How well does your Church know God?
By Len Ritchie, Evangelical Research Fellowship.
As Christians, we are always seeking to know God better, but often struggle to measure how well we are doing. There are all sorts of standards that we use, like whether we love other Christians, how often we tithe of our money, time and energy, and how much we love and read the Bible. It is less common for us to consider our involvement in society and particularly acts of social justice as a measure of our spiritual lives.
In a country like South Africa, social problems are always at the forefront of our minds, either because we live with them on a daily basis or because we are confronted with them in our local news. The Church has once again come into the spotlight with some politicians (allegedly) claiming that “the Church should stay out of politics” (This was an opinion given by Cyril Ramaphosa recently, which he later qualified. Every Christian should be asking what their role in society should be. Do we preach the gospel, or do we help the poor? Is it somewhere in-between?
Jewish author Daniel Silver[i] (1974:125) has said that God is the “champion of social justice” in the Prophets. I’ve noted that Isaiah’s prophecy provides us with quite a comprehensive view of social justice in the Old Testament, and is filled with judgments against those who defraud the poor, don’t look after widows and orphans, and deny the indigent a fair trial. Yet, this is not the primary problem with God’s people in Isaiah. Isaiah 1:3-4 says:
“The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.
Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the LORD,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.”
The primary problem with God’s people is their lack of knowledge of God. They have “forsaken the LORD”. As we continue through chapter 1, we see that this lack of knowledge creates a state of injustice:
“How the faithful city
has become a whore,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
and the widow’s cause does not come to the”. Isaiah 1:21-23
This pattern continues throughout Isaiah 1-39, and includes the nations (e.g. 2:2-4). God’s solution to this problem with his people and the nations is to restore their knowledge, and he does this through sending his Messiah:
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea ” Isaiah 11:1-9
There can be no social justice without the Messiah. God’s solution to the problem of the world is to institute his own ruler who has true knowledge of God, who then gives this knowledge to the world (Isaiah 11:9b). This Messiah’s rule is characterised by social justice and peace on earth.
But what does this mean for the average Christian? Well, a great deal. If social justice is the natural outworking of truly knowing God through his Messiah Jesus, then the Church should be a place where we see that social justice in action. The Church should in fact be the front-runner in caring for the poor, and helping society to function better. The Church should be the first to speak out against corruption. However, this also means that the Church should be primarily concerned with more and more people coming to know God through Jesus, since this is the only way that society can become truly just. The social problems we see every day on the news can and will only be solved when people come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Of course, we know that this will only finally be completed in the new creation when our King reigns visibly from his throne, and has dealt with injustice once and for all. In the meantime, it is incumbent on us as the Church to be active members of society, caring for the weak, the poor, the indigent and standing up against corruption, which ruins so many lives.
Finally, we should evaluate our Churches and ourselves against a measure of our involvement in caring for the poor, widows, orphans and foreigners. If a concern for and involvement in social justice is the natural outworking of knowing Jesus, then does our Church truly know God or live by God’s word? Do you?
Len Ritchie is a postgraduate student at GWC and has written his dissertation on God’s judgment in Isaiah 1-39. Len is married to Christine, and they both serve at Trinity Church, Beacon Valley, Mitchell’s Plain.
[i] (Silver, D. J., 1974. A History of Judaism, Vol 1: From Abraham to Maimonides. New York, NY: Basic Books)