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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
EVANGELISM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
EXPERIENCING GOOD NEWS IS EXPERIENCING TENSION
Evangelism is telling people the Good News - the actual, honest, powerful account of God physically entering human history - which by its very truth cannot but shake up everything, and apply itself to every person very deeply exactly where they hurt, and also to the grand scheme of everything, to which it has brought-brings-will bring astoundingly great change. Note the necessary tension. Any person who is exposed to this Good News will also experience the tension. They most likely were aware that not everything was as it should be, but even if not, the contrast between God's Kingdom and most everything else they lay eyes on will grab their attention.
T'was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.
KINGDOM AT HAND
When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom being 'at hand,' He was talking about everything-being-as-it-should-be as a reality that is-in Christ-very near, and fast approaching our position. The individual, personal application of the reality that God's Kingdom is 'near' involves a crisis regarding how one must prepares oneself to meet God, with whom the individual finds she has a firm appointment. Crisis quickly develops, because the individual is invariably stained with sin and guilt, which is anathema to God, but the crisis is also dispelled-because of Jesus's specific atoning (absorbing and removing of God's just wrath which is directed at sin and its bearers) sacrifice at Calvary.
THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL
The individual still has to do something, but now what is required is something doable (in fact, she also does this with God's help); the response that is called for is to believe-to trust Jesus (believe; in His person, in His deeds and their sufficiency, in His very words) and to turn away from sin. This is in line with what Jesus told his disciples to preach when He sent them out on their missionary-training internships, 'Repent and believe this Good News; the kingdom of God is at hand.'
A HYPOTHETICAL EVANGELIZED INDIVIDUAL
Our hypothetical evangelized individual has undergone a significant personal change, though she and others may doubt it. But even if the change is very evident, she will live on inside the tension of tense (past-present-future), not yet being all she is destined to be in Christ-virtuous, beautiful, free of every vice and addiction, released from every improper authority or lawless system. She is not perfect-true and complete wholeness of mind, body, soul, and spirit lie ahead of her, and although by God's grace she is able to take ground in the right direction, the glorious full effect awaits Jesus' return. Because salvation, the result of receiving the truth of God's Good News, actually means health, and wholeness, and because this wholeness is for the whole person and not only that which is immaterial in a person, it can be said of our convert that she is 'saved' but also, and she is being saved, and even that she will be saved.
PROCESS OF EVANGELISM
Let's assume that she finds opportunity to pass to others this Good News by which she was (is-will be) saved. Some she tells are perhaps less desperate for help, or more critical or analytical than she had been; these people may find major obstacles to receiving this news if they are not able to abide the tension in the speaker's life between what is and what she says should and will be. Others may stumble over the greater reality they have known or are aware of, of everything 'out there' which doesn't line up with this message of Good News.
THE ROLE OF SUFFERING
Essentially, these will see suffering as evidence that this Kingdom of God's is not. The listener who perceives Christians have a lack of interest in doing something about the many things that are wrong in this world-indeed these are seen as 'wrong' only relative to a utopia such as the Kingdom ideal (what will be when God's will is done everywhere as it is in Heaven)-has his finger on a true fissure, character flaw, or reversal of Christian identity, and a strong (persistant) reason not to believe or want to receive salvation, or anything else Christians might be offering. This person may perceive that Jesus is one way, while His followers are different. Sadly this person is probably right.
ATTITUDE TO HUMAN SUFFERING
A primary way that much of the Church is different than Christ (and wrong by the difference) is in its attitude towards human suffering. This is the part of the church I come from. We are rightly concerned for the souls, the eternal destination of people, but are less motivated to get involved in other more 'worldly', less 'spiritual' affairs of men or concern ourselves in their nutrition, shelter, safety, freedom, education, peace, or economic stability. We are in danger of, at Judgment, hearing our Lord speak to what we did not do to the least of His brethren, and therefore did not do for Him (Matt 25).
THE OTHER EXTREME
On the other side of the fissure, there is another big part of the Church, which concerns itself primarily with this aspect of humanity. These also speak of God's Kingdom coming, but without evoking the triumphant King Jesus riding on the clouds to rule over the new Heaven and Earth (well, some of these do believe in this vision, however they see the triumph as the church's, for in their vision it is the actions of the church that has prepared Christ's Kingdom for him). This part of the Church de-emphasizes Evangelism, and centers itself in a concept called social justice.
