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The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 12, Race/Ethnicity

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[Editorial Note: This is the eighth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]


Statement 12: 

Race/Ethnicity

WE AFFIRM God made all people from one man. Though people often can be distinguished by different ethnicities and nationalities, they are ontological equals before God in both creation and redemption. "Race" is not a biblical category, but rather a social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority. All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God's grace. All sinful actions and their results (including evils perpetrated between and upon ethnic groups by others) are to be confessed as sinful, repented of, and repudiated.

WE DENY that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ. We deny that any divisions between people groups (from an unstated attitude of superiority to an overt spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed. We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person's feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.

   

In 1 Samuel 16:6-7, we read, "When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, 'Surely the Lord's anointed is before him.' But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.'"

This section of scripture explains the problem too many of us have. We look at the outward appearance of others and pre-judge them. We will use appearance, or height, or wealth or any of the wrong things with which to evaluate others. And this is not surprising when you consider that Samuel made the same mistake with Saul and was about to do so again with Eliab, the son of Jesse.

Because of the institution of slavery in America, race and ethnicity have been the focus of many tensions in our society. What are race and ethnicity? Are these important concepts, or should we focus our attention on other things? How should we as followers of Jesus Christ view these things? Many believers will point to Genesis 10 as if this is the origin of race and ethnicity. Nonetheless, the Bible does not explicitly state this to be the case. Rather, this is something that many read into the text.

So what is race? This is a question that many people just take for granted. They assume that race is color and differentiation of the human species. Merriam Webster defines race as "A: a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock. Or B: a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits or characteristics."1 These definitions are all fine, well and good, but most people assume that there is something more to the subject.

In any case, numerous scientists will tell you that the whole idea of race is a myth. According to Megan Gannon, a writer for Scientific American, "Racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out."2 Michael Yudell, a professor of public health at Drexel University explains,

"It's a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it's a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it's a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from."3

This point is made even stronger by Svante Paabo, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany,

What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded."4

Elizabeth Kolbert reports in the Race Issue of National Geographic:

Over the past few decades, genetic research has revealed two truths about people. The first is that all humans are closely related- more closely related than all chimps, even though there are many more humans around today. Everyone has the same collection of genes, but with the exception of identical twins, everyone has slightly different versions of some of them. Studies of this genetic diversity have allowed Scientists to reconstruct a kind of family tree of human populations. That has revealed the second deep truth: In a very real sense, all people alive today are Africans.5

The science of race is getting louder and clearer all of the time. Race is at best an overblown social construct that has been harmful to our society. It is a concept that is best forgotten.

On the other hand, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ethnic as "of or relating to large groups of people classed around common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background."6 Unfortunately, we find the use of that pesky term "race," once again. The term "race" can muddy up the concept of ethnicity. While race might not be a thing, ethnicity definitely is.

Regardless of what these terms mean, we as followers of Jesus Christ have to remember that all people are made after the image of God. As such, regardless of what their ethnicity might be, we should treat all equally. All too often, we forget what Galatians 3: 27-28 tells us "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In other words, ethnicities should not matter to the Christ follower. James 2:1 reminds us to "show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul also taught us to "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."7 If we did these things, there would be a lot fewer problems in the Church and perhaps society at large.

Still, we fail to treat others as we should. Why? Because, sin makes us weak and even worse, it makes us stupid. Consequently, we show favoritism or we show contempt for people, based on their ethnicity. With the concept of race comes the concept of racism and the belief that some are better than others. The Social Justice Movement among Evangelicals today places a great deal of attention on race and have created the concept of "wokeness" to emphasize that all should be cognizant of the problems of race. To be sure, there are disparities in this fallen world that we live in. Until Christ returns and does away with sin, we will continue to struggle with scarcity and racism and the other effects of the "Fall." We need to remember that "God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those that love him."8 Perhaps, rather than bring others to "wokeness," we should remind everyone that we are all made after the image of God. When pastors fully teach what this means, their church members should strive for justice and righteousness everywhere they serve.

1. Merriam- Webster.com November 29, 2018.

2. Gannon, Megan. "Race is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue." Scientific American.com (February 5, 2016).

3. Ibid,.

4. Ibid,.

5. Kolbert, Elizabeth National Geographic "That there is No Scientific Basis for Race- it's a Made up Label." Nationalgeographic.com (November 29, 2018.

6. Merriam-Webster.com November 29, 2018.

7. Phillipians 2:3.

8. James 2: 5.


Craig Vincent Mitchell is the assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Charts of Philosophy and Philosophers and Charts of Christian Ethics.

[Editorial Note: This is the eleventh post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 11

Complementarianism

WE AFFIRM that God created mankind both male and female with inherent biological and personal distinctions between them and that these created differences are good, proper, and beautiful. Though there is no difference between men and women before God's law or as recipients of his saving grace, we affirm that God has designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles. These differences are most clearly defined in marriage and the church, but are not irrelevant in other spheres of life. In marriage the husband is to lead, love, and safeguard his wife and the wife is to respect and be submissive to her husband in all things lawful. In the church, qualified men alone are to lead as pastors/elders/bishops and preach to and teach the whole congregation. We further affirm that the image of God is expressed most fully and beautifully in human society when men and women walk in obedience to their God-ordained roles and serve according to their God-given gifts.

WE DENY that the God-ordained differences in men's and women's roles disparage the inherent spiritual worth or value of one over the other, nor do those differences in any way inhibit either men or women from flourishing for the glory of God.

As a child, one of my favorite segments on Sesame Street was called, "One of These Things." Several objects would be displayed as the song would play, "One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn't belong." At first glance, Article XI of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel might seem like "one of the things that is not like the others." What does complementarianism have to do with social justice?

Some have claimed the SJ&G statement was fundamentally about race. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The statement was written to address a variety of issues (e.g. race, homosexuality, complementarianism) that are being defined and discussed not solely by the clear and simple teaching of Scripture, but by the inclusion of worldly concepts of social justice.

The same social justice language and concepts are driving the conversation about the role of women in the church. Consider the words of two different leaders of a prominent evangelical denomination.

"We desperately need a resurgence of women's voices and women's leadership and women's empowerment again. It is way past time."

"Hoping that we are entering a new era where we in the complementarian world take all the Word of God seriously - not just the parts about distinction of roles but also regarding the tearing down of all hierarchy and his gracious distribution of gifts to all his children!"

The rhetoric about "empowerment" and "tearing down of all hierarchy" is consistent with that of critical race theory, but completely inconsistent with a biblical worldview. What is needed is an argument for the roles of men and women that proceeds from a careful analysis of Scripture.

The Impetus Behind the Movement

This conversation surfaced in light of the sad revelation of the mistreatment many women have experienced both in the culture and the church (i.e. what has come to be known as the #metoo and #churchtoo movements). To be clear, there is no justification for the abuse of women and we must take a strong stand against all its forms. In addition, when such abuses come to light, we should look to Scripture to guide both our reactions and proposed solutions. However, emotional reactions and worldly pragmatic solutions have been controlling the conversation rather than ideas rooted in Scripture.

For example, in a panel discussion at the 2018 annual meeting of Southern Baptists in Dallas, solutions were discussed for how to respond to the accusations of mistreatment and marginalization of women. Repeatedly, the call to empower women and give them roles of leadership in the church were echoed. One panelist commented that when situations arise where women have been mistreated in the church, the wisest answer is to "empower women" in leadership to bring about a peaceful solution. At face value, that answer might appear logical, but the issue we must address is whether it is biblical.

The NT Model of Leadership

In Acts 6, the church encounters its first crisis that created a division in the church. Luke writes, "a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution" (6:1). The text does not ascribe the motives behind the marginalization of one group of widows over the other as deliberately sinful. Nevertheless, the unequal distribution among these women was serious and needed to be confronted.

This matter was of such importance that the apostles summoned the entire church to address the problem (6:2). Although it was necessary for the apostles to not be distracted from leading the church in the preaching of the Word, the needs of the widows must not be overlooked. Therefore, the apostles called upon the church to choose individuals from among the body to lead in this important task to assure that these women were cared for and no longer marginalized.

The first recorded problem in the church directly involved the mistreatment of women. The apostles identified the need for individuals to lead in the task of bringing about a peaceful resolution that would result in godly care for these women. If there is any task that it would seem appropriate to place women in positions of authority, surely this would be a perfect case. Yet, the apostles directed the church to "pick out from among you seven men" (6:3).

Considering the arguments being made about empowering women, it should be striking that the apostles did not recommend for even one woman to be enlisted in the oversight of this ministry to the widows. It cannot be that the apostles lacked wisdom, failed to be sensitive, or merely acquiesced to the cultural norms of the day. When the apostles saw the need for oversight of this critical ministry in the church, they set a clear example of God's design for authoritative leadership to be men.

The argument I am making is not that no women could have assisted these men chosen to lead. If they were wise leaders, they would have sought women to assist them in this task. However, the empowerment to lead in resolving this ministry crisis was given exclusively to men. Apparently, male authority in the church is not exclusively resigned to the teaching role of a pastor as some suggest.

