Christian Social Witness (New Churchs Teaching Series)

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The suffering is intensified because the servant challenges the principalities and powers through nonviolent means. God's peaceful approach was also perceived by Mary when she recognized in the birth of a helpless infant that God was already at work, putting down the mighty and raising up the lowly, satisfying the hungry and shutting out the overfull Luke Other prophets foresaw a day when the nations of the world will adopt the new foundation of peace.

Then many peoples will say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. Weapons will be refashioned into tools for food production, nations will cease from learning war, and all will experience shalom, sitting under their own vine and tree Micah ; Isaiah Christ's mission of peace.

The church as a transformation and change agent

Like his predecessor, John Matthew , Jesus preached the kingdom of heaven and called for the change of heart envisioned by the prophets. He persuaded John to baptize him because he asserted: "Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" Matthew Then he called together a band of people to share his cause and proclaim the kingdom of peace and justice. It was an unexpected turn of events, and the leaders of the people were perplexed John They saw Jesus forgiving and healing instead of fighting and hurting. Like the servant whose mouth was his sword Isaiah , Jesus' preaching attracted many hearers and discredited the leaders' pretentions of wealth and power.

Eventually they crucified Jesus and it appeared that God's kingdom had failed. But the cross was followed by the resurrection which was God's way of bringing his king to glory Luke Persons who repent and accept the peace of God are born anew by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables them to live the life both demonstrated and proclaimed by the prince of peace. Through the Son and those who follow after, our loving God is ever reaching out to make peace. Our Lord's harshest words in Matthew 23 were directed against the lawyers and Pharisees who perverted justice through their elaborate yet evasive compliance with the legal code: "Woe to you.

You have neglected the more important matters of the law justice, mercy and faithfulness" Matthew When asked to name the most important commandment, Jesus quoted from the law books as first, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" Deuteronomy , and as closely related, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" Leviticus These are greatest, he commented, because "on these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" Matthew Paul, as both Old Testament student and disciple of Jesus, several times cited the second sentence as fulfilling the whole intent of biblical law and justice: "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" Romans ; Galatians With the lawyer in Luke 10, we frequently try to evade the intent of biblical justice by asking, "Who is my neighbor?

More importantly he shows that neighborliness is not so much an obligation to be legally defined as it is an opportunity to show mercy wherever some one needs a neighbor--even those from a hostile nation, creed, or clan Luke While Israel's definition of "neighbor" was not yet this broad, significant principles for practicing justice are readily apparent in the Old Testament law. Israel's law collections, contrary to those of surrounding nations, recognized no class distinctions.

There was one law for all. Brothers and sisters in Israel were those who freed their fellow Israelites from slavery on the year of release Deuteronomy ff.

Christian Social Witness

Israel was to be especially concerned for the poor--orphan, widow, and foreigner who lived among them--who did not have an economic footing in society. Although God's blessing was so generous that no one needed to be poor Deuteronomy , the inevitable perversion of justice within the structures of society made it necessary to acknowledge that the poor would always be present Deuteronomy Therefore justice demanded "You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land" Deuteronomy The same priority is reflected by James when he defined pure and undefiled religion as being: "To visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" James As disciples of our Lord we are called to participate with him in his work of justice and reconciliation 2 Corinthians The Spirit of the Lord calls us with him to preach good news, to proclaim release, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed Luke At times the message will be to representatives of nonjust powers as when Daniel urged Nebuchadnezzar to "break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your tranquility" Daniel Although it is always nonviolent, the presence of the kingdom of God upsets the old order by demonstrating a new possibility 1 Peter and pointing to the day when the disciple prayer will be fully realized: "Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" Matthew Even though they are pursuing peace those who identify with Jesus can expect to suffer with him, because the rebellious powers seek always to preserve their advantage 1 Peter The church is made up of repentant people who are being converted from their sinful nature by the transforming power of God. Recognizing their tendency toward injustice, they submit themselves continually to the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit and the mutual discipling of fellow believers 2 Corinthians An ever present danger for the people of God is the possibility of being drawn away from their first love Revelation by the "elemental spirits of the universe" Colossians These seductive powers have turned from their proper ordering function into their demonic self-assertive activities.

Christians, like the Pharisees before them, seem particularly vulnerable to living by rituals and regulations Galatians ; Colossians , rather than in the loving freedom of the resurrected Christ Galatians ff.

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This danger calls disciples to prophetic discernment, mutual counsel, and coming to consensus regarding the will of God. The Holy Spirit endows the new community with spiritual gifts for the good of the whole body 1 Corinthians The gift of prophecy is of particular value because it builds up the church 1 Corinthians Thus the early church found direction on issues such as confronting authorities Acts , extending the gospel to peoples previously excluded Acts 15 , and functioning in relation to various human institutions Ephesians The Holy Spirit continues to give discernment and unity as believers bear each other's burdens and gently restore those who are drawn away by the powers of this age Galatians The church has long found the "rule of Christ" in Matthew to be a practical, though demanding, process for establishing consensus and restoring fellowship among believers.

