Resisting Injustice

The Role of the Church

“And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.” (Judges 9:57)

A Christian endures over a decade of state-sponsored legal harassment for refusing to bake cakes celebrating events that violate his beliefs. Half a dozen pro-life activists are convicted in federal court for protesting the murder of children at a Tennessee abortion clinic. Hundreds of Americans, including a former president, are harassed, indicted, disbarred, and/or jailed in multiple jurisdictions across the country for doing the same thing Americans have been doing for over 200 years—contesting the outcome of an election. A columnist is forced to defend himself in the D.C. district courts for 11 years (and counting) over a 270-word blog post criticizing a purveyor of climate change hype.

The American legal system is rife with injustice. Federal prosecutors boast a 95% conviction rate, with most cases never going to trial because even the innocent often plead guilty. Christians and conservatives are essentially no longer afforded their constitutional right of trial by a jury of their peers in most major cities, while in many of the same cities radical fascists/leftists and common criminals are not charged for their crimes.

Government injustice in America is not confined only to the courts, however. Welfare, public schools, and minimum wage laws are a large part of the reason black men in Chicago are unemployed and murdering each other at alarming rates. In Texas, the state’s transportation department floods a farmer’s property but denies he is due any compensation for the taking of his property. Corporate cronyism has extended beyond the legalized theft of subsidies to coercing Americans into consuming corporate products, such as renewable energy and vaccines.

Given that unjust rulers are a significant concern throughout scripture and in Jesus’ ministry (Leviticus 19:15, Judges 9:57, Psalm 94:20, Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 3:5, Revelation 6:9-10, etc.), we should be alarmed at the lack of engagement by many Christians with these examples of government injustice. To understand how we can awaken the church to the corruption and injustice of modern government, we will examine how Christians can be better equipped for the work of confronting injustice amongst our rulers, who are supposed to be “God’s servant[s] for []our good” (Romans 13).

The people of God are supposed to “maintain love and justice” (Hosea 12:6) because God’s way is “doing righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19). It was on this basis that Job asked God, “let no injustice be done” (Job 6:29). To equip us to mirror His character and uphold His standards, God gave us His Word of truth (John 17:17), righteous rules, and statutes (Psalm 119:7-8).

God emphasizes the importance of faithfully maintaining righteousness and justice when He attaches both blessings and curses to his laws in Deuteronomy. Those who obey God are set “high above all the nations of the earth,”(v. 28:1) and receive an economic bounty: “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field” (v. 28:3). But those who do “not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes” will be cursed in their cities, occupations, and in their very lives (v. 28:15ff). God further drove home the necessity of keeping His standards of justice when he carried out His judgment upon His unjust people by twice destroying the city in which He had dwelt with them.

The first destruction of Jerusalem was by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. In 2nd Chronicles 36 we see that Babylon “burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels” because Israel had failed to keep God’s Sabbath laws (vv. 19-21). One part of the Sabbath requirement was debt forgiveness. Every seven years Israelites were required to forgive the debts of those who had borrowed money from them (Deuteronomy 15:1-2). Israel had failed to do this, and their injustice was brought down upon their heads (Psalm 7:16).

Apparently, the leaders of Jerusalem did not learn much from this rebuke; they were back doing the same thing 600 years later. Jesus famously called the Pharisees “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14) and drove the money-changers and sellers out of the temple for turning His house into “a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12-13). Again, injustice was the focus of this judgment. In his book, The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics, Jerry Bowyer explains three ways the political and religious rulers of Jerusalem—the Sanhedrin, chief priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and elders—were exploiting the people.

First, they used an inflated exchange rate which required people to pay double for tribute and animals to be sacrificed in the temple; this was the focus of Jesus’ “den of robbers” comment (Bowyer, 67ff). Next, they had turned the decentralized voluntary tithe into a nationalized temple tax by sending out enforcers with clubs to beat those who did not pay up (73). Finally, the abuse of the Sabbatical system came back into play. As the seventh year approached when a lender would have to forgive debt, Jerusalem’s leaders devised a system by which the lender would sell the debt to the court of the temple. The temple was deemed not to be covered by the debt forgiveness rules and could therefore continue to enforce payments (80). The injustice of Israel’s leaders both angered and saddened Jesus (Matthew 23), and led to His prophecy of judgment against them (Matthew 24) that was fulfilled in 70 A.D by the Roman general Titus.

These lessons on injustice instruct us about more than personal piety. Yes, we must have the righteousness of Christ credited to us if we are to be saved, but we must also apply His standard of righteousness to the public square. Faithfully doing so would allow Christians to see more clearly the similarities of the injustices taking place in Jerusalem with those in America today. 

A primary application of these lessons to the church today is that Christians should be saddened and angered when they witness government injustice and be motivated to bring it to a halt. Unfortunately, many in the church—even in the conservative, evangelical church—seem to be too preoccupied with faux injustice to notice where biblically-defined injustice is taking place.

For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention has an egalitarianism problem, with great anguish being expressed at the “injustice” of prohibiting women from serving as pastors. Similarly, the largest conservative Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, has been busy finding “injustice” in white privilege and the treatment of self-identified celibate, gay Christians. These are both indications of the influence of the “social justice” movement in the church, which has led many Christians to support the government’s use of power to address “sins” of injustice identified by the heathen culture. This failure is one of the great reasons for the injustice we see in the world today and why much evil is returning on our heads.

These are only symptoms, though, of a deeper problem: the church’s neglect of using the whole counsel of God’s Word for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” Christians so that we may be “thoroughly equipped” (2 Timothy 3) to recognize and challenge injustice in all areas of life, particularly when it comes to the actions of our rulers.

This has not always been a problem in the church. The reformers of the 16th and early 17th centuries, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Stephen Junius Brutus, and Samuel Rutherford, spent more than a century scouring Scripture to better understand how it applied to the public square, including the corruption of civil rulers. Calvin, for instance, addressed the role of the civil government in the last chapter of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In their efforts, the reformers were driven by the injustice of constant persecution from the Catholic Church and civil government because of their Protestant theology and practices. 

At the beginning of the Institutes, Calvin wrote that those who have “not much practice” in delving into Holy Scripture need “guidance and direction, to know what he ought to look for in it, in order not to wander hither and thither, but to hold a sure path, that he may always be pressing toward the end which the Holy Spirit calls him.” In this spirit, in three upcoming articles, I will offer guiding principles meant to resurrect the zeal and wisdom of the reformers in applying the whole counsel of God to the public square so that Christians might better understand the biblical authority of and limits on civil government. As the church faithfully pursues this, it will be better equipped to fight government injustice and other issues we face in what Aaron Renn has aptly described as “a new and unprecedented era in America, one I call the negative world.”

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