Liberation: The Heart of the Christian Gospel

Certainly, we may define “bondage” quite differently in this progressive age in which we seemingly, at times, coexist, bringing together diverse cultures, traditions, and religious beliefs. We appear to have reached a very comfortable state of “post-ness.” Catch phrases and “buzz words” such as Post Modern, post 911 and post racial are just a few in an unending list characterizing the extent of our growth beyond and, in many instances in spite of, the circumstances that have over time represented pitfalls, potholes, mountains, valleys, and other obstacles towards progress.

Theologically, liberation, at the very epicenter of Christianity, represents a movement that attempts to interpret Scripture through the plight of those in “bondage.” Liberation as a theological movement asserts that true followers of Jesus must strive toward a just society. He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8). We are challenged to bring about social and political change, and align ourselves with the working class. Jesus, who was poor Himself, “but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7), focused on the poor and downtrodden. To follow Christ, we are charged, if we claim legitimacy as a church, to give preference to those who have historically been marginalized or deprived of their rights. As such, church doctrine should grow out of the perspective of the poor and disenfranchised. Certainly then, defending the rights of those in bondage is viewed as the central aspect of the gospel.

An example of how liberation theology views Scripture through the lens of the poor and destitute can be seen in Luke 1:52–53. Mary praises the Lord, saying, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones / but has lifted up the humble. / He has filled the hungry with good things / but has sent the rich away empty.” According to liberation theology, Mary is expressing joy that God has liberated the materially poor and fed the physically hungry while bringing down the materially rich. He is a God, in other words, who favors the destitute over those with wealth.

In an ever changing society, the Word of God remains the only constant. God has not wavered in His central message professing a liberated existence for all. Beginning with His conversation with Moses, at the edge of the desert, after introducing himself as the God of his fathers, God made plain His concern for liberation. God let Moses know that He had seen the deep sorrows of His people suffering oppression at the hands of a cold, calculated task master. God had heard the cry of the oppressed rising to Him in heaven and assured Moses that He, the sovereign God, fully intended to bring relief to those in bondage.

Old Testament prophets support the notion of liberation theology. Malachi, for example, in the third chapter 5th verse, warns of God’s judgment on those who oppress the working man, admonishing “I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against . . . those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah 58:6 asks, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?” Jeremiah 7:6 serves notice that, “if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” Zechariah 7:10, requires that we “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart Against his brother.” Jesus’ words in Luke 4:18 show His compassion for the oppressed: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”

We have been shocked by the level of violence man has leveled against man. We are killing each other daily. We have witnessed the senseless shootings of unarmed African American men by police officers. Technology has provided a gruesome look at the callousness and seeming wanton disregard for human life. We have protested violently and non-violently. Still, there is no end to the tragedy.

The church is not to remain silent. We cannot just sit idly by. Jesus in Matthew 10:34 promotes the idea that the church should be involved in activism as we are reminded “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus, according to liberation theology, pushed not for social stability but for social unrest.

The Bible certainly teaches followers of Christ to care for the poor. “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (James 2:15-16). But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17). We are challenged to speak out against injustice.

Social action is critical; however, it cannot be viewed as being on equal footing with the gospel message. Yes, reaching out to the poor, feeding the hungry is important; however it cannot take the place of the gospel of Christ. The church must take action but we cannot just throw finances at the problem of injustice. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6).

Make no mistake about it; the atrocities we have witnessed only confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt, mankind’s primary need is spiritual, not social. What we desperately need is “a little more Jesus!” Thank God the gospel is for all people. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. (Luke 2:10). Visitors to the Christ Child included both shepherds and magi; both groups were welcome. God does not assign special status to any group. No group is to be perceived as being preferred by God. God does not discriminate. Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. (Acts 10:34–35). Christ brings unity to His church, not division along socio-economic, racial, or gender lines. “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16).

Liberation is at the very heart of Christianity. As true followers of Jesus we are called to strive toward a just society. Liberation must begin at home. We are challenged to free our own minds in order that we have a clearer view of what God expects of us. Yes, we are certainly in this world, but we are admonished not to be of this world. We are to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your (our) mind, that you (we) may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). God, who has a greater stake in ministry than we could ever have, promises, “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

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