Dialog: The Gospel, Social Injustice and War
I have been having a very stimulating and enlightening conversation with Thabiti Anyabwile, one of my Reformed Christian brothers, over at Pure Church. His post entitled, "'This Day and Age' and the Church" served as a starting point for the dialog. I welcome you to read the original entry, as well as the comments below and weigh in on the very important questions that we both have raised during the course of the dialog.
You raise some important questions about the church's willingness to suffer physically or politically for the Kingdom of God. However, I would have to say that there is a fairly large contingent of Christians who are very vocal about issues of sexual morality, particularly as it pertains to homosexuality. Perhaps we also need to ask, can we address these issues in a spirit of love and be as adamant about the sins of structural poverty and aggressive militarism, which tends to be advocated by those who identify themselves as Christian?
Rod,You raise worthy questions in many regards. The difficulty in the questions, however, is that they tend toward two additional problems: (1) a social gospel orientation, which historically has resulted in "another gospel which is no gospel at all." So, I'd be concerned about how this question (in practice, not inherently) impinges upon the preaching of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. (2) The questions tend to become rather vague, at least in terms of how you define both key concepts and the persons who need to repent of these sins. For example, poverty (not to mention structural poverty) is a fairly relative construct. The extent to which it's useful depends on how you define the measure and where you are located. And then, exactly who is to repent of such sins or suffer in opposition to such sins? Assuming you could define them well, I'm not sure how it translates into specific, biblical Christian action or that the Scriptures define poverty or "militarism" as sin (keeping in mind, for example, that Jesus was poor by the standard of the Law and that Rom. 13 provides nation-states with the ability to protect themselves).
But ultimately, I think your question possibly confounds the kingdom of God (as I was trying to discuss in the original post) with the kingdom of this world (poverty, militarism, etc.). I could be misreading you here, but you seem to pose this question as a "counter" to the question I raised of suffering for the kingdom's sake. Am I misreading you here?
On the first "problem" that you raise, I will say that the gospel is inherently social, as well as personal. When Jesus reads the Scripture and says that He is anointed to preach the gospel to the poor, He is not just talking about spiritual poverty, based on the theological and social context of the time; he is also speaking to the oppressive material realities of life under Roman colonialism. The biblical references which address social and political issues are manifold and can not be read as an addendum to the faith. They are integral to it.
I was general, because these conversations can get rather lengthy. Sin is both individual and collective, which is why God says the sins of the fathers are often visited upon the children and in the Old Testament we see the nation being called to repentence. The principalities and powers that Paul speaks of operate through socio-economic and political systems that human agents help to maintain. If there are unjust elements within the social structure of a society, those who are conscious of their complicity should repent and work towards a more righteous order. The fact that the vast majority of the millions of poor people in the United States work, is the most obvious testimony that despite the virtues of this country, it is far from the Kingdom that Jesus preached about and embodied.
Hopefully, you can see that in no way do I confound the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of this world. Quite the contrary. It is interesting that Pontius Pilate, acting on behalf of the Roman empire, crucified Christ to avoid another Jewish uprising. It was the politically expedient thing to do.
Though we may consider violence and war to be a necessary evil in our world we can not say that Jesus endorses that political option. If it were only used to protect innocent people and not to promote the economic interests of nation-states or to react disproportionately in the name of self-defense we would have a much more peaceful world. These are issues that the church must address. The salvation of the individual is intricately tied to that of the community and society. So, I agree that the Christian is called to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is much broader than what is often assumed.
Read more in the comments section of "'This Day and Age' and the Church" at the Pure Church blog.