Social Justice, Biblical Justice, and Our Discipleship Problem
Written by Gabriel Rench on December 19, 2018
By Gabriel Rench
Justice Needs the Bible
There has been a lot of chatter back and forth the last couple years around social justice and the church: definitions are vague, people are talking past each other, and both sides have not really pursued productive conversations. One thing is for sure, the discussion has largely focused on what justice looks like for others, instead of where all justice (and injustice) practically begins–the home. Whatever your definition or use of social justice is, in the end it has to start where all Biblical justice begins, which is in the family. After all it is our kids who grow up and create the injustices that we see in our society. So, all definitions come down to “by what standard”, and as Christians we are required to look to God’s word for what true justice looks like. We do this, because God’s way is the only way for Christians, and what is best for this world. To borrow another standard for what justice is, is to bring chaos, tyranny, and destruction on our society. Either we seek Biblical justice, or we seek worldly forms of justice. Either we seek justice through the blood of Jesus, or we seek justice through the blood of man.
God gave us three forms of government–civil, church, and family. Self-government is key to all healthy governments, but categorically civil, church, and family carry the covenantal structures in our society. The family is the first-place biblical justice meets community, and it is in this context that we experience and create the habits and norms of how justice should be lived out in a larger community (society). The church will not lead our society in true justice, until the church first gets justice in the family correct.
We say we want social justice, while our kids are wrecking social justice. We say we want social justice, while our fathers are consuming porn that fuels the abortion industry. We say we want social justice, while our mothers are devouring our children in the womb. We say we want justice, while allowing the world to carry the heavy load of discipling our children.
All true justice begins with working on what God has called you to do, what is right in front of you. I can’t change the injustices happening in Haiti, but I can and I am called to deal with the injustices happening in my own family. All justice is local justice. Think of it this way. Justice happens in a series of spheres and the first sphere is between you and God (the individual). Justice ripples out from that point to your family, then to your church, and then to the broader society. Justice is first experienced as a community in the home, and if your justice in the home stinks, then don’t go knocking on your neighbor’s door to rebuke them and their injustices. Get the log out of your own eye first.
The Weak Link
It is no secret that the nuclear family is under attack in our society. But it was first under attack in the church. Christians have led the way in the decline of the nuclear family, and fathers are centrally to blame for this. God deals with us in terms of covenants, and when fathers reject their covenantal responsibilities, the downstream affects are devastating. The father is the head of the wife and family, which means he is covenantally responsible for the spiritual condition of his family. The father is covenantally responsible to love his wife (Ephesians 5:25), raise his children in the training and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), provide for his family (1 Timothy 5:8), take dominion (Genesis 1:28), and protect his family. When the father abdicates these responsibilities, the deterioration of Biblical justice begins, and these effects impact generations to come (Exodus 20:5-6).
So, the central responsibility for the sins of the family is on the shoulders of the father. This does not remove responsibility from the wife or the kids, rather it increases the ramifications of individual sin in the family. Job understood this responsibility when he made offerings on behalf of his children (Job 1:5). His sacrifices did not take away his children’s responsibility; they are still responsible for their individual sins but Job is taking responsibility for them, which is an example for every father. So, central to healthy justice in society is the father faithfully taking responsibility for His family, in all the areas God has called him to.
The principle is that the father is responsible for his family, which means he needs to understand what biblical justice is and teach his family God’s way of justice. Let’s break this down with an example. I have three kids, four, six, and eight years old. As it goes with sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, a bump will happen between two siblings, and one of my children will walk in and present their case. As a father I need to listen and ask further questions to gain as much information as I can before I go and get the other side of the story (Proverbs 18:17). I do the same with my other child–listen and ask questions, but often times that is still not enough. I have to talk to any reliable witnesses in the room (Deuteronomy 19:15), and then gather any additional evidence needed to judge the situation rightly. A Biblical process for dealing with small sins in your own family, provides the template for dealing with big sins in society. This is how it always works–faithful in little, faithful in much.
If this process were applied to all the hot button political scenarios in the past five years, it would eliminate a lot of the mob justice mentality and political posturing. Justice needs the Bible, like coffee needs a cup.
I want to land this discussion of justice particularly on the shoulders of pastors. Why is there a justice problem in society? Well to put it plainly, a significant amount of our pastors have raised unfaithful children and are therefore unqualified to be pastors (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). When you hear the term “pastor’s kid”, what immediately comes to mind? Here comes trouble? Or here comes a faithful child of God? Pastors’ kids are notorious for being the trouble makers in the youth group. Pastors have sacrificed their children on the altar of their ministry, and it is no wonder fathers in the church don’t get Biblical justice. If leaders are not modeling basic justice in the home, then we should not be surprised at the fruit coming out of our churches. We have lost the culture war, because we have lost our children, and that is ultimately a failure in Biblical justice.
If your justice strains gnats while swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24), if your justice tips the scales to a particular race (Proverbs 20:10), if your justice jumps to conclusions after hearing one side of the story (Proverbs 18:17), if your justice fights for racial justice while your family is falling apart (Matthew 7:5), then your justice reeks of the world and is not Biblical justice.
The good news in the midst of our parental failures, our church leaders’ abdications, and our judicial blindness is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. You know repentance is real, when fathers start leading their families, mothers focus on the house and their children, and pastors start living out and preaching the unvarnished truths of the gospel. The Bible is our standard for everything. The Bible is what gives us true justice.
Two thousand years ago, the world tried to kill Justice on a tree. But when Justice was nailed to the cross, and all of our sin was thrown on Him, the wrath of God poured out and soaked Jesus on the cross, it was justice that was carried out. You see God heard His children fighting, God listened to both sides, God gathered all the witnesses in heaven and on earth, and He collected all the evidence needed to condemn us all. His case against us is a perfect slam dunk, and knowing the judgment that His creation deserves, He sent His Son so that we could face the justice we deserve in Christ. So, there is no get-out-of-justice-free card. The only two options we get is either we face Biblical justice in Christ, or we face Biblical justice outside of Christ. The evidence still matters, the witnesses don’t disappear, our sins require justice. And in the goodness of God Christians get biblical justice in Christ.
So, it is in the context of the family, and by extension the family of God, that we can first practice Biblical Justice. God gave us to each other through the death and resurrection of Jesus, so let me end with an olive branch here, a place where we hopefully can all agree. Injustice does not spring up overnight. It is the result of families producing bad fruit over years and even generations. Fathers need to return their hearts to their children (Malachi 4:6), and by the grace of God, faithful fruit will spring up over generations and be the covenantal vehicle that God uses to correct injustice. This covenantal faithfulness is the deep long-lasting gospel that will create a tidal wave of faithful children, and as we trust in God, it is in this context where God promises centuries of generational justice (Exodus 20:6).
CrossPolitic will be doing a live show at the 2019 Southeast Founders Conference. The conference topic is Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly.