Mayday! An Urgent Call to Action

A call for help to change the world—because Christ commands it.

History demonstrates that blatant evil can be conquered. In my lifetime I have watched Solidarity's bold Polish workers defy a seemingly invincible Soviet system and eventually contribute to the collapse of the Soviet Union. I have watched courageous, nonviolent Filipinos lie down before powerful tanks and overthrow a vicious dictator. I have watched, even played a tiny role, as a global coalition of activists helped daring South Africans bring down a powerful, decades-long system of apartheid.

A longer historical perspective underlines the fact that there is nothing inevitable and unchangeable about widespread injustice. William Wilberforce and his small band of supporters worked tirelessly both inside and outside Parliament for more than thirty years—eventually persuading the British Empire to abolish the slave trade and then slavery itself. At the time when my ancestors, the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, championed religious freedom and were executed by the thousands for their beliefs, they could not foresee that two and a half centuries later, the authors of the American Constitution would place religious freedom at the center of their grand experiment and that over the course of the next two hundred years, religious freedom would become the norm rather than the exception around the world.

A handful of daring nineteenth-century Christian feminists set in place a revolution that continues to spread everywhere, bringing women vastly expanded progress toward equality of opportunity. Gandhi's nonviolent marchers conquered the British Empire. Martin Luther King Jr.'s bold, nonviolent civil rights movement ended legal segregation and brought vastly expanded opportunity for African Americans.

None of these movements brought utopia. Sin and selfishness persist. Injustice continues. But the evidence is clear. Things can change. Unjust structures can be demolished. Faithful, bold, persistent movements can move society toward greater justice.

Christians know that when society changes for the better, God is pleased. The Lord of history works in history to nurture justice and calls on His people to join in the struggle.

The Creator made men and women in His very image, and then assigned us the task of being stewards to watch over and care for the gorgeous garden He had created (Gen. 2:15). God called us to be co-workers, slowly discovering His stunningly complex design in the natural order and then using that growing knowledge to shape civilizations of beauty and goodness. Sin, of course, has messed up everything. But if the history of Israel teaches us anything, it's that  history is a dialogue between God and free, responsible persons and that God keeps summoning us again and again to empower the poor and needy and to nurture justice.

There are hundreds of biblical verses that talk about God's concern for the poor. God sent prophets not only to warn Israel and Judah of coming catastrophe because of their idolatry and injustice, but also to promise a future time when the Messiah would come. In that day, there would be peace and justice for the poor.

When Jesus came, He claimed to be that long-expected Messiah. He loved and cared for the whole person. He warned His disciples that if they did not feed the hungry and clothe the naked, they would go to hell (Matt. 25). Most exciting, He promised that the Messianic kingdom, which He said was now breaking into history visibly and powerfully in His growing circle of disciples, would grow larger like a mustard seed. He taught His disciples to pray that God's kingdom would come—that God's will would be done on earth as in heaven. He taught that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, His followers could already begin to live that way in dramatic (albeit imperfect) fashion and then promised that at some time in the future He would return to complete the victory over all sin and injustice. At that time, even the groaning creation will be freed of its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:21). All tears and injustice will disappear, and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ.

I have been working for social justice for more than four decades.

We have won some battles, and lost others! People have asked me: "What keeps you going, Ron?"The answer is simple. Jesus rose from the dead and promises to return sometime in the future to complete His victory over evil and injustice. I know where history is going. The final word is not the victory of injustice. The final word is the return of the Resurrected One, who will wipe all tears from our eyes.

But you and I live in the "in-between" time—between the dramatic in breaking of the kingdom of God in Jesus' life, death and resurrection and its completion at His return.

So what do we do now? We pray hard and work hard.

Let us never suppose that success depends on our diligence and brilliance. This is finally God's task. Of course, we should work hard. We are God's stewards, and God wants to change history through our faithful efforts. But the task is finally the work of Almighty God, the Lord of history, the present and coming King. As such, we should pray as hard for our campaigns for social justice as the wonderful people in a Billy Graham evangelistic campaign have prayed for evangelism. And we should combine our prayer with our most brilliant strategic thinking and most persistent hard work. When God uses our efforts to expand religious freedom, democratic governance, fair legal systems, and socioeconomic justice, let us give thanks to the One who empowers and sustains us. And when we face setbacks, we should remember they are only temporary. Jesus has burst from the tomb. Jesus has already won the decisive victory over all evil. He will most assuredly, as He promised, return someday to complete His victory.

 This excerpt is taken from The Revolution (RELEVANT books).

Ronald J. Sider (PhD,Yale) is a professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy; director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and president of Evangelicals for Social Action. He is the author of twenty-seven books, including Rich Christians in all Age of Hunger, which was recognized by Christianity Today as one of the one hundred most influential religious books of the twentieth century.

