Resurrecting A Failed Concept:
of American Protestantism To the Social Gospel
By J. R. Ensey
In the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, the term “social gospel” became a household phrase. Mainline American Christianity was focusing on rescuing society as a whole from hunger, homelessness and poverty. How and why did that happen? And what became of that socially sensitive movement?
Between the Civil War and WWI, Western Europe and America had moved rapidly toward an urban-industrial society. Immigrants, the newly rich, the rural poor, and other genres of humanity were crowding onto the American scene. This mix created massive and complex problems for government and society as a whole. Some churches and parachurch ministries were motivated to move into action in areas where the government had neither ability nor interest to serve.
This period of history witnessed large-scale defections from mainline denominational churches, which was an outgrowth of developments in the sciences, humanistic influence in educational institutions, and a liberal, pre-Pentecostal Protestant clergy that was on a slippery slope to apostasy and agnosticism. The Protestant pulpits and professorial positions in colleges and seminaries were being filled with “higher critics” who saw the need for a new emphasis and direction for Christianity. That new emphasis became known as the social gospel.
Roots of the Social Gospel
The roots of the social gospel doubtless were put down in the Renaissance period (roughly 15th to 18th centuries), commonly called the Age of Enlightenment. Humanism began to replace the impotent brand of Christianity that was in vogue then. Anything probably seemed preferable to the grinding heel of Catholic orthodoxy. The spiritual conversion of the unsaved began to take a back seat to whatever was deemed the greatest good for mankind, as determined by the great philosophers of the time. The ideals of the Renaissance came to the shores of America in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were embraced by the framers of the Constitution, but their greatest impact was to be felt in the churches. Facets of them began to be manifested in the New England Theology.
Features of the New England Theology focused on the universal governance of God—at the bottom line expressed as the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, a popular Unitarian concept. This removed the former emphasis on the demands of God’s holiness. New England Theology posited that God’s primary purpose was to effect the ultimate happiness of mankind. Whatever benefited man was viewed as God’s will and purpose. This was a revival of the ancient heresy of Pelagius, a fifth century teacher in Rome who stressed man’s moral freedom and his innate ability to move toward salvation by his own efforts apart from any special grace. In other words, he could live a God-pleasing life without the benefit of the new birth or power of the Spirit.1
This modern approach to Christian thought was popularized by Jonathan Edwards, Jr. (1754-1801) and embraced by prominent theologians Joseph Bellamy (1719-1790), Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803) and Charles G. Finney (1792-1875). It was instilled in the Yale Divinity School students who scattered its seeds across the nation. Finney and Asa Mahan of Oberlin College set forth two distinct theological trends that quickly found significant support—Pragmatism and Perfectionism. Finney’s pragmatism held that in God’s work, the end justifies the means. If the results were satisfactory, the means were divinely approved. Oberlin perfectionism taught that man is capable of attaining entire sanctification in this life. Charles Hodge, a critic of the view, maintained that the root of this system was the assertion that “every man, in virtue of being a free agent, has plenary ability to fulfill all his obligations.” Finney assumed that God cannot justly require a man to do anything he is unable to do, and thus the law is brought down to the level of a man's ability. Furthermore, if every man can be entirely sanctified, then society itself is also perfectible. Mahan and Finney trained scores of professional evangelists who were noted for their zeal for social reform. This ideal of changing society was most popularly expressed in the work of Charles M. Sheldon (1857-1946), a graduate of Andover Seminary and pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas. His novel, In His Steps (1896), which he read chapter by chapter to his congregation, presented a method for reforming society through following the example of Jesus. Pragmatism and Pelagian Perfectionism blended naturally into what became the Social Gospel.2
The men and the movements they sparked laid the foundation for the modern social gospel. But it was up to a man from New York City’s Lower East Side, known as Hell’s Kitchen, to put the flesh and sinews on the skeleton of societal redemption. Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) is called the Father of the Social Gospel. While witnessing the wretched living and working conditions among the immigrant workers, Rauschenbusch saw the poor getting poorer and the rich industrialists getting richer. He became a socialist. He believed that sin was best defined as selfishness, and selfishness was described as a lack of involvement in distributing the wealth. He viewed salvation as a social effort to change society and to help usher in the kingdom. Rauschenbusch’s Theology for the Social Gospel provided a systematic presentation of his ideas. Such American ideas were blending with foreign influences and giving shape to a full-blown modernism.3 Augustus A. Strong, developer of the popular concordance, installed Rauschenbusch in professorship at Rochester Theological Seminary in 1902. It was there that he published his Theology of the Social Gospel and other tomes on the topic of social reform.
Another major voice in the rise of the social gospel was the German theologian Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889). “Rejecting Hegelian metaphysics, dogmatic orthodoxy, and Schleiermacher’s system, he taught that religious knowledge is based not on historical facts but on the value judgments we make regarding those facts. He emphasized that the church is a social community and that justification is mediated through the community rather than directly to the individual. Ritschl believed in a personal God, the Bible as the source of Christian doctrine (but, of course, as interpreted by our value judgments), and the uniqueness of Christ. However, he also felt free to reject or modify orthodox doctrines, such as the pre-existence of Christ, the penal theory of the atonement, and the inheritance of sin. His emphasis on the social aspects of Christianity explains the great influence he had on the rise of the social gospel in America. Adolf Harnack (1851-1930), a prominent liberal church historian and biblical critic, was perhaps the most well known disciple of Ritschl.”4 Other popular social gospelers included Congregationalist Washington Gladden (Working People and Their Employers) and Richard T. Ely (Social Aspects of Christianity and Other Essays) and R. C. White (The Social Gospel: Religion and Reform in Changing America) wrote articles and books on the subject.5
Advocates of the social gospel pointed to the growth of movements like the Salvation Army and skid row missions. They searched for social causes and human needs to which they could attach a spiritual principle. “Heart to God, hand to man” became a unifying catch phrase. Preachers called for racial justice, denouncing the past that included the acceptance of slavery. They clamored for woman’s suffrage. They began to support the labor union movement and put pressure on management and labor to cooperate. The role of the church as seen by these “change agents in the pulpit” was to impact the culture with values that Christians ought to manifest. On the surface that makes a nice chart, but it turned out to be quicksand from which the church could not extricate itself.
Social reform provided non-Evangelical Christians with something to focus on other than evangelism of the lost. Social gospelers rolled out the concept of “the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God” as a basis for their theories. That seemed to provide incentive to the laity to go along with the new order of things. They pointed to the Old Testament prophets’ denunciation of injustice and then to our own “injustices” as confirmation of the church’s need to become involved in social issues. Some felt that this focus would gradually develop into the very kingdom of God on earth, where a compassionate God would shower favor on those who acted as they perceived He Himself would have acted. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” was a favorite line. Social gospel apologists felt that man was innately good and could be “perfected” by unselfishness. One fanciful idea led to another and soon the “do gooders” were everywhere with their hand out to the poor, the “huddled masses” streaming ashore in New York and San Francisco, and anyone who was just “down on their luck.” Utopianism and the achievement of the American dream was a common idea and goal.
As the fire of Christian experience and personal commitment waned, the social gospel stepped up to fill the void. Denominations like the Northern Baptists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians named commissions to deal with certain aspects of social change. In 1907-08 several denominations formed the Federal Council of Churches, an ecumenical agency that gave high priority to the social gospel as expressed in its “social creed.”6 The early framers of the social gospel probably did not envision where it would take them or who would join them in this journey.
This aggressive plan of the churches to emphasize meeting human needs put biblical doctrine and personal salvation in the background. Sin was redefined to soften it in respect to ungodliness and stiffen it relative to uninvolvement in the social renewal movement. Personal holiness was viewed as showing compassion to the poor and the socially abused. Out was doctrine and experiential faith; in was activism in the social arena. Rauschenbusch and others developed cleverly worded appeals to make Christianity more relevant and compassionate. These sounded “spiritual” on the surface, but the Jesus they promoted was not the Jesus of the Bible. Rauschenbusch viewed Christ “not as one who would come to save sinners from their sins but as one who had a ‘social passion’ for society.”7 He established the “Brotherhood of the Kingdom,” which unified like-minded church leaders under a common socialist quest for an earthly “Kingdom of God.” Promoting political reform, ecumenical unity, “social justice” (ending poverty), and global peace. To justify its place in “Christian” theology, words like redemption and regeneration were redefined to fit their socialist ideals.8
The more Christians emphasized social action the more they had to denounce the authority and authenticity of Scripture. Attacks on inerrancy became common. Higher criticism became popular fodder for professors and professional pulpiteers. By WWI modernism had all but swallowed American Christendom. The main features of the new theology were:
1. Relativistic view of the Bible
2. Humanistic emphasis on the innate goodness of man
3. The Bible and Christendom conditioned by history
4. Emphasis on the immanency of God, resulting in no gap between natural revelation and special revelation and a tendency toward pantheism
5. Evolution and optimism about human progress
6. Concern for human personality and its development
7. Theology as primarily a practical enterprise
8. Low view of sin
9. Strong social emphasis
10. Neglect of the doctrine of the Church
11. Emphasis on Christ's humanity and neglect or denial of His deity
12. Moral influence view of the atonement
14. Emphasis on religion rather than Bible Christianity
15. Antipathy towards orthodoxy
17. Identifying Christianity with culture
18. Modalistic view of the Trinity9
According to the Discernment Research Group (http://herescope.blogspot.com): “Theologically, the Social Gospel leaders were overwhelmingly post-millennialist. That is they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort. For the most part, they rejected pre-millennialist theology (which was predominant in the Southern United States), according to which the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, and Christians should devote their energies to preparing for it rather than [focusing on] social evils. Their millennial views are very similar to those shared by Christian Reconstructionists. However Social Gospel leaders are predominantly liberal politically and religiously, whereas Reconstructionists tend to hold politically libertarian and religiously fundamentalist views.”