O freedom, O freedom, O freedom, over me,
And before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave,
And go home to my Lord and be free.
WHAT IS SOCIAL JUSTICE?
Social justice is a harder term to explain. Whole books are written on this topic without offering a definition. For the purposes of many writers, keeping the term vague may be useful to protect them from intellectual embarrassment or the alienation of readers, which may not subscribe to certain root beliefs the author uses to build his or her concept of justice. For my purposes social justice is the ideal of all humanity living out the well being and dignity which it was designed for and to which humans are inherently privileged because they are all image-bearers of Almighty God, created for loving relationship with their Creator. Working for social justice means trying to reverse the results of sin and the curse on humanity-such as suffering, sickness, oppression, and war.
A SHARED CONCEPT OF FAIRNESS
Social Justice is typified by a shared concept of fairness. Violations of this justice include living in states of sustained hunger, unnecessary exposure to harsh elements, suffering from treatable sickness or avoidable plague, unmerited or cruel imprisonment, all forms of slavery and usury, addiction, as well as victimization (murder, rape, coercion, terror, abuse, and racism, sexism, economic subjection). The very cry of the suffering or oppressed can be a compelling argument for human awareness of the principals of God's justice, or the rule of God's kingdom-people are aware of injustice (very aware when they are it's victim). People know that it is wrong-that it is not supposed to be, that it is not what they were meant for.
THE IMMENSITY OF THE PROBLEM
The first thing I notice when I survey this field of social justice, is its immensity. The problems this world has, even sometimes the problems of one individual, are too much. What can be done?! And yet, something must and will be done, either out of the Kingdom (compassion, sacrificial love, obedience to God, imitation of Jesus, loving others as ourselves] or out of some other mentality (to get good karma, to earn the approval of or good standing with God or man, for the satisfaction of being helpful, because the severity of the problem demands our attention…).
WHEN YOU BUILD IT, HE WILL COME?
It could not be clearer by Jesus' words and deeds that He responded to, and was for the reversal of suffering - this gives us sufficient grounds to enter into this work, or rather this cosmos of benevolent work possibilities. But I think it's a joke to believe that justice and the experience of utopia human beings are marked for can ever be achieved by our efforts. Some actually believe just that, and others that we must achieve it, that this is how the kingdom of heaven comes to Earth. If and when you build it, He will come. Get a move on and make a highway for our God. In reality, it is God's programme to intervene in human suffering. If it were achievable on our own, we would not need God. Unfortunately this is where some in the Church have landed after dealing with the tension of the good news-good works tug-of-war. These, while having done good deeds God wanted done may be told, at the Judgment, 'I never knew you."
IMITATE CHRIST TO CARRY ON HIS PROGRAM
If and when we enter into this work, we need to remember it is His plan to love and care for people, His work to bring His kingdom. He is still God and able to do what He has set out to do. We are supposed to imitate Christ and carry on His program. It never ceases to be His programme, which He made clear was the assignment He had from His father-what was on the Father's heart. The will of our Heavenly Father is undoubtedly passionately concerned about human suffering, and if we are his true children, we cannot look the other way.
TO FIND A PROPER PLACE IN THE CONTINUUM
In my life and ministry I hope to find my proper place in this continuum between evangelization and social justice, and not just a convenient posture that affords me peace or shelter from the two extremes of today's protestant churches. Because I bear the Good News of Jesus, I have eternity to offer (the eternity to be hoped for and not feared), not the pie in the sky after we die. My testimony, and all that I believe about the power of the gospel lead me to trust that God's will is 'for' us even now. My God is mighty to defeat evil, push back darkness, and set us prisoners free, even in the life we live now, though especially for eternity. We do not have to settle for life as it is-in fact we are not supposed to. I believe God calls us to stand inside the tension of what is and what is meant to and will eventually be, and see with eyes of faith areas that God wants changed. I believe God calls us to action to love and serve Him by loving and serving suffering people. I believe that the Word of Truth that He has revealed to us as the Good News is never to depart from our tongue. I also believe that my actions speak, some more clearly than others.
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The Weight of Evangelism and Social Action | Religion and Society | A Church in Trouble - 2 Timothy 1 | 2006 - The Year of the Redeemed | Evangelism and Social Justice | A Happy Hangover? | Accept Your Place in God's Plan | The Reformation and Image Worship | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
Bethany College of Missions
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