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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Friday, February 24, 2017

Balancing The Gospel With Social Concerns

In terms of Christians being involved with social movements or political causes, I've seen Christians try approaches that range from reducing the Gospel to that of merely helping people, which loses the Gospel, to eliminating all such worldly concerns from one's faith, which is a denial of what Jesus tells us to do and how God treated us in Christ. If we put a continuous line between these two polar opposite positions, then we would have all the different variations of Christianity.

Unfortunately, I've seen Christians leave the faith because they have come to believe that helping people is all that is required for living the Christian life. Such is a works righteousness if one still believes in life after death and God's judging us. But what is more common among religiously conservative American Christians is the belief that we must help people through oppression, rather than teaching them on how to challenge abuse, by teaching them how to persevere in their faith so that they live forever in God's Kingdom. As they do that, however, they have either deliberately or negligently associated the Gospel with  social injustice as they fail to speak out against the exploitation and oppression of the vulnerable. What is often missing in the approaches of many who take the latter approach and of some who take the former approach is what the Bible tells us to preach to those who oppress. An article posted in the Reformed African American Network partially addresses this concern. The article is written by Celucien Joseph (click here for a bio). The article is entitled The Message Of Jesus Vs. Political-Bourgeois American Christianity. And though the article has some flaws, it makes some excellent points most other articles fail to address (click here for the article).

One of the most important statements in the article addresses the just mentioned overlooked point. Here, Joseph says the following:
We need to de-center political Christianity, not Jesus Christ. The Biblical Jesus is a different figure than the cultural, political, and Western Jesus. He is certainly not the Jesus of the colonizer, slave master, oppressor, and capitalist. He is certainly not the white savior.

What follows in saying that our savior is not the Jesus of those who exploit and oppress others is the need to preach repentance to those who exploit and oppress others. For if Christ is not the Jesus of those who exploit and oppress, then it is the Church's obligation and duty to tell those who exploit and oppress to stop in order to become followers of Jesus. 

In addition, Joseph uses several passages to point to the need for helping those who are vulnerable. One such passage is Proverbs 14:1:
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

The importance of this verse cannot be overemphasized. When we hurt those who are who live in poverty, we are attacking the one who created not just our victims but all of us as well. But what should we say about those who neglect the poor and vulnerable? This article states that the a religion that ignores the vulnerable is not a worthwhile religion. There is much truth here but also a concern. So instead, we could resort to one of Jesus's parables to answer the question. For in his parable about the sheep and the goats, Jesus warns us about the judgment that will fall on those who neglected to help those who are suffering and are vulnerable (click here for the Scripture passage).

 However, there is a concern with some of what is written here as well. That concern is with the quotes below:
If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News for all, this means it is Good News for all refugees and for all people in the world, not just for Christian refugees and the Christian poor. The message of the Gospel transcends religion, ethnicity, class, race, and gender. American bourgeois Christianity is a dead and soul-less religion; it is the antithesis of true and biblical Christianity. Lifeless Christianity (American political-bourgeois Christianity) is not sacrificial, loving, empathetic, compassionate, relational, or Jesus-centered.

A Christianity that chooses to close its eyes to the most crucial problems of the modern world — global poverty, immigration crisis, refugees crisis, women’s rights, labor exploitation, political corruption, local and global oppression, local and global racism, hunger, etc. — is a religion that is not worth practicing and saving. If it ignores the message and Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is an anti-Christ faith. A Christianity that evangelizes strategically in order to (neo) colonize, rule, and exploit the weak betrays the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

We should note that Christianity revolves around the forgiveness of sins that comes only through believing in Christ. For if we help those in need but fail to address the forgiveness of sins that comes in Christ, we have no Christianity. In addition, we should note that this helping the vulnerable and challenging a Christianity that either turns a blind eye to or supports any oppression of the vulnerable must be a reflection of how God has treated us in Christ rather than a way of salvation. Certainly helping the vulnerable and challenging oppression is an important part of our Christian faith, but unless it is a reflection of how God has treated us, this helping and challenging becomes a way of salvation where the Gospel is reduced to good works while eliminating the need to believe in Christ.

There is much to like in this article. But one point has yet to be made. By challenging Bourgeois Christianity in America, what we should note is that the version of Christianity we are most likely to hear in our our own pews is often determined by the social status of the congregation we worship with. Where many, if not most, of the members of a congregation are vulnerable to the oppression of others, then preaching about the need to help the poor and challenge oppression is most likely to be heard. This was Dietrich Bonhoeffer's experience when he came to America and attended a Black Church in New York. However, when most of the congregation does not make up part of the oppressed but are part of or ride in on the coattails of the ruling class, then a Christian faith that emphasizes 'personal peace and prosperity,' to use Francis Schaeffer's terminology, and is reluctant to challenge the system is most often heard. What this article does is to challenge the version of Christianity heard by the latter congregations.


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