Mutual discipline is so significant in the life of the church that the Holy Spirit participates in it John , guiding the decision on earth in harmony with that which is recognized in heaven Matthew Through reconciliation and forgiveness extended seventy times seven Matthew the church proclaims its answer to the spirits who would exact vengeance seventy times seven Genesis We also need to test our involvement and priorities with believers whose views of the world are shaped by experiences different from ours.

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If we consult only those from our own culture, gender, vocational group, or economic system, we will miss important clues for understanding justice James , There is particular danger of insensitivity if our sampling of reality is limited to segments of the world's population which hold technological, economic, or military dominance. While we cannot personally test our viewpoints with every other group, special effort is needed to learn the varying perceptions of all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Christian decision making needs to take place around the Bible.

Since our world views are affected by our experiences and life situations, the Bible is the only fully reliable guide communicating the spirit and goal of justice for which our Lord died.

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It is to the loving and just God of the Bible that we hold each other accountable. As we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, we attune ourselves to the better righteousness which it reveals. Through mutual study of the Bible, we discover that the Word of God is indeed "living and active. Through every stage, faithful discernment is permeated with prayer and earnest seeking of the mind of the Spirit.

The Challenge of Diversity: The Witness of Paul and the Gospels

As we share our concerns, study the Bible together, and pray expectantly, we can trust that God's priorities will become known. Earnest thought, informed analysis, and open hearts are vital in the discerning process. In it all we are called by our Lord to "ask" to "seek" and "knock" in the assurance that the longings of our quest will be satisfied Matthew The question also explores actual results because love finally is something we do.

While genuine care for others is vital, sentiment and good intentions are not enough. What we do or say needs to have a reasonable expectation of bringing benefit to the other. Moreover, results need to be seen as beneficial and desirable by those who receive of our loving care, not just what feels good to us.

Without doubt, love is complex. Is it more loving to overlook others' greed or to confront them with the injustice of their actions? What sort of honesty is needed? Sensitive judgment is required, including understanding of particular circumstances, in order to decide on the right course. Even with the best information and the clearest commitment to love, actions may not be loving in their effect on others--a fact which is particularly troublesome in institutional and large-group relations. Sometimes conflicting claims arise when practicing love toward one person or group makes it seem impossible to love another.

Dilemmas do exist and cannot be wished away. Yet they are relatively rare when we pay attention to biblical teachings which are given as guides for helping others such as honesty, kindness, nonjudgmental attitudes, and forgiveness. Many seeming dilemmas can be resolved by asking each other sincerely: "Is it loving?

Looking carefully at our lifestyles. We may not know precisely how much our current advantages resulted from others' disadvantage. But visible disparity between rich persons and poor persons, between wealthy nations and impoverished nations; is sufficient to know that God's intention for justice has not had full expression. Not all the wealth which many enjoy in North America is evidence of the blessing of God.

Much stems from a long series of unjust dealings--with native North Americans, women, immigrants, blacks, underdeveloped nations, the poorly educated or unskilled. While it is impossible to turn back the clock, it is possible to share what has come into our control. Adjusting our lifestyle to share with the poor is not an act of virtue going beyond the call of duty. It is acknowledging the truth that the earth is the Lord's and that we are managers rather than owners of what belongs to God.

This puts our use of the earth's once-bountiful resources in a different light. Sharing is simply answering God's call to live justly with our neighbors. Working to strengthen the rights of the poor and powerless in areas such as legal protection and basic economic, educational, or medical needs.

This means working to empower the disadvantaged, something more difficult and more threatening than traditional programs of relief, service, or development. These latter activities are important in sharing our resources and relieving suffering but often do not touch the root causes of injustice and suffering. Structural injustices at times may cancel out our charitable efforts or even contribute to further imbalance of material wealth and power.

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  6. Concern for the neighbor in some circumstances, therefore, may call for public protest, petitioning officials, supporting or challenging labor unions, encouraging rent strikes, or other controversial actions. The discernment and mutual support of God's people are crucial in finding God's way. Testing our political and economic views by the standards of God's care for the poor, weak, and oppressed. Since the problems are complex, sincere Christians may disagree about which positions are most faithful.

    We should agree, however, that such discussion is essential for mutual discernment and bringing our total being under Christ's lordship. Some of the current issues involve questions such as: What does concern for justice mean in terms of hiring and firing policies? Are differences in wages between workers at the top and bottom of pay scales just? Can profit-sharing plans point to a fairer way of distributing the rewards of business?

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    How can credit policies be designed so that those with lesser assets and greater risks get the financing they need at reasonable interest? Additional questions include: How much protection of the rights of minorities should be enforced by the central government and at what expense to the rights of local communities?

    Does passionate concern for others send us to government capitols in the same way as the personal threat of military conscription? What shall we say to policies that protect our economic interests but result in reduced income for people in Third World countries? As illustrated in the life of Christ and his disciples, however, making peace is not always peaceful. Indeed, involvement in justice issues may force us to rethink the meaning of peace. Although committed to peace ourselves, the quest for peace with justice can often be expected to make people angry and upset.

    Those who benefit from injustice are seldom ready to give up their advantage without a struggle. Sometimes the correct strategy is to withdraw as Jesus did.

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    Christian Social Witness (New Churchs Teaching Series) Christian Social Witness (New Churchs Teaching Series)
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