I wrote this article in January 2020 in response to the cultural Marxist narrative of dominant and subdominant cultures in the church, with its corollaries of corporate (read “white”) privilege and guilt. In that article I made it clear that the fact that people may have privilege for various reasons was not in dispute. What I argued against was the fact that one could be regarded as “privileged” and therefore guilty based solely on the color of your skin.
A leader in my denomination who read the article wrote, “What I notice in your reasoning is that you fail to systematize your theology. You rely on proof texts that aren’t harmonized with what the rest of Scripture says on a particular subject – like the issue of individual vs corporate guilt.”
This article is an answer to that charge.
The first principle is that the Bible makes a clear distinction between the judgement of God as the ultimate judge, and the judgement of men, who receive their authority to judge from God. This is crucial and those who say that the Bible teaches corporate guilt fail to make this distinction. God is holy and omniscient, and men are not. For this reason God has severely limited the scope of lawful human judgement. God is the ultimate judge.
Psalm 75: but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
God has delegated judgement in civil matters to the state or other God ordained authorities:
Romans 13: 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
So human authorities have the God given right and duty to judge. This is not dependent on whether it is a righteous authority or not. The context of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the Roman empire: A tyrannical society based on the subjugation of nations and the forced labour of chattel slaves.
While the Roman government (or any other form of authority) received their authority from God, that authority is limited. James says this about people who cross the boundaries that God set for judging:
James 4:11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
So while God judges according to his holiness and omniscience, we are neither holy nor omniscient, so we may only judge according to the laws that God has given us.
We may not judge people based on the sin of others.
Deuteronomy 24:16 “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.
Ezekiel 18:The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
We may not judge based on economic or social status or nationality.
Deuternomy 1:16 And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s
Leviticus 19:15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
We may not judge without due process and proof of guilt. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a thoroughly Biblical concept.
Deuteronomy 19:15“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother.
Note that “The judges shall inquire diligently”. This establishes the accused person’s right to due process.
The social justice movement breaks ALL these rules:
- They are not placed in God ordained positions of authority to judge, yet they judge people.
- They judge people for the sin of their forefathers: If your forefather was a racist, then you are guilty of racism.
- They are partial in their judgement: They judge people based on their skin color or socio-economic status. The narrative of “white privilege” or “white guilt” is racist bigotry, and has no place in the church. They also exonerate people based on the colour of their skins: They say that black people cannot be racist.
- They judge and condemn people with absolutely no proof of guilt other than their race, sex, gender or socio-economic class.
The second principle is that God does not categorize people according to their social status, whether they are oppressors or oppressed, or their skin colour. I have discussed this principle in detail in the first article, so I will not do it again here.
Passages that social justice advocates in the church use to prove the principle of corporate guilt.
Are we all guilty of Adam’s sin?
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 5But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
They imply that because Adam sinned we are all guilty of Adam’s sin. This proves the concept of corporate guilt according to them. But this is not what this text says. It says that all sinned because of Adam’s sin, and therefore all are under judgement.
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Adam sinned and was guilty of his own sin. His nature changed, and therefore that of his offspring. Because of our fallen nature in Adam, we cannot not sin, so we are guilty of our own sin. We are not guilty of Adam’s sin, but Adam’s guilt caused our guilt by means of our fallen nature.
But lets agree for argument’s sake that all are guilty of Adam’s sin (as the Westminster shorter catechism seems to imply) Does the fact that Adam is the federal head of all humanity mean that my great great grandfather (or any other random white person) who was a slave owner is my federal head, and I am therefore guilty of his sin of slave-owning? There is absolutely no Biblical indication that Adam’s federal headship of all humanity means that other people are also federal heads of certain groups of people. To say this is to add to the text.
There is only one other Federal Head of humanity after Adam: The Second Adam, Jesus Christ.
God visits the sin of parents on their children.
Exodus 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Isaiah 14:21 Prepare slaughter for his sons because of the guilt of their fathers, lest they rise and possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities.”
In these texts God visits the sin of the fathers on their children. But please note the following:
- It is God that judges and punishes, not men. God is omniscient and holy, so his judgement is just.
