Justice Churches and the Pursuit of Social Justice

April 14, 2015

Lately, I’ve been hearing the term “justice churches” to refer to those congregations that have chosen as one of their core goals the pursuit of social justice. Is this a helpful term?

Justice Church

Perhaps not, since implicit in the label may be the assumption that “justice churches” are departing from the core gospel ministry—that they are becoming “more justice than Jesus,” to use another turn of phrase.

Another assumption could be that pursuing justice, while laudable, should not properly be the main focus of a church’s work of gospel proclamation.

When ministry to the poor or solidarity with the oppressed are brought up, the first concern is that the preaching ministry or discipleship or teaching biblically faithful doctrine could be compromised.

Gospel Relating to Justice

How does the gospel relate to justice in such circles? (Let’s call them “gospel churches” but that might be a problematic label too, as outlined below.)

The most sophisticated answer I’ve heard is that social justice is an implication of the gospel, but not the gospel itself. The pursuit of justice flows from the gospel message, but the gospel proper is nothing more than the message of Jesus crucified, buried, and risen, that demands our faith. In other words, gospel ministry is word ministry, to be distinguished from deeds ministry.

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