This is the last part of this three-part series on the intersection of social justice and the gospel. If you have missed the last two posts, please go back and read part one and part two to give context and color to this final piece. In this post, we will explore how the True Story invites the church to embody a justice-saturated gospel. We will begin by picking up the True Story where we left off in the last post with Act Five: The Church.
Act Five: Church
In the victory of the resurrection over sin and injustice, the church is born and empowered by the same Spirit who empowered Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). So what has the church been sent to be and do? We get a clue of this mission from the first chapter of Acts. Luke says, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…” (Acts 1:1). In other words, Luke is implicitly saying that the church carries on the work that Jesus simply began to do in Luke 4:18-19 because the kingdom has come. Like Jesus, we declare (word) and demonstrate (deed) the good news of the kingdom that Jesus has risen and Jesus is King over all creation (Colossians 1:15-20).
If this is all true, social justice is not secondary to gospel proclamation but an integral part. The two greatest commandments hold together our justification before God and our justice towards others. As Tim Keller says, “Grace makes you just. If you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith.” Alarmingly, the dominant cultural stories (individualism, dualism, privilege and fear) have hijacked and truncated the gospel of Jesus’ kingdom. So practically, what does it look like for the church to declare and embody the whole gospel in the whole Story? Here are three practical ways.
Share the True Story
People are in need of good news. What if instead of crafting well-articulated apologetics, we simply shared the True Story showcasing to our neighbor, God’s concern for justice and His ongoing work of restoration. At Missio Dei Communities, we use the Story of God resource as an evangelistic tool where people from a variety of backgrounds can hear the whole Story over two nights. If we are going to embody a justice-saturated gospel, we need to know and proclaim what Story we are apart of.
Recognize, Repent, and Stand Against Systemic Injustice
Second, if we are a person of privilege we may be blinded to systemic sin and injustice around us. When we spend time with the marginalized, systems of injustice begin to surface, which creates space for understanding and compassion. Like a raft floating down a rushing river, we might recognize the passive ways we have benefited from the rushing river of systemic injustice. To embody the gospel of the kingdom we must recognize, repent and stand against these systems. But what are they? A helpful way to think about this could be through seeing things, spaces, and resources as gateways to potential injustice. Here are a few examples. Does the space you live in have a history of displacement, housing discrimination or gentrification? Do the clothes you wear come from a company who uses sweatshop-condition labor? Is the produce you eat at the table picked from the hands of underpaid, harshly treated migrant workers? Is your investment account heavily invested in private prison stock contributing to our nation’s problem of mass incarceration? Does your workplace target vulnerable people or speak poorly of those at the margins? All of these are ways we may be passively contributing to systemic injustice. Jesus is inviting us to recognize, repent and stand against these systems as He seeks to restore them and the people affected by them.
Live as Family with the Marginalized
Several months ago, the city of Tempe hired two sociologists to survey the city to identify those most marginalized and what services they need. As Missio Dei, we decided to embrace this process and contribute financially to the study. During the presentation of their findings, it was incredible to hear concerned Tempe citizens think through the best way to meet the needs of the vulnerable. People with no religious background recognized the need to provide a “team” to wrap around the most vulnerable. Without realizing it, they were describing a church family and a missional community.
If we are going to embrace our identity as a Family of Missionary Servants this must include care for the marginalized in our midst. Because of this study in Tempe, we completely reorganized our MCs around caring for the six vulnerable people groups the city discovered (youth, homeless, elderly, domestic violence, working poor, and disabled). We want to embody the gospel by creating communities of justice. What would look like for your small group or missional community to wrap around an individual or marginalized population? What would it look like for us to share our table? (Luke 14:12-13). For Missio Dei, this has not been easy and often very messy but it is the work of Jesus and His Kingdom.
In our church community, there are stories of the elderly receiving warm meals, homeless getting off the streets, undocumented immigrants getting to sleep in one of our beds before being deported, victims of domestic violence finding shelter, low-income soccer players getting coached, Muslims being protected from anti-Islamic protestors, and foster kids knowing they belong. Hopefully, marginalized people in our missional communities get to experience the gospel embodied and clothed with justice. They get to experience Jesus and His family. However, it is often a slow process as we seek to not only invite the marginalized in but to practice what it means to truly see them as adopted sons and daughters of our church family.
Act VI: Restoration
As the church faithfully embodies a justice-saturated gospel we await the return of the King who will once and for all establish his Kingdom. It will be a city where all systems and all peoples might flourish as they were created to do (Revelation 21). Where mishpat is not needed and tzadeqah reigns over all relationships creating perfect shalom. What would it look like for the church to be known less for our statements and positions and more for our posture and relationship with the most broken systems and people among us? May the church of King Jesus shine in our cultural moment.
What would look like for your small group or missional community to wrap around an individual or marginalized population? What would it look like for us to share our table?
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