Three years ago this week, a group of Christian men gathered in Texas to hammer out a Statement to affirm the Gospel and to deny the social justice movement. The Social Justice Movement (SJ) and its philosophies had been infiltrating into evangelical churches. The result was a published “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel“.
The same week, Todd Friel of Wretched.org published an absorbing video called “The Gathering Storm: A Split in the Reformed World“. In it, Friel made the prediction that race would be the issue that bubbles to the surface in the basket of issues social justice covers, and would be the fault line that splits believers in the faith from each other. He predicted that race issues would become the ground for schism.
I know I’ve been writing about women who step into biblically unauthorized leadership positions frequently of late. I thought I was done, but then I came across something and I wanted to add to the cache of previous essays I’ve done in the last couple of weeks. I believe this is a highly important topic. However, I also believe this will be the end of the topic for a while. The previous essays on the topic of women preaching are here:
I was continuing to read about Anne Hutchinson, cleaning out some bookmarks of sites I’d intended to use but hadn’t. I got re-involved in the topic. Anne Hutchinson is such an amazing case study of the damage one lone woman could do to the faith. In this article written in the New England Quarterly in 1937, I thought this author did a good job of summing it up. In the first sentence, the ‘they’ refers to the Puritan colonists-
While they were maintaining a precarious existence, Anne Hutchinson joined them. At first she was welcomed as the godly wife of a pious and successful merchant; but before she has been long in Massachusetts, she broached a doctrine that was absolutely inconsistent with the principles with which the colony had been founded. She began to affirm a new basis for absolute truth: immediate personal communion with the Holy Ghost. If this communion has been merely for the purposes of illuminating the meaning of Holy Scripture, the puritans might have had no quarrel with her. The communion she described, however, was one which resulted in immediate revelation from the Word. To accept her doctrine would mean the abandonment of the fundamental belief for which the Puritans had crossed the water- the belief that truth for man was to be found in the Bible.
Her errors led to the logical conclusion, one which Anne propounded herself, that ministers were not needed, since, according to Mrs. Hutchinson, God preferred to deal with his children directly.
Morgan, E. (1937). The Case against Anne Hutchinson. The New England Quarterly, 10(4), 635-649. doi:10.2307/359929
Anne preached, taught men, caused division, (for which she was unapologetic), and she claimed she received direct revelations that were not in the Bible. Her behavior and her assertions might have helped the Puritan cause to begin to fail and almost caused the colony itself to fail.
In this simple sentence, the author in Biblical Doctrine makes a distinction between personal revelation and Holy Spirit illumination, saying,
However the Bible says that illumination does not render the need for human teachers unnecessary (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:2). ~Biblical Doctrine, MacArthur & Mayhue, Eds.
Two essays were published today which remark on the evangelical church’s tendency to allow and even seek after personal revelation and emotional experience at the expense of biblical truth. Sadly, though there are many men engaging in the pursuit, more women than ever are at the forefront of this error. If you notice, it’s the females who tend to bring in emotionalism, mysticism, and direct revelation to the church. This opens the door wide for all sorts of errors, such as women preaching or pastoring, and then all kinds of heresies, as John MacArthur points out here. Sadly, the result is fragmentation of the body-
That is why they put such an emphasis on doctrine. … Today’s evangelicals are losing the will to hold that line. Voices within the camp are now suggesting that experience may be more important than doctrine after all. Modern evangelicals can no longer define their identity in terms of doctrines they hold in common because the movement has become fragmented doctrinally.
There are many reasons for the fragmentation, as there are many attacks on the global church. But no matter the main causes, fragmentation and watered down doctrine is devastating.
One of the ways this doctrinal slide is occurring is on the back of the Evangelical Social Justice movement sweeping in. Several elders in the faith wrote a Statement opposing Social Justice and affirming the doctrinal truths the church has held dear for millennia. After the Statement was published, the original writers & signers were tasked with writing an essay to explain each of the Statement’s Articles. Justin Peters was assigned #9: Heresy.
He gave an interesting overview of what heresy is and isn’t, how the Evangelical Social Justice movement is introducing it, and as one of the results,
There can be no credible doubt that the ESJ movement is promoting egalitarianism.
