In giving the current concern ie current emphasis on social justice more thought, it seems that somewhere along the line, in the church, there has been a bit of disconnect regarding social justice issues. I am in no way attempting to play down the need for the church, as a whole, to have a social consciouness; nor to play down the importance of the church (made up of its individual members) pursuing, championing, and being involved in social justice concerns. For example, I think the church (its individual members) should be active in opposing abortion, just as William Wilberforce was active in his opposition to the slave trade. But social justice issues should not be the focus of the church (as a whole) nor the focus of individual churches.
The concern for social justice issues should come as a result of the out-flowing of the love and mercy of God in the lives of each individual Christian. This will naturally occur if the church keeps its focus on its main task, which is the making of disciples. The main thrust of the earthly ministry of Jesus was not feeding the poor, healing the sick, casting out demons, or making the earthly lives of the Israelites better. His focus was preaching the gospel to bring people into the kingdom and then teaching them to observe all He commanded them, as He was going on His way to the cross to pay for their sins...in other words, making disciples. The mandate Christ gave to the church is to make disciples, and in doing so there will be all forms of ministry take place as the Spirit of Christ works out the life of Christ in and through His people. The Church is not, and never has been, a one size fits all in regards to its ministries.
The more mature the Christian the more sensitive they are to the Holy Spirit; and when under the Spirit's leading they don't have to be guilt whipped, guilt tripped, coerced, or manipulated. They will have the love and active compassion that will both compel and sustain a social justice ministry.
This was highlighted to me last fall when I was visiting a church in another city. The whole service was geared towards a particular social justice issue, from the stage props, the song selections, all the way through the sermon. It included cajoling, emotional appeals, and rank manipulation. The little bit of Scripture that was used was pulled out of context so badly that it had absolutely no application. Now, this particular church is admittedly a seeker oriented church. Their empahsis is on "reaching" the unbeliever, so they deliberately don't teach doctrine. When you are dealing with spiritually immature people at best, and dealing with people who have been led to believe that church is all about them, you are fighting against the selfishness that is ingrained in all of us; and the deck is pretty well stacked against you. That is why this church has to go to such a great lengths to get people involved in an issue that doesn't have to do with them. In addition to this, this was the social justice issue that the leaders of the church had chosen for their church, so they were having to "sell" it to the congregation.
The concern for social justice and the emphasis on developing a social consciousness is admirable, but, again, I think this is axiomatic in the maturation process of a Christian. More important, however, is the concern not just for the physical well-being of those less fortunate, but the spiritual well-being and eternal destiny of those same people. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world (to be well-fed, well-clothed, well-educated, have clean drinking water, have a roof over his head, be sickness free, free from civil war, and prosperous) if he loses his soul and dies the eternal death? What good is it for us to provide those things and not give them the bread of life and the living water of the Savior, so that they can be clothed in the eternal white robes of His righteousness? What good is it for them to have a roof over their head in this life, if they do not have a place prepared for them by Christ in the Father's mansion? We will do nothing but help them on their way to hell, better off physically, but still in spiritual famine, if we do not share the gospel with them as well. They will enter the gates of hell a well-fed, well-educated, and well-clothed pagan having no hope and the grimmest possible eternity.
This whole social consciousness movement has its roots and its catalyst in Bono, yes, that Bono. His concern for the plight of the Africans is admirable, but it is not a concern for their spiritual well-being, just a concern for their physical and social plight. As he has gone around the world using his celebrity status to bring attention to the ills in Africa, having concerts and meeting with the UN and national leaders(even Christian leaders), it has caused of wave of social concern that has made its way into the church. Now, again, I am not saying that we as the church should not be socially consciousness, on the contrary, we should be among the most socially conscious; but not at the expense or neglect of the gospel. The church, in way too many instances, has adopted and is operating in the spirit of Bono, not in the Spirit of Christ. When our concern is more for the physical and social welfare of the people rather than for their spiritual condition; when our concern is more for their temporal well-being rather than their eternal well-being, then we are operating in the spirit of Bono, and not in the Spirit of Christ. When physical and social concerns trump eternal concerns, the church has jumped on the wrong bandwagon, and it needs to wake up and get off.
My other concern about this social justice bandwagon is that it is fueled by being the in cause du jour, and when the next in cause comes along it will die a quick death. Then what witness will that leave for the church? Instead, let us get on the bandwagon of spiritual maturity, not of life change, but of Christ-likeness. Let us seek to walk in love, as He walked in love, and see what effects that has on our life, and our attitudes and actions towards others. Let our compassion be fueled by the love and compassion of Christ, and be guided by the Holy Spirit, in response to the calling of God and the assumption of the stewardship of a God given ministry.