It’s a shame that secular activists and civil governments have managed to corner the market on social justice, because that’s really a cause the church should have been championing all along. So said Nigel Black, pastor of Winslow Baptist Church, Sicklerville, N.J., in his workshop on Social Justice and the Role of the Church.
“I believe that FDR’s New Deal was a huge touchpoint in our country,” Black explained. “That’s the point where, from at least a practical standpoint, the populace bought into the idea that the government’s job is to take care of people. But when I read the Scriptures, it’s the church’s job to take care of people.”
Black believes the church can reclaim this lost ground, but only if it rejects the world’s (usually Marxist) definitions and conceptions of justice. Instead, he believes we should frame social justice as an issue that flows invariably from the just character of God vis-à-vis the sinful (and often oppressive) tendencies of human societies. “He is the rock, His work is perfect,” Moses wrote. “For all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4).
There is a plethora of ways churches can be involved in their communities in the interests of furthering Biblical social justice. Whether advocating for adoption, speaking out against abortion, or ministering to widows, orphans, and underprivileged immigrants, the church has great potential to be a transformative force for good in the surrounding culture. To maximize efficiencies, Black suggested that churches seek out strategic relationships with charities and other groups that are already serving the community. That could be a risky prospect, since it might entail working with irreligious groups. For this reason, Black recommends distinguishing carefully between evangelism and community service. The requirement of agreement in theological and methodological issues would need to be much higher in evangelism than in community service.
Black also cautioned churches against overextending themselves. “Each local church is not equipped to handle all these things,” he said. For this reason, local churches should be extremely intentional and strategic when pursuing social justice initiatives. Black’s proposed approach includes a great deal of research and prayer to determine what the community’s principal needs are, and which of them the church in question is most ideally poised to address. That may sound like an enormous time investment (which it is), but the potential for eternal impact is enormous.
Black concluded by noting that the church must take social justice issues seriously if it is to faithfully reflect the character of Jesus. “The Bible indicates that God’s people are to espouse and support this godly notion of social justice in which sincere concern is given to the plight of the poor and afflicted,” he said. “Thus, the local church’s efforts to minister to its community must be typified by a vibrant determination to demonstrate God’s love to helpless and hurting people.”