Trinity students are active in the communities around campus, and one of the most fascinating opportunities for service has been in the under-resourced community of North Chicago. A group of students, calling themselves Faith Alive, has decided to relocated to the neighborhood to bring their skills and compassion for a long-term commitment to the area. About 15 percent of the people in North Chicago live below the poverty line, and 18 percent of children do. The challenges there are real.
But there are also spiritual challenges that face people engaging in this type of Christian service. The pride of making a difference, the drive to accomplish tasks without taking Sabbath rest, or elevating practice too highly over belief—these are all spiritual obstacles that face Christians called to practice their faith by serving the marginalized.
Earlier this week, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Professor of Pastoral Theology Steven Roy spoke with the undergraduate students from Faith Alive and others from around campus who are interested in working for social justice while they study at Trinity.
The Christian life is about worship, Roy said. “It is one of the highest priorities of the Christian life.” We are created and redeemed to worship God, who is worthy of our ultimate honor and service. As Romans 12:1 says, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”
This act of worship plays out in the life of the Christian life in a broad and narrow sense, Roy said. The narrow form of worship is the explicitly God-centered activities—corporate worship with the body of Christ, prayer, or Scripture reading. The broad sense is the worship we do in the rest of our lives, through obedient service as students, employees, sons and daughters.
“God wants harmony in relations between the narrow worship and the broad worship,” Roy said. The Old Testament prophets regularly called the people of God away from two main sins: idolatry (narrow worship) and social injustice (broad worship). It is hypocritical for the people of God to worship rightly in the narrow sense without true worship in the broad sense. In this case, the forms of worship don’t match the heart. As Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
“If worship in the broad sense is not in line with God,” Roy said, “he takes no pleasure in worship in the narrow sense.” Paul said the same to the Corinthians when he admonished them for allowing some to go hungry while others get drunk at the Lord’s Supper.
On the other hand, however, our narrow worship must also match our broad worship. We commit idolatry, Roy said, “when we are so committed to justice that we worship it more than the God of justice.” Instead, our pursuit of justice should be motivated by our passion for God. “We shouldn’t seek to pursue justice as if it depends on us,” Roy said. “Justice is God’s business.”
We must worship God in both narrow and broad senses, working for justice and praising the author of it.