Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Very often people who agree on the need to change things disagree on how to do it or, more importantly, when to affect the changes. This is an age-old argument. For example, In New Testament times the Jewish church (who represented the establishment) wanted to slowly make changes to include the gentiles, and do so with great sensitivity. Paul, however, wanted to ram massive change down their throats with no pause to accommodate their sensitivities. For him the truth of the gospel was at stake. Read Galatians! During the Reformation, Erasmus wanted to work slowly within the Catholic Church to reform abuses, but Martin Luther wanted to force reformation swiftly and decisively through open rebellion. The fact that you don’t know who Erasmus is proves that Luther prevailed as a revolutionary.

Run this paradigm through any and every change in human history. What brought effective and lasting change – patiently working within the system, or forcing change swiftly and often with great conflict? I think of the massive societal upheaval I experienced in South Africa. In February 1990, Mandela was still serving a life sentence in prison, the country was decisively segregated, and the military enforced the system ruthlessly. In April 1994, Mandela was sworn in as the new president! Massive change happened overnight. In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King made this point. Some supporters wrote to him asking him to patiently work with the authorities of Alabama rather than resist them and force change. Here is part of his response: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”

There are some things in Churches of Christ that have to change – not matters of style or preference, but issues of fundamental justice. The truth of the gospel is at stake. We can throw away fear and anxiety and do what is right swiftly and decisively, or we can do what we’ve always done – meet, talk, study, listen to “concerns,” meet again, study some more, talk, talk, talk. What do you prefer? What would Jesus do? What would Paul do?


Charles North said...

One of my readers emailed me with some questions and asked me to clarify/be more specific, so here goes.

This post is NOT intended as a challenge to the elders and staff of the Kaufman Church of Christ. My point is much bigger - it applies to ALL churches, institutions, and even countries.

But, specifically with regards to Churches of Christ, what do I mean by, "The truth of the gospel is at stake." When Paul wrote Galatians, Jewish Christians were teaching that in order to be saved one had to observe certain Jewish identity markers and rituals (circumcision, Kosher food laws, Sabbath-keeping) along with faith in Christ. For Paul, faith in Christ, and NOTHING else, saved people. Any attempt to dilute or add to that simple gospel was anathema. Paul would not compromise an inch. When Peter was caught disassociating from gentiles once Jews showed up, Paul got in his face and used this expression - "the truth of the gospel."

Over the past 100 years Churches of Christ have added to the gospel message in many legalistic ways that suggest a salvation by works attitude. The STANDARD set of beliefs and practices in "mainstream" Churches of Christ with regards to baptism (we rebaptize people who have been immersed in other denominations), music (we still will not openly fellowship our bothers and sisters in the Christian Church), the role of women, accepting divorced people, how we worship, when we take communion, etc, etc adds a layer of requirement to the gospel message. Over the past year about 150 people left the Kaufman Church because we didn't use the name "Church of Christ" in our new plant. Some of those have openly said this is a "salvation issue." The fact that the term "salvation issue" is part of our vocabulary is troubling enough, and ought to tell you how much change is needed!

For the life of me, I cannot understand how our churches are still full of the same type of people that both Jesus and Paul eviscerated!!

Kerrie said...

I've about decided that in order to carry out Jesus' great commission we might just have to leave the building.

There are those that want to continue to attend a church service planned and executed to their liking, in line with traditions and comfort mostly for the purpose of serving mature christians. There are others that want to take the great commission in all its simplicity and just GO!

I believe the heart of taking the gospel did not include the first scenario.

Jesus asked us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptize them to receive the Holy Spirit and promised to be with them always. That message does not have to be complicated. How this is done should not be controlled so tightly that we cannot meet the needs of the average person in our community. The message did not come weighted down with lists of do's and don'ts. People did that. Even in the New Testament people began adding to, watering down, arguing for control so much so that letters to the churches had to be sent out to get them back on track.

Our children's ministry is quickly going to begin going out into the parks of our community bringing this saving message to those whose hearts God opens. That may involve bringing snacks, playing ball, and looking for those parents who are in need of hope and praying for their concerns.

People who are looking for hope and open to hearing God's message probably care little how a Sunday morning service is patterned or whether they hear a message in song accompanied with a guitar or accapella. Someone who needs to be loved or is on the verge of loosing a job or spouse is not interested in when communion is served or even what group name is represented by those who show them God's love. Those things are generally concerns for our own comfort levels not for the lost and have little impact on whether someone turns their lives over the God.

We were asked to first deliver a message of salvation, offered and paid for by Jesus, that we do out of love for our Father and love for the lost. Our meeting together on Sunday mornings and how that is accomplished is secondary to the gospel message.