Justice in the Church

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I don’t think it needs to be stated that some of the most important issues to many people in our decade are related to matters of justice. The abortion debate has broken out onto the national scene. The debate over whether you can identify as homosexual/lesbian and be Christian has broken into some more staunchly conservative churches. And the point where things get messier is that injustice has often happened in churches and has not always been dealt with appropriately.

One of the first principles that I turn to in understanding justice is the fact that God is just. While man has a sense of what is just, his heart is inclined towards injustice. When we consider the mess that this world is, we can cling to the fact that God is just. The Lord states in Isaiah 61:8 “For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.” We also read in Psalm 33:5 “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

Because the Lord loves justice, the Scriptures are full of commands for His people to love justice. He lays out the plan for His people in Deuteronomy 16:20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Of course, the sinful inclinations of His people lead in the opposite direction and He must call them back: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8)

Of course, God never gave His people an airy sense of justice that doesn’t touch down and take shape in this world. If you read the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, they lay out a pattern for dealing with the summary statements of God’s law in the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21). You find case laws against abortion (Exodus 21:22-25), against rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), etc.

Some will draw a line between the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, in the Old Testament we find that Church and State (to use modern lingo) are very closely connected. Nevertheless, we do find that principles from Old Testament case law do extend into the New Testament. Which also apply to the modern day State as the Church disciples the nations.

As the primary vehicle of the kingdom of God (Matt 16:19), the Church must promote justice. Consider the work of the Apostle Paul in the City of Corinth and how he unequivocally condemns the act of incest in chapter 5, moving to the act of excommunication. The Apostle Paul writes: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (I Cor. 5:4-5)

In all of the judicial assemblies of the church, Old Testament principles of justice must be taken into account. In II Corinthians 13:1, the Apostle Paul draws on the principle of 2 or 3 witnesses to establish a case (see Deut 19:15 and Numbers 35:30). This was a safeguard put in place in the case of the lying witness (Deut. 19:18-19). It also falls in line with the teachings of Jesus concerning the bringing of charges against a brother in Matthew 18: 15-20.

Of course, there are times when people do not see proper justice take place. In a world where the state doesn’t hold to Biblical principles of justice, and injustice has also crept into the church, and even in the case where a matter can lie buried under lies and confusion, there is still justice that we can look to. God tells Christians not to take justice into their own hands. God Himself will repay the wickedness of men (Ecc. 3:17, Heb. 10:30, Rom. 12:19).

None of this is at odds with Biblical principles of forgiveness, loving ones enemies, and seeking the conversion of the enemies of God. Sometimes God brings about justice through conversion. Consider the prayer of the Deacon Stephen when the Apostle Paul stood watching the clothes of those stoning him: “Lord, hold not this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) It is when we pit these principles against each other, that injustice gets a stronger foothold.

The reason that we don’t have to pit these principles against each other, is because both of them were at work at the cross of Jesus Christ. At the cross, God’s justice and mercy met together, so that the infinite debt of man’s sin and injustice and mercilessness could be paid. Yes, there are still worldly consequences for sin, which should be pursued where possible. But even the criminal on death row, even the thief on the cross, can know the power of Christ through faith in Him. In this way, the cross of Christ realigns our disordered understandings of justice and mercy, and recreates the image of God in fallen man.


Dispelling Some Popular Myths About Creationist Arguments

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There are a massive number of issues to study while in seminary. But one of the main ones that continues to pique my interest is the issue of the historicity of Genesis 1, Genesis 1-3, and ultimately the historicity of Genesis 1-11. It started in second year when Dr. Smith asked me to write a paper on the genre of Genesis 1, and it has developed in conversation with both creationists and others who might give more “push back”.

This is a question that has often come up for discussion in Reformed Churches, including in more conservative circles. It was one of the many issues that lead to the formation of the United Reformed Churches, when some observed the trajectory of men like Howard J. Van Til towards theistic evolution. Sometimes this issue will get suppressed among all the debates over systematics. But it might pop up right between a discussion on justification and a discussion on eschatology. It has given rise to websites, books, public debates, and papers.

In the context of these conversations, I want to dispel three myths propagated about the creationist position: the poetic myth, the fundamentalist myth, and the scholarly myth.

1) I don’t think the question is whether or not there is a poetic element to Genesis 1. Many who believe it is historical, also believe it contains at least elevated prose.

2) I don’t think the question is whether or not one has a fundamentalist and reductionist view of the Bible. Many who believe it is historical, also believe that there are types and maybe even allegories in the text.

3) I don’t think this is a matter of creationist scholars ignoring OT backgrounds. Many who believe it is historical, have a deep wealth of knowledge in OT backgrounds.

NT Wright doesn’t want us to get caught up into questions like, were there 6 days, or 8 days, or 5 days. This is another myth that should be dispelled. Just because a scholar or a pastor argues that a day is a day, doesn’t mean he is saying that Genesis 1 is all about that. Wright would also argue that it is a Temple story (something that Walton also argues). I would respond, why can’t a theological truth be built on real history? Why the big deal about the days? Why does it have to not be a regular work week (ie Exodus 20:8-11)? Why can’t a day just refer to a day, especially if God has belabored the point that it was ‘evening and morning the first day’?

I was just listening to this speech from Kevin DeYoung where he argues that Jesus assumes the historicity of the Old Testament (a pretty obvious point). He has an excellent little quip in there about taking Jesus more seriously than the German philosophers of the 19th century. It even makes sense academically in that Jesus is the primary text, whereas the German philosophers are a very distantly removed secondary text. Jesus refers to the historicity of Genesis right in Matt. 19: 4-6:

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus assumes the historicity of these passages. He also teaches on marriage based on content within the first three chapters of Genesis. We can talk about God’s love for mankind in Genesis 1, His creativity, the presence of the Trinity, the image of God, male and female, understanding man in his created state, we can possibly talk about the world being God’s temple. We can talk about the symbolism of earth and stars (symbols and types often leap out of the history in the Old Testament). We can talk about the Dominion Mandate. One might say that Genesis 1 is written like a symphony and it leads to many of the latter poetic descriptions of the creation of the world in the Old Testament. But why suggest that Genesis 1 is a parable, like Wright does? Why not also listen to the historical flow of the text?

There are a number of other myths that I may write about another day. But I would urge anyone who has been sucked in by anti-creationist rhetoric to reflect on the careful arguments and the thought that creationist scholars have put into this important topic.

A personal note. As a student preparing for the pastorate it is my calling to speak honestly and truthfully and with clarity about the text of Holy Scripture. I would sooner be maligned as unacademic than step out from under the authority of God’s Word into the wild unknown of scientific speculation and changing theories. I still need to be convinced of a reason not to see the importance of history extending into Genesis 1.


Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash