Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Right Social Gospel

"You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain.… You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts" (Amos 5:11–12).

Have you ever heard a businessman say, “I hire a lawyer to keep me out of jail.” Usually that is said in jest, but the humor points to something real. The sad reality is that often those with wealth and power abuse it to the detriment of the weak and impoverished. Amos attacked the rich in Israel not for being rich—after all, Abraham and Job were rich—but for abusing their riches.

Even in a relatively free society, it is still possible for a rich man to bribe a judge, or to hire a bullying lawyer, in order to get his way against a weaker opponent. Even in a free society it is possible for those with power to run roughshod over those with none. How much worse it is when those with power use it to manipulate society, or to enact laws that favor one group over another.

American high school students have often been required to read a biography of Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, regarded popularly as a great American jurist. However, from a Christian standpoint, Holmes was a promoter of the exceedingly evil philosophy of utilitarianism. His position was that law should reflect the opinions of the majority, not some “higher” law. He worked to destroy the Christian tradition of biblical and “natural” law that had made America great. As a result of Holmes’s influence, many things are legal today that are horribly immoral, such as abortion.

Christians should never separate faith from godly social action. Christian people have been on the front lines of social change ever since the beginning when Roman Christians risked their lives to rescue infants left to die. Sadly, many Bible-believing Christians today oppose social action. The reason is that in the nineteenth century, liberal Christianity said that salvation came through social action, creating the “social” Gospel. Seeking to preserve the great truths of orthodox Christianity, most conservative Christians came to feel that any expression of a social Gospel was wrong. We must not fall into that trap. Salvation comes through faith, not through any kind of actions and works, but true faith always manifests itself in action, including legitimate social action.

The church in America is very stratified. Those in middle-class churches seldom encounter the poor and are often fairly insensitive to their plight. When liberals and radicals speak about the poor, we tend to overreact against their exaggerations and bad philosophies. Open your heart as your read Amos, and become more sensitive about these matters.