An influential Evangelical recently lamented that contemporary Evangelicals are displaying a “newfound obsession” with social justice. I think this man needs to study church history (which I am teaching on Sunday nights, by the way). 4th century Emperor Julian (a pagan) wrote, “Atheism [his term for Christianity, since Christians rejected all the pagan gods] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew [he did not distinguish between Jews and Christians] who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans [again, the Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”
Greek philosopher Celsus was a second-century critic of Christianity (precipitating Origen’s treatise, “Contra Celsum,” or “Against Celsus”). One of his criticisms was that Christianity was reaching out to the marginalized of society (which he saw as a bad thing). In 177, he wrote, “Their aim is to convince only worthless and contemptible people, idiots, slaves, poor women, and children . . . . These are the only ones whom they manage to turn into believers.” He was wrong, of course, as the educated and influential were also being reached by the writings of men like Origen, Tertullian, and Justin, but the point is that the Christians were reaching all levels of society. One reason for that is their compassion ministries and advocacy for the most despised and oppressed.
And what in more recent years? What about George Mueller founding orphanages, William Wilberforce combating slavery, and the countless homeless, hunger, medical, and agricultural ministries founded and run by Christians? What about our fight against human trafficking and abortion? What about our efforts at racial reconciliation? Should we have just preached the Gospel all this time and turned a blind eye to the needs of people and the ills of society?
I don’t know of any evangelical that has come even close to compromising the Gospel in the name of social justice, nor do I know of any who see efforts of social justice as being decoupled from the Gospel. To claim or even imply that there is such a movement within Evangelicalism is either ignorant or dishonest, and it represents a sad and unfounded attack against brothers and sisters in Christ. And to throw around the terms “Marxism” or “Cultural Marxism” is patently absurd. In fact, I’ve noticed that most people who use those terms don’t even know what they mean.
The social gospel that only meets needs and addresses problems without preaching Jesus is misguided. But so is preaching without doing. We must preach the Gospel without shame, and we must stand for and work for justice in all spheres of life and society. This is what our spiritual ancestors did. It is not something new. So let us walk in their steps.
Dr. Mike Miller is the pastor of Central Baptist Church in Jacksonville, TX. This post originally appeared on Mike’s Facebook page and is printed here with his permission.