Stetzer asks the question, “Should the definition of “salvation” be expanded beyond personal redemption of sins to include social justice through the reformation of economic and political institutions?”
This question is quite relevant in our current missional culture. Is the primary purpose and mission of Christians to “fix” society, culture, and politics in addition to sharing the Good News of Christ? Personally, I feel that we should keep our focus upon the simplicity and centrality of Christ Jesus. Nothing else matters eternally. That does not mean that ministering through platforms that address issues of social justice is not part of the equation. I feel that engaging in ministering to human needs is more of a way of life that points to the Good News rather than an end in itself. As we live a missional life and share the Good News, we should inevitably respond to human needs.
Hospitality should be understood as a way of life rather than as a task or strategy. It is easy to slip into viewing hospitality as a strategy for reaching migrants and refugees, or for that matter, for reaching postmodern youth or homeless people. But such an approach misunderstands the basic orientation of hospitality. Hospitality is not a means to an end; it is a way of life infused by the gospel. C.D. Pohl (The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues & Trends by Pocock, Van Rheenen, McConnell, p67).
Social Justice issues have become quite popular with the emerging generation. Drilling water wells, feeding the poor, taking care of orphans, and those in need – all of these causes have become more central in some circles than the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. It seems that the pendulum swings from a focus on preaching toward a radical shift the other way to focus upon human needs. If we serve and love the poor without giving them hope in Christ, have they truly received salvation?
Mission history has been replete with an unfortunate tension between evangelism and social ministry. Obviously there have been those who have sought to proclaim the life-transforming message of the Gospel while ignoring the suffering and physical needs of their listeners. Likewise, there have been those who confined their witness to the good works they might do while never offering the recipients spiritual hope. Our Lord makes it clear that neglecting either one is not an option for the faithful and obedient disciple. Wherever Jesus went, He responded to human needs. He gave sight to the blind, cleansed the leper, healed the lame, and raised the dead, though the primary purpose of His coming was to provide deliverance and salvation for sin. (Jerry Rankin, Preach & Heal by Charles Fielding, forward).
Jesus modeled the ultimate example by both preaching and healing. Not only did he model it, he commanded it.
And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out the demons (Matthew 10:7-8, NASB; italics mine).
He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:2, NKJV; italics mine).
Our identity should not be a “preacher” or a “healer” – but rather, we should see ourselves as a disciple of Christ Jesus. Our personal bias or affinity toward a method, strategy, or any other purpose other than the saving grace of Jesus Christ should not be allowed to become an idol. If one focuses upon social justice issues without proclaiming the Good News of Christ, then what makes it distinguishable from any other secular organization serving the poor? If one focuses only upon the preaching aspect, then where is the love, kindness, and gentleness that stifles the resounding gong or clanging cymbal? (I Cor 13:1)
Simply put, does the meaning of salvation include social justice, economic and cultural reform – No. However, there are aspects in which every disciple addresses these issues by living out a Christian lifestyle, but the ultimate focus is Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life.
Here are some other folks much more brilliant than I in this conversation: