Principles of Social Justice
There is a great deal
of overlap between the areas of social justice and civil
government (legislation, judicial, executive, and political). To
a great extent, civil government determines whether social
justice can be implemented because it has earthly power to
determine what is and is not done in society. Ideally, the
government allows freedom to pursue all Biblically legitimate
activities. However, there are currently many legal restrictions
to this pursuit And, state welfare (man’s wrongly devised system
to help all the “poor”) has taken over much of what has been the
individual’s and church’s responsibility. “Welfare” now receives
the largest portion of federal and state expenditure. As such,
welfare is about power and control by persons with the power of
the sword, not about Biblical, social justice. Before much of
what follows can be done, legislation would have to be passed
gradually to eliminate all government oversight and funding of
1. Definition of
The Biblical definition of social
justice is the comprehensive application of Biblical law, love,
mercy, justice, and equity to all levels of government: self,
family, voluntary groups, churches, and state (local, state, and
national). Social justice cannot be considered without
explicit attention to these Biblical areas. Love without law
has no direction, and law without love punishes without mercy.
The Biblical background for what follows here is critical to its
Summary Principles and Discussion of
Law, Love, Mercy, etc.
is a humanistic term for social justice that has no guidelines
and is only implemented according to the power of the giving
organization, whether civil government or private. Sociology has
no governing principles to determine what should be done or
whether what is done is right or wrong.
2. Definition of
No nation is truly civilized
which is not, in some measure, being directed by Biblical
justice. In fact, no nation or culture can continue to exist
without consciously or unconsciously being governed with some
consistency by the rule of Biblical justice. Definitions of
civilization, then, must include this concept of social justice.
3. Christians and
churches have a duty to seek social justice.
The Creation and Cultural
Mandates, The Great Commission, and The Ten Commandments all
include the call of Christians, their families, and churches to
the task of social justice in all its various forms. The
proclamation of “The Gospel” is incomplete without the full
application of all these mandates. The primary group, to whom
Biblical justice should be directed, are the “powerless”: the
widow, the orphan, and the fatherless, but Biblical justice
includes everyone in a society. Who is or is not included in
these Biblical directives need to be determined by the modern
church. The failure of Christians and churches to address all
social evils in their times of history is their failure to be
salt and light worthy of being trampled underfoot (Matthew
4. No conflict.
Rightly understood within a
complete Biblical worldview, there is no conflict in what is
right for individuals, families, churches, social groups, and
state governments at all levels. That is not to say that the
resolution of any conflict in these areas will be simple, but
God’s law by the unity of Himself can never conflict with His
5. The role of civil
government (the state).
The role of the state is “to
reward good and punish evil” (Romans 13:1-5). This role includes
military and police action to catch, place on trial, and punish
perpetrators of crimes among individuals and treason against the
state (except when mandated by a “lesser magistrate“ against an
evil regime). The state is to maintain a military capable of
national defense and employ it for self-defense and in just
wars. The state has a role in public health that should be
careful not to intrude on private lives and property without
clear warrant that the health of its citizens are in danger from
an epidemic or toxic substances.
The civil government
can legislate (affect) moral behavior.
While the civil government, by legislation, cannot cause
its people to behave morally, its laws do greatly affect
their behavior. For example, laws that set speed limits restrain
drivers who fear the penalties of “getting caught.” More
importantly, laws that limit divorce to Biblical standards and
have severe penalties for non-support of the family by the
offending spouse have a great influence on keeping families
intact. Moreover, all laws are legislated morals that come from
some philosophy, worldview, or religion. For more on laws and
morality, see Summary Principles of Civil Government to be
written next. Link.
In “rewarding good and punishing
evil,” the state is responsible to create a free society in
which anyone may pursue gainful employment or be self-employed
to the extent of his or her abilities and opportunities. Within
this freedom, all measures of social justice can be pursued.
The state has no role in what is
commonly called “welfare” of all kinds, including the provision
of medical care. This role has been assigned by God to
individuals, families, churches, and voluntary social
The cost of the
violation of Biblical principles.
Intrusion of the state into God’s design of welfare will always
fail and be costly in lives and expense. The trillions of
dollars spent in the United States in the “war on poverty” has
not improved the lot of any class of people (except the
bureaucrats who administer it). It has been destructive to
economic growth and has violated the property rights of
8. The poor defined.
The Bible defines the “poor” in
three ways. (1) Those who are “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)
whether they have earthly needs or great prosperity. (2) Those
who are destitute of earthly needs and possessions, yet who
are willing to work and better themselves, “those who are
bowed down… the righteous” (Psalm 146:5-9) Also, see Job
5:11-16; Psalm 10:17-18, Psalm 103:6, Psalm 109:30-31, Psalm 140:12.
These could be called the “deserving poor.” They are to receive
charity and help towards responsible provision of themselves and
their families. (3) Those who are destitute of earthly needs and
possessions who are not willing to work and better themselves.
They “waste opportunities (Proverbs 6:9-11), bring poverty on
themselves (Proverbs 10:4), are victims of self-inflicted
bondage (Proverbs 12:24), and are unable to accomplish anything
in life (Proverbs 15:19.” While these should be given every
opportunity and assistance to change, “subsidizing sluggards is
the same as subsidizing evil. It is subsidizing dependence…
slavery.” (Quotes and ideas are from George Grant, In the
Shadow of Plenty, [Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1986), pages 52-55.)
For more on the “unwilling to work” poor, see Dalrymple under
The great failure of
Christians and the church: individual and family responsibility
to receive physical goods and service.
One great failure of modern Christians and the Church is to
require responsible behavior of the recipients of its welfare.
The Apostle Paul said, “If anyone will not work, neither shall
he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). This little phrase has powerful
and far-reaching implications. In our day, Carl F. H. Henry
said, “We urgently need a comprehensive social ethic whose
Scriptural content protects justice from subtle compromises with
benevolence” (Aspects of …, page 155)
First, recipients must
be determined whether they are able to work or not. Certainly,
those who are completely disabled may receive charity, even
though they are not able to work. However, the large majority of
people are able to perform some kind of work. What work they do
requires creativity on the part of the givers. For those who do
not work, and therefore do not eat, obviously, they will die.
But, then again, perhaps their hunger will drive them to work!
But, the central message of Paul’s statement is that non-workers
are not to be provided physical help without limit.
“Harsh, cruel,” you
say. Here the Bible-believing Christian errs in a major way:
if God said it, we are to obey! You cannot argue that this
example is “unloving.” There is never any conflict between
God’s law and His requirement of love. This subject has been
covered on this site in considerable and necessary detail
here. The violation of
this unity of law and love has been costly beyond measure in
dollars and lives.
9. Love vs. state
Some Christians have defended
government welfare as “charity.” That concept is a violent
distortion of God’s directions of love. Love, by anyone’s
definition, is uncoerced except as a duty of conscience within
individuals and groups owed to God Himself. Taxes that are used
for welfare (whether for food, shelter, clothing, medical care,
“aid to dependent children,” etc.) are taken by armed force,
“the power of the sword.” By no stretch of any consistent
reasoning or Biblical hermeneutic can “welfare” by civil
government be considered “charity.”
10. Equity and
legislative law in establishing state justice.
Certainly, social justice
requires the development and application of Biblical law and its
equity at all levels of state government. See
Government, Law, and Politics.
Judges and justice.
of justice that apply to wrongs that can be committed among
individuals, families, and groups is virtually unlimited.
Therefore, judges are needed to settle these disputes and
discern matters of pertinent law. In general, and perhaps in all
particulars, these disputes are not crimes against the state.
The state should only be involved where the two or more parties
are unable to work out restitution or a fair settlement. The
Church (inclusive of all) must be diligent to settle problems
among its members without government help. (I Corinthians
6:1-7). Settlements should be restitution of loss, and in some
cases where severity or repetition of wrongs occurs, restitution
may exceed several-fold the loss incurred.
Physical harm or death.
Where severe physical harm occurs, the civil state must be
involved to adjudicate cases. Those principles will be developed
under state Civil Government.
11. Availability of
materials, resources, and resourcefulness.
The concept of limited
resources in many discussions about social justice is a
misnomer. God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the
earth.” By reasonable measures, the earth can support far more
people than now exist on planet earth. New “resources” are
discovered continually, and man has great ingenuity to make
present resources last longer, create new technologies that
require different resources, and use technology to discover and
produces new resources. Problems of “limited resources” are
often those created by civil government through tariffs, subsidy
payments, restriction on (moral) research and development, and
other measures that impede the free market and freedom of men to
discover and create new technology and resources.
12. Ownership of
The Eighth Commandment, “You
shall not steal,” establishes ownership of property. More on
this subject will be found in
Summary Principles of Economics.
13. The family:
education and evangelism.
The most important aspect of
social justice is education of children from infancy to
adulthood, under the authority of the family primarily, and
under the Church secondarily. God’s primary method of evangelism
is from one generation of Christian families to the next. The
husband and father is the most important person in this process.
Historically, Christians allowed John Dewey, Horace Mann, and
others to promote the idea of the formal education of children
being the responsibility of the state. Many of the problems that
the family faces today are the consequences of that mistake. See
Summary Principles of Education, to be developed later on this
The family is the basic
unit of society.
The family is the most basic unit and foundation for any
society. The stability and morality of society is directly
correlated with the soundness of the family unit and its
protection by the civil government. The father is the head of
the family with his wife and children under his authority,
protection, and provision. Most of the problems of modern day
America can be attributed to wrong ideas and practices
concerning the family. Most of the huge federal and state
budgets are an attempt to “help” individuals and families
damaged by these wrong ideas and practices.
The Biblical family is
the only family approved of God.
The Biblical family consists of a man and a woman married to
each other for life (except for the Biblical reasons for
divorce: sexual infidelity and desertion) and any children that
the marriage brings. The family is intergenerational, with
responsibilities of children to parents and parents to children.
14. A culture
determines its social justice.
The prevailing worldview
(thought-system, ethic, ethics, philosophy, religion, etc.) of a
culture determines both the laws that it makes at every level of
civil government and the morals that it practices among its
people. Since its foundation, the United States has been
steadily moving away from the Biblical principles upon which
state laws, The Declaration of Independence, and the
Constitution, as well as, the morality of its people at the time
were based. The only methods by which this decline can be
overcome is by evangelism that produces
education, and obedience.
15. The greatest
social reform in world history has been regeneration by the Holy
Spirit and obedience to Jesus Christ.
Most of the "good" (as Biblically defined) that mankind has
experienced was caused by the regeneration and obedience of
God’s people through God’s great plan of salvation in Jesus
Christ. This "good” includes capitalism, civil liberties,
abolition of the slave trade, abolition of human sacrifice,
world exploration, elevation of women, the Renaissance, and
Reformation, and representative government that is limited in
its laws and promotes freedom. For all these to be “good,” they
must be Biblical consistent. That mankind is able to pervert
every one of these “goods” to ungodly purposes is just more
evidence of his depravity.
One particular of this “great good” is the opportunity for
everyone to have a basic education or more. There is no other
philosophy of life or religion in the history of mankind that
has supplied a similar impetus for universal education. The
underlying premise is that everyone should learn to read in
order to learn God’s Word.
Rights are discussed under
Civil Government. However, it needs to be said here that rights are
defined by Biblical standards, not by civil legislation. Those
interested in social justice should not define rights in terms
of human need, but rights as God has defined them. While civil
government has the responsibility to protect God-given rights,
it does not define them. Most “rights” now defined by social
activists and enacted by legislation and adjudication are not
priorities in social actions.
