Recent images and reports of the shootings and killings of black bodies in the United States have once again riveted the souls of many. In many black and brown communities, and in the diverse ethnic communities that stand with them, the shootings and deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd confirm the lines in a popular 1980s song, “That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.”
As pastors of the same multi-ethnic congregation in Louisville, Kentucky, we long for our fellow pastors and fellow brothers and sisters in our city to remember the hope of the gospel during this time of suffering and sorrow, for the good news of Jesus Christ is still the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). This gospel is centered on Jesus’s death for sinners and his physical resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15). This gospel explains that God through Christ will justify sinners by faith, reconcile them to himself, and deliver them from his future wrath (Rom. 5:6–10). This gospel also explains that Jesus died to reconcile sinners to God and to each other into one new humanity (Eph. 2:11–22).
Push Back the Darkness
This gospel emphasizes that if sinners repent and turn from their sins, follow Jesus, and submit every area of their lives to him as Lord, Savior, and as the Christ, then they will inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 3:1–4:17; 5:17–21; Mark 1:15–16; Acts 2:14–41). This gospel tells us if we confess with our hearts that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead, then sinners will be saved from God’s wrath (Rom. 10:8–9).
We pray our fellow pastors and brothers and sisters in Christ would realize this for ourselves and make known to our cities how the gospel fuels our response to social ills. The gospel compels us to preach, obey, and to think seriously, carefully, wisely, responsibly, and creatively about the many social injustices facing churches, neighborhoods, and communities in our cities.
We pray that the gospel will compel all gospel-believing Christians in Louisville and beyond to saturate our preaching, teaching, ministries, and discipleship in God’s Word. With the gospel and God’s Word as our foundation, in the power of the Spirit, we can give our brothers and sisters in Christ the necessary spiritual resources and skills to advance God’s kingdom in a society marred by sin and to push back the darkness of the societal injustices all around us. This gospel tells us that God through Christ’s death and resurrection promises to restore creation (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 65:17–25; Rom. 5:1–8:39; Gal. 6:15; Rev. 19:1–22:21)
Demands for Justice
As pastors in Louisville, Kentucky, we grieve Breonna Taylor’s death, and we lament with her family and friends, and for our city. As a gospel people, we lead people to walk in the Spirit in “a straightforward manner in the truth of the gospel” and by no means fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 2:14; 5:16–26; see also Eph. 2:11–3:10). We lead people to remember that our cries for justice must be grounded in Jesus’s wrath-bearing, cosmic-disarming and cosmic redemptive death and resurrection (Rom. 5:6–10; 8:18–39; Col. 1–2). As a gospel people, we lead our church to root our cries for justice in God’s vision of the one new man for whom Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead (Eph. 2:11–22), as we use God’s common-grace resources to pursue justice (Rom. 13).
We teach our church to live in the present evil age in a manner worthy of our Christian calling and in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:1–5:20; Phil. 1:27), to reject the wicked behavior of the world (1 John 2:15–17), and, whenever possible in ways consistent with the Scriptures, to “strive side by side” with fellow believers for the hope of the gospel as a bright light in a dark world (Phil. 1:27). We teach our church to imitate God and Christ’s love for his people and for our neighbors as we seek to serve the people of God and as we seek to love our neighbors as ourselves (Phil. 2:1–10; see also Gal. 5:13–14; Eph. 4:1–5:20).
As pastors, we teach our church that we must submit ourselves, our pain, our despair, our anger, and our aspirations for justice to God everyday and resist the Devil everyday so that he will flee from us (James 4:7), as we lament either injustice or delayed justice and unapologetically stand for the cause of justice and truth in the power of the Spirit. We teach people to put on the full armor of God as we seek to take every societal evil captive in Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:11–18; 2 Cor. 10:5).
One of the articles in The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, a theological confession from our theological tradition, declares the following:
All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice. . . . Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends, Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the Spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and his truth. (Article XV: The Christian and the Social Order)
May the Lord Jesus Christ give his people strength and wisdom in our city to do these things in the power of the Spirit as many pray for, long for, and work for justice for Taylor, for our city, and for our children in generations yet to come.
There are many practical ways churches in Louisville and beyond can do this. We pray, lament, empathize, listen, teach, and raise up leaders who will act and speak up for the vulnerable with biblically and theologically informed truth and love. We seek reconciliation and justice, educate each other about the history of our cities, and speak grace and truth to our city leaders.
Lord, have mercy.
First published 30.05.20: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/gospel-justice-city/