Q I hear a lot about social justice in church circles, but that language is not used in the Bible. Does it mean the same as the words used for justice in the Bible?
A The Bible is clear that God loves justice, hates injustice, and calls us to do justice. But it does not include a dictionary definition. The term is interpreted in different ways by different people in different contexts.
For some,justice calls up images of laws, courts, police, and jails. The Bible clearly speaks of more than laws and correctional justice. Others might say that justice is about fairness, but then disagree about what is fair. When I feel wronged, I am fairly sure what is fair. When others make claims against me, I am less sure.
In the Bible, justice is rooted in the teaching that every person is created, valued, and loved by God. Every person deserves to live with dignity, respect, and room to live out God’s calling. We do justice when we treat people that way and create a society that treats people that way. That notion is captured in the term social justice. Details of what it means in any situation require further deliberation.
Some Reformed voices prefer the concept of public justice to describe what the Bible intends. The Christian Reformed Church has also endorsed the concept of restorative justice, which focuses on making broken relationships right again.
Many avoid the word justice altogether, preferring to simply talk about love. But love without justice is not biblical love. So we can’t avoid the call to do justice.
What is clear is that we need deeper discussion about what our biblical calling to do justice really means for us in the 21st century.
Q Does all the recent talk of the world ending offer good opportunities for evangelism?
A My sense is that Christians would do well to steer clear of end-times hysteria. It’s much better to focus on the biblical hope that our God is the God of history, and that such things are in his hands.
Our call is to be faithful stewards, using the gifts and resources God has given us to further the kingdom and give God glory. To the extent that we do that, and care for this world as if it is our only world (trusting that God is going to renew it rather than destroy it), we can find much common ground that allows us to work alongside those of other or no beliefs, while still being faithful to our God on the day Christ comes again. In all likelihood, our faithfulness will prompt natural opportunities to share the hope that we have.
Q I’ve often gone with high school friends to a megachurch, and I’ve seen adult baptisms there (my friend was dunked a month ago). It seems so special. I’m beginning to regret that I was baptized as a baby, and I want to be baptized again. Should I? My dad doesn’t think I should, but my mom doesn’t seem to care either way.
A You’re not alone in your confusion and in your desire to experience something special. It doesn’t seem fair that because you were baptized as a baby, you have no conscious memory of the event.
I’m beginning to regret that I was baptized as a baby and want to be baptized again.
But desiring special spiritual experiences is not a reason to reject infant baptism. Here are two thoughts to ponder:
- We practice infant baptism because our covenant God makes the first move, and we respond to him. Infant baptism is our way of thanking God for making the first move in the life of his precious child. When the child is able to understand God’s great grace, we invite her to respond by making profession of faith.
- Even so, we can enrich the experience. Having an annual “remember your baptism” service would help us to re-experience what happened when we were too young to remember. We could also use water to affirm our baptism when we make profession of faith. In the April 2011 Banner (check thebanner.org) I described my own struggles with infant baptism and imagined what a “remember your baptism” worship service might be like. We can strengthen our experience of baptism without also changing our theology and practice.
I wish I could take you to a coffee shop and discuss this for an hour. Is there a pastor or other spiritual leader you could meet with instead?
About the Authors
Syd Hielema serves as the director of the CRC's Connections II project. He worships at the Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ont.
Kathy Vandergrift teaches public ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.