Christians’ priorities in social
responsibility are first to themselves and their own family (I
Thessalonians 4:11-12; I Timothy 5:8), then to those of the
“household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), and then to all others
18. What is to be
provided in social responsibility.
Assistance to others includes
only those basics that are necessary to the sustenance of life:
food, shelter, and clothing. There is no obligation to bring all
households up to some arbitrary economic standard or equality of
wages (except as employers have moral duties to their own
employees - see
Larger Catechism, Q/A
123-133). In today’s world, however, basics may be slightly
broader than in the past, for example, access to, or provision
of, certain utilities (water, sewage, electricity, etc.) and
limited medical care.
19. Christians have
great opportunities for social change.
Christians have a great
opportunity to effect social change through instruction of their
children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This
instruction must include systematic theology and worldview
(ethical) concepts. Their next greatest opportunity is to
understand their own vocations in the light of Biblical ethics.
Beyond, that they may have specific opportunities through
ministries implemented by themselves, their families, their
churches, or voluntary organizations.
20. Genetic and
environmental causes of immorality and crime.
Those true (Biblical) injustices
that exist in society are due to man’s inherently sinful nature
and his failure to understand and apply Biblical standards of
justice. God created the physical universe and declared it
“good.” Therefore, the immoralities and crimes within society
are not physically, but spiritually caused. The physical
environment of poverty and exposure to frequent immoral and
criminal activity in one’s neighborhood may incline a person
towards those evils, but this environment does not inevitably
force one into that lifestyle and does not absolve him or her of
In the same manner, a
“respectable” and socially upscale neighborhood may not
inculcate any greater moral (Biblical) values than the “poor"
neighborhood. The problem is not the physical universe, but the
spiritual condition and immoral education that he learns.
21. The Bible knows
nothing of racism.
The only criterion for the full
benefits of church membership and the blessings that God gives
especially to His children is belief in Jesus Christ is
regeneration, evidenced by belief in Jesus Christ as fully God
and the only Savior from man’s sins. Any racial bias, including
the marriage of one race with another, is Biblically wrong and
inimical to the oneness of true Christian unity everywhere.
22. Commandments 5-10.
Commandments 5-9 are the greatest
summary of all social responsibilities that men and women have
to each other in all their relationships. Commandment 10
is where sins of these other five commandments begin. These commandments are
fully explained by all the other Biblical commandments and
principles. Jesus summarized them under “loving one’s neighbor
as himself.“ One comprehensive explanation of Commandments 5-10
are Questions and Answers 122-148 of
Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of
The greatest social evil of
modern times is abortion, now legalized by the civil government
at the international, federal, state, and local levels. Failure
to agree that abortion is Biblically immoral is to bring one’s
testimony of salvation into question. Christians and churches
should be supportive of, or involved in, activities change the
laws that promote this great evil and the social institutions
that directly minister to prevent abortions and support
Historical connection with capital punishment. The
legalization of abortion did not happen in a vacuum. A
giant step towards this legalization was the downgrade of
capital offenses to "life imprisonment." This downgrade is
actually a degradation of the value of human life, “ Whoever
sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the
image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:6). Capital
punishment is the most severe retribution that can be enacted by
man on earth, because murder blots out forever, in history,
God's image in the person murdered. That is, murder
strikes at the highest value of human life, its being made in
the image of God!
Theodore Dalrymple is a
physician who has spent his life working in London with the
“down and out.“ While he is not a Christian, his insights are
provocative. His entertaining and engaging style is a side
benefit to his writings. For example, one of his books is
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
(Ivan R. Dee, 2001).
George Grant, In the
Shadow of Plenty, [Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1986). Entire text
may be found online
here. You will need to
click on “Authors” in left hand column and find the title under
the author’s name.
Carl F. H. Henry,
Aspects of Christian Social Ethics (Baker Book House, 1964).