I spent part of last week in Michigan speaking at the Celebration of Justice Conference. Through panels, speakers and workshops the conference focused on three pillars. These pillars provide 3 reliable steps to promote justice for all.
Step One: Begin with a firm Biblical foundation.
The Celebration of Justice Conference wrestled with the tension between differing poles in the church over justice. The President of Grace Christian University, Dr. Ken Kemper, joined Dr. Charles Ware and myself in a panel discussion.
The church suffers from confusion. 4,400 pastors have signed a declaration against social justice. On the other hand a rising number of “dones” are leaving the church because it fails to actually love its neighbor. I’ve written before on how to see churches restore love of neighbor through justice. The danger I see today is the same polarization effecting our politics is impacting our churches.
There is a danger that the social gospel emphasizes works over faith and revolution over repentance. There is an equal danger that the emphasis of faith over works creates a class of Pharisees who care more about purity than people. Jesus clearly demonstrated faith and works. Those who did all the great church things were sternly warned that they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 7:21-23. He said plainly a tree would be known by its fruit. Mt. 7:15-20. That fruit feeds the hungry, cares for the immigrant, takes care of the sick, and advocates for the prisoner. We serve Jesus as we serve one of the least of these. Mt. 25:31-46.
A Biblical Foundation Loves God AND Neighbor
I believe in a Biblical foundation. But we need to rediscover our Bible. I suggested to students that they study God’s Justice Bible with rich articles from around the world, discussion questions and notes on the second most prominent theme in the Bible – justice for the poor. We cannot say we love God and not love our neighbor. And we cannot love our neighbor without caring about justice.
From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is about God’s work to rescue and restore mankind. He rescues from oppression AND he rescues from sin. He restores people in relationship with himself AND He restores them in community to flourish. The Bible is all about the gospel AND justice. To separate the two is to try and divide the very character of God who is both holy AND just. He cannot abide sin any more than he can abide oppression and injustice.
God cares about both our present circumstances and our eternal position. John says it this way:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” I Jn. 3:16-17.
Love requires action. Love requires standing against any injustice that would rob a person of material possession or dignity as someone created in the image of God.
Step Two: Organize for Justice
In my keynote, I challenged those present to recognize faith without works is dead. Understanding the Biblical call to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly is critical (Mic. 6:8). But what begins in our head must move to our heart. We must care about broken systems and people.
We should care that in a nation that pledges justice for all we rank 97th out of 113 countries for providing affordable access to justice. One in three Americans cannot afford an attorney and every second someone is turned away from help. Where is the church?
There are more than 384,000 churches in America, yet less than 1/10 of 1% are meeting the legal needs of neighbors. How can we see our neighbor in need and walk blindly by the opportunity to serve? Every church should study the book Gospel Justice and free companion guide Do Likewise. We need to understand the challenges our neighbors face. Then we need to organize for action.
Step Three: Do justice in community
The Bible says, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:10. Dr. Ware and I were asked practical questions on how to organize for justice. Dr. Ware challenged those present to use what they have in their hand (gifts, skills, possessions, etc). Then look for opportunity where you are to use what you have to serve others. I added we need men and women of courage. Justice is messy and takes courage to correct a Facebook post, challenge a comment, or enter into the life of a neighbor in need.
For myself, I love challenging attorneys to use the law degree God has given them to serve others. While I was at the conference, I received this e-mail from a volunteer attorney thanking a leader of one of our 81 site locations:
it’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to serve alongside you and all the other amazing volunteers! Administer Justice has helped bring a perspective and purpose to my life and practice of law that I could have never imagined, we are all so truly blessed to have this opportunity to serve in the ministry! Thank you for hearing God’s calling in your life and stepping out in faith to start this clinic. Many people would have stood still, but you moved and as a result the lives of all those involved (clients, volunteers and all our families) are being changed for the better! THANK YOU!
Whatever God has given you, have courage to step out in faith. If you are a lawyer learn how to use your law degree for life-changing impact. Join others across the country in providing the hope of the gospel and the help of a lawyer.
Go and Do Likewise
My concluding challenge at the conference was a call to action. We must root the work of justice in a Biblical Foundation. As we study the word with our head, our heart will be captured. We will organize for justice because God cares about justice. God describes one servant in Jeremiah who understood this. “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” Declares the Lord. Jer. 22:16.
To know God is to do justice. We must not allow bias, barriers or busyness to prevent us from stopping to serve our neighbor. We must be Good Samaritans reflecting the Great Samaritan as we have the courage to listen to Jesus and
Go and Do Likewise!