When Your Pastor Becomes A Social Justice Action Hero

It has become common in our day for pastors to frame their sermons to deal with the social justice issues of the day.

The one thing the church offers is an answer to the wrath of God because of sin. As the world remains under judgment, the Christian gospel offers a way of transference out of a kingdom of darkness and into a kingdom of light, out of Babylon and into the heavenly Jerusalem. We do this by faithfully preaching the everlasting gospel made known in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, calling all people to put their trust for life and death in Jesus. “We preach Christ”, in other that “we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

 

I know it has become en vogue in our day for pastors to think they’re doing their congregations a great service by framing their sermons to deal with the social justice issues of the day. Obviously, the problems are many and we’re never short of issues to address: environmental problems, racial tensions, poverty, a sexual revolution, and more. No one questions, of course, that God’s truth should be applied to the contemporary societal challenges people face. The law of God certainly applies to these issues. A faithful pastor will do this wisely when appropriate.

I fear, however, that a kind of bully pulpit is (re)emerging by pastors who are pushing harder than ever these societal struggles upon their congregation (and everyone else), to the distraction of the one thing that is lasting and eternal. “Gospel” in this scheme is nothing more than the deliverance of people from societal abuses. God’s word is simply a tool of the pastor to fulfill that agenda. The congregation is slowly conditioned to expect the pastoral tangent from the pulpit every Sunday usually over one issue the pastor has become obsessed with.

As times goes on, the people are being programmed to believe that the faithfulness of a church is dependent upon the degree to which these social abuses are addressed. Something happens in the news Saturday night, things are all the worse Sunday morning from the pulpit. Everything must now revolve around solving the new societal evil as the pastor becomes a kind of social justice action hero that everyone else should aspire to be. “A round of applause for the pastor,” they say, “he was very bold today in rising up against injustice.” All of it was very entertaining and socially acceptable, ironically. But the actual consequence is a weariness that envelops the congregation and compromise of the ministry of Christ.

This social gospel approach is nothing other than a bullying technique and classic legalism. In this way, the ministry puts a guilty hold on its own people for never doing enough, condemning every other church that does not follow the same trajectory.

It’s important to say, pastors are not commissioned by God to solve all the world’s problems. In fact, the Bible tells us that the very horrible things we are seeing unfold are actual expressions of judgment upon the earth. In Revelation 6, a white horseman is bringing conquest, a red horseman is bringing division among peoples, a black horseman is hitting economies, and a pale horseman has death and Hades following him. All expressions of division, war, lawlessness, natural disasters, etc., are birth pains leading us to a final judgment (Matt. 24). The wrath of God is most certainly being revealed from heaven—now, and many of the social problems we are facing are consequences of these judgments from the throne.

The one thing the church offers is an answer to the wrath of God because of sin. As the world remains under judgment, the Christian gospel offers a way of transference out of a kingdom of darkness and into a kingdom of light, out of Babylon and into the heavenly Jerusalem. We do this by faithfully preaching the everlasting gospel made known in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, calling all people to put their trust for life and death in Jesus. “We preach Christ”, in other that “we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Here we must stay as our primary calling when all the pressures lead us elsewhere.

Will this effect change in the world? Will the law of God still matter? Certainly and most effectively. When we faithfully fulfill our primary calling in the true preaching of the Word, our people are motivated to take the love they have received in Christ back to their communities in the service of their neighbor. They have been properly motivated by the love of God in Christ.

It’s worth observing that this very approach we are seeing unfold in our times became the cause of the emptying of the churches in the U.K. We should learn from this. This “emptied” the churches in the U.K.!

Martyn Lloyd Jones’ caution is timeless and cannot be overstated in our current context.

“The people, they say…are interested in politics, they are interested in social conditions, they are interested in the various injustices from which people suffer in various parts of the world…so they argue, if you really want to influence people in the Christian direction you must not only talk politics and deal with social conditions in speech, you must take an active part in them…

But I have no hesitation in asserting that what was largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain was that ‘social gospel’ preaching…It was more responsible for doing so than anything else…

This concern about the social and political conditions, and about the happiness of the individual and so on, has always been dealt with most effectively when you have had reformation and revival and true preaching in the Christian church…

My argument is that when the Church performs her primary task these other things invariably result from it.” Martyn Lloyd Jones, Preachers and Preaching

Christopher J. Gordon is a minister in the United Reformed Church (URC) and is the Preaching Pastor of the Escondido United Reformed Church, in Escondido, Calif. This article is used with permission.