Christian Living

Orthodox Activism- The Church in Pursuit of Social Justice

Jemar Tisby

Note: This post is written by Michelle Higgins, Director of Worship and Outreach at South City Church. Michelle lives in St. Louis and has been active in the ongoing movement for unity and change since the events in Ferguson in August, 2014 and afterwards. She has been a co-host on several episodes of Pass The Mic (here and here).

Orthodox: sound in doctrine, conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church [ortho – prefix, greek origin; correct, upright, straight] [- dox from the greek doxa; opinion, glory, praise]

Activism: the doctrine or practice of vigorous action and involvement as a means of achieving goals

Every Christian is an Activist

The resurgence of racial tension brought on by the events in Ferguson, MO and other places has many Christians asking an old question. “What is the role of the Church and God’s people in working toward justice in society?”

Most Christians agree that we should work for righteousness in this world and not wait passively for the new heavens and earth to come. But many believers disagree on the methods. Should churches get involved in political policy-making? Should congregations make pronouncements about social issues in the name of the church? How do Christians both individually and corporately maintain a focus on preaching the gospel, while at the same time pursuing tangible change in their communities and beyond? One response is: orthodox activism.

The family of God is called to work vigorously. To model and proclaim His word through our actions:  “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly…” (Micah 6:8) and “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Mt. 6:10). It is the Christian hope and confession that the sure promise of restoration – a new heaven and a new earth – is the reality toward which we strive. It is the “not yet” of the consummation that we lean into right now. By the faith, we are ambassadors of this reality in every aspect of daily life.

The Aroma of Christ in Action

Paul tells the Church that we are the aroma of Christ, a challenge to some and a comfort to others. This aroma is not a perfume for special events, it is a reference to atonement by sacrifice. We cannot shake the smell. Wherever we go, whether we like it or not, we are surrounded by the holy smoke of sacrifice; the sacrifice of Jesus which brought us life and calls us to sacrifice our lives in response. Believers ought to smell like the resurrection of Jesus!

But in the area of public justice, the Church have more work to do to bring such an aroma. We are lax to speak truth to power and bring encouragement to the oppressed. In St. Louis and surrounding towns like Ferguson, the strong stench of division has saturated our communities. Our pursuit of justice is so hindered by fear of division that we sometimes fail to model the hope given in God’s promises of restoration and the eternal government of shalom. We often echo Paul’s question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). We become peddlers of the gospel, inadequate to preach with boldness that the King is coming, and He is victorious even now. Our cities suffer by our silence.

This inaction has atrophied our systems of ministry; it impedes evangelism, discipleship, especially youth ministry, and the formation of authentic relationships among peoples of different ethnicities and generations. This is because the evangelical church so often conforms to the doctrine of fear.

We need a renewal of vigorous action. So we must have a reformation of right doctrine. We must act for justice in our society, but do so in accord with the Bible’s teachings. We must commit ourselves to a daily rhythm of sound doctrine lived out in dynamic action. Every Christian is an activist.

But our activism is only as effectual as our dependence upon The Lord. If I build my hopes on rugged individualism, accumulation of wealth and social importance, the hard pursuit of personal comfort and entitlement to personal opinion, then my activism will reveal the location of my faith. But if right doctrine equips me to address the core concerns of my people, then vigorous, trenchant action is the physical substance of my appeal.

Orthodox Activism

Orthodox activism means praying with your feet. It means preaching with your hands; clearing the stench of division with the air of the ministry of reconciliation. It means doing more than theorizing. It means acknowledging the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit over the Church, and walking humbly – and boldly – into the thick darkness of oppression, so that we might proclaim emancipation to the captives, and demand justice from the magistrate.

Orthodox activism is this year’s theme for the African American Leadership Development Resource conference ( I hope you will join us as we affirm the pursuit of justice by the only means necessary; sacrificial life by the Spirit of God, total dependance upon the Word of God, and fellowship with the people of God.

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