Women preaching may be a secondary or tertiary error to some, but no matter where any theological error is on the scale of errors, unchecked drifting from the narrow way of truth leads to heresy- always. Pastor Peters said,
Error almost always begets more error.
Sisters, be vigilant in your own walk. Stay in the Word, pray deeply and persistently, guard against error, and test all things.
The Lord will return soon. Until He does, let Him find us doing well for His name.
They had it all, “social justice” had been performed nearly, and Jesus told them that they were still suffering from wretchedness, nakedness, blindness, and poverty. Here is the verse:
Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (Revelation 3:17).
The verse context is Jesus speaking through Apostle John in His revelation to the 7 churches. Jesus is harshest to the church at Laodicea. Laodicea at that time was a thriving metropolis in the Lycus valley. It had merchants selling and producing goods. The guild system (a trade association promoting unity among craftsmen) in this area was strong, most strongly in Thyatira but guilds existed also in Laodicea. Guilds are like the Labor Unions of old, when unions were at their strongest, to help each other in maintaining standards adn for mutual aid, and influence. There was a famous medical center to which students and patients arrived from all around. Laodicea was a banking center, finance was the anchor of its commercial center.
Laodicea had it all. It had “social justice” in its nearly perfect sense.
And according to Jesus, it failed.
Social Justice will always fail.
They [Laodiceans] really had not what was necessary to meet the actual needs of their nature, and, therefore, they were poor. Their worldly property could not meet the needs of their souls; and, with all their pretensions to piety, they had not religion enough to meet the necessities of their nature when calamities should come, or when death should approach; and they were, therefore, in the strictest sense of the term, poor. Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
Jesus said the Laodiceans were rich but still poor. The only cure for poverty, despair, inequality, and injustice is the Gospel. The more that Social Justice Warriors take their eyes off the Gospel and onto temporal problems and fixes, the more they will fail. The more they argue that this is what the world needs, the more they will fail. What we are here on earth to speak for first and foremost, is the soul problem, not the social problem.
PS: Of course we help the poor, of course we establish orphanages and hospitals and of course we have concerns for the disadvantaged. But you get the point of the essay, I hope. If legitimately not, ask me in the comments and I’ll happily clarify.
“I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love.” ~Henry Ward Beecher
Beecher was a minister, temperance promoter, abolitionist, social justice warrior, and the brother of famous novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. He lived from 1813 to 1887. In his ministry, he developed a new oratorical style, in which he used humor, dialect, and slang, very rare for the time. Over his career, he developed a theology emphasizing God’s love above all else. He also grew interested in social reform.
You just know this won’t end well. Any man or women who does all of the three, it’s almost a death knell for his faith. The three again:
1. New approaches to preaching (or learning if you’re a layman)
2. Emphasizing God’s love only
3. Emphasis on social reform
Think of what is going on today with a sudden heavy emphasis on social justice and you’ll see the same trajectory in many ministers and parachurch ministries.
Beecher, as some people might not know, was also a tremendous womanizer. He had affairs with many women of his congregation and many women who were not in his congregation. One colleague quipped that on any given Sunday Beecher was preaching to 7 or 8 of his mistresses. Eventually, he endured a trial for adultery that made him the “most famous man in America”. It was called the trial of the century.
Be wary of ministers and organizations that claim to love Christ but primarily exist to promote a social gospel. Look for a clear biblical objective. Otherwise, avoid.
The Social Gospel was a movement in North American Protestantism which applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war. It was most prominent in the early-20th-century United States and Canada.
The novel Christy I’d reviewed in April focused on the social gospel work of some missionaries in the Appalachians. The novel was based on a real mission and real people. There was a huge push for social gospel work in missions then that began in the very late 1800s and reached its peak in the 1910s and began to wane after WWI.
The premise of the work was that if missionaries or lay-Christians in their everyday environments could show the love of God in doing good, rectifying deplorable conditions, it would spark an attraction to Jesus in the recipients of the benevolence. Moreover, if the hindrances to faith are removed, i.e. that if the recipients did not have to worry as much about their next meal or getting coal or firewood to stay alive, it would also spark an interest in Jesus.