Opponents of the social gospel were largely knocked down, but not knocked out. Clergymen, mostly Baptists like A. C. Dixon (1854-1925) and Robert T. Ketcham (1889-1978) spoke out at great risk to their positions and reputations. Chester E. Tulga (1896-1976) wrote a booklet called “The Case Against the Social Gospel.” The Northern Baptist Convention, to which these men belonged, had installed a program designated “The New World Movement,” which was shot through with social gospel rhetoric and methodology. The Fundamentalists were not going down without a fight.
The Tide Turns
Just when it looked like Rauschenbusch and his modernist friends had everything going their way, three very important things happened—almost simultaneously. In 1901 the Pentecostal renewal/restorationist movement began. In Kansas, Texas and California the revival fires were ignited that continue to blaze until this day. Holy Ghost fire spread from a few students in a Bible college to the heart of every denomination and from a relatively small group on the Kansas plains to the depths of every continent on earth. Emphasizing personal, experiential Christianity and a subsequent lifestyle that glorifies God and maintains moral and ethical purity, the Pentecostals became the “third force in Christendom” within sixty years.10 By 1916 the Oneness Pentecostals had revived the full Apostolic message of the Bible and have since become one of the fastest growing movements in the world. Their growth has been attributed to their emphasis on Bible doctrine, confirmed by a personal experience called the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Regardless of race, region, resources or social standing, the heart of every man longs for the renewal of the relationship man had with God in the beginning. The essentiality of that renewal motivates them to “reach every nation with Bible salvation.” The motto of their largest organization in America became “The Whole Gospel to the Whole World.” Today, these classical Pentecostal groups, along with those renewal movements now classified as “charismatics,” constitute a considerable part of Christendom in America.
A second event that impacted the religious scene in America was the response to theological liberalism and the social gospel by the Fundamentalists. As the social gospel grew in prominence in the late nineteenth century, a number of concerned men could see that the dynamic of that movement was not merely extending a helping hand to the less fortunate, but it was encouraging a departure from Christian doctrine. Fewer converts were being made and the stale atmosphere in most Protestant denominations was disturbing. Men like John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) could see what was beginning to happen and provided messages and writings that expressed ideas that eventually flowed into fundamentalism. Evangelist Dwight Moody also spoke out strongly against the social gospel.
The successor to Dwight Moody in Chicago was R. A. Torrey. He also noted the advance of liberalism and the demise of Christian doctrine. Concern over the rise of influential social gospelers motivated two conservative, evangelical businessmen to finance the publication of several volumes of “Fundamentals,” basic tenets of the Christian faith that were being neglected by rising modernism. He and others, including A. C. Dixon and Louis Meyer, were appointed to produce the series of ninety-four essays that would eventually constitute ten volumes. Sixty-four British and American conservative Protestant theologians served as authors. The tenets of the faith that would form the core of the fundamentals included the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. The title chosen for this work was The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. The various volumes were published from 1910-1915. The completed works were published in four volumes in 1917. They were then distributed to English-speaking church workers throughout the world.
