Dr. J. N. Manokaran
A Civil Engineer by profession. God called him and his family to be missional leader in Haryana as cross cultural missionaries for eleven years. Since, 1997 they returned back to Tamil Nadu to help missionaries and pastors to build their capacities by teaching, training and writing.
“The spirit of the Lord is on me, because has anointed: me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4: 18 & 19) This portion of the Scripture is popularly known as the “Nazareth Manifesto”. When Lord Jesus began His ministry, He read from the scroll of Isaiah 61:1-2 at a synagogue in Nazareth. These words are quoted widely and many theologians and missiologists interpret it differently.
Who are the oppressed?
There are many kinds of oppressed people who are weighed down, overwhelmed and bewildered. There are many who toil, work hard, carry heavy burden for the sake of earning a few rupees. They are exploited and oppressed. Their economic situation, lack of education and lack of connections to people of influence are exploited. They are oppressed to do hard work, for less wages or no wages. Manual scavengers are examples of those who carry heavy burden without any protection and are exposed to dangers and health hazards. Some have even died while getting inside manholes of septic tanks or drainage pipes.
There are others who are spiritually oppressed. Demon possession, and victims of charms and black magic are examples. Dark spiritual agents, manipulated by tantrics, black magic and witchcraft oppress them. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Lot was oppressed by the sensual conduct of people around him in Sodom. (II Peter 2:7) Righteous people are oppressed by seeing, observing and living amongst people who have a different set of values.
Indeed, it is a fact that many are emotionally oppressed. Parents are not loved by children and vice versa. Husband not loving wife and vice versa. They do not have the sense of being accepted, belonging, meaning and purpose of life. They become inward looking, bitter, revengeful and filled with hatred.
Mental oppression is another factor. People who do high stress job are mentally stressed. Demands of jobs or institutions, government, families, society could be stressful for people. Unwarranted expectation from parents or children could be stressful. There are students who have committed suicide due to stress of their studies, unable to fulfill the desires and expectations of parents. Psalmist writes the taunt of enemies oppressed him.(Psalm 42:10) People are also oppressed with certain mental paradigm which could be narrow and self-defeating.
There is also religious oppression. There are customs and rituals to be followed, even when a person does not believe in the value of those rituals. There are some rituals that could make a person debtor for life. The dos and don’ts thrust on the people by religious people could be oppressive.
Sin and guilt conscience is also oppressive. When Adam and Eve sinned, guilt conscience drove them to hide themselves. The burden of sin can cause immense agony to the innermost being. David writes this experience as ‘wasting away of bones’ and groaning all day. (Psalms 32:3)
The meaning of freedom used in the original language is ‘to create spaciousness’ or ‘provide room to live’. Freedom is to deliver a person from all constraints, bondages, emotional baggage, burdens, traps and chains. The freedom provides opportunity for a person to do God’s highest intentions, plans and purposes.
Freedom also includes dignity. The basic amenities like food, clothing and shelter provides dignity for a human. The gospel provides freedom for all bondage and provides human dignity as needs are met.
The mission of setting free was inaugurated by Lord Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry. This mission of setting captives free continues through His disciples, and the community of disciples, the Church. In the history, there are four different school of thoughts that connects Social Work/Social Action/Justice and Evangelism or making disciples.
1. Social work and evangelism are different
In this school of thought, people think that both are different and should not be mixed. One example is: Philip preached the gospel to Ethiopian eunuch without finding his felt needs. (Acts 8:26-40)
2. Social work is outcome of evangelism
The gospel brings radical change in the disciples of Lord Jesus Christ. Those who are selfish become interested in others and are even willing to sacrifice. Brotherly love is expressed in willing sacrifice for the sake of others. (I John 3: 16-18) The faith does not exist alone, but is expressed in changing the society around us. (James 2:18) Good works do not end in salvation, but good works are the result of salvation. The selfish nature of human beings become sacrificing nature because a disciple becomes a new creature.
3. Social work: opens the door of evangelism
This school of thought likes to use social work as the entry point in a community. Doing good will provide respect for the Christian presence. Hospitals, schools, creating drinking water facility, English classes…etc. Based on the good will, evangelism could be done. This is criticized mainly by those who are people of other faith, that Christians fake good works to gain entry and convert people.
4. Social work a partner in evangelism
Some scholars consider that social work is a legitimate, valuable and equal partner along with evangelism. Some scholars explain social work and evangelism like married spouses: husband and wife. Two spouses are two different beings but are one. In the same way evangelism and social work could have different identities but they are work together as one couple. John Stott, a great scholar considers the two as two blades of a scissor.
Holistic Impact and Holistic Restoration
The consequences of sin embraced all aspects of human life. When Adam and Eve sinned, it affected their spiritual life – losing relationship with God; emotional life – afraid and ashamed; environment – sent out of their comfortable Garden of Eden; physical life – pain, suffering, (Genesis 3:16) and sweat; mental life – mind darkened (Ephesians 4:18); moral life – conscience seared (I Timothy 4:2) When a person comes to Lord Jesus Christ, the salvation embraces all aspects of life. As sin distorted all aspects of human life, salvation restores all aspects of human life.
Jesus brought freedom at all these different levels. He promised his disciples: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). The oppression in the form of weariness and unbearable burden is removed. It is a marvelous transaction where a believer can exchange the oppression for peace and rest.
In the earthly ministry, Lord Jesus Christ transformed several people. One among those was Mary Magdalene, she was delivered from the oppression of the seven demons that had tormented her. (Luke 8:2);
Another example is Zacchaeus, he was inspired to refund what he had collected by fraudulent means. He was delivered from the oppression of insatiable greediness. (Luke 19:8).
1. Son of God sets people free
Lord Jesus Christ not only set people free from oppression during his ministry on the earth, he continues to do so even today. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Paul writes to the believers in Galatia reminding them of freedom Lord Jesus Christ has granted them. They should be watchful not to lose the freedom and again become a slave. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
2. Truth sets a person free
An elephant is tamed by tying one of its legs with strong chain to a strong tree. The elephant tries to free itself, but is unable to do so. In fact, its leg is hurt and even injured. The more it tries, more deep becomes its injury and the pain multiples. Then the elephant decides that it cannot make itself free. An elephant thus tamed could be tied with small rope and peg. It is enslaved by its past experience and its memory. In the same way, many human beings are enslaved by bad habits, evil influences, and demeaning ideas. When they know the truth, they are delivered from the bondage of memory. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The Word of God is the Truth. This truth renews the mind. (Romans 12:2) Thus a person is freed from the oppression of deceptive philosophies, meaningless traditions, illogical superstitions and worthless chants of Satan.
3. The Spirit of God sets a person free
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (II Corinthians 3:17) The Spirit of God provides freedom for the believers. The indwelling Spirit of God sets a person free. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2)
Oppressor Satan is a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) Lord sets people free by giving life in its completeness and wholeness. “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”(Psalms 9:9) As long as we live on this planet earth, there would be oppression from multiple sides. However, we are assured of victory and freedom through his Son, Word of God and the Spirit of God.