For years I have seen Jesus as a leader for social justice, as an advocate for the poor and oppressed. It is an easy concept to assimilate and see; the very same prophet that predicted, encouraged and enabled Jesus to be the Christ in Israel’s eyes is the same Isaiah that speaks for the poor in Isaiah 1: 17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Often I’ve preached to churches on the ‘social justice’ Jesus and perhaps slighted the ‘salvation’ Jesus, a view of Jesus that overwhelms and demands the energy of many churches in North America, or at least in the United States. To be saved and born is the sole focus of many churches and I easily could assert that salvation is the primary focus of most Christian churches.
This ‘salvation’ focus has often been troubling, because many people, myself included, rejected those salvation churches as young mouthy radical anti-war demonstrators and activists in our younger days, and some of us are now near becoming just old mouthy radicals. But how can social activists, or those who love peace and have compassion for the poor ignore the actual life and teachings of Jesus.
The result is that we have two Christian churches—one is a salvation church and the other is a social justice church. The salvation church is criticized for offering benefits to believers based upon their acceptance of Jesus (or of the church). In other words, do some Christians believe in Jesus, or go to church to guarantee they get into heaven, and that their ‘ticket has been stamped’. Sometimes this seems selfish, and self-serving. Would they believe as strongly meant they needed to sell 95% of what they have and give it to the poor, and that being Christian meant also that retirement was wrong—that Christians should work like Mother Teresa, and dies with one possession as she did—a pair of cheap eyeglasses (for which she apologized—the poor do not have eyeglasses).
But those who are strictly social justice Christians may be ignoring the glaring supernatural event that occurred—that God choose to intervene in history and send Jesus to earth, to live as a human being, laugh, drink, eat, love and then suffer and die as a human being, which may as well befall us all.
How do you find a balance between these two (human) divisions. Somehow I doubt if God sees these divisions so clearly, but how do we create a new church following Jesus that theologically integrates these two (human) ideas of church?
Pray for peace
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Isaiah 1:1-4, 16-20
1Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
3The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
10The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Isaiah 1:1-4, 16-20
1The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. 4Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged!
16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
8There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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