It seems unreasonable to believe that the apostles did not deem it appropriate to enlist women to exercise authority in resolving the crisis of the widows, but the SBC should elect a woman as SBC president to address its problems. Perhaps the reason that individuals have not given biblical examples for their argument to "empower" women in the church is because none exist. The apostles were all men; the planting of churches was led by men; the writing of the New Testament was the work of men; and leadership in the churches was given to men.

My ultimate point is not that women should not exercise leadership in the church. They most certainly should. In fact, I contend this push to empower women in unbiblical ways will only serve to minimalize and discourage women from valuing the very leadership God has called upon them to exercise.

Article XI of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel affirms that men and women are equal before God's law and as recipients of his saving grace. Any distinction is not due to the superiority of the one and the inferiority of the other. The differences are part of God's created design, and both men and women flourish when they live out those good, proper, and beautiful distinctions. Furthermore, God has given a fulfilling and deeply meaningful role for women to serve in the church.

We Need Women to Biblically Lead

While trying to defend against the onslaught of promoting unbiblical roles for women, it is easy to get entangled in only addressing what women cannot do. Women are wonderful gifts from God and their leadership is needed both in the home and the church.

My experience as a pastor is that we need more women, not less, leading as God calls for in Titus 2:3-5: "Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior... and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled." In other words, God calls women in the church to lead other women in fulfilling the vital role that he has given them. Only in Scripture can God's intended design for women be found.

Paul respected women and worked side by side with them in the work of the gospel (Rom 16). However, the only ministry in which he called upon them to lead was the discipling of children and other women. Mothers in the home should take great joy in the privilege to raise their children in godliness. Women in the church should devote themselves to the crucial role of discipling other women. Women have the unique privilege and responsibility of leading in these significant ways. It is sad and tragic that so many women feel unfulfilled in the beautiful design for which God created them. It is an even greater tragedy when the church cultivates that emotion.

Rather than enticing women with empowerment and cultivating a dissatisfaction towards their God given design, we should call upon churches to equip women to serve in their Titus 2 role. I believe in the radical equality of men and women as image bearers of God. I also know that women have suffered greatly in this world at the hands of sexism. But it is the sin in this world that truly oppresses women, not the role God designed for them or the biblical authority structure of the church. Ever since Satan deceived Eve in the garden, the world has been selling "liberation" for the price of rebelling against God's design. We must reject that idea and start equipping women to lead in their biblical role.

[Editorial Note: This is the tenth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 10:

Sexuality and Marriage

WE AFFIRM that God created mankind male and female and that this divinely determined distinction is good, proper, and to be celebrated. Maleness and femaleness are biologically determined at conception and are not subject to change. The curse of sin results in sinful, disordered affections that manifest in some people as same-sex attraction. Salvation grants sanctifying power to renounce such dishonorable affections as sinful and to mortify them by the Spirit. We further affirm that God's design for marriage is that one woman and one man live in a one-flesh, covenantal, sexual relationship until separated by death. Those who lack the desire or opportunity for marriage are called to serve God in singleness and chastity. This is as noble a calling as marriage.

WE DENY that human sexuality is a socially constructed concept. We also deny that one's sex can be fluid. We reject "gay Christian" as a legitimate biblical category. We further deny that any kind of partnership or union can properly be called marriage other than one man and one woman in lifelong covenant together. We further deny that people should be identified as "sexual minorities"--which serves as a cultural classification rather than one that honors the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God.

Article X of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel encapsulates two thousand years of basic Christian belief on the nature of sexuality and marriage. For the vast majority of generations of Christians down through the ages there would be nothing at all controversial about these assertions, and past generations would have wondered why we even took the time to include it.

But we live in 2018 and the revolution in Western culture is undeniable. That revolution has extended to such behaviors as homosexuality or "gay marriage" or transsexualism the very status of "human rights," so they must be addressed by any statement speaking to the topic of justice in light of biblical norms and revelation.

In direct contrast to the spirit of the age the statement affirms the goodness of the so-called "male-female binary." Maleness is not something that is "toxic," but something good and right and necessary in God's design. Likewise to be a female is to be created by God with a good, proper, and beautiful purpose. Rather than being ashamed at being so "backward," we should be openly celebrating these good elements of God's creation.

We do not show love to confused, or even rebellious, individuals who transgress God's creative categories of male and female. Though a tiny percentage of people are genetically impacted by medical conditions that lead to gender ambiguity, the vast bulk of "transsexuality" is a matter of the mind and heart, not the body. But our gender is determined by God's will in our creation, and is not subject to alteration based upon our feelings, wants, or desires. There has rarely been a time in history when mankind has displayed such an open and wanton rebellion against God's right to rule over humanity than in the modern transsexual movement.

In the same vein God has the right, as Creator, to not only make His creatures male and female, He has the right to determine the proper parameters within which that divinely-ordained sexuality is to be expressed. Due to the fall of man into sin, some experience disordered and confused attractions for the same sex. A small percentage experience these desires from their earliest memories, while the large majority are impacted by later sexual experiences resulting in a disturbance of normal sexual desire. The consistent teaching of Scripture is that homosexual behavior is opposed to God's will and destructive of human flourishing. The Apostle Paul identified numerous sinful behaviors in writing to the church at Corinth, among them the sin of homosexuality, but then he wrote, "and such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). The verb is inarguably past-tense which is why the Statement, in the denial portion, rejects the terminology of "gay Christian." As offensive as it is to cultural elites today, the Bible offers hope in the gospel to those who will repent and seek God's ways with their whole heart.

If God, as Creator, fashions mankind as male and female, and then orders the expression of that sexuality as He sees fit, it follows necessarily that His institution of marriage is the logical outcome of the preceding exercises of His divine rights. Marriage is, in fact, a divine institution, biblically revealed to have been designed by, and established by God directly without human cooperation or assistance. No governmental entity existed when God ordained marriage, and, therefore, no later governmental institution has the right to alter, change, or make void, that institution. It is rooted firmly in the created order of male and female, is oriented toward the fulfillment of both the man and woman, together, and toward the raising up of families with children who have in their parents models of how they should live in the future. There can be no question that the most radical and foundational changes in Western culture that have led to the greatest denigrations of human dignity all stem from the collapse of a culture-wide focus upon the sanctity and propriety of Christian marriage as taught in the pages of the Bible.

The truly radical nature of the revolution in morality and ethics sweeping Western culture today is seen most fully in the adoption of so-called "same-sex marriage," a phrase that would have puzzled every generation of humanity globally only a few decades ago. It is, of course, a massive redefinition of the term and the institution based upon a revolution in worldview. Utter human autonomy is now the watchword of the social elites, so that any person is what they think themselves to be. The resulting moral and ethical chaos is all around us. Biological males using bathrooms for women resulting in children either living in fear using the facilities or simply having to "wait to get home." Female athletes left panting in a distant second and third by a "transgender female" who is actually biologically male winning the gold medal in record fashion. Children being adopted into same-sex families, purposefully being denied the model of a father and a mother in relationship to one another. Surgical and chemical mutilation of healthy bodies of both little boys and girls all because of either real (and rare) gender confusion or due to "copy cat" socially-encouraged experimentation. Parents refusing to "gender" their children but to "leave it to them to figure out." Governmental entities allowing for birth certificates with "other" as a gender option. The proper, good societal roles of mothers and fathers mocked and ridiculed and identified as being "backward." The list goes on and on and on. Each society that embraces these revolutionary concepts finds it impossible to stop the acceleration into utter moral and ethical anarchy.

The source of all of this chaos--chaos that is damaging to human happiness and flourishing? As the Statement puts it, it is a refusal to "honor the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God." Our secular age has rejected the Creator and therefore has no room for "image-bearing" or transcendent value or objective truth. The downward spiral only spins more tightly as it descends to disaster. God's Word calls us to the upward spiral of life that is based upon the gospel and God's revelation of His purposes in creation. The Scriptures are clear and compelling in their teaching in this vital area, and we would do well to pay very close attention and heed their admonitions.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 9, Heresy

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[Editorial Note: This is the ninth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 9:

Heresy

WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith. We further affirm that heresy often involves the replacement of key, essential truths with variant concepts, or the elevation of non-essentials to the status of essentials. To embrace heresy is to depart from the faith once delivered to the saints and thus to be on a path toward spiritual destruction. We affirm that the accusation of heresy should be reserved for those departures from Christian truth that destroy the weight-bearing doctrines of the redemptive core of Scripture. We affirm that accusations of heresy should be accompanied with clear evidence of such destructive beliefs.

WE DENY that the charge of heresy can be legitimately brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel.

Heresy. The word itself likely conjures up images of the Inquisition, medieval torture devices and angry torch wielding mobs. Though such un-pleasantries are now in the past (hopefully), heresy remains a very serious theological reality and poses an eternal danger to countless souls.

The Greek word for heresy, hairesis (αἵρεσις), carries the basic meaning of division. Titus 3:10 which states, "Reject a factious (divisive) man after a first and second warning" employs this term. In fact, the King James version renders it quite literally, "A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject."

Though division often carries a negative connotation, not all division is bad. Some division is absolutely necessary. As Christians we are to be wholly devoted to the authority of God's inerrant, infallible, all sufficient word. That devotion necessitates that we divide from those who are not so devoted. Jesus himself will one day separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32). Division can be a good thing.