- These text do not actually say that children are guilty of the sin of their parents. It says that God punishes parents by visiting their sin on their children. The sons are slaughtered because of the guilt of their fathers, therefore not their own guilt. Aids is transmitted to newborn babies. Parental divorce scars children for life. Abortion is the consequence of a parent’s sin visited on the child. Children often suffer immensely for the sin of their parents. It is a self-evident fact of life.
The sin of Achan
Joshua 7:24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.
It was not just the family of Achan that were killed because of Achan’s sin, it was also the thirty six warriors that were killed in the first battle of Ai.
- It is God who judges and punishes Achan, his family, and the 36 fighters that were killed in the battle. God’s judgement is always righteous and just, so every single person who died was a sinner and deserved the full wrath of God, like we all do apart from the blood of Christ.
- God does not punish any random group like white people, rich people or cis-gendered straight white men. He punishes a very specific group: His covenant people, who have broken their covenant with Him.
- As we saw in Isaiah 14:21 here above, children may be slaughtered for the guilt of their fathers (but only when it is God who punishes.) The father’s punishment includes the death of his children.
Daniel’s intercession for Israel.
Daniel 9:4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.
Daniel 9:20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, 21while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.
The context of this text is the covenantal blessing and curse that God has set before his covenantal people
Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
God made a covenant with Israel: He would be their God and give them the land of Israel. If they obeyed Him and kept the covenant, He would bless them. If they broke his covenant, He would curse them. They broke his covenant, and the curse was their exile to Babylon.
Please note the following.
- This passage is about Israel, the covenantal community of God. It is not about any other random group, like white people, or cis-gendered straight white men.
- Daniel confesses his own sin with that of the rest of Israel. Read the chapter and count the times he says “we”, “us” and “our sin.” Nowhere does the text say that Daniel is guilty of anybody else’s sin.
- Daniel acts as priest for Israel: He intercedes for them with God. He acts prophetically as archetype for Christ, who intercedes for us with the Father.
Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
- Interceding for people does not mean that the intercessor shares the guilt of those he intercedes for. Christ intercedes for us, yet He is without guilt.
2 Corinthians 5:21.For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
To say that this text has anything to do with corporate guilt of a specific group or race other than God’s covenantal community, or that Daniel is guilty of somebody else’s sin is completely unwarranted. Daniel specifically states that he is personally guilty too!
James admonishes the rich.
James 5:1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
The three most important rules of hermeneutics are context, context and context. Does James say rich people are guilty simply because they are rich? If that were the case, he would break his own rule: That it is sinful to be partial.
James 2:4 …have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
James 2:9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James gives a list of sins that the rich are prone to, and condemns those sins. There is nothing here that says the rich are guilty simply because they are rich. He says that those who commit those specific sins are guilty of those specific sins.
- God judges perfectly and justly because He is holy and omniscient.
- God commands men to judge, but since they are neither holy nor omniscient He gives strict rules on how they are to judge.
- Only those in God-ordained positions of authority may judge.
- We may not judge people on the basis of the sins of their parents, their communities, or anybody else.
- We may not be partial in our judgement: We may not be partial to the rich, the poor, our own people or foreigners.
- We may only judge based on diligent due process and proof. This establishes that the burden of proof is on the accuser. The accused is to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty
The social justice movement breaks ALL these rules!
Trying to justify the social justice narrative of corporate guilt from the Bible fails miserably, as we have seen.
- Man may not judge as God judges. Equating the way God judges with the way man is supposed to judge is simply wrong.
- The groups that social justice group people into in order to assign corporate guilt are not Biblical categories. Please read my previous article for detail. One simply cannot equate God’s covenantal people with other randomly defined groups of people. The fact that Adam is the federal head of humanity does not mean there are other federal heads, except for Christ.
- When Daniel intercedes for Israel he does not plead guilty to the sin of others. He is guilty only of his own sin, but as intercessor, he asks forgiveness for the sin of the whole covenantal community.
- James does not say people are guilty simply because they are rich. He names specific sins that rich people are prone to committing. Those who commit those sins are guilty. James does say that judgement based on partiality is sin!
“Social justice” will divide the church. It should be rejected.
Wynand Louw, 30 June 2020