By What Standard?

Posted on

Having written about what I can do right now, I want to look ahead and evaluate the issues with a more long-term view. The question is not necessarily “should I dedicate my life to fighting racism?”, but close. Maybe it is: “Should I spend a significant amount of my time and money for the foreseeable future to engage the issue of racism?” Decisions like these should not be done flippantly, so I need a standard by which to evaluate them, especially in light of competing issues.

Emotionally, I should get engaged right now. It is the natural choice because others are already doing it, the pull is great, and cause seems just. Racism is real, and the world would be better off without it. But does this apply to any issue that is on the nation’s front page? If so, it implies that tomorrow I must get engaged in the next issue the nation deems important enough to cover, and the next, and the next. It would be an inefficient use of my resources to never truly invest in anything. Maybe there is a different standard by which to decide how to get involved.

Another criterion could be the extent of suffering the issue causes, possibly the cause with the most deaths. Without question, that is abortion. Currently, more than 1,600 babies lose their lives each day in this country. Between 1941 and 1945, 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Around 1990, the five highest abortion years totalled about 7 million babies dead.1 Abortion is truly another holocaust and, if number of deaths is the standard, this is the one to fight, because no other injustice even comes close to abortion.

Other issues cause widespread suffering worldwide. Children growing up in orphanages is bad enough, but many age out of the system and are left on the streets as teenagers; you can imagine what may happen to them. Boko Haram is terrorizing and killing hundreds in Nigeria, including Christians. Sex trafficking is real and happens right here in America, fueled by our increasing sexual depravity, like pornography addiction. You can easily add to this list. Can we quantify all this evil and injustice to arrive at some absolute measure we can use to determine our involvement? Can the Bible help here?

The Bible certainly provides guidance on social issues. The Lord cares for justice. It is the foundation of his throne (Psalm 97). Isaiah 1:17 says: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Micah 6:8 says we are “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God”. We are to care for the most vulnerable and helpless: widows and orphans. We are to seek justice. We also need to realize that earthly justice is flawed, only heavenly justice perfect, and God will make it right in the end: “my arm will bring justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 51:5) Besides the two issues mentioned explicitly—widows and orphans—seeking justice, by definition, covers all injustices, of which there exist no shortage. But this does not narrow it down for me, it broadens my possible involvement. To make things worse, let’s look at yet another mandate.

The New Testament Church has a clear mission statement, the Great Commission:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18-20

The church’s mission to make disciples does not replace our quest for justice. Jesus chides the Pharisees for tithing but neglecting the weightier issues of the law—justice and mercy and faithfulness—in Matthew 23:23. Instead, it is the umbrella under which justice and other issues find their place, because we realize that only the Gospel can bring any real change. So the Great Commission must inform every other issue I engage, because ignoring Jesus’ clear mandate will not be blessed with success. Thus, if making disciples is the main mission of the Church, where do activities fall that take place within our churches? Is it enough to teach others one-on-one or in small groups, to write articles or books, to serve faithfully in a local church? After all, it edifies the saints to help them apply the gospel to their lives and take it out into their neighborhoods, cities, and world!

The Great Commission is the main mission of the global church. Under this mission, individual local churches ought to do their part as it makes sense. Their engagement will be a function of their location, surrounding culture, size, finances, and gifts. It will look different from church to church, and that is okay; each will give an account to God for how they have used their resources. Their areas of involvement are (hopefully) informed by the situation “on the ground”, from its members’ first-hand information living in the community. Whatever the problems of the community, the church will be aware of them and work to address them by supplying for physical as well as spiritual needs. This is Missions! Within the local church, individual members can now apply their gifts, talents, and influence to support the chosen mission areas of their church. At the leadership’s discretion, with member input, those areas can change with time. It is also okay for a member to join a different church that more closely aligns with his talents and passions, all other things roughly equal.2

In the end, given limited time and resources, given the Great Commission, I must conclude that the body should be the body. That is, each member of the body must apply his gifts, talents, and resources in that local body. Some will be more visible than others: some will be hands, acting visibly; some will be kidneys and livers, benefiting the body from the inside. But all must be about the head’s business, which is primarily the spreading of God’s glory wider and deeper.

  1. Accessed 16 June 2020 ↩︎

  2. Switching churches can be done for good and bad reasons, and is worth an article in itself. But if the choice is between two solid biblical churches, one of which aligns more closely with my talents, preferences, and passions, I see no problem in joining that one. Praise God for choices! ↩︎