In America today, Fundamentalism has lost its edge and more or less morphed into the Evangelical movement, represented by the National Association of Evangelicals. They generally confess most of the basic tenets of Fundamentalism, but earn their name by emphasizing the evangelization of those without Christ and His gospel.11 That is their first goal. They also try to unify the voice of opposition to the modern liberals who promote abortion, stem cell research, cloning, gay marriage and similar issues that are not in harmony with the Christian faith. Evangelicals are not opposed to making a difference through foreign missionary endeavors and inner city evangelism and missions. Many groups sponsor homes for unwed mothers, abused spouses and children and other needy types. But those efforts are not in the forefront of priorities. The impact of the Evangelicals, who usually include the Charismatics and Pentecostals in their number, has been felt throughout American culture in general, and politics in particular.
Another important factor that intercepted the social gospelers was WWI (1914-1919). The aftermath of political and economic changes that took place as a result left a world quite different from before. America experienced a period of isolationism and individualism. The changing national climate affected religion by somehow moving us away from liberal theology toward a more evangelical stance. WWII in the 1940s seemed to push us farther in that direction as the threat of communism and catastrophic global war put fear in our hearts. The parallel rise of Pentecosalism and general religious fervor impacted the whole of society in the postwar period. Broad religious fervency peaked in 1955, according to some observers of the religious scene in America, but Pentecostalism continued to gain momentum. At the same time, the worldwide economic boom, particularly in America, produced an enormous middle class. Virtually everyone who wanted a job could get one, and those who wanted to better themselves had ample opportunity to do so.
All of these factors played a role in the demise of the social gospel movement, although the idea of helping the less fortunate did not die. The government inaugurated a number of relief agencies. Operating in virtually every city and town in America, their efforts are directed toward various elements of society. Civil rights movements, groups working for social justice, and faith-based operations of every stripe are out there with handouts, clothing for the poor and homeless, and food for virtually anyone who asks.
The New Social Gospel
The first few years of the twenty-first century have seen the rise of a new church order. Megachurch pastors and some parachurch ministries have begun to emphasize aspects of the old social gospel. They have become so big and powerful that their churches are able to invest millions of dollars in housing for minorities and shelters for just about everyone who has any kind of problem.12 “Ministries” to touch virtually everyone at every strata of society have been developed—singles ministry, recovery classes, homeless shelters, single parent ministry, homes for unwed mothers, shelters for abused spouses, counseling for the hurting, even classes for those with sexual identity problems. These are providing an outlet for the spiritual energies that were once directed toward evangelism.
The new evangelicals are younger and do not have the passion for the pure gospel as their fathers did. They are wanting to broaden the scope of the issues for Evangelicals to address, taking the focus off of abortion, same sex marriage and biblical inerrancy to concentrate on poverty, AIDS, healthcare and the environment. Huge fund drives by classical denominations, mega churches and parachurch ministries remove the individual choice of aiding the poor. Where does the money go? In many cases, it goes into the coffers of entities which have a distinct anti-Christian bent, such as the World Council of Churches, Planned Parenthood, and smaller organizations run by activists who care little about biblical Christianity but desire influence with certain segments of society.
Even Apostolic Pentecostals are getting involved with some evangelists focusing on providing sustenance to the poor, the homeless, and those in dire financial straits. Churches are being organized to distribute basic necessities to the poor and needy. While that appears to be a gracious humanitarian gesture, it is not the thrust of the gospel or the mission of the church.
Perhaps the leader in this new church/social order is Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in the Los Angeles area. His books, A Purpose Driven Church and A Purpose Driven Life, have sold millions of copies. They contain his fundamental concepts but you won’t find in them the underlying details of the complex ideas that are changing thousands of churches in America and around the world, including some Pentecostal churches. His newsletters pick up where his books leave off. Over 150,000 persons, mostly ministers, subscribe to his newsletter containing his transformational strategies. Warren views subscribers as change agents for his vision for social adjustment. He and his army of colleagues are set to train the masses in “a new way of thinking,” living and relating to each other. They are redefining terms in order to deceive the uninformed. “Systems thinking,” “facilitated learning,” and “transformational leadership” are tossed about but few realize where such buzzwords are leading them. Individualism is out. Collective thinking, strategic leadership and facilitated learning are in. Blind loyalty to ruthless leaders is demanded.
Warren’s philosophy is clearly expressed in his commitment to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa. That pestilence has rocked his home state of California and he has made it a cause célèbre. He has enlisted churches, pastors, politicians and world leaders in the effort to eradicate the disease. The true gospel has the answer and it has nothing to do with medicines or throwing millions of dollars into African coffers, which eradicates nothing more than self-imposed guilt. This conscience-salving effort will fail, of course, until those dealing with AIDS understand that it could be eradicated by simply following the scriptural pattern of abstinance before and outside of marriage, particularly by same sex partners. The socialistic and humanistic effort merely want to stop the results of sin rather than sin itself.
