Social justice has been, and always will be, a part of Christian living and one of the many ways the church loves and serves its surrounding community.
However, social justice was not the message of Jesus, and is not the primary purpose of His Church.
As we seek out Jesus’ purposes for His church, it’s always good to go back to scripture and see what He had to say about it.
As one of His final words to the disciples, Jesus said,
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
We see that the primary purpose of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus, to see people believe in Jesus (baptizing them as an outward sign of their inward belief), and teaching those disciples to follow Jesus in all of His teaching.
So what was Jesus’ teaching all about?
The primary message of Jesus is that we are dead in our sins, and we need to be born again by His sacrifice, grace, and forgiveness. (John 3: 1-21)
Everything else Jesus teaches hinges on us accepting His sacrifice for our sins. He taught us how to pray, give, serve, seek the Father, love others, and generally live the life we were meant to live - but this is only possible through accepting His Gospel.
One of the many things Jesus taught was social justice. However, there isn't much specific teaching on equality, and social justice - but He clearly lived a life of caring about these things. He never taught to organize social justice movements within His church, or to seek lobbying of any kind - but rather that a transformed life would engage in social justice daily. This is because social justice (as well as any person-to-person interaction) cannot simply be legislated, but must come from a transformed life and heart-change.
Social justice is a byproduct of salvation.
Truly effective social justice cannot come from simply changing laws, but only from changing hearts. This is why we never see Jesus pushing for new laws or government because He is most concerned with the salvation of people.
This is why Jesus emphasizes people’s salvation more than anything else. An amazing example that is covered by three of the four Gospels is when He first forgives the sins of a paralytic man and tells the scribes the the primary reason He will then heal the man is so that they will know that He has the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:18-25).
Jesus clearly had a primary emphasis on salvation through forgiveness of sins above anything else.
And when the church shifts to focus on coordinated social justice, we miss Jesus’ primary mission: to see people saved from death and brought into new life.
I really like how Bruce Zachary explains it:
“Activism emphasizes the social gospel & tends to produce cause-oriented rather than Christ-centered people. Attempts to effect social change without a change of heart/nature. Caring for the poor, for example, is very important, but it should not be divorced from Jesus & man’s greatest need –salvation.” -Bruce Zachary
Jesus mission for His church is that we would be gospel oriented people which would result in the people of His church bringing social justice and love to those around them.
Salvation will always bring social change (along with the all the other things that come with a transformed life) - yet social change alone cannot bring salvation.
As a church in Delray Beach, we have seen many people loved, served, helped, and brought into life-bringing community. However, it all flows from our mission to “pursue and proclaim Jesus” as He intended for us to do.
We may not have a “social cause” that we emphasize or all gather around, but that is because we are called to gather around Jesus. And as we have, and continue to, He promises that we will continue to see lives changed, families restored, and equality and hope brought to all people through receiving His Gospel and surrendering to His grace.