• Every church must do social justice part 2: The Biblical Witness

    The Biblical Witness

    The words of Jesus are meant to shock us, one of the most shocking things Jesus did was tell stories that seem harmless but under the surface they snare us in a loving trap which is meant to show how we as people fall far short of the mark when it comes to living as God would have us live.

    One of the most loved stories of Jesus is the Parable of the Good Samaritan which is found in Luke 10:25-37. The story is preceded by an interchange between Jesus and an expert in the law. The   expert in the law tries to test Jesus by asking him “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). The expert is trying to trap Jesus by minimizing the role of the law in salvation. So Jesus replies by pointing him to the law and asking him how he reads it. He replies by quoting a mash up of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) Jesus replies “Do this and you will live (Luke 10:28). Now we have to realise what Jesus is doing. He is not saying that you can do the law and be saved; no he is trying to show the impossibility of doing the law. Because neither you nor I nor this man could possibly love God with everything we have and love our neighbours with the care and the passion for their dignity that we show ourselves. This is a trap that Jesus has set to show the expert that he has no inherent righteousness of his own. The expert should have replied in the same way that Nathan Cole a farmer from Connecticut replied when he was converted in the 1740 after hearing George Whitefield preach ‘And my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound; by God’s blessing my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me’[1] As Christians we need to see that we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), only once we see that we can see that Jesus death bring us forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7) and his righteousness ( 2 Corinthians 5:21).

    But the expert in the law didn’t see his own righteousness wouldn’t save but he sought to justify himself (Luke 10:29). He asked the question “who is my Neighbour?” (Luke 10:29)The demand to love neighbours as yourself was a huge command and demanded a lot so in asking this question “he wished to soften the demand and not feel the obligation to respond.”[2] “He wished to define the second commandment in such a way to make its requirements reachable”[3] Then Jesus tells us a story most people know. But we need to be careful, Jesus is not telling us that we can saved by imitating the good Samaritan but he is trying to humble us by showing the love and action that God requires with the result that we see the impossibility of living this way and then accept the forgiveness that God offers.

    The story describes a man who has been beaten and robbed he has been stripped naked and left for dead. (Luke 10:30) Which means that, as a Jew, this man shouldn’t be touched. You shouldn’t touch a man who was dead because you would become ceremonially unclean. But more than that you couldn’t see whether this man was Jewish because just like today clothing showed who you were so if you were a Jew or a Samaritan it would show by the clothes you wore so him being naked it wouldn’t have been clear where is he was from and if a Jew came into contact with a foreigner they were ritually unclean. The other thing is to note the road, on this 27 kilometre long road you went from Jerusalem which is 2700 feet above sea level to Jericho which is 800 feet below sea level the road was well known as a place where robbers and thieves abounded[4] and so to stop and help this man would leave you open to be beaten and robbed yourself! So in every way this man was, at best, a major risk to help because, as a Jew you’re standing in the community if not your life was at risk. But the thing that shocks is the characters especially the hero.  The hero of the story is not a Jewish man as you would expect but a Samaritan. Samaritans were the most hated people by Jews. So Jesus takes the most hated and he makes him the hero of the story who helps the man physically and materially. But the significant thing is the way Jesus inverts the expert’s question. Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbour?” and Jesus ends the parable with a question who was his neighbour? The expert doesn’t even mention the word Samaritan he says the one who helped him. Jesus command is to go and do likewise. Jesus is saying that a person who follows him loves those around him by seeking “justice for, and offer assistance to, those in need, regardless of the group to which they belong.”[5]

    As we have seen there is a strong command from Jesus to care for those who are suffering and this is a common teaching in the rest of the Bible. In Leviticus 25:35 we read: “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.” We see the priority of caring for the people of God first but what is implied is that when a foreigner came into the land that the Israelites would take care of their needs.

    In the book of Galatians, Paul is commissioned to preach to the gentiles and then is commanded to that they “should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10). It is striking that in a book which is so concerned about the gospel and getting it right that there would be a commission from the Jerusalem church to Paul to care for the poor. So as Paul was to be a missionary he was also to care for the poor.

