Sunday, August 06, 2006

Making sense out of justice

We cannot deny living in a world of tensions. Nor can we deny being uncomfortable watching bloodied body parts strewn across streets of Lebanon. And the last thing, we want to do is merely flick the channel or leave our couch after watching all that madness.

Evangelical Christians have been noted for keeping mum while nations burn, plunder and kill. This is a terrible mistake which we have made over and over again throughout history. What made us apathetic is still a mystery to me. But, I suspect that we may have grasp too little of what it means to be living in the Kingdom of God; or too much; that we may have got the whole idea wrong.

When Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” (c/f Mark 1:15); He was not speaking of a kingdom of floating palaces and harpists with shining hair. The Kingdom is to be in God’s reign and if God were to be Ruler, His ways will be the mandate for this Kingdom. Yet, we tend to overlook the fact that this Kingdom we so long to see is already in power, only that it is waiting for full consummation by our Lord Jesus Christ’s second coming.

I know this to be true because the signs of the Kingdom are already here. Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah through His proclamation of good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovering the sight of the blind and setting free the oppressed. (c/f Luke 4:18-19) The Gospel will penetrate the hearts of men through justice and righteousness.

In the Hebrew language, righteousness and justice are connected to represent one complex idea. Even before the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land, God gave them His Laws, and showed them the way to live as a community of faith to Yahweh.

From the Ten Commandments to laws concerning the year of Jubilee, God gave them a social covenant that they would live in justice and righteousness. The slaves would be freed, their wealth restored; no man shall murder another- these are laws pertaining to social justice, not mere private piety to God.

Hence, when Jesus Christ sent us to proclaim the Gospel to every tongue and tribe and to the ends of the world; He wasn’t implying that we merely repeat after Him. The way and meaning to Life have been displayed through the completeness of the work on the Cross. But, they are to be proclaimed and seen to be proclaimed through means of justice and righteousness- eradicating corruption, channeling funds to build and sustain a healthy community livelihood, canceling debts of poor nations, condemning acts of conquer through wars and defending the fundamental rights of mankind.

The Church is living in a tension between evil powers and principalities and forces of good, mercy and righteousness. While waiting for Christ’s second coming, we can silently watch our neighbours die from inside our church buildings or support military conquests of the Holy Land to justify our sincere ushering of the Kingdom of God.

But let it be then, that we perish with them who perished, not only from the same missiles we thought we are well-protected of in our churches but also in guilt and judgment.

Or we can live and die under Christ’s lordship- overcoming evil of the last ages with good, praying unceasingly for deliverance and liberating those who are oppressed through significant means of justice and righteousness, as He has commissioned us to.


Blogger jacksons said...

“He was not speaking of a kingdom of floating palaces and harpists with shining hair.”

Hahhaha. That’s a funny way to put it. Basically, the church has become to busy with fasting and spiritual warfare, to concern itself with the ‘lesser’ issues of the world. Funny thing is when you read Isaiah and the Prophets, they spoke of cataclysmic, apocalyptic and catalystic world events that showed God’s working in the world stage. There was no other way to understand the kingdom of God, except in this world in the biblical times.

When Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” – many wrongfully took it to mean that its other than this world – instead of being transcendent, and greater than the kingdoms of this world, but not isolated from. We have to see God through our involvement in His world. Take this example, which is easier to do as a modern day saint;

1. make lots of money, tithe 10%, fast for 40 days or
2. take a menial job as a university lecturer shaping minds of tomorrow

Matt 25:34-40 ESV
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

The same Jesus who said His Kingdom was not off this world, told us to follow Him to it through this world, doing as He did, helping and changing it.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Jason Loh Seong Wei said...

Greetings in Our Lord's Name! ...

Bro. Steven Sim told me about your blog, and the "Agora" group and the young adults from the various churches coming together to discuss theology. It's great to get to know brothers and sisters in Christ who have the same passion!

This is my first contribution to a Malaysian blog and I'm privileged. I think it's truly noble when the talk about "justice", "righteousness" are extended outside the Church, out of a concern for social issues in the world. It goes without saying that Christians have not been called to flee the world like the Amish people.

But I think task of the Church will always be teaching first and caring for those in the Church. I think the urgency is more so in light what might near the end of the world. In other words, the GREAT COMMISSION which is to teach, baptise and make disciples of all nations remains the dominant concern of the Church's ministry.

Having said this, the Gospel does has social implications which was why the 16th cent. Protestant Reformation happened. But it became disastrous as followers of the Reformers become impatient with the pace of the reforms, went beyond the mandate understood, misinterpreted the purpose of the movement ... with tragic consequences for the peasants and the Anabaptists.

The world today can never be Christian or Christianised -- even Christendom has lost its former glory, a long time ago, replaced by secularism and the emergence of Islam operating in what is increasingly a so-called multi-cultural Western countries. But the Church can reach out to the needy, infirmed, etc. in the context of the preaching of the Gospel. In other words, the essential ministry of the Church must never be separated from its social implications, or rather the reverse. Preaching and teaching the Word gives the Church an opportunity also to do physical good. Mission work is a obvious example. However, the financial and resources priority, I believe is always towards the Great Commission.

