It is no secret that the evangelical church is in the throes of controversy centered on social justice. This controversy, unlike others that the evangelical church has faced, is multi-faceted, multi-layered, and multi-dimensional. Within this cultural schism, we are answering important questions pertaining to ethnic division, discrimination against women, and seeking clarification on false categories such as gay Christianity.
With all of the dust swirling in the air regarding social justice, how can a local church remain faithful and stay the course for the glory of God?
Major on Expository Preaching
The first mark of an authentic church is the right preaching of the Word. Biblical preaching must remain at the center of the church’s life. Any deviation from the biblical approach of preaching will lead the church off track. What exactly is biblical preaching? The best method—the one that is most committed to the text of Scripture and remain the most pure revelation of the single meaning of the text within its context is expository preaching (verse-by-verse).
If expository preaching is not at the center of your ministry model you will soon enough derail into the high weeds of cultural trends, marketing gimmicks, political trappings, and theological error. During seasons of controversy, some preachers transform their pulpits into political stumps in order to dump loads of political garbage into the center aisle of their local church. Sadly, many churches have come to embrace political activists as the new prophets—and as a result they willingly exchange the pure gospel for political agendas.
If the people will be moved by the Spirit of God to engage the culture, it will not be on the basis of cultural and political jargon. It will be because of the sufficient Word of God was applied to their hearts by the Spirit of God. We must not muzzle the Scriptures in the life of the local church.
Practice Biblical Church Discipline
One of the fundamental building blocks of an authentic church is the practice of biblical church discipline. A church that is unwilling to hold one another accountable for sin, pure doctrine, and divisiveness is not a true church of Jesus Christ.
We must never forget, the depravity of the human heart has impacted the entire human race—including every tongue, tribe, and people on planet earth. Therefore, every ethnicity is capable of injustice, racism, and the sinful trappings of this present evil world.
In a recent interview “Beyond Whiteness” at All Saints Church Pasadena, Mike Kinman interviewed Kelly Brown Douglas on the issue of “whiteness” in which she stated the following:
“Whiteness” and Christianity just don’t go together. One of the ways, by the way, in which you can see this—“whiteness” is this construct that somehow blind one to the possibilities of the richness of whom God has created us to be and the possibilities of the fullness of the way in which we can live that out into this sort of just vision that is God’s…”whiteness” is a construct of privilege, it is a construct of exceptionalism, it is an oppositional construct which means it stands in opposition to the realities of God’s equal humanity.
Furthermore, consider the words of Ekemini Uwan in her interview with Elizabeth Woodson at the Sparrow event (for the full context, read the transcript):
Because we have to understand something – whiteness is wicked. It is wicked. It’s rooted in violence, it’s rooted in theft, it’s rooted in plunder, it’s rooted in power, in privilege (which we just saw two weeks ago with the college scandal – I have receipts here) so that the goal for our white sisters is to rediscover your ethnic heritage so I am not pulling something away from you without telling you to replace it , so the goal for you all is to recover what your ancestors deliberately discarded – so that means return to whatever that ethnic identity is, are you Italian, are you Irish, are you Polish, are you Turkish, whatever that was, you have to do that work to find out what that is, pull into that, learn what that cultural heritage is, Celebrate that. It’s going to be work on your part, but that IS the work. The work is to divest from whiteness and the work is also for people of color to divest from whiteness too. We do that by not centering whiteness, trying to actually begin to imagine a world where your whole identity is not bound to oppression, which I think is hard to imagine because we live in a white supremacist nation it takes a lot of work and you have to do a lot of unlearning, and I think what is sometimes so revolutionary, or at least one thing that might be revolutionary, about Truth’s Table, myself, Michelle and Christina, is that we do not center whiteness, you will not hear an episode about white guilt, we will never do an episode on white privilege. We center the concerns and the needs of Black women and we in some ways are trying to dream up what Black futures might look like apart from oppression – in some ways, I think that’s a glimpse of what the new heavens and new earth might look like. what would it mean to live in a society that is peaceful, to live in a place where we are not subjugated. So those are some of the things I’m thinking about.