    We could go to many other places in the bible to show that the God intends us to show concern for the poor[6] but this brief survey is enough to show us that God wants us to care for the poor. But you may ask “How does the gospel fit into social Justice?” Is the Gospel Separate to social justice or does social Justice Spring from the Gospel? We will turn to these questions tomorrow.

    [1] As quoted in Keller, Timothy. Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (P&R Publishing, 1997), 37

    [2] Bock, Darrell L. Luke. (Downers Grove, Illinois : Intervarsity, 1994)

    [3] Keller, Ministries, 38

    [4] Snodgrass, Kyle, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2008), 345

    [5] Snodgrass, Stories, 361.

    [6] E.g., Deuteronomy 27:19, Proverbs 14:31, Isaiah 3:14-15, Ezekiel 22:29, Amos 2:6-7, Malachi 3:5, 1 John 3:17-18


  • Why we need to repent over how we speak about Charismatic Christians

    One of the things I have noticed in Sydney is that some of us get riled up at the mere mention of anything to do with Chrasmatic theology or practice. I know people whose preaching usually has a point in it where they critique, helpfully or otherwise, an aspect of charismatic theology or practice.

    Now I am not a charismatic but I am concerned with the way we Sydney evangelicals talk about our charismatic brothers and sisters and I do think we need to repent and apologise for this lack of tact and grace.

    Here are my three biggest concerns:

    1. We lump all Charasmatics together

    What do all these guys have in common: Creflo Dollar, CJ Mahaney, Brian Houston, John  Wimber, John Piper and Kenneth Copeland. Answer: They all, in some sense, call themselves charismatic. This little exercise should show us that charismatic is a broad term in which many different people fit under. Now I have got no problem with anyone going at a charismatic prosperity preacher with gusto but when we, with that same gusto, go after a reformed brother who happens to be charismatic with a small ‘c’ I think we are forgetting that there are differences and we are now lumping all people who call themselves charismatic together and tarring all with the same brush. This is neither loving nor gracious.

    2. We don’t critique them lovingly, graciously or well

    I remember at college having a class about music in church.  The topic shifted to how our charismatic brothers and sisters do music. It was interesting that those of us who were most vocally opposed to the charismatic view of music were the ones who had the least experience with charismatic music! The scary thing is that I have heard preachers do this too. I have heard preachers critique the charismatic point of view based on hearsay and the like and not on their own experience or research. This leads to wrong conclusions and, in some cases, slander. We also don’t do our people any service when we critique badly because we are warning them against a straw man and not a real danger which may or may not be there.

    3. We treat Charismatics like they are Galatians and not like they are Corinthians (if they even are)

    Have a look at the way Paul talks to the Galatians:

    6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

    Galatians 1:5-9

    1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced[b] so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

    Galatians 3:1-5

    Have a look at how Paul; talks to the Corinthians:

    4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

    1 Corinthians 1:4-9

    1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.

    1 Corinthians 2:1

    21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

    22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

    23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

    24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

    1 Corinthians 16:22-24

    Why the difference in language? Why is Paul so harsh to the Galatians and loving (notice the repeated use of brothers and sisters) to the Corinthians? It is because the Galatians were going to a false gospel. Whereas the Corinthians, even though they had issues to do with speaking in tongues, prophecy and the like (1 Corinthians 12-14) were not going to a false gospel. For Paul there were issues that, because these issues threatened the gospel, needed to be dealt with harshly using strong language. Then there were other which needed correction but were done with loving words and with an acknowledgement that these guys were his brothers and sisters.

    When I look at our critiques of charismatics I hear a different thing going on. I hear us treat our charismatic brothers and sister as if they are Galatian heretics not Corinthian believers. This says far more about us than it does about our charismatic brothers and sisters.

    Do charismatic brothers and sister need to be critiqued in love? Yes, just like we do.

    Lets make sure we love them as we critique them. Lets make sure we commend the gospel by how we critique anyone as we do it with grace, love and