How Does Spiritual Justice Play Out?
Editor’s Note: Ralph Winter spent the last decade of his life trying to get the mission world to "reclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom." The blog below addresses Winter's perspective on the dichotomy that has troubled the evangelical mission world for more than half a century: do we focus on “getting people a ticket to heaven” or do we try to meet their physical and social needs.
The problem he saw was that the evangelical world was leaving it to secular people to solve major world problems because evangelicals thought their concern needed to be with getting people “saved”—a ticket to heaven.
Ralph Winter used to say in defense of his position, “once you knock on the door of an unreached people group, what are you going to expect them to do when they open it?” The question is how to display God’s will on earth, as it is in heaven.
Quoting Winter: “It is apparent that organized believers are largely missing in the conduct of the Kingdom of God, in bringing His will into the dark and suffering places in our world. … We must face and define the need to get organized answers to this world’s problems as well as getting individuals reconciled to God. In fact, getting people reconciled to God and to His Kingdom business must go together. Otherwise our absence at the front lines of major global problems means we are misrepresenting God’s will and misusing the wisdom and resources he has given us to act out and speak out his love and glorify his name among all peoples.”
These excerpts from Jean Johnson's recent blog fit right into this conversation.
Used by permission.
Somewhere along the line (largely in response to Scriptures like Isaiah 1:17— bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the cause of widows), Christians serving in local and global missions concluded that our work was lopsided in that Christians responded to spiritual concerns while ignoring social and physical concerns. Ever since, there has been an ever-growing movement toward social justice causes. But what if we ever so slowly, without even recognizing it, are swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction? What if we liberate people from socio-economic problems but say little and do little in regard to spiritual justice?
As Christians, we can provide kids with temporary opportunities for a better education or fleeting straight paths to economic improvement while at the same time neglecting the creation of authentic and clear opportunities to know and follow Jesus, who is the eternal Liberator.
To receive an improved socioeconomic life without adequately hearing the justice narrative of God and without experiencing reconciliation to the Just God through the just sacrifice of Jesus is like receiving a beautiful and expensive wedding ring without a lifelong mate.
In my years on the field, I saw way too many Cambodians respond to and receive help from social action efforts offered by missionaries and visiting Christians while struggling to grasp and follow the clear, straight paths of the Lord. If indeed we are sent out by God to the nations, we need to put as much effort into laying out the clear, straight path to the Lord as we do implementing social action.
There is a lot of cross-cultural work involved in being a spiritual activist. Becoming like a specific people is no easy assignment. Giving up certain rights, comforts, and material accruements takes lots of prayer and resolve.
If we aspire to be cross-cultural spiritual activists, we are required to get out of our American/European/etc. skin (avoiding ethnocentrism), be with people on their terms, and lay out a clear path to God.
Continue bringing solutions to the physical world, but be cautious the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the other direction—ignoring the persistent human concerns that drove Jesus to the Father in prayer each day: faith, the forgiveness of sins, and the power of the Evil One.