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Focus on both justice and righteousness

By THE REV. PHIL VAN DAM

Brooke-Hancock Episcopal Ministries

It seems that there is a major disagreement among Christians over time: some Christians believe that the gospel is only about what is outside of time, while others only apply the gospel to what is inside of time, or the here and now. To put it another way, some Christians believe that the focus should only be about salvation, while others believe that it should only be about social justice. When we look at the Greek, we find that one cannot have one without the other: we cannot preach about Heaven without trying to make Earth better; we also cannot try to make Earth better without preaching about Heaven. We must embrace both eternity, and the present moment.

There is a word that is frequently used in the New Testament. This word is dikaiosune. This Greek word can be translated into English as either justice or righteousness: however it means both. We cannot have justice without righteousness: we cannot have righteousness without justice. When Jesus preached about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, he also fed the people. There are two seminary professors, who I know, who take exactly this position: that one must embrace both justice and righteousness. Their names are Ron Sider and Tony Campolo. Ron Sider is the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action. Tony Campolo was a professor at Eastern Baptist Seminary, and he was the spiritual adviser for President Bill Clinton. They have both written many books and articles. While I might not always agree with particular conclusions of theirs, I agree with their philosophical grounding. Another theologian who makes this point; that we must embrace both the present moment, and eternity; is Alexander Schmemann, in his book, “Introduction to Liturgical Theology.” All three of these scholars come down on the position that we must embrace both the present moment and eternity.

Many Christians fall into one ditch or the other: either they think that we can work for justice, without evangelizing, or that we can evangelize without doing anything about a person’s present circumstances. James 2:15-16 says “15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” which means that even if we give good wishes to people, but we do not give them what they need, our words are worthless. On the other side, I heard about a lady who was helped by a church to get a job, and housing, and helped with her children, but then she joined another church. When the pastor asked her why, she said “You showed me love, but the other church introduced me to Jesus.” We do not pick and choose between showing love, and sharing the gospel: we do not pick between embracing the present, and embracing eternity: we do not pick between justice and righteousness. Churches that do choose, that pick one and not the other, are no longer relevant.

At this time of year, we are looking forward to Lent, which then leads to Easter. This is a present earthly cycle that embraces eternity. As we go through our daily cycles of work, rest, and prayer; we must embrace both the present and eternity: we must embrace both justice and righteousness.

(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)

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