There is nothing good, however, about heresy. Heresy constitutes a willful departure from Christian orthodoxy and has been a problem in the church practically since its inception. Jesus and the New Testament writers repeatedly warned about the rise of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:29-31; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). In fact, almost every book in the New Testament directly warns of false doctrine.

There are many different categories of heresy. There are heresies regarding the godhead such as Modalism[1] which denies the trinity and Open Theism which denies God's knowledge of the future. There are Christological heresies such as Arianism and Kenosis theology, both of which denigrate the deity of Christ.[2] There are soteriological heresies such as Universalism and the Roman Catholic doctrine of Infused Righteousness that deny salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. This brief list is barely the tip of the heretical theological iceberg. To imbibe one or more of these heresies is to depart from the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) and to put one's soul in eternal peril.

It is important to understand that all heresy is error but not all theological error is heresy. There are a number of secondary or tertiary biblical and theological issues about which genuine Christians can disagree and still have fellowship in Christ. For example, who wrote the book of Hebrews? Some say Paul, others say Luke or Barnabas or someone else. The fact of the matter is that we do not know who wrote it; only that the author was inspired by the Holy Spirit. If one person believes Paul wrote Hebrews and another person believes Luke wrote it, at least one of them is wrong - and possibly both are - but neither is in heresy.

Drs. John MacArthur and the late R.C. Sproul differed on at least two theological issues: eschatology and the ordinance of baptism. MacArthur is a "leaky dispensationalist" in his eschatology and holds to believer's baptism whereas Sproul was amillennial and affirmed paedobaptism. It is not that eschatology and baptism are unimportant issues. They are both quite important - but they are not essential components in and of themselves to the gospel. They differed with one another on these issues and yet they respected each other greatly. They spoke at each other's conferences. They spoke highly of one another. MacArthur preached at Sproul's funeral. They loved one another. They were friends. Despite differences on these non-essential issues, these two men were absolutely united in the gospel. How MacArthur and Sproul interacted with one another serves as an inspiring model for me and many, many other believers around the world.

This having been said, some points of error even though they may not be intrinsically heretical may, and often do, lead to heresy. The Apostle Paul warned that false teaching "spreads like gangrene" (2 Timothy 2:16-17). Error almost always begets more error.

Methodism, founded upon the teachings of John and Charles Wesley in the 18th century, was once committed to the authority of scripture and the preaching of the gospel. Then, in the early 1920s, the denomination began to ordain women as "local preachers" and later granted women "full clergy rights" in 1956.[3] Today the Methodist denomination is hopelessly liberal. It holds that practicing homosexuals can be Christians and even permits their ordination to ministry provided that they take vows of celibacy. The other mainline denominations (Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ) have already embraced homosexual marriage and homosexual ordination. The United Methodist Church, and all the mainline protestant denominations, are far more concerned with social and environmental issues than they are the gospel. Their dwindling numbers reflect this sad truth. John and Charles Wesley would not recognize Methodism today. The doctrinal slide into heresy began with allowing women to preach.

One of the things that most alarms us as the initial signatories of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (and the nearly 10,000 others who have signed as of this writing) is that within the evangelical social justice movement (heretofore ESJ) we are seeing and hearing some of the same arguments that swayed once theologically conservative denominations that are now in spiritual ruin. For many years Beth Moore has publicly preached to men[4] but now within the Southern Baptist Convention there exists serious talk of her actually becoming its president. There can be no credible doubt that the ESJ movement is promoting egalitarianism.

Even more ominously, within the ESJ movement we are seeing a push for the acceptance of celibate "gay Christians." The stated purpose of the Revoice Conference held in July of 2018 is:

Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other gender and sexual minority Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.[5]

That purpose statement alone should have brought swift, decisive and universal condemnation of Revoice for it flies in the face of clear biblical teaching that God saves people out of homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), not that it permits them to hold onto a "LGBTQ-lite" identity.

Notice the pernicious nature of false teaching as described by the Apostle Peter:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. - 2 Peter 2:1

Heresy is never advertised as such to God's people. It is not introduced to the church with fanfare and clearly marked labels. It is introduced secretly and in camouflage. It is always intermingled with the truth. To adapt a phrase from Mary Poppins, 'Just a spoonful of theological sugar helps the heresy go down.'

The charge of heresy is a serious one to levy and the label of heretic is not one to be carelessly applied. Sadly, such aspersions are coming from some in the ESJ camp. Dr. Eric Mason, Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA, and author of the newly released book entitled Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice[6] tweeted the following:

We need a modern day ecumenical council on race and justice! We need canons and synods and creeds on this! Come to Philly and we can call it the Council of Philadelphia! Limit it to 300 key men and women pastors and scholarly secretaries. Rebuke the heretics and affirm the sound.[7]

Thabiti Anyabwile immediately responded to Dr. Mason's tweet with an enthusiastic, "I'm in!"[8]

The charges of heresy and racism are not coming from those of us who signed the SJ&G, they are coming from those who oppose it. This is wrong and it is sinful. And, ironically, by levying false accusations it foments the very ethnic division that those in the ESJ movement claim to oppose.

In conclusion, we are not seeking to divide from anyone unnecessarily. We see this as a fraternal debate but one with extremely serious consequences. As the introduction to the SJ&G statement says, "we grieve that...we are taking a stand against the positions of some teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides. It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course."

It is not that those in the ESJ movement are denying the exclusivity or deity of Christ. It is not that they are denying salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is not that they are denying the authority of scripture - at least not directly. In other words, they (at least most of them) are not necessarily heretical in what they teach, but we do believe them to be in serious theological error; error which, left unchecked, will inexorably lead to heresy. The error we are seeing today in the ESJ movement is the error that seemed benign to Methodists a century ago. Out of love for God and concern for His sheep we are trying to sound the alarm.

We have seen this movie before.


[1] Modalism is a heresy that denies that there is one God who eternally exists in three Persons, as the Bible teaches. Rather it holds that there is one God in three manifestations. One notable adherent is T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, TX. See https://thepottershouse.org/explore/belief-statement/

[2] Both Arianism and Kenosis theology are alive and well in the Word-Faith/New Apostolic Reformation movements.

[3] Source: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/commentary-why-do-united-methodists-ordain-women

[4] Beth Moore has preached to men in numerous venues including but certainly not limited to a Sunday morning sermon July 1, 2012 at Passion City Church pastored by Louis Giglio and has preached to thousands of men at multiple Passion Conferences, just one example of which can be seen here. Josh Buice, one of the initial signatories of the SJ&G statement has written about the many concerns regarding Beth Moore as has Elizabeth Prata and Michelle Lesley.

[5] Source: https://revoice.us

[6]  Woke Church was released October 2, 2018.

[7] Tweet dated May 13, 2018. Source: https://twitter.com/pastoremase/status/995744250603212803?lang=en

[8] Ibid.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 7, Salvation

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[Editorial Note: This is the seventh post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

WE AFFIRM that salvation is granted by God's grace alone received through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Every believer is united to Christ, justified before God, and adopted into his family. Thus, in God's eyes there is no difference in spiritual value or worth among those who are in Christ. Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ. By God's regenerating and sanctifying grace all believers will be brought to a final glorified, sinless state of perfection in the day of Jesus Christ.

WE DENY that salvation can be received in any other way. We also deny that salvation renders any Christian free from all remaining sin or immune from even grievous sin in this life. We further deny that ethnicity excludes anyone from understanding the gospel, nor does anyone's ethnic or cultural heritage mitigate or remove the duty to repent and believe.

Salvation. It, along with the related term gospel (the subject matter of Article VI), is one of the most widely used and recognized of evangelical terms but also one about which there is much misunderstanding.

The New Testament employs two primary words for salvation: sozo (σῴζω) and rhuomai (ῥύομαι), both of which carry the idea of rescue or deliverance. Salvation then, in a very real sense, is an act of deliverance and being saved is to be in a constant state of being delivered. When God saves someone, He delivers that person. In Psalm 144:1-2 David writes, "Blessed be the Lord, my rock...my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer." God, by His character and nature is a deliverer. But from what? From what are we delivered and into what are we delivered?

We are delivered from ourselves - Most people today have this vague belief that as long as they are "good" people who do good works and are sincere that these efforts will earn them a place in Heaven. The notion that we can save ourselves, referred to by theologians as autosoterism, may be popular but it is foreign to the Bible. Scripture very clearly teaches that "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isaiah 64:6) before a thrice holy God. Good works will profit those apart from Christ nothing in the day of judgment and will serve only as damning testaments against their self-righteousness.

Just as the Ethiopian cannot change his skin and the leopard cannot change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23), so we cannot deliver ourselves. Repentance from sin is not something a person can do on his own. Repentance unto salvation is in and of itself granted by God (Acts 5:30-31; 11:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Saving faith in Christ's atoning work on the cross is also granted by God. The Apostle Paul writes,

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The "gift of God" in the Greek is grammatically neutral indicating that both grace and faith are divine gifts sovereignly given by God. If we could somehow gin up faith on our own then we would have reason to boast in ourselves. But such self-boasting is exactly one of the things from which the Gospel delivers us.1

We are delivered from sin and its power - When God grants repentance and saving faith a person is delivered from the judicial penalty of sin. Every human being is a sinner by nature, by choice and by action (John 3:19; Romans 3:23; 5:12) and is spiritually dead deservedly facing eternal judgment in Hell (Ephesians 2:1, 3; Romans 6:23; Revelation 14:9-11). Once wrought in the human heart, the miracle of the new birth frees so completely from the penalty of sin that "there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and against God's elect no one can bring a charge (Romans 8:1, 33).

Not only are we delivered from sin's penalty, but we are also delivered from its power over us. Before conversion a person is a helpless slave to the ruthless master of his own depraved desires. After conversion, he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and is a slave to his new Master, Jesus Christ. The Christian has been granted a new nature and with it comes new desires. As believers we begin to love what God loves and hate what He hates.

It is not that a Christian is incapable of sin. Though often used in an evangelistic context, 1 John 1:9 is written to believers, not the lost. As Christians we can and do sin. But the glorious truth is that though Christians stumble into sin, they do not swim in sin. Christians do not relish sin and look for opportunities to sin. One of the hallmarks of a genuine believer is that when he does sin it grieves him. Arthur W. Pink writes:

The nature of Christ's salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day evangelist. He announces a savior from hell rather than a savior from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of Fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness.2

It is good and it is right to warn people to flee from the wrath to come. But just as much as we should want deliverance from hell, we should want deliverance from sin. We should have a godly sorrow over our sins (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). When we sin, it should grieve us because we understand that our sin grieves God. The gospel delivers us from our love of sin to a love for holiness.

This deliverance from our fallen affections leads to a deliverance toward holiness and sanctification. In 1 Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul gives a long list of sins which mark the lives of unbelievers: fornication, idolatry, covetousness, drunkenness, homosexuality, theft, reviling and swindling. Such people will not inherit the kingdom of God. Then Paul says, "Such were some of you" (vs. 11). Notice the past tense. His readers were those things, but they are not anymore. We can no more speak, for example, of a gay Christian than we could of a murdering Christian. Christians do not have their identity in sin, but in Christ.

Paul then says, "but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (vs. 11). Notice these three terms: washed, sanctified, and justified. The two bookend terms, "washed" and "justified," deal with the new birth, salvation. The term in the middle, "sanctified," deals with the believer's personal growth and conformity into the image of Christ. Those whom God saves, He sanctifies. There are no exceptions to this. Where there is no sanctification, there has been no salvation. It is a package deal. The initial, definitive sanctification that occurs at conversion continues throughout the believer's life until glorification.

We are delivered into a new family - The new birth gives us a new family. Those who receive Christ are "given the right to become the children of God" (John 1:12) and have "received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:15). That is a staggering reality. God takes those who were formerly His enemies, delivers them from sin and adopts them into His own family. Consider this passage from Matthew's gospel:

"While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, 'Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother'" (Matt. 12:46-50).

Many of us have experienced a strain in relationships or even alienation from members of our family after conversion to Christ. What a comfort this passage is in such times. Our salvation may result in alienation from our blood family but we also gain a new family - and a big one at that. We instantly gain millions of brothers and sisters in Christ scattered all over the world.

This brings me to one aspect of the social justice movement that deeply grieves my heart. The message from many in this camp is that the gospel is sufficient to cleanse one's conscience and turn one's behavior from adultery, theft, fornication, blasphemy, etc., - but not racism! To deal with racism the big guns must be brought to bear. I do not understand such thinking.

One of the great blessings that has been mine as an evangelist is that God has granted me opportunities, as of this writing, to preach in 25 countries. I have preached in countries throughout Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. It does not matter what country I am in, with what culture I am surrounded, how much or how little material belongings the people have, or even what language is spoken, when I am with like-minded believers in Christ there is an instant bond, an instant kindred spirit, an instant fellowship and an instant love between us.

Another thing that does not matter is ethnicity. I do not care what color their skin is nor do they care what color mine is. I have never been in a church overseas and had the thought, 'They really need more white people in here.' I have never once felt unwelcome. We do not mistrust one another. We love one another. Even though we may have just met for the first time I have an instant love for them and they for me - because we are family. And because we have all been delivered from Adam's family into the family of God, none of these superficial differences matter. The dividing wall has been broken down (Ephesians 2:13-19) and we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Salvation is deliverance. Glorious and beautiful deliverance. We have been delivered from the dead and made alive in Christ (Colossians 2:13). We have been delivered from sin and its deadly hold on our hearts. We have been delivered into the family of God where superficial differences matter not. And, we will one day be delivered and presented to the Son as a love gift from the Father where we will enjoy Him and glorify Him forever (John 6:37; 17:2, 9, 24) all "to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).


1. This in no way diminishes man's responsibility and accountability before God. God is sovereign and man is responsible. God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are twin truths that, at times, are even seen in the same passage. See for example: Matt. 11:27-28; Acts 2:23.

2. Pink, Arthur W. "A. W. Pink's Studies in the Scriptures," pg. 373. Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 6, Gospel

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[Editorial Note: This is the sixth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]


Article 6: Gospel

WE AFFIRM that the gospel is the divinely-revealed message concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ--especially his virgin birth, righteous life, substitutionary sacrifice, atoning death, and bodily resurrection--revealing who he is and what he has done with the promise that he will save anyone and everyone who turns from sin by trusting him as Lord.

WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel. This also means that implications and applications of the gospel, such as the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel.

Within the evangelical culture today marketing tactics often employ keywords as a means of increasing sales. There is no greater marketing term in our day than the word gospel. Many people believe that if they can somehow attach the word gospel to their product as a descriptor it will bring instant success. It's not uncommon to see people talking about gospel books, gospel marketing, gospel people, gospel diet, gospel music, and gospel issues. In the controversy on social justice, people are insisting that it's a gospel issue. In the same way that everything we disagree with isn't heresy, everything that we do agree with isn't a gospel issue.

The New Testament Greek word for gospel (εὐαγγέλιον) literally means "good news." While many have objected to "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" as being unaware of cultural evils and misinformed of how to approach the depravity of our culture, it really becomes a heated discussion when we insert the gospel. Some consider social justice a gospel issue while others would say that it's something that is acutely affected and influenced by the gospel. This is why implications, applications, and illustrations must be handled with precision and care. In most cases, both groups (woke and non-woke) evangelicals would agree on the gospel, but the real controversy comes in how the gospel is applied to a culture. In this case, the controversy is centered primarily in the denial of Article VI.

Defining our Terms

Paul made a definitive statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as he penned his letter to the church in the city of Corinth. He provides a summary statement of the gospel by writing, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." In Romans 1:16, Paul stated that he was not ashamed of the gospel. Robert Haldane comments on Romans 1:16 by stating:

This Gospel, then, which Paul was ready to preach, and of which he was not ashamed, was the Gospel of God concerning His Son. The term Gospel, which signifies glad tidings, is taken from Isaiah 52:7, and 61:1, where the Messiah is introduced as saying, "The Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings."1

The glad tidings of God (gospel) involve the glorious mystery of God's mercy and saving grace that is granted to fallen sinners through the blood sacrifice of Jesus. What better message could we be identified by and what better message could stand at the heart of our ministry? God the Son took upon himself human flesh, lived a sinless life which the first Adam failed to do, and then was crushed by the Father on the cross in the place of ruined sinners. The message of the gospel points to the fact that Jesus proved his sovereign power by the resurrection and we cling to his work alone by faith for the remission of sin. His unconditional grace is granted to all who believe--regardless of the color of skin, economic status, sex, or intellectual capabilities of the repentant sinner.

Affirming our Denial

Any statement containing affirmations and denials will bring heat in the area of what the document is intended to oppose. In the case of the gospel, while social justice is not a "gospel issue" in the sense that it's not a definitional component of the gospel--it's quite possible to insert social justice into the gospel and thereby create a specific brand of heresy (Gal. 1:6-9). In the denial, the Statement reads:

We deny that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.

Within this debate on social justice, some people are suggesting that if you're not performing works of social justice (admitting systemic racism, oppression, and other injustices while working toward a solution) that you are not a true follower of Jesus.

Thabiti Anyabwile, in his sermon, "Preach Justice as True Worship" made the following statement:

"We preach and we do justice because we wish to be like our Lord and we wish to see his righteousness fill the earth. The pursuit of justice and equity does not take us from the heart of our Savior. The pursuit of justice and equity takes us deeper into the heart of our Savior. If we know God in Jesus Christ whom he has sent, then we have been instructed by wisdom. And indeed if Christ has been made to be wisdom for us, then as the proverbs say we ought to understand justice completely. We ought to understand that doing justice is essential to that worship that pleases God our father."

When I hear a statement such as this, I find so much with which I can agree completely. In fact, if you look at the whole article which comes from his sermon that's linked on the same page, you see a reference to Romans 12:1-2 and the call to becoming a "living sacrifice." If by "doing justice" Thabiti Anyabwile means that we should stand in opposition to sinful behavior, live righteously, and love our neighbor--I can agree with such a statement. If, by chance, Thabiti Anyabwile intends that we become socially and politically engaged while embracing the ideologies of white privilege, systemic racism, and the systemic oppression of women within our culture and specifically evangelicalism--I would reject his understating of worship. We can't teach Christians to assume the gospel and to emphasize justice and expect a good outcome. 

Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. recently posted a clip of a sermon where the following statement was made:

"Social justice is a biblical issue...it's not a black issue, it's a humanity issue. It's not a hood issue, it's a global issue. And until we understand that Jesus himself said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach liberty to the captive, to set free those who are oppressed." If that ain't social justice, I don't know what is."

Not only is that a misguided approach to biblical hermeneutics--it misses the point of Luke 4:16-30. A clear contextual reading of that account of Jesus in Nazareth will demonstrate that God often does the unexpected. Furthermore, the emphasis is placed upon the spiritual poverty and slavery to sin and how Christ delivers people from spiritual poverty rather than the social needs of individuals.

It is critical that we are crystal clear about what we believe the gospel to be, the basis of biblical worship, and the mission of the Church. If a person is not careful, mission drift can lead the local church and the local pastor off into the world of cultural Marxism and fairly soon the pulpit which was once the focal point of Christian worship is transformed into a political stump where humanitarian "do-gooder" talks are delivered to socially motivated people in the name of Jesus.

We are slaves of righteousness as children of God and we must live justly in a fallen world. However, how we live (for good or evil) has nothing to do with the definition of the gospel. How we live will be shaped by the gospel as James rightly articulated the point that "faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26). We must not celebrate sin nor tolerate injustice--especially within the ranks of evangelicalism. Such an acceptance of evil would be the height of hypocrisy.

Tim Keller has recently spoken out against "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel," stating the following:

"It's not so much what [the statement] says, but what it does. It's trying to marginalize people talking about race and justice, it's trying to say, 'You're really not biblical' and it's not fair in that sense...If somebody tried to go down [the statement] with me, 'Will you agree with this, will you agree with this,' I would say, 'You're looking at the level of what it says and not the level of what it's doing. I do think what it's trying to do is it's trying to say, 'Don't make this emphasis, don't worry about the poor, don't worry about the injustice, that's really what it's saying.' Even if I could agree with most of it...it's what it's doing that I don't like."

What exactly is the Statement seeking to do with its words? Is the document really seeking to marginalize people who genuinely care for the poor and mobilize relief efforts to care for such individuals in the name of Christ? Is it really true that the Statement is seeking to marginalize people who oppose racism?

The Statement does have several goals and one is to separate the gospel from social justice. In fact, it would be really helpful to drop "social" as a descriptor of biblical justice altogether. It's the gospel that changes the heart of fallen depraved sinners (2 Cor. 5:17). Only through the power of the gospel can a dead sinner be given life. This is a work of God's saving grace and we must remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).

How Does the Gospel Produce the Fruit of Righteousness and Justice?

The mission of the gospel is to bring depraved sinners into reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:17-6:2). Reconciliation only happens through the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Preaching justice will lead people to fear the sword in the hand of the government (Rom. 13:1-7). Preaching the gospel will lead people to fear God who is bigger than the government (Rom. 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:11).

When Amy Carmichael went to serve in India, she was no jewelry-laden prosperity preacher nor was she a low-beam humanitarian aid servant. She was a high-beam bright light in India who served children and broken women with the gospel of Jesus. Yet, as she witnessed the Hindu suttee and heard the cries of women being burned alive (Hindu people believed that women should want to die when their husbands died, so as they burned the body of the widow's husband, they would place her on the funeral pyre of her dead husband) she engaged in the pursuit of justice for these women and labored to stop this practice. Her engagement was motivated by her gospel mission in India.

John Paton was convinced that the gospel had the power to change the heart of even the hardest sinner. As he penned his autobiography, he wanted to prove his point to the sophisticated Europeans who had a low view of the power of the gospel. As he recounted what he had witnessed in his ministry, he penned the following account of the conversion of Kowia, a chief on Tanna. When he was dying he came to say farewell to Paton.

"Farewell, Missi, I am very near death now; we will meet again in Jesus and with Jesus!"...Abraham sustained him, tottering to the place of graves; there he lay down...and slept in Jesus; and there the faithful Abraham buried him beside his wife and children. Thus died a man who had been a cannibal chief, but by the grace of God and the love of Jesus changed, transfigured into a character of light and beauty. What think ye of this, ye skeptics as to the reality of conversion?...I knew that day, and I know now, that there is one soul at least from Tanna to sing the glories of Jesus in Heaven--and, oh, the rapture when I meet him there!2

When Jim Elliot and his missionary partners never called out on their radio after their encounter with the savage Auca Indians in the jungle of Ecuador, the wives of these men feared the worst. After a search team was sent into the jungle to locate the men, they found their bodies. They had been attacked and killed by the Indians as they sought to reach them with the gospel. Less than two years later Elisabeth Elliot (the wife of Jim Elliot) and her daughter Valerie along with Rachel Saint (Nate's sister) moved to the Auca village. The once savage people were transformed by the gospel and today they are a friendly tribe. It was a commitment to the gospel that radically changed the Auca tribe even resulting in the change of their name to the Huaorani tribe.

As the local church is committed to the gospel (from preaching to discipleship)--hearts are changed and it results in a more just and equitable society. The Church of Jesus is committed to doing justice, but justice can't change a person's heart and biblical justice cannot be disconnected from the gospel. While justice is not the gospel, true biblical justice is connected to our God and you can't have the gospel without God. Social justice leads people toward humanitarian work and social engagement while the gospel leads the Church to put their faith into action. When the gospel changes a person's heart it will lead them to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly for the glory of God (Micah 6:8; 1 Cor. 10:31).


1. Robert Haldane, An Exposition of Romans, electronic ed. (Simpsonville, SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1996), 55.

2. John Paton, The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2013), 160.


Dr. Josh Buice serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia -- just west of Atlanta. He is the founding director of the G3 Conference, the author of the theology blog DeliveredByGrace.com. Dr. Buice studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his M.Div. and D.Min. in expository preaching.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 4, God's Law

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[Editorial Note: This is the fourth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]


Article 4: God's Law

WE AFFIRM that God's law, as summarized in the ten commandments, more succinctly summarized in the two great commandments, and manifested in Jesus Christ, is the only standard of unchanging righteousness. Violation of that law is what constitutes sin.

WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God's commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living. We further deny the legitimacy of any charge of sin or call to repentance that does not arise from a violation of God's commandments.

The same God who gave us the gospel has also given us his law. This point can be easily overlooked by Christians who are concerned to be centered on the gospel. That concern is appropriate and those believers who have lived through seasons where the gospel was neglected or at best assumed are understandably sensitive to anything that would compete with its pride of place in the life of the church. However, we can never honor God's gospel by despising his law.

In fact, lack of clarity about the nature and significance of the law inevitably results in a lack of clarity or even confusion about the gospel. A clear understanding of God's law provides the foundation for the proclamation of the gospel. I agree with John Bunyan, who wrote, "The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Savior."

Article 4 of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is vital because it gets at the foundation of much that is being erroneously advocated under the banner of social justice. John Newton wisely observed,

Ignorance of the nature and design of the law is at the bottom of most religious mistakes. This is the root of self-righteousness, the grand reason why the Gospel of Christ is no more regarded, and the cause of that uncertainty and inconsistency in many, who, though they profess themselves teachers, understand not what they say, nor whereof they affirm.

The God who saves us is the same God who created us and who rules us. He has revealed his will to us in his law. Our duty, therefore, can only be defined in terms of what he has commanded.

Obviously, Scripture reveals various types of commandments that have come from God. To rightly understand our relationship to all that has been commanded we must make distinctions, as Paul clearly does in Romans 2:25-27.

Historically, interpreters from Thomas Aquinas to John Calvin to the Puritans to the Westminster & Second London Confessions of Faith have all recognized a three-fold division within the commandments in order to understand God's law. As John MacArthur helpfully explains,

"We can divide the law of God into three parts: the moral law, the judicial law, and the ceremonial law. The moral law was for all men, the judicial law was just for Israel, and the ceremonial law was for Israel's worship of God. So the moral law encompasses all men, it is narrowed down to Israel in the judicial law, and to the worship of Israel toward God in the ceremonial law."

It is that moral law that the statement affirms as God's unchanging standard of righteousness. In other words, God and God alone has the authority to tell us what constitutes righteousness and, conversely, what sin is.

This is vital for Christians to keep in mind as we think about how people should live. We are not free to live only for ourselves. We were made for God and must love him supremely above all else. Along with that we must love our neighbors--our fellow image-bearers--sincerely.

What does such love look like? It looks like obedience to God's commandments. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15) and Paul writes, "For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Romans 13:9).

What does sin look like? Violation of God's commandments (1 John 3:4). Before we call anyone to repentance we should be clear that the offense in view is actually a violation of God's law. And before we start justifying ourselves by thinking that the moral law only governs our outward actions, we must remember the strictness and spirituality of that law as explained by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Both the physical act of adultery as well as the lustful, sexual desires are violations of the seventh commandment.

Though the law of God was never designed to provide a way of salvation for sinners, it does show us what God requires. That remains just as true for Christians as for unbelievers. It also helps us to understand and appreciate all that Jesus has provided for us by his life of obedience and death in behalf of lawbreakers.

