How Did We Get Here?

“Here is a question that you need to wrestle with.  How much time do you spend with sin sick people?  I’m not talking about some evangelism program.  I’m talking about intentionally building relationships with people you know need the Great Physician.   To quote Jesus I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”   This is clearly the method of His mission.  So maybe when those undocumented workers from Mexico show up on your job instead of parroting that Mormon Glen Beck or acting like Romans 13 is the only chapter in the Bible you follow the teaching of Philemon, welcome the stranger, and turn it into an opportunity for the gospel to be spread.” –  An excerpt from one of my sermons  

Was that offensive to you?   A few months ago I had an experience that was a first in my 20 years of preaching.   After this  sermon on social justice a man came up to talk to me about this point.   He started off cordial but no more than 30 seconds in I realized his niceness was a set up.   He kept inching closer and closer, literally getting in my face and angrily chewing me out over my comments.   I literally had to walk away in fear of the guy hitting me and trust me, I don’t scare easily.  It was a very tense moment.

But that wasn’t the end of it.   He stormed off and chewed out the host pastor for inviting me.  Other people chewed out one of the staff pastors.  Furthermore some people tracked down my home phone number and called, demanding a meeting about the sermon.   I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.  I don’t know maybe it’s me but I didn’t think what I said was so offensive.   But obviously it was.

Last week at my Alma mater (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) Al Mohler and Jim Wallis debated the question “Is social justice an essential part of the mission of the church?”  I didn’t watch the debate because for me I read Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, and a host of other Scriptures and that’s a wrap.   Personally I’m not even sure how  this a question that can be debated.   So how did we get here in the first place, where we are questioning whether the church and justice should be paired together?   And people want to deck a 6″5, 275lbs guy at their own peril (I may be a minister but I ain’t but one generation from the street!)

So let’s have our own debate.   How did we get to the place in the American church where its Gospel v. Social Justice?


About Alvin Sanders

An academic nerd who loves the Lord, my family, my peeps, and my hood. View all posts by Alvin Sanders

8 responses to “How Did We Get Here?

  • Samuél

    This is a great Post. It is high time Christians stand up and be what we’ve been called to be. I’m in support of Social Justice as part of our call. I think one reason this becomes such a difficult thing to embrace is because of our western worldview of compartmentalizing our ‘spiritual’ and ‘social’ lives. This Spiritual Schizophrenia is what has hurt us most. Jesus came that we may “have life” and that includes social issues! Many a time, real life happens OUTSIDE the building where people gather to ‘worship’ God, popularly referred to as ‘Church’. May God renew our passion for the WHOLE person. Keep preaching Brother!

  • Dennis Hesselbarth

    I’m pained just hearing about your experience. I pray it won’t make you reticent to speak boldly. Hang in there – you aren’t alone, I certainly will be there to defend and support you if that is ever necessary!
    I’ve puzzled and puzzled over how some believers can be so hostile to being loving and respectful to the “other.” And, even more, how to connect to them, help them see things differently.
    I begun to see the divide between “law and order” folks and “mercy and justice” folks is focused on the means of creating a just, holy society. If the rules, and enforcing them, is the primary means, then any violation must be stamped out, less anarchy break out. There’s little room for mercy – it looks like fudging the rules. But if justice and holiness is primarily a matter of the heart, then rules, though important, are rather impotent and can’t sustain justice unless accompanied by heart change. One engages a lawbreaker by seeking to win their heart – primarily through love. Hence, one returns good for evil, forgives, loves enemies – all kinds of “crazy” things.
    I’ve had more success getting the Glenn Beck fans to listen to another view by telling real stories of suffering people who are the despised others, revealing them to be regular old human beings who love, who are struggling to provide for their families, who are in desperate straights// people who are trying to find their way while submerged in addiction after being severely abused, etc. If I can awaken their compassion, or if I can get them to consider what they would do if they were in the same place, then we can ask together – how could we help these needy people? Would deporting them, breaking up their families, really help? Would locking them up and throwing away the key really help? What did Jesus do with people like this?
    That said, most of the time, I don’t seem to get very far with the self-righteous types. I just move on. I forgive. I choose to believe that their intentions are good, though they clearly haven’t thought through what they are advocating. So I pray for them.
    So try telling stories of people. Of young gang kids who grew up in horrible situations, who inside are just scared little kids, trying to make their way, and what happens when believers love them rather than just lock them up. Of people going to bed listening to their kids crying in hunger, who risk their lives to come across a border so their kids can be fed.
    Hang in there! Keep preaching the truth – in love.

  • Alvin Sanders

    Thanks Samuel and Dennis

    • Dennis Hesselbarth

      That’s right, Alvin. If we don’t hang with other sinners, they can’t know His mercy. And I can get self-righteous if I’m not close to them and listen. Our house churches are the best connecting point for me. Others in the church keep me linked to folks “out there.” I have to be deliberate.

  • Matt Sass

    The Evangelical Free Church Statement of faith has social justice woven into Statement 8: “God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. ”

    A helpful resource we have used in our church is Seek Social Justice ( video series. Christian history is full of examples of believers reaching out with both the gospel and compassion – clearly we have to do both in Christ’s name.

    • Alvin Sanders

      As a proud member of EFCA leadership I am so proud of our movement for statement 8 that it is not even funny! And thanks for the resource Matt.

  • Stu White


    Wow! I have been living in this wrestling match for several years. I am not wrestling with myself. Rather, like your situation, I am being confronted by people within a church setting. And it comes from leadership within those settings. As I am sure is true with others who have commented, I could go on and on and on about this topic. Two words usually encompass the debate; orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I’ll stop there.

    Let me share a discussion that I participated in with several others interested in multi ethnicity in the church. Several church leaders from NYC posed the following question to the group. How will you answer the INS agent when he asks you if you have any undocumented people in your congregation or on your staff? Remember that you will lose your 501.c.3 status if you are paying an undocumented person for services rendered to your organization. It got real quiet in this small group. Then the discussion got real lively and I could feel the passion of the group as WE talked and prayed about the Lord moving the church, us, into the world around us.

    Alvin, AMEN to your words! And at this time I think these types of confrontations are going to continue. Led by the Holy Spirit we press on in His name. Thanks for you leadership. We’re praying for you.

  • Alvin Sanders

    Thanks Stu!

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