On Warren’s website is an article by one of his associate pastors, Erik Rees. Rees bases his vision of social change on the experimental plans touted by the world's cutting-edge leaders—secular, pagan and Christian—all linked by the common vision of “transformation:”
“Families need rebuilding. Jobs are scarce. The cost of living is increasing. ...Children do not have a level playing field for every intellectual, social and emotional development. We are flooded with evidence of the need for societal transformation everywhere we look.... Peter Drucker, in The Age of Transformation, says that this age is far from over and predicts it will reach well into the next century. This is a time, which calls for a critical mass of transformational leaders who will commit to creating a synergy of energy within their circle of influence so new levels of social, economic, organizational and spiritual success can be reached.
“We have not, however, developed the leaders we need for this noble task. To reach such heights, we will need to un-tap the leadership potential of skillful leaders who are successfully directing various organizations and systems. Some of these men and women, knowledgeable and committed, to their profession, will be the transformational leaders we need to create the needed synergy of energy.”
Notice that Pastor Rees appeals not only for Christian leaders, but for cutting-edge leaders who share the vision and skills [systems thinking and transformational methodology] needed for transformation. He continues:
“This new paradigm of transformational leadership is not just for the marketplace but also for the local and global movement of Christ. One of the most influential movements, for the advancement of the church, is the Purpose-Driven model developed by Rick Warren, Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church. Leaders of Purpose-Driven churches not only are called to authentically model the five biblical purposes...they depend on the seven principles of transformational leadership to create a synergy of energy within their flock.”13
One merely has to discover where Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Peter Drucker, et al., are attempting to lead them. They envision a global church, a global economy, global leadership, and “global oneness” in the UNESCO mold.14 They make no apologies about lifting their ideas for radical social change right out of the United Nations playbook and other global organizations.15 Their first step is to initiate radical changes within the local churches.16 Then they set up training schedules to press the principles into the minds of congregational leaders and other pastors. The next two emphases sound so spiritual: assist the poor and care for the sick. The call to social action is shrouded in the context of that which most pastors and churches do on a regular basis. But Warren is thinking globally. In 2005 he joined with World Vision, Bono, Madonna, Paul McCartney and host of infamous hard rock stars in the world effort of “ONE – The Campaign to Make Poverty History.” Warren has appealed to President Bush through this campaign to change his attitude toward the poor. What he means is that America needs to join the global community in eradicating poverty in Africa and in third world countries through cancellation of all debt owed America by those nations, increasing foreign aid, and such like. He wants a new reformation—not about creeds, but deeds. He calls for us to celebrate our diversity and join forces with all religions for the global welfare state. He has also said that Christian fundamentalism will be “one of the big enemies [of his concepts] of the twenty-first century,” and compared them with “Muslim fundamentalists.”17
Former president Jimmy Carter recently joined Warren on the podium of the Baptist World Alliance Centenary Conference in Birmingham, England. He said, “There is an intense hunger among Christians around the world for a healing of the differences that now separate us from one another,” the former president told reporters. “All major faiths—Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam—hold to the basic principles of peace, justice, hospitality, truth and alleviation of suffering.” As a solution to separation, he suggested “interfaith dialogue....We need to come back together.”18 When faiths come together, someone’s doctrines get left at the door. Is it a coming together for evangelism? Absolutely not. Evangelism as we know it is not on the table with these people. As Ken Blanchard, Warren’s leadership trainer has been quoted as saying, “[I’m] not interested in evangelism.”19
Barack Hussein Obama has been elected President of the United States. He has made change his motto and appears determined to install a socialistic system of government. This heavy emphasis will bleed over into the churches and will likely bring the social gospel to forefront again. The young evangelicals who voted for him are determined to flow with his programs. They are spouting rhetoric like, “There are 10,000 verses in the Bible that speak of helping the poor and needy, and only a couple of dozen about homosexuality. Let’s get our focus in line with the Bible and center on issues other than gay marriage and abortion.” It should be said that abortion and gay marriage are not merely “social concerns” but are entwined with biblical doctrines. They are not on the same level with making sure that all the children in Africa have shoes.20 A new paradigm has taken hold of the minds of the young social progressives and where it will take us no one knows.
