When Mercy Ministries Become Justice Ministries

There is a growing trend in evangelical circles to re-brand mercy ministries as justice ministries. I recently came across this reality when I was asked for church recommendations in a different area. In my research, I came across a church with a justice ministry. Under this ministry there was everything from feeding the poor to adoption. Such ministries were once identified as mercy ministries, so why relabel them as justice ministries? What does this shift reveal about us?

web-justice-mercy-lisa-aiken-shutterstock_197111327.jpg

You may be wondering if this is even a big deal, and that’s a fair question. With the rise of social justice in our culture, mercy has taken a backseat. It is very hip to advocate for justice, and as Christians, we certainly should promote justice biblically defined. That’s the problem, much of the modern thinking around justice is manifestly unjust. Within Christianity, the problem is more subtle as we have blended mercy and justice together as evidenced with the current re-branding of mercy ministries.

Justice and mercy are both important to Christians. We must advocate for both without collapsing them upon each other. Justice is giving someone what they have earned, what they are due. Justice is based on merit.

Conversely, mercy forgoes merit and gives good to those who are undeserving. In a very real way, the two are opposites. It was only through a supernatural act of God that both justice and mercy were meet at the cross (Rom. 3.26). To make it plain, justice is something we can demand while mercy is something we have no right to whatsoever. It is the ability to demand justice which makes it more appealing today.

If we make feeding the poor an issue of justice instead of mercy, then we are saying the poor have the right to demand satisfaction. Moreover, they have the right to demand they receive what belongs to others. They can demand it be taken from others and given to them. Such an action violates the eighth commandment and is therefore unjust. Feeding the poor and adoption are acts of mercy, and there is nothing wrong with calling them that. We must remember, not all poverty is caused by a manifest injustice. It is true that some people become poor because of injustice, but it is also true that they may be poor because justice has been executed. Some people are poor because that is what they have earned (Prov. 6.9-11; 24.30-34). In a broken world, things are broken. Justice and mercy are both virtues Christians should support, but we must keep them distinct. If we confuse mercy and justice, we lose both.

What does this trend of mercy ministries becoming justice ministries tell us about ourselves? First, we have become bored with mercy. This is a dangerous place to be. We look at mercy and think it isn’t nearly as appealing as justice. Claims of justice have power behind them today, while mercy is swept aside. One reason for this is mercy requires transformed hearts who have tasted the mercy of God. God’s mercy motivates our mercy. Mercy appears more challenging than justice because we cannot demand it from others. Our indictment is that we are bored and uninspired by God’s mercy. We would rather demand justice than do the hard work of promoting mercy through transformed hearts. We are in a perilous place when we neglect mercy for justice, as our standing before God is based wholly on his grace given through Christ.

Second, this trend reveals our self-righteousness. When we cast out mercy and replace it with our redefinition of justice, it reveals a hideous self-righteousness. When mercy ministries become justice ministries, it reveals that we think we are the just ones who have the right to make outrageous demands on others. In a very real way, much of the modern social justice movement is fed by a modern-day Pharisaism seeking to keep the new woke-laws. We all feel our need for righteousness, and our inability to get it. This leaves us with only two options. We can either seek that righteous through our own ability, or we can receive it through God’s mercy. Too many evangelicals are infatuated with achieving a moral standing by meeting the demands of the woke-laws of our day. But these will never satisfy. We need an alien righteousness which comes from outside of us. We need Christ’s righteousness and we can only get that through the mercy of God.

Christians must be careful how we think and talk about both mercy and justice. Both reflect the character of God, but the two are distinct from one another. We must also ask ourselves, “Where am I seeking to get my righteousness from? God or man-made laws?” If we are truly finding our standing in the work of Christ, then mercy will become so much sweeter to us. Christians can and must hold onto both mercy and justice as distinct and wonderful reflections of the character of God.

By: Levi J. Secord

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT RIVERVIEW AND ITS MINISTRIES CLICK HERE!

Why I Wrote the Way I Did: A Response

My last post has received a fair amount of backlash and this warrants a further explanation of why I wrote what I did. I’m not above correction and apologizing when I get something wrong. Such actions are demanded of me as a Christian, and I am happy as a follower of Christ to do just that. But if I haven’t sinned or erred, then an apology would be both a mistake and unethical. Some of the critiques I’ve received have been fair and warrant a response.

