How should we do justice?

I’ve mentioned Tim Keller’s “Generous Justice” before. Today I’d like to underline a practical and theological issue about “how.”  Keller tells us about Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch theologian and statesman who ‘remade the churches into voluntary institutions’ in Holland over a century ago.  According to Kuyper, the church was both and organism and an institution (See Kuyper’s work “Rooted and Grounded — the church as organism and institution.)  God has designed the church to be like a body (organic, rooted) and house (institutional, grounded on a foundation).  It needs solid outer shape but it must have inner life.  The church not only grows, but it is also built with structure.

Keller says that Kuyper distinguishes the congregation meeting under its leaders as the institutional church, and “all Christians, functioning in the world as individuals and through various agencies and voluntary organizations,” as the organic church (“Generous Justice,” page 145).

Keller continues, “As we have said, churches under their leaders should definitely carry out ministries of relief and some development among their own members and in their neighborhoods and cities, as the natural and crucial way to show the world God’s character, and to love the people they are evangelizing and discipling. But if we apply Kuyper’s view, then when we get to the more ambitious work of social reform and the addressing of social structure, believers should work through associations and organizations rather than through the local church.  While the institutional church should do relief inside and around its community, the ‘organic’ church should be doing development and social reform.”

He goes on to say that many of the churches that practice this sort of model of ministry (of the sort championed by John Perkins) form community development organizations, distinct from their congregations, to operate programs in their community. Otherwise the work of community renew and social justice can easily overwhelm the work of building up the church by evangelism and discipleship.

Mission organizations plant churches and disciple individuals and can be well suited to do ‘organic’ type ministries of justice and social transformation. However, mission organizations are specialized in seed sowing and building foundations, not in the ongoing work of the ministry — which must increasingly fit the local context with local leadership.  So just as we plant churches in various places, we have a vision to plant local mission organizations that can glorify Christ and address issues of justice and social needs.

Would you be happy to join with a view to this sort of gospel-centered mission to serve in the area of justice and social transformation?

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Doctor, epidemiologist, husband, father, Christian missionary physician

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