It is impossible for people to live without standards of right and wrong. When God's standard that he has revealed in his law is ignored, neglected or assumed, you can be sure that other, man-made standards will be enforced. That is why J. Gresham Machen's words are as true now as they were when he wrote them in the early part of the twentieth century:

A new and more powerful proclamation of [the] law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law.... So it always is; a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 2, The Imago Dei

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[Editorial Note: This is the second post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 2: The Imago Dei

WE AFFIRM that God created every person equally in his own image. As divine image-bearers, all people have inestimable value and dignity before God and deserve honor, respect and protection. Everyone has been created by God and for God.

WE DENY that God-given roles, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, sex or physical condition or any other property of a person either negates or contributes to that individual's worth as an image-bearer of God.

The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, after proclaiming the highest view of Scripture, affirms, briefly but forcefully, the reality of the creation of mankind, all ethnicities, all tribes, all peoples, in the imago Dei, the image of God. While this affirmation would have been supercilious only a few centuries ago, today, especially in Western culture, it is not only necessary, it is almost startling.

Christianity's doctrine of man has always been grounded in the reality of God as Creator. The entirety of the narrative of salvation in the Christian Scriptures, the Bible, is based upon God's power and might seen most importantly in His being called "Creator." Since God is the origin and source of all things, He defines them, gives them meaning, and this is the ground we have of confidence in being able to obtain true knowledge of the universe around us and even of our own selves. Without a Creator, we are left awash in a vast expanse that is random and chaotic.

As the West has worked very hard to distance its thought from the idea of a Creator (most often so as to allow for sexual license and expression) the concurrent result has been a diminishment in its view of man. Man is now barely distinguishable from the animals, a cosmic accident without transcendent value or worth. Once this view of man becomes entrenched, the entire basis of law must shift away from that provided by the Christian faith in the past.

Once the basis of law moves away from its historic roots, of necessity all definitions and concepts of "justice" must be altered as well. So much of the current controversy is due to just this: what is just and right in a world created by God indwelt by His creatures who are endued with His image will differ greatly from what is just and right in a random, purposeless, accidental world filled with random animals fighting for survival and dominance. The Christian worldview with its wise and powerful Creator has grounds for asserting man's transcendent worth as man bears God's image. As this conviction becomes more remote in the consciousness of Western societies, grave changes will result.

The Christian conviction that all men and women together share the imago Dei is central to the gospel message preached by Jesus and the Apostles. The means by which God brings His people to redemption is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. There the elect of God, joined to Christ by the Father's divine sovereignty (John 6:37-35), are joined to His death in their place. There is not one death for men, another for women, one for one ethnicity and another for others. The fact that there is but one sacrifice for "men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation" (Revelation 5:9-10) is strong evidence of the universal reality of the equality of men and women before God: both in their sinfulness, and in their redemption. Therefore, in those times past when Christians allowed themselves to be influenced more by their cultural concepts than by Scriptural categories, and the gospel was in any way altered by ethnic concepts, hindered by racial prejudices, or watered down in its application, God was not glorified and the church was substantially damaged. This was, and remains, sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ affirms by its very nature, provision, and demands, the imago Dei's universal character across all ethnic and cultural lines. The same Son of God had to give Himself completely for each and every one of His elect people. Few things could confirm the true equality of the peoples like the gospel!

Just as the positive affirmation enshrined in the Statement reflects these theological realities, the negative statement is concerned to protect these truths from redefinition or distortion. The imago Dei is neither negated by, nor added to, by one's external circumstances. The powerful are not more like God because of their power, the poor not less (or more!) like Him in their poverty. No nation bestows upon its citizens a closer resemblance to the Creator, a greater level of image-bearing, and surely no ethnicity can, or should, make such a claim. Every attempt by such groups in the past to lay claim to this divine truth with that kind of very human deviation deserves prompt and thorough repudiation.

While the Christian does not bear more of the image of God than the non-Christian, in and through Christ that image is restored and made right with God. But that does not make the Christian more human, but instead makes him or her a redeemed human with the promise that, eventually, all that detracts from the fulness of the display of that image will be removed and we will be changed to be like Christ in His fulness. But this is always a work of grace and comes to us from outside, not on the basis of merit, but solely upon that of mercy, grace, and love.

While this portion of the Statement is indeed brief, it is foundational to all that comes thereafter in its affirmation of the only ground of true equality that mankind could ever need: the fact that each man, woman and child is made in the image of God and is therefore worthy of respect and honor. The farther societies move away from this divine and biblical truth the greater will be the probability, even the necessity, of degradation, the loss of liberty, and the rise of concepts of ethnic or national superiority.


James White is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics organization based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the author of more than twenty books, a professor, an accomplished debater, and an elder of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 1, Scripture

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[Editorial Note: At Reformation21, we aim to offer a confessional Reformed perspective on contemporary issues. Many times contemporary issues are also controversial. We have never shied away from controversy. Controversial issues are sometimes also complex. We believe that in the case of things that are complex and controversial, we need to be even more careful that we are listening well and exercising biblical discernment. As the Bible instructs us: "Know this, my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:20).

Our friends at Founders Ministries have recently been involved in helping to produce "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel." It has caused quite a stir. It is a controversial statement on a complex issue. Some have said that the Statement is too broad and vague in its criticism. So we want to give the authors of the Statement a chance to elaborate further. Others have charged its writers with effectively implying that caring for the poor and caring about injustice should not matter to Christians (though the actual language of the Statement suggests otherwise). We believe the authors deserve a chance to explain what they were saying and what they intended.

The Statement on Social Justice was not produced by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Some of its defenders have close ties to the Alliance, while others have convictions that lie outside of the boundaries of the confessions to which we subscribe. While we are not officially endorsing the Statement, we certainly do believe its authors ought to be able to speak for themselves on these timely and important matters. We are mindful of the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17: "The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him." So we invite you to come and examine these important issues. And our prayer is that all of us can conduct this examination in a spirit of discernment, wisdom, and brotherly love.

Jonathan Master, 

Editorial Director of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals]

 

Article 1--Scripture

WE AFFIRM that the Bible is God's Word, breathed out by him. It is inerrant, infallible, and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live). All truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God's final Word, which is Scripture alone.

WE DENY that Christian belief, character, or conduct can be dictated by any other authority, and we deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching. We further deny that competency to teach on any biblical issue comes from any qualification for spiritual people other than clear understanding and simple communication of what is revealed in Scripture.

The first article in the "Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" addresses the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. This is highly appropriate for a document that that has been issued in order to defend and affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ. How do we know what that gospel is? To what source do those who profess that gospel look for their marching orders? The answer is Scripture and Scripture alone.

The classic passage in the Bible about its nature and authority is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

If the Bible is truly our final authority then other philosophies cannot be. This does not mean that there is nothing useful or true in such philosophies, but that we are only to accept what is found in them that corresponds to reality as revealed in Scripture. Biology, sociology, psychology, as well as other disciplines, can provide helpful descriptions of reality. Their claims, however, must all be evaluated in the light of Scripture.

This is precisely what God's people are required to do.

And when they say to you, "Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter," should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Isaiah 8:19-20, my emphasis).

If the chirpings and mutterings that derive from various aspects of intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory do not accord with God's written Word, then we are to dismiss them as having no light in them. The Apostle Paul applied this prophetic assessment when he wrote, "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).

The whole "Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" is an attempt to take Paul's admonition to heart and clarify key doctrines that are in danger of being undermined by worldly philosophies. These philosophies, if left unchecked, will undermine the gospel of Christ and lead people away from Him.

The statement asserts that "all truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God's final Word, which is Scripture alone." Since Scripture is breathed out by God (θεόπνευστος), it is inerrant and, therefore, authoritative. What it teaches, we are obligated to believe. Where it leads, we are obligated to follow. When anyone tries to influence our faith or conduct, as believers we must evaluate what is being said by the Bible. If what is being taught is not explicitly stated or inferentially contained in the Holy Scriptures then Christians are not to be bound by it as if it comes from God.

What this practically means is that every time we accept teaching that tells us what we "must," "ought" or "should" believe or do as Christians it is because such teaching derives from God's Word.

The most faithful, helpful Christian leaders and teachers, then, are those who most clearly understand and simply teach what God has revealed in the Bible. A person's background or experience may provide peculiar opportunities for understanding Scripture in more personal or practical ways, but it is only competency in handling the Word of God that makes such a person a trustworthy spiritual guide.

Spiritual people--those who have been born of God's Spirit and are trusting Jesus Christ as Lord--want to grow in His grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). This is both a privilege and a responsibility and is what leads us on to spiritual maturity. Such maturity, far more than one's race, sex or life experiences, is what qualifies a believer to be helpful to others in knowing and following Christ.

Ours is a day when authority is perhaps the most crucial issue confronting us. We are like the servants in Jesus' parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27). Instead of carrying out his business as we await his return, too often our attitude says, "We do not want this man to reign over us" (14). Yet, Christ is our only King. Because of that, his Word is our final authority.

