The Validity of Evangelism and Justice Going Together
Last month I preached from Acts 3 & 4 on how evangelism and justice go together. Peter and John were heading to Temple to worship when they encounter a lame beggar. He had hoped for a handout; they gave a hand up…”get up and walk,” and he did. This caused a commotion and people came to see what had taken place. Not wanting to let a good “multitude” go to waste, Peter proclaims the Gospel and more people come to faith.
If you recall, I introduced everyone to the Biblical sense of justice – of being distributive (seeing to the needs of people) rather than retributive (seeking punishment or retribution from wrong-doers). Unfortunately, today, when people cry for “justice,” they’re usually desirous of “pay-back” for wrongs both perceived and real. Biblical justice is about making things “right” – that is, where there is need step in to help meet the need. The example was that of farmers: In the Old Testament, farmers were told to leave some of their harvest out in the fields so that the poor could have grain for themselves. If you take care of people at the point of need – distributing to their need from your abundance – you won’t have to punish people for stealing to meet their need. That was the way the early, Jerusalem church worked back then.
This past year, the two Seminary presidents from the LCMS – Dr. Dale Meyer (St. Louis) and Dr. Lawrence Rast (Ft. Wayne) – went to Ethiopia to visit with our partner church and its seminary. “Mekane Yesus,” as the church body is known, is a Lutheran church of ten million people – more Lutherans than all “flavors” of Lutheran in North America. These presidents of our seminaries learned a lot about how God’s Church is growing significantly in the African continent (not just in Ethiopia). They write of the things they learned.
“A third learning is ‘two wings.’ The Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idossa, immediate past president of the EECMY, described their church’s approach as such. The first ‘wing’ is evangelization. The second is human care. Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in Africa. So, as just one example, the Central Ethiopian Synod has a program for congregations that involves fifteen church members of a local congregation and fifteen non-church members. The program teaches the thirty how to become entrepreneurs and thus work their way out of poverty. Obviously, the non-church members learn about Jesus and the fellowship of the local congregation. ‘Two wings’ is not how most of our congregations saw their mission in twentieth-century ‘Christian America.’ Local congregations preached and shared the gospel, but human care was often done by government institutions. The Christian culture milieu understood that we are all to love our neighbor through works of mercy. In today’s post-churched America the witness of the local congregation will be more effective with the “two wings” – evangelization and human care. ‘Don’t tell me what a friend I have in Jesus until I see what a friend I have in you.’ Interestingly, Walther’s The Proper Form of a Christian Congregation shows that this ‘two wings’ approach was an important aspect of the congregations of the Synod’s life together in our early history.”
The “human care” of which the seminary presidents speak is the distributive justice of which the Old Testament teaches. Preaching the Gospel and living the Gospel through human care initiatives is what we see in the Acts of the Apostles and what we need to see in our churches of today. Evangelism and justice simply go together – like peanut butter and jelly…like Batman and Robin…like God and his people in mission!