8 Comments

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Todd Rosenbaum commented…

Social justice in the church lends itself to state control of the church. Mark my words, you can see it in Canada already. The church is not allowed to speak out on things the state wants them to be silent about. The term social justice is very misleading to those who love Christ and want God's true justice to prevail over evil. Remember the bible warns us of wolves in sheep clothing. The focus ought to be more about truth and justice. God's truth and God's justice. People use the term social justice to justify stealing from others in a cause they deem to their liking or to dictate their agenda over others. God is very serious about individual free will.

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Guest commented…

byron: i want to commend you on something. you stated "First, for complete transparency I want to admit that my exposition is connected very closely with my moderately Reformed theology."

very few people do this and regardless of where one stands, i think it's awesome that you show your foundational beliefs. so many people try to hide were they are coming from, as if we're playing chess. it shows your openness. i like it.

i don't know where i stand from a theological perspective: i've been called emergent, reformed, calvinist and arminian. i guess that means i believe in, some form, of all of them. i make every attempt to listen to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, which some people would say i'm pentecostal even though i've never been to a pentecostal church. and i'm comfortable with that. with that being said:

i've been studying this section (Matt 25) over the past week or so. what's amazing is that you never hear this chapter preached in it's entirety. we usually only hear the "pop verses", those that are popular in the church setting. and it's usually taken out of context.

matthew 25:1-13: the parable of the ten virgins. all the virgins went to meet the bridegroom, but some were foolish and because they failed to plan ahead (bring enough oil) they missed the groom when they went to buy some more oil. when the virgins w/o oil went to the banquet; the door was shut and the groom said, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' (vs 12)

then jesus states: "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."

then in matthew 25:14-30 you have the parable of the talents. jesus says, "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them." one got 5 talents, one got 2 talents and the last received one talent, each according to their ability. (one talent is equal to about $1,080,000.00 US!)

so, the guy with 5, doubled his money. the guy with 2 doubled his money, but the guy with 1 million dollars, buried it. now remember, all this money belongs to the master, and he gave it to his personal servants.

the man with 1 talent said to his master: 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' (vs 24/25)

then the master said, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.' (vs 26/27)

then jesus says in the parable, 'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (vs 28-30)

the final part of the chapter is about the sheep and goats:

matthew 25:31-46

its starts off like this: 'When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.'

jesus goes on to say the famous verse about 'whatever you did for the least of these you did for me". and those are the righteous that did that, aka the sheep.

then jesus states in the parable, the goats, are those who didn't do anything.

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

that's the end of the chapter then chapter 26 jesus starts talking about his death.

so chapter 25 is broken down into 3 sections.

section 1: some of the virgins go to the banquet, some don't. yet all the virgins love the groom. however, those who were not prepared, were not able to go to the banquet with the groom.

section 2: all are servants of the master and all received abundance of blessings, but the one who didn't do what his master told him to do was considered worthless. "throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (vs 30)

section 3: there are two groups of people (sheep and goats). what is the difference between the two groups? the sheep were told by the king: 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

the goats were cast into eternal punishment because the king said, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

my conclusion: in all three sections it seems to me jesus is telling the disciples (his servants) that if they do not do what he commands them to do, then they are worthless servants. and worthless servants are goats. remember, in this section jesus is talking only to his disciples, not to the religious leaders or a large group of people.

read matthew 24:3 "As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" the rest of the dialogue is a private conversation between jesus and his disciples.

therefore, i believe these parables were meant strictly for jesus' disciples (all of his disciples, regardless of the year of one's birth). and the blessings and warnings are strictly for christians and nobody else.

thoughts?

84,859

Anonymous commented…

Paul: I'm in the middle of working on my dissertation proposal so I can't provide the in-depth research that your response truly deserves. Please forgive me for that.

WIth that said, I think my proposition of the two two social constructs (I must confess I'm not happy with that term but can't think of a better one right now.) rather than two classes of disciples fits in each of those settings. (1) Five of the virgins represent those in the kingdom while five represent those outside. Those in the kingdom were there to meet Jesus those not missed him. (2) Both social constructs are the servants of the same master (God). Those that invested, those in the kingdom (I believe this means sharing God's love with the world which Israel was supposed to do as the light of nations cf. Isaiah 42) received blessings. Those that hid their initial blessing were punished. I addressed 3 in my first post.

While your exegesis is fair. I think it still leaves out the overall context of the eschatological discourse which is a response to the disciples comment regarding the beauty of the temple, "Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings. And he said to them, 'Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!'" (Matthew 24:1-2 NET).

Thanks for engaging with me on this and I look forward to your response.

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L.K. Louise commented…

You're factually incorrect here about Canada. The only "Church" disallowed from Canada is Westboro Baptist Church. The church in Canada is allowed to speak the faith freely, without fear of illegality. While there have been arrests by certain (way out of line) churches for hate speech, this has not led to churches being unable to promote their positions on homosexuality, other religions, or whatever, even if it disagrees with the government. The government simply tells them they must speak those things in the same way we would have to on this comment board- civil, without inciting violence. Those are things Christians really should already be doing.
God's justice is not simply an individual thing- it involves his justice towards nations, communities and the poor, widowed, marginalized, etc. Individual Free Will is not an excuse to sin against those whom God gives special care towards (children, the innocent).

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