And the best place to start is in the Church itself, the local congregation.

9:17 PM  
Blogger tehtarik said...

Thanks for your comments!

Preach the Gospel we must. But, we seemed to have drawn an invisible line between preaching the Gospel and upholding justice and righteousness in the troubled world.

Christ is beyond Saviour, He is also Redeemer and Lord. Which is why, I love what Jacksons says about the integration of His Kingdom into this world. "Not a thumbreath of this universe is not of Christ's!"

Upholding justice and righteousness is doing what has been preached in the Gospel. The truths of Christ must be told, as well as demonstrated and extended- not only among members of the Church but to all nations.

Either we preach social Gospels with half-truths of Christ, or we become Israel who refused to become a channel of blessing to others.

I pray, by God's grace; we are neither.

1:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,

Imho, the great commission and the cultural mandate are partners in mission

One proclaims the gospel and the other demonstrates what the gospel means in our lives today :)

As a grassroots movement, the Agora seeks to encourage Christians in Malaysia to develop a robust and biblical worldview in which we fulfill our different vocations in the public square.

The church in Malaysia faces contemporary challenges to her life and mission in areas such as ethics, modern science, religious pluralism, church-state relations, culture, relativism, economics etc.

It is our conviction that the great challenge for the Church today is the call to engage contemporary culture in a constructive and critical manner through a biblically faithful vision.

Unless we do so, the Church’s witness for Christ suffers.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Jason Loh Seong Wei said...

Thank you for your welcome! :-)

But the question remains, where do we draw the line between the Great Commission and the cultural mandate?

There have sprung up in the past couple of years or so, various groups in North America and the United Kingdom, though small in number yet has gathered a significant following especially in Reformed and Presbyterian denominations that seeks to uphold God's reign by seeking to "Christianise" the world in the belief that this would usher in the "Golden Age" of a post-millenial type. The theonomist and Reconstruction movement believe that the Old Testament way of upholding justice still abides in the NT Church just as it did in theocratic Israel.

Do we seek to follow that model too? I think the concrete expression of upholding justice in the world by the Church must be careful not to incur the wrath of the magistrate unnecessarily. I mean do we join in a revolution to promote social justice or try to influence a political party with Christian values.

Either way, it won't work. Lessons from those who were so enthusiastic about the Keadilan movement in the beginning can be drawn. We have nothing *theologically* in common with the Moslems in that party. We emphatically do not worship the same God. If a believer support Anwar and Keadilan, that is his liberty. But I think we have to understand that in itself has nothing to do with the mission of the Church. We are not of the world. They have their agenda, we have got ours.

Politics therefore is a means to an end -- which is to contribute to see that the framework and context in which the Gospel can continue to be preached and propagated can be maintained. This is why the DAP is in the picture. There is always the danger of losing the freedom to preach the Gospel. After all, no State is going to stop religious bodies from doing charitable work. But the world is always opposed to the truth. Which is why we are not allowed to share the Gospel to a Moslem in this country.

Likewise, I amnot sure if support for the State of Israel is grounded in the mission of the Church, at least not directly as I do not believe that they are still the People of God. Although I beleive that they destruction of the infrastructure in south Lebanon was right because it was a just and righteous war.

Likewise America's war Iraq, I would not say that it's an expression of Gospel justice, but I would agree that it is an execution of "natural" justice, the knid of justice that the civil magistrate has been empowered by God in the secular realm.

Having said this, the example of the apostolic church and subsequently furnish us some example ... I mean the Church was busy with making converts, and then Constantine became a Christian and Christianity became the State religion. The Church's place in the State became a somewhat distorted because although the State could be called upon by the Church to perform "justice", politics and religion became so intertwined that the Church became atool for the State at times ("Caesaro-papism")both in the Western and Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire.

Although I am against Moslem occupation of the "Holy Land", the Crusades which was anoble and virtuous cause to regain from the infidels (i.e. Musulmans, Seljuqs, Mohammedans, etc.) was a disaster. There were at least 12 crusades and in the end Constantinople fell and the Holy Land remain under occupation. Yet it was an embodiment of OT justice, I believe.

I believe that whatever principles we have, like justice and righteousness be subordinated to the mission of the Church which is to glorify God by preaching the Gospel. And that the people of God remains the prime concern of the welfare of the Church. Because our duty in oding Gospel work is to the Church -- parents and their children and to those whom God is pleased to call.

As for international relations, we can only pray for the rulers of America and UK that they would continue to remain steadfast against Islamo-facism. And pray for Israel because it is never right for a sovereign state to be threatened with destruction.

Having said this, if seeking justice gets in the way of preaching the Gospel, then we have to choose the Gospel because eternal destiny lies within the soul.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:16 PM  
Blogger jacksons said...


How do you; "draw the line between the Great Commission and the cultural mandate?"

Is that even possible? Can you preach the gospel if there is no freedom of religion? Who will fight for the freedom of religion - will it come automatically? Was the abolitionist work of Wilberforce something other than the great commission?

Maybe this conversation wont go anywhere till we define the term “great commission”. Please define how you use the term, and if I am correct about what I suspect your definition is, my definition will be easy to describe after you describe yours.

11:23 PM  

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