In Romans 12:2 Paul gives us the following straightforward command: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." The only way for us to obey this admonition and to avoid allowing ourselves to be pressed into the world's ways of thinking, feeling, and aspiring is by the continual training and renewing of our minds. We must keep growing in our understanding and application of Scripture. We must learn it, believe it, and submit our lives to it.

Only by such commitment to God's Word will Christians be able to distinguish between truth and error and avoid being led astray by false teaching that creeps into our churches.

Tom Ascol is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL and the Executive Director of Founders Ministries

'Til Kingdom Come

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So much recent debate surrounding social justice seems to boil down to fundamental disagreements and misunderstandings about the relationship between the "Kingdom of God" and the "Church."  Many have conflated these two biblical concepts so as to lose the clear lines of demarcation regarding the mission of the church and the activities of believers in the world. Others have so pitted them against one another as to bifurcate any necessary correlation. In vol. 5 of his Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos made a number of profoundly important points regarding both the distinctness and interconnectedness of these two biblical concepts when he wrote,   

"On the one hand, 'kingdom of God' is the narrower, and 'church' the wider concept...On the other hand, the 'kingdom of God' or 'of heaven' is a broader concept than that of the church."1

Concerning his observation about the "Kingdom of God" being a more narrow concept than the "Church," Vos noted, 

"While the Church has both a visible and invisible side, and so can often be perceived of an entire nation, the kingdom of God in its various meanings is the invisible spiritual principle. It is the lordship Christ exercises over our souls if we truly belong to Him, our submission to his sovereign authority, our being conformed and joined by living faith to His body with its many members. It is the gathering of these true members and subjects of Christ. It is called the "kingdom of heaven" because it has its center and its future in heaven. All the spiritual benefits of the covenant are linked to it: righteousness, freedom, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit [cf. Rom 14:17]. As such a spiritual entity, it is within man and does not appear with an outward face. Understood in this sense, the kingdom of heaven equals the invisible church, but then in its New Testament particularity, for Christ preached that the kingdom of heaven had come near, namely, through His coming. He is the king, and through His clear self-revelation and through His completed work, the invisible church also receives a new glory that it did not have previously, so that even the least in this kingdom is still greater than John the Baptist [Matt 11:11]."2

With regard to the insistence that the "Kingdom of God" is the broader, and the "Church" the narrower concept, Vos explained,

"The Kingdom of God...is presented to us as leaven that must permeate everything, as a mustard seed that must grow into a tree that with its branches covers all of life. Plainly, such a thing may not be said of the concept 'church.' There are other spheres of life beside that of the church, but from none of those may the kingdom of God be excluded. It has its claim in science, in art, on every terrain. But the church may not lay claim to all that. The external side of the kingdom (the visible church) must not undertake these things; the internal essence of the kingdom, the new existence, must of itself permeate and purify. It is precisely the Roman Catholic error that the church takes everything into itself and must govern everything. Then there appears an ecclesiastical science, an ecclesiastical art, an ecclesiastical politics. There the kingdom of God is identical with the church and has been established on earth in an absolute form. According to us, it is otherwise. The true Christian belongs in the first place to the church, and in it acknowledges Christ as king. But besides that he also acknowledges the lordship of Christ in every other area of life, without thereby committing the error of mixing these things with each other. The Old Testament church-state, which comprehended the entire life of the nation, was a type of this all-encompassing kingdom of God."3

These distinctions lead naturally to certain conclusions concerning the complex interrelatedness of these two spheres of God's rule and reign in His people and in the world. Vos wrote, 

"If now one compares the visible church and the kingdom of God viewed from the first side, then one can say that the former is a manifestation and embodiment of the latter.

If one compares the visible church and the kingdom of God viewed from the second side, then one can say that the former is an instrument of the latter.

If one looks to the final outcome, then one must say that the church and kingdom of God will coincide. In heaven there will no longer be a division of life. There the visible and the invisible will coincide perfectly. Meanwhile, for now the kingdom of God must advance through the particular form of the church."4

The complexity of these two concepts necessitates that we give the utmost care to our consideration of both their distinctness and interrelatedness. It is only as we do so that we will profitably enter into conversations about the mission of the church, social justice, mercy ministry, the individual and the corporate, the sacred and the secular, and the myriad of others associated matters about which Christians love to spend inordinate amounts of time debating online. Though a daunting task, in and of itself, it will prove a worthy endeavor sure to yield great benefit to fellow members in the church.  


1. Vos, G. (2012-2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, ... K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 5, pp. 8-9). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 8.

3. Ibid., p. 9

Reformation 500, Social Justice and the Gospel

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This year has been a veritable Reformation-fest-- a marvelous celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (1517-2017). Protestants from all over the world have been recounting the amazing events, courageous figures, and key doctrines of the sixteenth- century movement that changed the course of history.

How can anyone tire of hearing stories about the intrepid Augustinian monk from Wittenberg, the one who bravely stood up to the formidable powers of the Roman Empire for the sake of the Gospel? Who wearies learning of John Calvin's compassionate ministry to suffering missionary- pastors in France or John Knox's courageous gospel preaching in Scotland? What about Reformation doctrine? Do the five solas ever grow dull? No way! They point us to the covenant faithfulness of God and the unsearchable riches of our Savior. Reformation 500 has been an encouragement and inspiration.

Like many, I've attended several Reformation 500 events over the last twelve months. The preaching at most of these gatherings has been soul-stirring. Again and again I've been moved by the captivating stories of magisterial Reformers risking everything for the sake of the gospel. I've been reminded of the daring recovery of essential Christian doctrine. I've also been encouraged to hold fast to the ordinary means of grace-- the divinely ordained means of Word, sacraments, and prayer. These unadorned and seemingly foolish means direct us away from a trust in our own person and work to a trust in the all-sufficient person and work of Christ.

There was one Reformation 500 message that I heard, however, that was different from the others. It was troubling both as to its content and tone; and, it did not--in any way whatsoever--communicate the good news of the Gospel. The sermon clearly demonstrated the need for further reflection upon the history and doctrine of the Reformation in our churches.

The following is a tale of two sermons-- a straightforward account of two very different Reformation 500 messages that I heard in the month of October. The sermons were preached by two different preachers with two very different emphases. By comparing the two sermons, I hope to demonstrate that the best way forward for Reformed denominations in general, and the Presbyterian Church in America in particular, is for ministers to commit to the bold and unmistakable preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the whole counsel of God.

The first Reformation 500 sermon that I heard was an exegetically sound and deeply compelling exposition of Scripture. The sermon was on the theme: Solus Christus [Christ Alone]. As the preacher skillfully explained the glory and majesty of Christ, I found myself captivated by the eminence and loveliness of the Savior.

The preacher masterfully set forth the supremacy of Christ. He then wondered aloud how we could ever have a relationship with such an exalted and glorious King. After all, Jesus is so magnificent, so powerful, and so holy; and we are so lowly, so weak, and so sinful. Before answering, the preacher described how the medieval Roman Catholic Church set up buffers between sinners and Christ (e.g. Mary, saints, priests) to relieve the fear of approaching Christ on our own. It was (and is) an erroneous system of co-mediators attempting to shield sinners from a transcendent, unapproachable, and wrathful Christ.

After reflecting upon this pertinent Reformation history, the preacher led us to the mountain peaks of grace as he expounded upon the High Priestly office of Christ. He explained how Christ is the one who offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins on Calvary, the one who possesses bottomless wells of grace for rebel sinners, and the one who invites us by grace through faith into a saving relationship with God. Jesus Christ is the only mediator we need, and he is full of love and compassion for sinners.

Towards the end of the sermon--as the grace, truth, and beauty of Christ were on full display--it felt as though time had stopped. I was meeting Christ in his preached word. He had laid hold of me. I found myself ashamed of my sin and profoundly grateful for my Savior. It's what happens when Christ is faithfully preached.

Getting a view of Christ in the preaching that day motivated me to be a more faithful disciple as it relates to my marriage, family, calling, and outreach to the lost. Encountering Jesus in the sermon confronted my selfishness, pride, and worldly patterns of thinking. I was powerfully reminded that my true identify is in Jesus, and not in my worldly accomplishments, moral strivings, or in the way others perceive me. The sermon was a clarion call to faith in Christ.

The second Reformation sermon that I heard was very different from the first one. Regrettably, neither the gospel nor those who risked their lives to recover it were given attention. No, rather than proclaim the riches of Christ, the preacher delivered a impassioned address on racial injustice in Southern history and modern culture. Instead of focusing on the doctrines, events, and courageous men and woman of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, he presented a discourse on the evils of gentrification, income and wealth disparity, and the systemic injustice of white majority cultures. This individual explained and applied the text he was supposed to be preaching through the lenses of a form of critical race theory. It was an exercise in cultural and sociological analysis, and entirely missed the point of the passage from which he was supposed to be preaching. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the sermon was that in lieu of the gospel, a new law was placed upon the backs of the hearers-- a new and convoluted law requiring social justice and cultural change.

Now, by no means do I want to dismiss the significant problems and serious pain caused by wicked injustices that exist in our (and every) nation's history and culture. Social injustice is as real as it is complex. We should expose and condemn it when we can, in whatever form it might take (e.g. abortion, sex trade, racism, slavery, sexual harassment, etc). Nor do I think it inappropriate for ministers to preach against the sins of our culture, and to bring biblical application on these matters--especially when a text plainly speaks to them. 