Of course this is backward. Promoters of the movement tended to blame sin on societal structures rather than human nature. Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously said in his Studies on the Sermon on the Mount,
The terrible, tragic fallacy of the last hundred years has been to think that all man’s troubles are due to his environment, and that to change the man you have nothing to do but change his environment. That is a tragic fallacy. It overlooks the fact that it was in Paradise that man fell.
But look at their efforts anyway!
Our purpose is “to gather a new generation of women, equip them with the tools to know God more deeply and live out their purposes and unleash a movement to promote healing and reconciliation around the world.” [If:Gathering]
“Our mission is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world“. [Sojourners].
There’s even Christian eco-justice.
“is a grassroots community of United Methodists who believe that a relationship with God’s creation and a ministry of caring for and healing the earth are integral to what it means to be a Christian.” [Caretakers of God’s Creation]
“heal the world”? “inspiring hope”? “healing the earth”? So vague. Again, if there is a social justice organization or a parachurch ministry that focuses on social justice, look for their clear and specific biblical objective. If they don’t have one, avoid it.
We are to help the poor and disadvantaged. No question, I’m not saying charitable mercy is never warranted. Of course it is, the Bible prescribes it. But notice I didn’t say ‘social justice’ but instead ‘charitable mercy.’
George Crawford at Grace Community Church, in the series Sundays in July, delivered a sermon today called “Probably the Greatest Old Testament Hero You Never Heard Of”. It’s wonderful because he addresses social justice through his exegesis of a nearly anonymous man in the Old Testament in an obscure passage, regarding the rescue of prophet Jeremiah. Crawford illustrates what real biblical justice is, and how heroes who pursue such justice should act and what they should do.
Mr Crawford himself was an attorney for a regulatory agency and an administrative judge for his career of 40 years. He is highly concerned with justice, but equally concerned any kind of justice done in Jesus’ name is approached biblically. He feels this passage is the best one in the Bible that addresses the issue of social justice. I recommend it.
Crawford’s main points in the sermon, which is very easy to listen to, revolve around what true social justice heroes are like, based on what the man Eben-melech in Jeremiah’s scene accomplished:
Heroes get over sins against them, and move on
Heroes have an accurate grasp of reality
Heroes will take action, boldly
Heroes take precise, specific action (There is no room in the faith for broad, general, overall passionate, unfocused, untargeted, mindless social justice).
Heroes are practical
Heroes act with mercy
Real concern for real biblical justice will focus on real and specific situations
Heroes act with prudent courage, recognizing the reality of danger but taking action anyway
Heroes are willing to forego credit in order to get the job done
Let’s go back to Beecher. “I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love.” This quote that opened this essay is completely backwards, of course. It’s indicative of the backwardness of the plethora of “eco-social-racial-gender-sexual justice” organizations today. Beecher forsook God’s love whilst dwelling on it excessively, abused His grace, promoted ill-fated social causes and lost his first love (like those at Ephesus, Revelation 2:4). It happens every time.
Be wary of ministers, organizations, or parachurches that focus on God’s love to the exclusion of other attributes of God, and who set out in unfocused or non-specific manner to rectify social ills. Eben-melech got the job done because he was smart about it- he had a clear biblical objective. Unfocused zeal is not only unhelpful, it could be dangerous.
More to the point of Beecher’s quote, is that no one who is outside of Christ knows how to love. One can’t learn to love before one learns to worship. No one. That Beecher preached it thus is a tragic mistake. Our entire being is at enmity with God. Enmity means war, hatred, opposition. Only Jesus who is the source of Love, enables us to rightly love after we enter the faith. It is He we love, because we worship Him first.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. 1 John 5:1-3.
It has been dizzying this past 3 months in the evangelical wider world, and very worrying in the online evangelical world. The controversies have been deep and fervent. The lines between camps within visible Christianity have widened. Seemingly stable ministries have suddenly swerved hard.
There have been numerous events and controversies which reveal that we are less than unified over Christian foundational beliefs.
