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Tuesday, 09 November 2004
Christ's Great Commission commands us to go into all the world to preach the gospel.  But what gospel?  There is the gospel of grace and salvation, understood by most Christians, and there is the gospel of economic justice and human deliverance also preached by Christ.  So will we preach just one, or both to a dying world?

ECONOMIC JUSTICE IN CHRIST’S GREAT COMMISSION

By Jim Jordal

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

The Great Commission, Matt. 28:18-20 (NKJV)

Sojourners Magazine for November, 2004 contains a moving article entitled "The Power of Reconciliation," in which the author, Jim Wallis, describes a never-before-told story of how he and former antagonist Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ) found reconciliation after many years of pointed disagreement on a large range of political issues, and how these issues should be approached by the Christian community..

At a religious leader’s dinner, Wallis, after some thought, approached Bright seeking to mend the painful experiences of some 20 years. Bright responded by hugging Wallis, and proclaiming their mutual need to come together. He then amazed Wallis by expressing his concerns about the poor and their future in this land.

What evidently precipitated Bright’s willingness to reconcile with Wallis was his expressed realization "that caring for the poor is part of the Great Commission because Jesus instructed us to ‘teach the nations to observe all the things I have commanded you.’ And Jim, Jesus certainly taught us to care for the poor, didn’t He? Caring for the poor is part of the Great Commission," said Bill Bright.

If this is so, why aren’t more Christians and their churches openly advocating for the poor and against those institutions and practices keeping them in poverty? Why do some evangelicals consider only the part about "going into all the world," while often studiously ignoring what Christ’s said about teaching what He had commanded, including the large economic justice component of His parables and teachings?

If we really taught what Christ commanded, what would we teach? One thing we’d do is to stop spiritualizing and pushing off into some future time and place the teachings of Jesus relative to economic justice here and now. Jesus taught much concerning His coming earthly kingdom, but His intent also was that these attributes of righteousness, justice, mercy, truth, and love should be done here and now, not only then and there.

Another thing we’d do is to make economic justice a vital part of our evangelical gospel message. Just as we believe in going into the world to preach the message of personal salvation, so would we also preach and teach economic justice, just as did our Savior. We sometimes wonder why the developing world does not beat a path to our door to hear the good news of salvation. But it’s relatively easy to understand when you consider that in many cases the same groups preaching the gospel are also aligned with the local oppressive power structures keeping people in poverty and degradation. The concept that it will all be taken care of in the "sweet by and by" seems no longer to "cut it" when people realize the sources of support for their oppressors.

Another thing we might do is to model economic justice in our churches and religious institutions. If we would do one simple thing—to create an ethos within our churches that everything really does belong to God, and that He requires us to be careful stewards and sharers of our financial blessings--we could then eliminate poverty within our church membership. We could also eliminate oppressive employment practices by and to parishioners, usurious and predatory banking practices by "good church member" financial workers, and a host of other manipulative and exploitative economic practices pursued by people professing religious faith.

Consider what Jesus said to the Pharisees about making long pretentious prayers and ostentatious public demonstrations of worship while at the same time oppressing widows and orphans, laying legalistic burdens upon their fellows, and practicing extortion and personal indulgence (see Matt. 23).

There appears often to be a complete "disconnect" between what we profess and what we do. We pray for God’s will to be done "on earth as it is in heaven," but seemingly do everything in our power to see that this does not happen. We compartmentalize our beliefs and behaviors into little mental closets where no light penetrates, and where one closet does not know what the other is doing. That way we can come to church on Sunday, play church with the best of them, and then go our merry ways the remainder of the week. So we manage to delude ourselves into thinking we have done God’s will, thus avoiding the dreaded "hypocrite" label. Shame on us!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1978, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 November 2005 )