By contrasting these two sermons, I am not downplaying the wickedness of social injustice or the need to speak against it. Rather, I'm simply pleading with pastors and churches in the PCA and elsewhere to follow the lead of Christ, the Apostles, and the Reformers to make it a blood-earnest priority to keep the gospel central in our preaching and discipleship. We must not exchange the proclamation of the gospel for moralistic speeches on social justice or any other issue. The church's mission is to make disciples through the faithful proclamation of Christ from the whole counsel of God. Those disciples, actively abiding in Christ, are called to love their neighbors and bear the fruit of the gospel. The gospel is our only real hope for change. Therefore, Christ's saving action, not our social action, must be at the core of the mission and message of the church.

The gospel must never be assumed in our churches. We must boldly and clearly proclaim the gospel from our pulpits, fonts, and tables on the Lord's Day. It must be central in our discipleship ministries. Preaching and teaching the gospel is what the church is called to do. If we do not preach Christ, who will? If we lose sight of the gospel, we will walk down the same road as many mainline denominations who at one point started believing the lie that social activism outweighs the preaching of Christ in both relevance and importance. Vague affirmations of the gospel sprinkled into a spirited message on social justice will not only obscure the person and work of Christ, it will inevitably confuse the mission of the church.

Public and ecclesiastical dialogue on social justice and race have grown tremendously over the past year. It has rapidly increased in my own denomination, the PCA. Some of the discussion has been helpful. But much of it tends to exude more heat than light, and more sociology than sound theology. The purpose of this article, then, is not to expound upon the best way to preach against cultural sins or to explain how the church should be involved in social justice causes. It's to make one simple point: If our churches and denominations are to remain healthy, we cannot marginalize, negotiate, or redefine the gospel.

This year's Reformation 500-fest has served the church well. It has forced Reformed Christians everywhere to remember our rich Protestant and Reformed heritage, and to reflect upon the nature and centrality of the gospel-- the true gospel announcing redemption for wretched sinners through the penal substitutionary death and hell-conquering resurrection of the Son of God. It is that magnificent gospel which must remain paramount in our preaching, worship, discipleship, and mission.

The future health of the church depends on it.

Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is senior minister of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, South Carolina.

A Social Savior

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As I continue to scan the landscape of Christian social justice activism, that is, social justice-labeled activities that are said to be carried out "in the name of" Christ, I've noticed many Christian activists have a tendency to proffer to the world an image of Jesus that is tantamount to that of a sanctified social worker, a holy humanitarian, an exalted egalitarian.

This visage of Jesus as a "Social Savior" is borne of a proclivity many Christian social justice activists have to leverage the works of Christ as the primary impetus not only for individuals who profess to follow Him to do likewise, but also institutions, such as governments and corporations, so that an equitable, just, and impartial society and world, which they believe Christ envisioned for mankind, ultimately becomes reality.

It is through this paradigm that such works of Christ as healing the centurion's servant (Matt. 8:13), and the blind man (Jn. 9:6-7), and feeding more than 5,000 people on one occasion (Matt. 14:13-21) and 4,000 on another (Mk. 8:1-8), as well as His love for the poor (Luke 6:20) and the oppressed (Luke 4:18), are viewed as evidences that mandate Christians to take upon themselves, in accordance with Christ's words in Jn. 9:4, to "...work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work."

This kind of sanguine worldview may seem admirable, perhaps even virtuous, to some, especially given the current milieu in which Christianity - and white evangelical Christians in particular - are being called to account for the deliberate and systematic misappropriation, to put it mildly, by their ancestors of various biblical precepts for the express purpose and intent of enslaving and otherwise oppressing black people in America.

That Christianity was practiced in such a deliberately iniquitous manner is both a sad and unarguable fact.

As author and researcher Richard Reddie notes in a 2007 BBC article on the Atlantic slave trade and abolition:

"Religion was...a driving force during slavery in the Americas. Once they arrived at their new locales the enslaved Africans were subjected to various processes to make them more compliant, and Christianity formed part of this. Ironically, although the assertion of evangelization was one of the justifications for enslaving Africans, very little missionary work actually took place during the early years. In short, religion got in the way of a moneymaking venture by taking Africans away from their work. It also taught them potentially subversive ideas and made it hard to justify the cruel mistreatment of fellow Christians."

Conversely, theologian and author Timothy Keller, in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, extols:

"Violence done in the name of Christianity is a terrible reality and must be both addressed and redressed. There is no excusing it. The typical criticisms...about the oppressiveness and injustices of the Christian church actually come from Christianity's own resources for critique of itself. The shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Christian gospel. Historian C. John Sommerville claims that when Anglo-Saxons first heard the Christian gospel message they were incredulous. They couldn't see how any society could survive that did not fear and respect strength. When they did convert, they were far from consistent. They tended to merge the Christian other-regarding ethic with their older ways. They supported the Crusades as a way of protecting God's honor and theirs. They let monks, women, and serfs cultivate charitable virtues, but these virtues weren't considered appropriate for men of honor and action. No wonder there is so much to condemn in church history. But to give up Christian standards would be to leave us with no basis for the criticism."

So, admittedly, there were those, including many Christians, who, while professing to be followers of the God of the Bible, appropriated the teachings of the Bible in such ungodly ways as to devalue, disparage, and destroy those who were equally the bearers of God's image (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26) as those who, "in the name of" God, volitionally chose to oppress, maltreat, and, on many occasions, murder them.

Be that as it may, to whatever extent the gospel was leveraged in such base and sinful ways is not the fault of Christianity. Quite the contrary. It is the fault of that which Christianity unambiguously and forthrightly addresses. Namely, the innate depravity of the human soul (Gen. 4:7, 8:21b; Eccl. 7:20; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23; Gal. 5:17.)

To view Jesus preeminently as a "Social Savior" is a misguided, short-sighted, and dangerous proposition, as it fails to take into account the fundamental root cause of many of the historical and contemporary socio-ethno inequities which many Christian social justice activists, particularly blacks, are seeking to redress through such propitiatory gestures as the removal of Confederate statues and monuments and the paying of reparations for slavery.

Notwithstanding the innumerable and tangible good works performed by Jesus for the practical benefit of those to whom they were graciously and mercifully imparted, those works were subsidiary to the primary reason Christ came into the world which, contrary to what many Christian social justice activists - and others - believe, was not to remedy socio-political or socio-economic inequities by improving the material, financial, or social station of those with whom He interacted, but to point people to Himself as the long-awaited Messiah.

This reality is underscored in , in which the apostle John declares:

"Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

A problem many Christian activists have in their pursuit of social justice is that they confuse Christians with Christ.

That is something that should never happen.

As theologian and historian Thomas J. Kidd cautions in his 2012 article titled Slavery, Historical Heroes, and "Precious Puritans":

"The Christian faith has only one perfect hero. He is our proper object, not just of emulation, but of worship. We all fall far, far short of his example."

In other words, only Jesus is Jesus. We are not.

Even in our most well-founded expectations that those who profess to believe in Jesus display a certain level of consistency in living out that belief (Eph. 5:1-2), we must never lose sight of the fact that when an individual professes faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9), it is their salvation that is instantaneous not their sanctification (1 Jn. 1:8, 10).

It is with this thought in mind that we would do well to consider the words of theologian John R.W. Stott who, in his classic work The Cross of Christ, reminds us of this spiritual reality:

"For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; whereas God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be."

Stott's words highlight the futility of espousing a Jesus who is a "Social Savior"--whose coming to earth is viewed strictly in terms of how works-righteousness (e.g. removing statues, paying slavery reparations, etc.) can be a means toward the kind of society in which justice, equity, and righteousness are normative (2 Pet. 3:13).

At the risk of disappointing many of my social justice warrior (SJW) brothers and sisters, Jesus is not a Social Savior. Christ came into the world save sinners not society (1 Tim. 1:15; Matt. 10:34-36). If the works of Christ themselves were sufficient as the model for how the kind of egalitarian social structure so zealously desired by many Christian SJWs is to be realized in today's society, the question still remains: why, then, was it necessary for Him to die?

 

Darrell Harrison is a member of Rockdale Community Church, a Reformed Baptist congregation located in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers, Georgia. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell was the first African-American to be ordained as a Deacon in the 200-year history of First Baptist Church of Covington (Georgia) where he attended from 2009 to 2015. Darrell blogs at "Just Thinking...For Myself"

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Just Thinking...

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As more and more is being written about ethnicity, I thought that I'd point our readers to the B.A.R. Podcast (Biblical And Reformed), hosted by my friend, Dawain Atkinson. Dawain has had some the most noted pastors and theologians on the show (e.g. Derek ThomasMark Dever and H.B. Charles, Jr.). Additionally, he regularly interviews Christian hip hop artists and various local pastors. Recently, he interviewed Darrel B. Harrison, a fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of the Princeton Theological Seminary. The biblical and theological emphasis in this particular episode brings much to the table for your consideration, in light of current discussions about race and social justice. So, do yourself the favor and go listen to the episode titled, "Just Thinking...For Myself!"