The April conference called MLK50 sparked a division in how we as Christians are to approach race discussions. TGC and GCC’s coupling for a west coast conference titled “Enduring Faithfulness” sparked a discussion about how far to delve into the culture and which topics are truly Gospel centered. Agreement was not reached and the two entities uncoupled. Beth Moore’s Letter to Brothers charged the global church with misogyny and threw gas in the cultural #MeToo movement, which in turn and inflamed the evangelical world’s discussion about the global church’s ‘treatment’ of women and their roles.
The ReVoice conference did the same for same-sex attraction and gay identity within Christianity. Paige Patterson was fired. The SBC messengers/members briefly seemed to flirt with the nomination of a woman, sparking a discussion about whether “women are called to positions of leadership” in church or para-churches. International Mission Board President David Platt delivered a 6-minute report to the SBC affirming Isa as Messiah and conversion through Muslim dreams. Popular actor Chris Pratt mentioned God and grace at an awards speech and the undiscerning Christian world joyfully affirmed it as Gospel, sparking a discussion about what the Gospel is and how many elements of it one needs in order to match the biblical message.
In this 1-minute clip, Alistair Begg reminds us that the church’s mandate is not economic, social, or political. However the global church for so long now has been browbeat with the message that it is, that “people who should know better” have allowed its tendrils to creep into their minds and make inroads.
It has been a wild spring.
Nate Pickowitz is a New England pastor and author. Bio below. His wife Jessica wrote a wonderful study guide to the MacArthur/Mayhue tome Biblical Doctrine. This week Nate tweeted a series covering these issues in a gracious and insightful way. He said that “In truth, this thing has so many tendrils, it’s near impossible to wrap my brain around all that it is, but I’m trying.” I am too. I’ve ridden the roller coaster and in the end put my head in my hands wondering “What is happening?!?!”
I decided that still and always my personal call to action is the same as it’s always been. Share the Gospel. Remind people of what the Gospel is. Urge people to reject any different Gospel. Use social media to present these messages. Repeat.
Here is Nate’s message. Perhaps it will help you solidify some thoughts about all this.
I’ve got serious pastoral concerns about recent growing trends in Evangelicalism. In truth, it seems to fall under one complex, multi-faceted mechanism. Frankly, I’m not sure if using labels is helping or hurting.
We’re seeing terms like “social justice,” “Cultural Marxism,” “liberalism,” even “intersectionality.” Advocates of this movement flatly reject these terms (perhaps they don’t subscribe to all the tenets of them), but we’re certainly seeing a noticeable movement in full force.
In truth, this thing has so many tendrils, it’s near impossible to wrap my brain around all that it is, but I’m trying.
I believe that there are some advocates of this who are masquerading as Christians who are not. I also believe that there are genuine, regenerate Christians who are part of this as well.
However, my biggest concern has to do with the gospel itself. What is the gospel? The gospel is “good news”—it is the message of what Jesus Christ has done on the cross to save us from condemnation due to sin. And this work reconciles us, first to God, second to other believers.
So, “reconciliation” is key. Again, it is primarily about us and God, but when we are transferred into His kingdom, we are reconciled to every other blood-bought believer through the very same gospel.
However, Jesus never promises prosperity, societal prominence, earthly equity, an end to suffering, earthly utopia, freedom from insult & injustice, political success, or any other earthly temporal blessing.
We are seated with Christ “in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3); we live in the hope of an inheritance that is imperishable, not for earthly gains that are perishable.
With all that being said, there is certainly spiritual fruit that comes from the gospel; there are gospel effects. Regenerate Christians love others, serve others, give to others, seek to help strangers. This is all true.
But this movement seems to be seeking the effects of the gospel, and preaching them *as* gospel. Further, they make the effects non-negotiable mandates. As if to say, affirmative action is our primary Christian mission… except that, it’s not.
Preaching the gospel, making disciples, bearing witness to Christ by our testimony and lifestyle—those are all mandates of our mission. The social benefits are, to a smaller degree, the fruit & not the root.
However, this movement pushes back and is actively fighting for social fruit. And that’s where ‘intersectionality’ comes into play. This is the overarching tool of social justice.
By grouping people into nice, neat categories, they can be dealt with en masse, and coalitions of like-minded proponents can put pressure on others to force them to give them what they want.