A Biblical Perspective
Rick Warren’s new model for the church and the young evangelicals casts a Jesus who came to relieve human suffering and tend to the human problems of poverty, sickness and injustice. Is that the Jesus we read about in the Bible? Jesus did heal some sick, and he even raised some dead folk. However, as far as we know, He never visited an infirmary to heal all the sick, nor did He practice visiting graveyards to perform a mass raising of the dead there. He did go to where Lazarus had been entombed for four days. As for the poor, He did not say they would now have all they wanted and everyone would have a “level playing field.” He did say the poor would have the gospel preached to them. He did not rebuke Mary for pouring expensive spikenard on his feet. When she was rebuked by Judas for this act when the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus replied, “The poor ye have with you always.” In other words, “You will never run out of poor people to help. Poverty is endless. They are not in focus. It is Me.” If Jesus had come for the purposes of social reform, or to meet physical needs, or to alleviate all the injustice in the world, He probably would not have come to Jerusalem. Doubtless there were many more sick folk in Asia or Africa who lived in squalor and who suffered injustices daily. He should have gone to Sudan or Borneo or India. But He came to Jerusalem, “his own” (John 1:11), the seat of spiritual problems, the solving of which represented the hope of the world.
In Deuteronomy 15:7,8,11 the Bible says, “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth….For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” The “feeding” and “visiting” in Matthew 25:35-40 were directed to “my brethren” (in that case, Jews).
In the apostolic era church, their good works were focused almost entirely to those in their own spiritual family. Paul told the Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Paul told the Romans to distribute “to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:13). Special needs of believing widows were given attention, but even they had to qualify for aid (I Timothy 5:3-16). James concurs in James 2:15,16: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” There is no explicit command in the epistles to involve the energy and resources of the church in redemption of the society. Multiplying individual conversion may in part affect the overall societal structure, but the church is not on earth to create a Christian society. Unless Jesus’ words are false, the world is never going to fall in line with the church: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
It is easy to see a biblical pattern of the people of God assisting their own, but difficult to see where there was a pattern of either Israel or the church attempting to meet all the human needs of other nations or people. Can there be overlapping in certain cases? Without a doubt, but they will likely be exceptions and not the rule. Even charity within the body of Christ has to be handled with wisdom and discernment. We have watched a pattern develop in the U.S. government that is alarming. The current trend in government is to meet all the needs of every citizen through programs that are financed through taxes. In the drive to overcome poverty and hunger (often code words for target groups to which money will be funneled), government tries to make sure that everyone has housing, food, and clothing. That sounds magnanimous, and perhaps it would be in some countries, but in America where the “haves” are exceeding taxed to give (at their discretion) to the “have nots,” we see it as robbery of one’s initiative. Why work hard when one can simply get “under the spout where the money comes out”? A socialistic, “freebies for everyone at the expense of the rich (perceived)” type of government, will soon crumble under its own weight.
Regarding the church and its charitable efforts, Paul adds this comment: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Corinthians 13:3). There had to be a spiritual factor involved—in that case, love. Works without love doesn’t move God.
The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) if often held up as an example of what the church should be involved in. The parable, however, involved providing a kind, social service only as an aside. As with most of His parables, the main point is probably dispensational and focuses on the redemptive ministry of Christ. The priest and Levite, as the law and the prophets, are no longer able to help the unfortunate soul. Jesus, a “Samaritan” (who were part Jew and part Gentile) in the sense He was both man and God, put the man on His own beast (taking our sins on Himself, His flesh), took him to an inn where he was to be lodged for “two days” (two thousand years), and then promised to return after that time. The prophetic story was merely couched in a setting the hearers of Jesus could easily comprehend.
The Scriptures do call on believers to help the needy, the outcast and the poor. But who are they and how do we do it? The church’s commission is to evangelize the unsaved. They are raised from the dunghill of sin, selfishness and poverty by applying the teachings of Scripture to their lives. The wisdom of the Word lifts and blesses those who walk in its light. That’s why His true followers around the world have willingly given their lives to share His truth and love in perilous places. But today’s world-centered church illustrates a different kind of service. Designed to please man rather than God, it trains its servers to hide the “offensive” truths of the gospel. It uses the Bible to validate its purposes but emphasizes organizational behavior rather than biblical beliefs—in short, deeds instead of creeds. Behind its noble appearance hides a postmodern version of the century-old “Christian socialism.”21 As our nation takes a firmer grip on pluralism,22 at the same time taking giant steps toward socialism and nationalization, we are pressured to follow in the same path, discarding our old values and emphases for new ones that are not in line with biblical mandates.