Unknown-1.jpeg

I should start with some background. I love Christian education, and I have benefited greatly from it. There are few greater gifts in life than receiving a world-class Christian education. Conversely, there are few more dangerous things than receiving a pseudo-Christian education. Unfaithful Christianity is an all too common reality in Christian education. I have been a student at three different Christian institutions: Northwestern, Bethel Seminary, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I also recently started doctoral work in educational ministry. I have family, friends, and congregants with deep attachments to Bethel. I only wish the best for Bethel, but sometimes that means an institution needs to repent of its errors—it’s a two-way street.

Now being an alum of Northwestern, it would be fair to think I am biased against Bethel and blind to the problems of my own alma mater. Again, a fair point. Northwestern has its own issues, some even arising recently, that display its incessant desire to one-up its rival Bethel in the race toward unfaithfulness. In my four years at Northwestern, I spent two of those fighting for the faithfulness of Northwestern even to the point of formally stating no confidence in its president. I have paid the personal price in this fight before. I have count the cost, and I am still fighting. Moreover, I have sat with the parents and students of my church to talk through the particular challenges of attending Northwestern, Bethel, and other colleges. It is part of my job to shepherd my flock through the challenges of this life including higher education.

So why write as I did? Why was I so “harsh” toward Bethel? Here are five truths which motivated my original post.

  1. This behavior is a trend with Bethel. If the testimony of Mr. Johnson was an anomaly, then I wouldn’t have used the language I did about Bethel. The truth is, in theological circles, Bethel has a well-earned reputation of compromise and abandonment of faithful teachings. While in seminary at Bethel, I sat in a class where heretical views were advocated for as acceptable. Years ago the seminary graduated an openly gay student, effectually endorsing him for ministry. Bethel as a whole has had professors who have taught views including but not limited to the teaching that God doesn’t know the future. This past year Bethel hosted both a Snoop Dog concert and a seminar about the dangers of masculinity, talk about irony. This is only the tip of the iceberg. So why write such strong words? Because the trajectory of Bethel has been clear for years, and yet they advertise themselves as faithful to unsuspecting students and parents. The farther they go, the stronger the language needs to be to both call them to repentance and to alert parents and prospective students about Bethel’s current course.

  2. Teachers, and by extension schools, are held to a higher standard. As a preacher-teacher, I know that I will stand before God and be judged by a stricter standard because of the authority my position possesses. The same is true of universities and their professors. Parents send their children to Christian schools to be built up in the faith, and often what they receive is much less. When a professor, who should know better, endorses a bill which would limit the impact of the gospel in our state, strong words are necessary. It’s easy to shrug our shoulders and say, “That’s just Bethel being Bethel.” At some point, love demands we speak the truth.

  3. The future of the local church is at stake. We are at a watershed moment in our culture. The pressure for the Christian church to compromise on the issue of homosexuality is crushing. How we respond will determine the direction of Christianity in Minnesota and the entire country. Christian schools exist to train up the next generation of Christian leaders. But what we are training them to do? There is more at stake here than just religious freedom and counseling rights for today. What is at stake is the future faithful witness of Christ’s church in our community for decades to come.

  4. Reform only happens through conflict. It doesn’t take much for a school to drift away from the faith. Most private schools in America started as Christian, and most of them followed the same course of compromise with theological liberalism. As that liberalism spread most of them are no longer Christian. This is a well-documented reality in James Burtchaell’s book The Dying of the Light. Schools like Harvard and Princeton started as faithful Christian schools, and now they are openly hostile to Christ. This does not happen overnight. Drift happens slowly, as people refuse to speak up and ignore the obvious. The only way to counter this drift from faithfulness is for faithful Christians to speak up. My alma mater, Southern Seminary, went from being faithful to unfaithful back to faithfulness. They were so unfaithful at one point there were swinger couples openly on campus. How did it change? Local pastors sounded the alarm and year-by-year they faithfully worked to retake the seminary. And God rewarded their sacrifice and faithfulness. These pastors used strong words because they understood the importance of Christian education.