This is, at its core, a version of Marxism—to see two classes (the haves & the have nots) warring against each other, with the ‘have not’ minority class attempting to overthrow the “privileged” majority class. But is that what Christ would have us do?
Are we social revolutionaries? Are we culture warriors? Are we supposed to be aggressively fighting to gain earthly benefits? While Bible verses are being used in various ways (ways foreign to the history of biblical interpretation), the scope of the Bible doesn’t support it.
At best, this social focus is a gospel distraction; at worst, it is a gospel distortion. I’m starting to believe that it is anti-gospel and anti-Christian.
Does it affect our churches? Absolutely, it does! The ministries, leaders, and resources being distributed are finding their way into the local church. Even small-town, senior citizen churchgoers have Facebook, and watch videos from online ministries.
We lament Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar videos, pushing prosperity gospel to our people. We ought to lament this as well. Because what is the net effect? Gospel confusion and gospel misrepresentation.
Anybody who does any level of biblical counseling knows that victimhood is the number one enemy of true repentance and spiritual growth. If I can blame someone else for my problems, then I can avoid responsibility.
I fear the social justice movement is creating an environment where Christians are seeing themselves as victims, and not as beneficiaries of divine grace.
Further, where are the exhortations toward forgiveness, forbearance, endurance, humility, and grace? When was the last time you heard a social justice leader expound on Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek”?
I’m not saying that there aren’t problems. Yes, racism exists, injustice exists, hatred exists; because sin exists! But how do we deal with these sins? The same way we deal with any other sin.
Now, believers who have repented of sins may feel led to impact those they’ve wronged in a positive, social way. But is it the church’s job to mandate it? Or is it up to personal conviction? Shaming the Bride into action is not of Christ.
What is the way forward? To be honest, I’m not 100% certain of every single step. But I know that our mandate is to continue to preach the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to call sinners to repentance, to preach God’s wrath & grace, and to love the Body.
And for what it’s worth, I reject all pejorative labels, classes, and categorizations. I’m not a “white Evangelical.” My name is Nate, and I’m a bondslave of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Addendum: This isn’t my “hot take”—I’ve been watching things for several months, reading articles & books, talking with dozens of pastors. While I’ve repented of unkind or hurtful engagement, I want to be faithful to stand for the things I’m convinced are biblically true.
———————end Nate Pickowitz———————
Back to me now.
Decades of biblical illiteracy, personal prophecies, heaven tourism, the New Apostolic Reformation, IHOP/Bethel and the Charismaniacs, false professions of faith/false converts, tolerance of sin have deeply damaged the evangelical stance on the sufficiency of scripture and many other doctrines. It has tarnished the Gospel witness of the church. But that is to be expected.
Though other churches existed at the time Jesus wrote to the 7 mentioned in Revelation, of the 7, only 2 received no condemnation. That means of this particular microcosm, 72% of the churches had a significant enough problem within it to cause Jesus to write and threaten their dissolution. This kind of percentage is normal. It is even magnanimous, I believe. Most of the global church is bloated with non-believers or with people who are so apathetic for Christ or so distorted in their thinking their witness is practically nil.
However, the good news is that Jesus always leaves a remnant. His people are true and beautiful and working for His glory. They are sprinkled all around the world like salt, seasoning their spheres with truth and the Good News of His name. People newly converted are growing. Missions are working. Good books are being written. Solid sermons are being broadcast. Lives are being changed. Minds are being transformed. It IS happening.
None of this is a surprise to Jesus. While it may unsettle us to see such devastating controversy, and while it may dismay us to see its tendrils creep into our churches, and while it may upset us to see those tendrils go ignored or concerns about them discarded, Jesus is brightly shining and His glory is being manifested in every heart who truly knows Him. The Savior is victorious and the Church is triumphant.
Pastor Nate Pickowicz (B.A., Muhlenberg College, M.A., Trinity Theological Seminary) was raised in Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire, where he now lives with his wife, Jessica, and two children, Jack and Elizabeth. Before planting Harvest Bible Church, Nate worked in financial services until being called into ministry in 2009. He is the author of Reviving New England: The Key to Revitalizing Post-Christian America, and Why We’re Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation. He is also the general editor of The American Puritans Series.
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