A true Christian walking in love will not ignore obvious needs when it is in his power to help someone who is in immediate distress. Nor would he turn a deaf ear should they be in a desperate strait just because the person is not a member of the church. Every one of us has at times helped some individuals who were unbelievers. But to invest the resources of the church in social work is to blunt the real purpose of the church, which is given clearly in the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20). He did not say, “Go into all the world and alleviate the hunger and suffering of the unsaved masses.”
There was no mandate for the Old Testament Jews to provide for the desolate and needy in Egypt or Syria. Nor was the church given a corporate mandate to provide life essentials to the heathen nations or give the “under-the-bridge” dwellers in our cities new clothes and a better shopping cart. That does not mean that we cannot individually assist non-believers. I am sure all of us have at times. But corporate activity of this genre by the church was not made a part of the Great Commission.
The farther we get from our real purpose, the farther we will get from our gospel message. I recognize that, in most cases, social work such as handing out helpful personal items and extending a hand to anonymous individuals who are “down on their luck” is often done with evangelism in the background. “If they see us Christians showing compassion, they will want to become a Christian.” We can’t say that has never happened, but it would be a rare exception. The record is that for the corporate church to do those things tends toward salving our consciences rather than saving souls. Real evangelism has all but disappeared from those movements that embraced the social gospel. Doctrine became immaterial and non-essential. If we lifted the whole world out of poverty and failed to see them redeemed by the Savior’s blood, what would either they or us gain for eternity? Works we generally call “good” do not serve as a ticket to heaven.
The way Apostolics can make a difference in our society and culture is to emphasize change in the heart, not by plowing money and materiél into physical provisions and comfortable surroundings. We know that physical conditions usually change when spiritual conditions do. People have come from deep in sin, steeped in the hippie/drug culture, as wife-beaters, child abusers, and participants in every other form of ungodliness to the status of solid citizens, honest taxpayers, and servants of God. Now they are in a position to help others do the same. The task of Christianity is not to help people become better sinners, but to extend to them a way out of the morass of sinful behavior.
1. J. R. Ensey, The New Cyclopedic Theological Dictionary (Willis, TX: Advance Ministries, 2005), p. 329.
2. David O. Beale, In Pursuit of Purity (Greenville, SC: Unusual Publications, 1986), p. 74. The social gospel is defined as a liberal movement within American Protestantism that attempted to apply biblical teachings to problems associated with industrialization. It took form during the latter half of the 19th century under the leadership of Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch, who feared the isolation of religion from the working class. They believed in social progress and the essential goodness of humanity. The views of the Social Gospel movement were given formal expression in 1908 when the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America adopted what was later called “the social creed of the churches.” Advocated in the creed were the abolition of child labor, better working conditions for women, one day off during the week, and the right of every worker to a living wage. With the rise of the organized labor movement in the early 20th century, the Social Gospel movement lost much of its appeal as an independent force. However, many of its ideals were later embodied in the New Deal legislation of the 1930s.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia © 1994, 2000-2006, on Infoplease. Now we are seeing those same ideals revived at the beginning of the Barack Obama administration.
“Another driving force behind the introduction of the social gospel was the eschatological, or end times, views of those involved. Nearly all were amillennialists or post-millennialists. The former believed that they were living in a (symbolic thousand-year) time period in which Christ was ruling from heaven, Satan was bound, and they were God's workers appointed to bring about a kingdom on earth worthy of Christ. Post-millennialists also believed they were in the Millennium, and their goal was to restore the earth to its Eden-like state in order for Christ to return from Heaven to rule over His earthly kingdom.” - T. A. McMahon, “The Shameful Social Gospel,” www.thebereancall.org/node/7062.
3. Beale, p. 77.
4. Beale, p. 80.
5. For more information on Walter Rauschenbusch, type his name into Google.
6. To read more on the Federal Council of Churches, now the National Council of Churches, on the web type in National Council of Churches or Federal Council of Churches, or go to the following website: http://www.sweetliberty.org/issues/hoax/time42.htm; The recipient of this federal largesse is the same National Council of Churches whose 1968 General Assembly at San Diego demanded that America:
“Stop the bombing of North Vietnam as a prelude to seeking a negotiated peace”; “Avoid provocative military actions against Communist China in the knowledge that it has a legitimate interest in Asia”; “Press for the admission of the Peking government to the United Nations”; “Create conditions for cooperation between the United States and the Communist countries of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and Cuba”; “Recognize the government of Cuba and acknowledge the existence of the East German
Republic”; and, “Remove restrictions on imports from Communist countries and on cultural exchanges between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.”
