In recent years, an alarming trend has emerged within the modern church, as a growing number of congregations are embracing social justice ideologies and even Marxist principles. This infiltration of worldly doctrines has led to a departure from the core tenets of the Christian faith, as churches prioritize societal transformation over the proclamation of the gospel. These churches claim to seek to address systemic inequalities and fight for the rights of the marginalized, yet often adopt political stances that align with Marxist thought. While the pursuit of true biblical justice and concern for the truly oppressed can indeed be demonstrations of God’s mercy and grace, the distortion of biblical teachings in favor of these secular ideologies poses a significant challenge to the integrity and mission of the church in today’s world.
The social gospel movement, which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was an ill-conceived response to the growing social and economic challenges of the era. Theologians such as Walter Rauschenbusch led the charge, contending that Christianity should confront social issues and inequalities. Rauschenbusch posited that the Church must actively participate in ameliorating the lives of the impoverished and oppressed, fusing faith with social activism. This marked a misguided shift in focus for many Christians, moving beyond the spiritual realm to engage with the practical concerns of everyday life.
Within the Scriptures, the ones referred to as “marginalized” or “oppressed” were not people who couldn’t pay their rent because they had spent all their welfare money on beer and cigarettes or couldn’t hold down a job due to a poor work ethic. Rather they were people facing dire, life-threatening circumstances, entirely beyond their control. This significantly contrasts with the contemporary, Marxist-influenced interpretation of social or financial disparity. The biblical approach to addressing the needs of these vulnerable populations frequently involved acts of compassion, mercy, and support by those called as God’s people to do so.
Let’s start by seeking to understand the historical context of these biblical accounts. In the ancient world, life was often brutal, and resources were limited. The marginalized and oppressed confronted challenges that were, in many cases, far more extreme than the social and financial inequities of today, especially in America. In this context, the biblical emphasis on caring for the most vulnerable members of society reflects a profound concern for human dignity and the spiritual state of all people.
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For instance, in the Old Testament, the Israelites were instructed to care for widows, orphans, and foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:18-19, 24:19-21), as these people were particularly vulnerable to poverty, exploitation, and neglect. The prophet Isaiah condemned the leaders of his time for neglecting the cause of the poor and oppressed (Isaiah 1:17, 10:1-2). These and other passages demonstrate the importance placed on caring for those who were most at risk in society.
We should, however, once again distinguish the difference between what the Scriptures refer to as “foreigners” in this context and the modern leftist call to embrace illegal immigration and open borders. By “foreigners,” the Scriptures are not referring to illegal aliens seeking to exploit the welfare system of Israel, but rather people who happened to be where they are for reasons beyond their control.
The Israelites were called to treat foreigners with kindness, remembering their own experiences as strangers in Egypt (Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19). This principle extended to ensuring that foreigners had access to basic necessities and were treated fairly in matters of justice (Deuteronomy 24:17, Leviticus 19:33-34).
The ancient world lacked the same systems of immigration control or welfare as modern societies. The biblical emphasis on caring for foreigners should be understood within this context and as an expression of God’s concern for the well-being of all people, regardless of their nationality or circumstances, and not as a call to embrace an open-borders system that exploits another nation’s people and destabilizes their entire economic and political system.
While it is certainly true that in the New Testament, Jesus himself consistently demonstrated compassion and mercy toward the oppressed, it is important to understand his mission in doing so. He healed the sick, such as the woman with a bleeding disorder (Mark 5:25-34), and the blind beggar Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). He reached out to social outcasts like the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26). And yes, Jesus taught his followers to demonstrate compassion for the truly poor and needy.
However, the ultimate goal in addressing the needs of these people was not to alleviate their suffering on a material level but to address their spiritual needs. Jesus’ interactions with these people involved teaching them about the Kingdom of God and offering forgiveness and salvation. The healing and support he provided served as a testament to God’s love and power, as well as a call to repentance and faith.
As Jesus encountered society’s outcasts within the pages of Scripture, His primary intention was to draw them from the shadows of spiritual despair and into the light of grace and redemption. His deeds were not orchestrated to enhance their earthly existence or to resolve their pressing temporal tribulations. Rather, Jesus concentrated on bestowing hope and restoration through what would later be carried out in front of the entire world on the cross.
Instead of championing sweeping societal transformations, Jesus summoned His disciples to distinguish themselves from the prevailing ethos. He implored them to eschew unjust conduct and to embody the divine love, mercy, and grace, just as they had received from God. This approach demonstrates the primacy of the gospel in the individual lives of people and personal deeds over unified endeavors to revolutionize society in its entirety.
It is vital to comprehend that the biblical understanding of injustice stands apart from the worldly view, often influenced by Marxist and collectivist ideologies. The Bible’s emphasis on addressing the plight of the marginalized and oppressed stems from a longing for individuals to experience God’s love and redemption, rather than striving for an all-encompassing aim of societal transformation.
The New Testament does not instruct the Church to partake in social justice activism or effect societal changes. Neither does it portray Jesus or the Apostles undertaking such endeavors. This absence of explicit guidance accentuates the scriptural focus on spiritual renewal and the growth of the Church, rather than pursuing social justice as the ultimate goal.
As believers, we are called to be salt and light in the world, impacting those around us by reflecting God’s character through our own acts of mercy and grace. And while we should use our influence to promote good and restrain evil in society, be it political, social, or spiritual, our primary objective is not to establish dominion over every aspect of the world but to glorify God and share the gospel of salvation with others.
Our primary focus as Christians is to glorify God by proclaiming His son’s name throughout the nations, making disciples, and teaching them to obey the commandments of Christ. In doing so, we fulfill our true mission as the Church and as followers of Jesus and participants in God’s redemptive plan for His people.
And finally, we must trust the Holy Spirit to enact any change, whether societal or individual, as He sees fit. By prioritizing God’s glory and the proclamation of the gospel, we can remain focused on the most important aspects of our faith while still being a positive influence in the world around us. In this way, we can strike a balance between engaging with the concerns of our time while staying true to the primary teachings of Scripture and the function of the Church.