Social Justice, the Global Church, and Controversies
It has been dizzying this past 3 months in the evangelical wider world, and very worrying in the online evangelical world. The controversies have been deep and fervent. The lines between camps within visible Christianity have widened. Seemingly stable ministries have suddenly swerved hard.
There have been numerous events and controversies which reveal that we are less than unified over Christian foundational beliefs.
The April conference called MLK50 sparked a division in how we as Christians are to approach race discussions. TGC and GCC's coupling for a west coast conference titled "Enduring Faithfulness" sparked a discussion about how far to delve into the culture and which topics are truly Gospel centered. Agreement was not reached and the two entities uncoupled. Beth Moore's Letter to Brothers charged the global church with misogyny and threw gas in the cultural #MeToo movement, which in turn and inflamed the evangelical world's discussion about the global church's 'treatment' of women and their roles.
The ReVoice conference did the same for same-sex attraction and gay identity within Christianity. Paige Patterson was fired. The SBC messengers/members briefly seemed to flirt with the nomination of a woman, sparking a discussion about whether "women are called to positions of leadership" in church or para-churches. International Mission Board President David Platt delivered a 6-minute report to the SBC affirming Isa as Messiah and conversion through Muslim dreams. Popular actor Chris Pratt mentioned God and grace at an awards speech and the undiscerning Christian world joyfully affirmed it as Gospel, sparking a discussion about what the Gospel is and how many elements of it one needs in order to match the biblical message.
Todd Friel of Wretched Radio published a 23-minute excellent video talking about "The Gathering Storm: A Split in the Reformed World".
In this 1-minute clip, Alistair Begg reminds us that the church's mandate is not economic, social, or political. However the global church for so long now has been browbeat with the message that it is, that "people who should know better" have allowed its tendrils to creep into their minds and make inroads.
It has been a wild spring.
Nate Pickowitz is a New England pastor and author. Bio below. His wife Jessica wrote a wonderful study guide to the MacArthur/Mayhue tome Biblical Doctrine. This week Nate tweeted a series covering these issues in a gracious and insightful way. He said that "In truth, this thing has so many tendrils, it’s near impossible to wrap my brain around all that it is, but I’m trying." I am too. I've ridden the roller coaster and in the end put my head in my hands wondering "What is happening?!?!"
I decided that still and always my personal call to action is the same as it's always been. Share the Gospel. Remind people of what the Gospel is. Urge people to reject any different Gospel. Use social media to present these messages. Repeat.
Here is Nate's message. Perhaps it will help you solidify some thoughts about all this.
I’ve got serious pastoral concerns about recent growing trends in Evangelicalism. In truth, it seems to fall under one complex, multi-faceted mechanism. Frankly, I’m not sure if using labels is helping or hurting.
We’re seeing terms like “social justice,” “Cultural Marxism,” “liberalism,” even “intersectionality.” Advocates of this movement flatly reject these terms (perhaps they don’t subscribe to all the tenets of them), but we’re certainly seeing a noticeable movement in full force.
In truth, this thing has so many tendrils, it’s near impossible to wrap my brain around all that it is, but I’m trying.
I believe that there are some advocates of this who are masquerading as Christians who are not. I also believe that there are genuine, regenerate Christians who are part of this as well.
However, my biggest concern has to do with the gospel itself. What is the gospel? The gospel is “good news”—it is the message of what Jesus Christ has done on the cross to save us from condemnation due to sin. And this work reconciles us, first to God, second to other believers.
So, “reconciliation” is key. Again, it is primarily about us and God, but when we are transferred into His kingdom, we are reconciled to every other blood-bought believer through the very same gospel.
However, Jesus never promises prosperity, societal prominence, earthly equity, an end to suffering, earthly utopia, freedom from insult & injustice, political success, or any other earthly temporal blessing.
We are seated with Christ “in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3); we live in the hope of an inheritance that is imperishable, not for earthly gains that are perishable.
With all that being said, there is certainly spiritual fruit that comes from the gospel; there are gospel effects. Regenerate Christians love others, serve others, give to others, seek to help strangers. This is all true.
But this movement seems to be seeking the effects of the gospel, and preaching them *as* gospel. Further, they make the effects non-negotiable mandates. As if to say, affirmative action is our primary Christian mission... except that, it’s not.
Preaching the gospel, making disciples, bearing witness to Christ by our testimony and lifestyle—those are all mandates of our mission. The social benefits are, to a smaller degree, the fruit & not the root.