  5. Gospel-love toward homosexuals is at stake. If this bill passes, it will put up further barriers preventing Christians from reaching homosexuals with the gospel. Will that stop us? No. If no product or service can be sold in Minnesota that advocates for the change of homosexual/transgender behavior or feelings, then every Christian book which addresses this topic could be considered illegal. From the faithful testimonies of Christians who have come out of that lifestyle, like Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yaun, to the biblical counseling books that sit on my bookshelf, all of these could be impacted by this bill. Christians show love by pointing people to the life found in Christ. Life is given through repentance and faith. This is conversion. If HF 12 becomes law, it criminalizes expressions of Christian love toward those who may need it most. How can any Christian support that? When it comes to issues of defending the gospel and showing love to the lost, strong words are warranted. This is doubly true when those bearing the name of Christ use their position to thwart the gospel. Jesus reserved his harshest words for religious people who stood in the way of the gospel (Matt. 23.1-36; John 8.39-47), and I think we should all want to be more like him. If only, Jesus would have gotten the message that harsh words aren’t very Christlike.

As I stated in my first post, I pray for Mr. Johnson and Bethel. I take no joy in calling them out, but as a preacher of God’s word in their community, it is a demand of my job. I hope Bethel responds with a clear rejection of HF 12. If they do so, then I will be there cheering them on and supporting them however I can. That is my prayer, and it is what I strive toward.


By: Levi J. Secord

Minnesota's Attack On Religious Liberty (With Help From Bethel)

A bill is making its way through the Minnesota legislator that limits both free speech and religious liberty. Most Minnesotans haven’t heard of the bill, but all Christians in Minnesota should be concerned. The bill, House File 12 or the Mental Health Protections Act, aims to ban “conversion therapy,” or therapy which seeks to help those struggling with same-sex attraction or gender confusion to practice traditional sexuality. A bill like this is designed to silence any opposition to the current LGBTQ movement, especially religious opposition. If passed, this bill would limit the constitutional freedoms of all Minnesotans.

msc_webpage_hero.jpg

Some may protest, “Doesn’t conversion therapy use abusive practices on patients?” While it is true that some secular psychologists in the past have used harmful methods to treat homosexuality and other disorders, but this is no longer the standard practice. All Christians should oppose the use of physically abusive tactics on anyone, especially the vulnerable. If HF 12 only meant to ban abusive psychological practices, then there wouldn’t be cause for alarm. Unfortunately, this bill aims to ban all attempts by licensed counselors to promote traditional sexuality.

HF 12 prohibits all attempts from licensed professionals to help someone struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction to leave those desires behind even if they want that help. HF 12 makes it a criminal offense to offer the Christian sexual ethic as an alternative to homosexuality for all licensed counselors. In effect, it would be impossible for a faithful Christian to be a licensed counselor in the state of Minnesota. Christian counselors would have to choose between Christ and their job. Such a bill infringes on the constitutional rights of faithful Christian counselors. And barely any of us know about it.

It isn’t only licensed counselors threatened, HF 12 also limits the free speech of all Minnesotans by banning the sale of anything that promotes conversion from homosexuality to traditional sexuality. HF 12 prohibits the sale of any material, including books and conferences, that intend to “change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors and gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.” Under this bill, anything for sale which promotes biblical repentance in response to homosexuality would be considered illegal. To ban conversion is to ban Christianity. The heart of the Christian religion is a call for everyone to leave their sins behind and to follow Christ, even and especially sexual sins. This is conversion, and without it, there is no faithful Christianity.

How can anyone argue for such a bill in light of the First Amendment? The only answer is that for many individuals freedom of speech and religion takes a backseat to the LGBTQ agenda. Our progressive overlords will not tolerate any dissent on this issue. This is tyranny. Without the freedom of dissent, there are no other freedoms.

While this bill is not receiving much attention, it is vital Christians know about it. Even if you do not support conversion therapy, all Christians should support the rights of others to voice dissent without fear of legal repercussions. Christians should stand united in opposition against this bill. Sadly, there are already traitors in our midst.

At a recent committee hearing on HF 12, a local Christian professor from Bethel University spoke in support of the bill. Andy Johnson, a professor of psychology at Bethel, emphatically argued in support of this bill. Christians, please note the actions of this supposed Christian professor as they are not an anomaly. As the next generation of American Christians compromise on this issue, this will be one of the reasons why—unfaithful Christian schools have encouraged it. Here is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and he is funded by unwitting Christian students and parents. A professor like this, and schools who enable them, are actively undermining faithful Christianity.

It would be easy just to blame Bethel, but it is Christian parents and students who subsidize and enable this apostasy by paying tuition to Bethel and similar “Christian” schools. We are sending our children to Baal and paying him to corrupt them. If you or your children attend this school, I suggest you let Bethel’s administration hear from you. I pray for this man and Bethel to repent of their wickedness. You can watch his testimony here (Starting at 31:50). I also encourage you to watch the powerful testimony of those who have gone through conversion therapy and left behind the life of homosexuality in the same video (starting at 1:19:25).

If this bill becomes law, it not only violates the First Amendment, but it also places faithful Christians on a collision course with the State Government. If this bill passes, our state will have successfully limited the rights of its citizens. If this bill passes, it will be an infamous day in Minnesota’s political history, and that is saying something. I encourage Christians around the state to contact their state representatives and express their concerns over this bill. It hasn’t passed yet, so there is still time to act.

There will be more to come on this topic, and I will keep you updated. If you want more information, check out the Minnesota Family Council’s work on this bill here.

By: Levi J. Secord

UPDATE 3/7/2019:

I never imagined this post would receive so much attention. I have received a lot positive feedback and a good amount of negative feedback. Some of the critiques have been fair, and I seek to answer those critiques in the following post. I ask you carefully read my reasons linked below:

https://www.riverviewbaptist.net/pastor-levis-blog/2019/3/6/why-i-wrote-the-way-i-did-a-response

Murder on the Senate Floor

Yesterday in the United States Senate, a bill failed to get the necessary sixty votes to advance to a final vote. This bill requires doctors to give life-saving medical treatment to children born alive after a failed abortion. The bill got 53 votes in favor, 44 against, and three non-votes. On the surface, this may appear to be more politics as usual, but we are far beyond usual at this point. Protecting born infants should not be a controversial topic—we are talking living children outside the womb! In this bill, there is no conflict concerning a “woman’s body,” and her rights as the child is now outside of the mother’s body. The only female bodies in danger are those of newborn women left to die alone. To stand against protecting newborns denies science, morality, and common decency. With the failure of this bill, the United States sanctions the murder of infants, and one party celebrates it.

Politics_Congress.jpg

It is hard to put into words how wretched, wicked, and evil such actions are, but this is America in 2019. Our politics have so consumed us we can’t even agree newly born children have the right to live. How blind and wicked we are! We treat the most helpless in our society as being less than human simply because one party wishes to protect the goddess of abortion. They are willing to sacrifice our children at the altar of choice. The political left is complicit in the murder of newborn children. Some may object that issue is complicated, but really it isn’t. This is murder, and it is reprehensible. There is no moral justification for such wickedness.

The same party which passed a law requiring every American get health insurance refuses to give healthcare to dying babies. The same party which trumpets healthcare as a human right refuses to give healthcare to the most vulnerable humans. And they celebrate their wickedness as a sign of how far we have come from the prior dark ages. Any illusion that we are morally superior to prior generations is both laughable and twisted. For all their faults, prior generations would not have stood in a doctor’s room and allowed babies to die alone. Wicked. Evil. Wretched. Inexcusable.

The real travesty here is not only what our Senate failed to do, but that this evil will soon be forgotten. Our national conscience is so blackened and seared that in a few days we will almost certainly forget about all of this. We will move on and express outrage about lesser things like the look on a young man’s face, or someone who slipped up and said the wrong thing twenty years ago. We are constantly reminded such wrongs cannot stand, all-the-while we allow infants to die alone. As a people, we have swallowed the camel and strained out the gnat.

The real shame on our nation is this our politics as usual, and we will treat it as such. The real wickedness is that we the people allow our representatives to act in such a way. The real evil here is that we will not hold them accountable for the murder of our most innocent and defenseless. The real scandal is Christians will be told by their leaders there are other issues we also must concern ourselves with and we must not be single-issue individuals. This will all happen while our country murders children under the legal protection of our government. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

This type of sin is truly reprehensible, but even now God is willing to forgive those who repent. Even now he extends his hand in an offer of total clemency to everyone from the senator, to the abortion doctor, and to mothers who have had abortions. God is in the business of totally forgiving sinners, but repentance must come first. There is grace for the humble and brokenhearted. As a people, we must renounce these vile actions as an attack on the image of God which is found in every man, woman, and child. God offers forgiveness, but first we must humble ourselves.