This type of teaching should not only be rejected—those who spread it should be disciplined within their local churches. In the same way that the church should stand opposed to “white supremacy” we should likewise stand in opposition to ideology of “black priority” which is being pressed upon the church through social justicians, theologians, conferences, songs, and print media. We can’t continue to encourage divisiveness, ignore biblical discipline, and expect the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace as a result.
Love God Supremely
When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34), he quoted from Deuteronomy 6—the historic Shema which the Jews prayed twice every single day as a means of their devotion to the LORD. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We must come to see that in the Scriptures, the holistic devotion to God, the glorifying of God, and the enjoyment of God go together.
When we have ethnic pride that divides the church or a commitment to love and empower women or to empower gay Christians (a false category that’s being embraced by many today)—we fail to love God supremely. A hyper-focus on a group, class, or ethnicity is to miss the point of loving God supremely. When Peter looked away from Jesus to the waves and to himself he sank into the sea. We must keep our focus on God and refuse to be devoted to glorifying some specific felt need, political agenda, or cultural trend that is pressed upon the church.
If we are encouraged to love black skin more than we love God—we turn skin color into an idol. If we are taught to be committed to the empowerment of women more than the being devoted to God—we turn gender empowerment into an idol. Such empowerment and hyper-focus is not to be confused with doing justice. To do justice in the biblical sense will never lead anyone to have a lesser love and devotion to God. When people love God supremely they will not engage in ministry with the rage of postmodernity or social activism; but instead they will engage in ministry with the fruit of the Spirit.
Learning to love our neighbor as we love our self is key in the Christian life. In fact, Jesus upheld that as the second most important commandment immediately behind loving God supremely (Mark 12:30-31). Jesus stated that these were the two greatest commands.
In another place, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated similar words as he said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). When we come to understand Jesus’ teaching, it makes clear the need specified in Micah 6:8.
We are to love God supremely and as a result—we are to stand opposed to injustice both inside and outside the church. If we do justice inside the church, we will be led to engage in biblical church discipline. If we practice biblical justice outside the church we will be led to support policies and laws that uphold the respect, dignity, and value of all people as image bearers of God.
This means we will stand opposed to the mistreatment of people on the basis of their color of skin. That means when white people mistreat black people or any shade of skin color simply because of their skin—such ethnic division should not be tolerated. That means when black people purport ideas that “whiteness” is inconsistent with Christianity—we should reject that idea and not tolerate such foolish and divisive teachings. That means when women are discriminated against simply because they’re not a man—we should not tolerate that type of mistreatment and disrespect.
Doing justice means that we recognize that God is the creator of both male and female and every ethnicity on planet earth is the result of God’s creative genius. To do justice, we will not tolerate any mistreatment or marginalization of people based on their differences.
Doing justice means that we will not be pressed by the culture to define biblical roles and responsibilities in order to further define what injustice is and is not. In other words, to withhold the pulpit responsibilities from women is not to engage in discrimination against women in the church—instead it’s to hold to the biblically defined boundaries, roles, and responsibilities for both men and women.
Doing justice is not advocating for income equality. Jesus did not come to make sure we all had the same income opportunities. To make less money than another person is not discrimination or injustice. We must not allow the culture to define the terms or to control the agenda.
We must never forget that the ancient enemy of the church is crafty and often subtle in how he enters the church (Eph. 4:14). The goal of the devil is division and ultimately destruction (John 10:10; 1 Pet. 5:8). Our God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). This present social justice agenda is filled with much confusion and pregnant with much postmodern evil that must never be associated with biblical justice.
I still believe that the social justice controversy is the the greatest danger facing the church in our present day. In order to overcome the trappings and pitfalls of the social justice agenda—the church of Jesus Christ must remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that our labor is not in vain in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 15:58).