However, this movement pushes back and is actively fighting for social fruit. And that’s where ‘intersectionality’ comes into play. This is the overarching tool of social justice.
By grouping people into nice, neat categories, they can be dealt with en masse, and coalitions of like-minded proponents can put pressure on others to force them to give them what they want.
This is, at its core, a version of Marxism—to see two classes (the haves & the have nots) warring against each other, with the ‘have not’ minority class attempting to overthrow the “privileged” majority class. But is that what Christ would have us do?
Are we social revolutionaries? Are we culture warriors? Are we supposed to be aggressively fighting to gain earthly benefits? While Bible verses are being used in various ways (ways foreign to the history of biblical interpretation), the scope of the Bible doesn’t support it.
At best, this social focus is a gospel distraction; at worst, it is a gospel distortion. I’m starting to believe that it is anti-gospel and anti-Christian.
Does it affect our churches? Absolutely, it does! The ministries, leaders, and resources being distributed are finding their way into the local church. Even small-town, senior citizen churchgoers have Facebook, and watch videos from online ministries.
We lament Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar videos, pushing prosperity gospel to our people. We ought to lament this as well. Because what is the net effect? Gospel confusion and gospel misrepresentation.
Anybody who does any level of biblical counseling knows that victimhood is the number one enemy of true repentance and spiritual growth. If I can blame someone else for my problems, then I can avoid responsibility.
I fear the social justice movement is creating an environment where Christians are seeing themselves as victims, and not as beneficiaries of divine grace.
Further, where are the exhortations toward forgiveness, forbearance, endurance, humility, and grace? When was the last time you heard a social justice leader expound on Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek”?
I’m not saying that there aren’t problems. Yes, racism exists, injustice exists, hatred exists; because sin exists! But how do we deal with these sins? The same way we deal with any other sin.
Now, believers who have repented of sins may feel led to impact those they’ve wronged in a positive, social way. But is it the church’s job to mandate it? Or is it up to personal conviction? Shaming the Bride into action is not of Christ.
What is the way forward? To be honest, I’m not 100% certain of every single step. But I know that our mandate is to continue to preach the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to call sinners to repentance, to preach God’s wrath & grace, and to love the Body.
And for what it’s worth, I reject all pejorative labels, classes, and categorizations. I’m not a “white Evangelical.” My name is Nate, and I’m a bondslave of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Addendum: This isn’t my “hot take”—I’ve been watching things for several months, reading articles & books, talking with dozens of pastors. While I’ve repented of unkind or hurtful engagement, I want to be faithful to stand for the things I’m convinced are biblically true. ---end Nate Pickowitz
Back to me now.
Decades of biblical illiteracy, personal prophecies, heaven tourism, the New Apostolic Reformation, IHOP/Bethel and the Charismaniacs, false professions of faith/false converts, tolerance of sin have deeply damaged the evangelical stance on the sufficiency of scripture and many other doctrines. It has tarnished the Gospel witness of the church. But that is to be expected.
Though other churches existed at the time Jesus wrote to the 7 mentioned in Revelation, of the 7, only 2 received no condemnation. That means of this particular microcosm, 72% of the churches had a significant enough problem within it to cause Jesus to write and threaten their dissolution. This kind of percentage is normal. It is even magnanimous, I believe. Most of the global church is bloated with non-believers or with people who are so apathetic for Christ or so distorted in their thinking their witness is practically nil.
However, the good news is that Jesus always leaves a remnant. His people are true and beautiful and working for His glory. They are sprinkled all around the world like salt, seasoning their spheres with truth and the Good News of His name. People newly converted are growing. Missions are working. Good books are being written. Solid sermons are being broadcast. Lives are being changed. Minds are being transformed. It IS happening.
None of this is a surprise to Jesus. While it may unsettle us to see such devastating controversy, and while it may dismay us to see its tendrils creep into our churches, and while it may upset us to see those tendrils go ignored or concerns about them discarded, Jesus is brightly shining and His glory is being manifested in every heart who truly knows Him. The Savior is victorious and the Church is triumphant.
Pastor Nate Pickowicz (B.A., Muhlenberg College, M.A., Trinity Theological Seminary) was raised in Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire, where he now lives with his wife, Jessica, and two children, Jack and Elizabeth. Before planting Harvest Bible Church, Nate worked in financial services until being called into ministry in 2009. He is the author of Reviving New England: The Key to Revitalizing Post-Christian America, and Why We're Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation. He is also the general editor of The American Puritans Series.