To our leaders who voted against this bill, I solemnly warn you as a preacher of God’s word, you will be held accountable before the Almighty God. On that day, none of your justifications will matter. You will not live forever, and one day you will stand before the Lord of righteousness, and he will execute justice upon you. I plead with you not to fear the wrath of the voters but fear the wrath of Almighty God of the universe. He will rightly condemn you for your evil slaughter of children. God sees, he knows, and he will judge. Fear Him. Stop your vile oppression and turn to Christ for forgiveness. If you do not, God’s righteous judgment will fall heavily upon you. On that day, there will be cheering, but it will not be your cheering. God’s people and all creation will rejoice as God executes perfect and eternal justice. Man is left without excuse, so you must turn from your evil ways!

Senators, know this day is coming, and it will come sooner than you like. Americans, know the Day of Judgment is also coming for you. How will you self-govern in light of that day and this travesty? How will you answer the Lord on that day? Let us mourn our national sin and respond by renouncing it through repentance. Then and only then can any of us find life in Christ. He and he alone is the only hope in the face of such moral darkness. He will bring with him an eternal kingdom of righteousness and justice. That day is coming for us all.

By: Levi J. Secord

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT RIVERVIEW AND ITS MINISTRIES CLICK HERE!

The Sin of Uncertainty

God is merciful to those who have doubts. The Christian faith is not scared of uncertainties. There are tough questions we all wrestle with and Christianity provides answers. Faith though does not start with doubt, but with trust in who God is and what he has said. Faith seeks to understand while knowing that some things we will never know. There are limits on our knowledge, but we can know many things rightly as image bearers. While we may have questions, faith doesn't elevate uncertainty as a virtue. Faith doesn’t build entire systems of thought around post-modern uncertainty.

Recently, I was on a panel discussing the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Inspiration is a core belief of the Christian church because without it there is no foundation for knowing anything at all. Without it, we quickly drift into prideful uncertainty. Without a high view of Scripture, we look at uncertainty as a sign of humility. We elevate uncertainty in the face of clear revelation as a virtue.

Uncertainty makes sense for unbelievers. Without God, there is no way to make sense of his world at all. Without God, there is no foundation for truth, knowledge, or meaning. Without God, man ironically becomes certain in our uncertainty. But what I found on the panel discussing Scripture was uncertainty praised and embraced by those who have a clear word from God.

2t3j0i.jpg

The uncertainty of the world must not be shared by Christians. Not only does God exist, but he has revealed himself in Scripture so that we can know him. In Scripture, God gives us a written record of propositional truths to build our lives upon. To look at that revelation and respond with smug uncertainty is sin. It is akin to the three-year-old who puts his fingers in his ears and pronounces, "I can't hear you!" Uncertainty in the face of revealed truth is not humility. It’s defiant arrogance. It’s sin. When Christians accept such thinking, they are leaning into the sinful attitudes of our day.

God gave us Scripture so that we may have real knowledge of him and have that knowledge with certainty. The Bible repeats this idea again and again. Luke writes "It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught" (Luke 1.3-4). Peter echoes this certainty in his second letter as he stresses certainty is rooted in the Scriptures. He writes, "And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1.19-20). These are two of dozens of examples where the Bible directs us to itself for certainty. Christian, praise the Lord that he has not left you to yourself but has in his mercy spoken so that you may rightly know him!

Doubt isn't the problem; it's how we handle doubt. Lack of understanding isn't the problem, there are hard parts of the Bible difficult to understand. Faith knows this, but faith seeks understanding through trusting God and wrestling with our doubts. Again, this is why God gave us his written word, that we might know him in a saving way with a humble certainty. A certainty characterized by a reliance on God, not our intellectual prowess. A certainty grounded in God's own words, not our experiences. A certainty which is humble enough to submit to the authority of God's word. A faith which knows that certainty in uncertainty is not humility; rather it is sinful arrogance. All of this is based on the truth that God has spoken to his creation in the Holy Scriptures. Christian, build your life on this and be certain that you can know God rightly through his word. We must reject today’s certainty of uncertainty by submitting to the authority of God’s Word.


By: Levi J. Secord