that He comes to free the oppressed, comfort the mourning, lift up the poor, and enable them to be called trees of righteousness! We see a God who is much more interested in us pouring out our God-given blessings into others than He is in us doing religious tasks. Jesus also demonstrated this, and we know that it is in Jesus that we see the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12 – all the peoples of the world are blessed through Him.

Moreover, because God revealed in the Old Testament that following His commands effects justice, we can know that following Christ and His Way will do the same. What is His Way? His Way is the way of the cross, the way of love – to die to oneself, loving God with all we are, loving others as we love ourselves, and living to bless others – living to give everything we have been given away, knowing that we serve a God of endless provision.

So, God’s Mission is seen not by theology alone nor by good works alone. God’s Mission is one that is about His Kingdom – His rule and authority – a Kingdom in which He blesses His subjects so that they can bless others and point others to the Kingdom. It is all about bringing the peoples of the world back into right relationship with Him. We cannot live in right relationship with Him without loving Him and loving others; nor can we truly love others without loving Him. He is love and He is justice. To know Him is to love Him and to love Him is to love others. To love others is to do all that we can to return them to a place of righteousness – not just spiritually but physically as well. That means that an integral part of being a follower of Jesus and a son or daughter of the King is giving all that we have been given to ensure that the poor and needy are taken care of.

Washing Feet at Smokey Mountain CDOThere are a great many “causes” in the world. One need not look far. And it can be overwhelming. I’d challenge you not to just go out in your own strength and try to right some wrong; instead, seek God’s direction in prayer. Ask Him what He wants you to do. He will speak to you. Wrestle with Him like Jacob did, grabbing hold of Him and begging Him to bless you, not letting go until He does. Then, when you have heard from Him, you can know that He will provide every means you will need to accomplish what He has laid out before you and go with all your might!

Phil Wyman at Square No More
Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom
Steve Hayes writes about Christianity and social justice
Reba Baskett at In Reba’s World
Prof Carlos Z. with Ramblings from a Sociologist
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations
Cindy Harvey at Tracking the Edge
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church
Matthew Stone at Matt Stone Journeys in Between
John Smulo at JohnSmulo.com
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
KW Leslie: Shine: not let it shine
Stephanie Moulton at Faith and the Environment Collide
Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
Steve Hollinghurst at On Earth as in Heaven
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian: Tesco is a Big Red Herring
Kieran Conroy at Wrestling With Angels

Responses

“instead, seek God’s direction in prayer. Ask Him what He wants you to do. He will speak to you.”

Yes! Sometimes, I think we forget that we don’t have to do everything – just what God has called and gifted us for.

Thanks for the reminder.

Thanks for the great connection between the Kingdom and Social Activism. Good post.

Phil Wyman’s last blog post..Salem: No Place for Hating Witches – SynchroBlog for April 16th, 2008

Bryan,

Its interesting that you should bring prayer into a discussion of social activism. Lately, I’ve been studying fasting, and I’ve realized that fasting is also associated with social activism in Scripture, especially Isaiah 58 and Zechariah 8.

-Alan

Alan Knox’s last blog post..Give a little bit?

Stephanie and Alan, thank you for noticing the call to prayer. I think we all too often forget to pray or think of it as the warm up – like the preachers used to say of singing (they just wanted to hurry up and get it over with) – but I think it is the most important part. Unless we are partnering up with God what we do is vanity and in our own strength. Besides, throughout scripture we see tremendos power in prayer and things happening because people prayed. Do we believe in an Almighty God or do we believe in ourselves?

Phil,

As you know, at the end of the day, jesus preached the what??…. the gospel of the kingdom. And, at the end of the day, the Abrahamic Covenant was all about what??? The Kingdom. God blessing His people so that they could then bless others and point them to Him and His Kingdom.

Thank you for your kind words. I felt awfully verbose in this post and probably over apologized for it. I just know I struggle to read the long ones.

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