Other resolutions called for “increased support for poverty-rights action groups by Church Women United,” and provided for financial backing of the subversive National Urban Coalition. The N.C.C. even directed its member churches “to provide funds for local black groups to strategize for the summer and to support inclusion of black power and black nationalist organizations in local task groups.... “In other words, the resolutions of the National Council exactly followed the current Communist line.” The FCC/NCC has espoused virtually every leftist, socialist and communist agenda they could find. That is the end result of what began as innocently as “let’s get involved in turning the energies of the church to social change in the interest of helping those who are less fortunate and disenfranchised.”
7. Edgar C. Bundy, Collectivism In the Churches: A documented account of the political activities of the Federal, National and World Council of Churches (Wheaton, IL: Church League of America, 1957), p. 97
8. Ibid. How similar to what is happening in Protestantism today!
9. Beale, p. 84
10. Henry P. Van Dusen, “The Third Force in Christendom,” Life, June 9, 1958 ):113-121.
11. NAE Statement of Faith:
• We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
• We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
• We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
• We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
• We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
• We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
• We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
According to J. I. Packer: “It needs to be pointed out that no individual or institution speaks for all of Christian Fundamentalism, which is a religious orientation, rather than an organized movement. Drawing on their belief in an inerrant Bible and dispensational-literal hermeneutic, many fundamentalists adhere to young earth creationism and universal flood geology and ardently oppose alternate approaches such as old earth creationism and non-theistic evolution, which fundamentalists often refer to as Darwinism. Consequently, some fundamentalists have been active in the debate over teaching multiple viewpoints of the origin of humans in science classrooms of public schools in the United States. Additionally, fundamentalists have aligned themselves with the Christian Right, advocating prayer in public school and Christian messages in other public forums, such as displaying the Ten Commandments in public spaces. Their failure to achieve their goals in the public schools has prompted some to take up homeschooling for religious reasons.
Like many other conservative Evangelicals, some fundamentalists have been vocal in support of the pro-life movement, which opposes abortion, human cloning, physician-assisted suicide, and embryonic stem cell research. Some have spoken against political measures intended to legalize same-sex marriage, relax sodomy laws or prevent discrimination against homosexuals. However, there are large segments of the fundamentalist community whose approach to politics is based on some form of a theory of international conspiracy (often fueled by dispensationalist theology) that they believe will culminate in a one world government under the literal Antichrist. This approach inclines these fundamentalists toward suspicion of political power in all of its forms. J. Vernon McGee's famous skepticism of political action still typifies the movement as a whole: “It’s just polishing brass on a sinking ship.” This explains why they oppose the “social gospel” today advocated by liberals, and doctrines such as Dominion Theory advocated by Christian Reconstructionists. Nevertheless, traditionally, fundamentalists have been very outspoken against communism, the United Nations and the ecumenical movement (particularly the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches), all of which have been called by some, “Satanically-inspired” notions of false unity.
Some fundamentalists have endorsed strict codes of conduct that prohibit even moderate consumption of alcohol and tobacco, dancing, gambling, or engaging in secular cultural activities such as watching movies or listening to rock and roll music. These codes may also require adherents to dress in certain ways going beyond simple modesty (for example, by prohibiting women from wearing pants or men from having long hair). In most cases, fundamentalists draw a connection between these features of the surrounding culture and the immoral or unbelieving way of life that they feel is represented by them, and by avoiding conformity to the secular world in such small but signal ways, they hope to protect their souls from corruption and call the world to salvation and holiness, by their example and “testimony.” (End of Packer quote.
12. See report in the Fall/Winter 2007 issue of the Library Builder.
13. Betit Kjos, “40 Days of Change Through Transformational Leadership, Part 1”; www.newswithviews.com/BeritKjos/kjos37.htm
15 Ibid. “Change your whole way of thinking, because the new order of the spirit is confronting and challenging you,” said Millard Fuller, President of Habitat for Humanity. “Citizenship for the next century is learning to live together,” said Federico Mayor, Director General of UNESCO. “The 21st Century city will be a city of social solidarity.... We have to redefine the words...[and write a new] social contract.” “We should stop bemoaning the growth of cities,” added Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Vice President of The World Bank. “It’s going to happen and it’s a good thing, because cities are the vectors of social change and transformation. Let’s just make sure that social change and transformation are going in the right direction.” Later he added, “The media must act as part of the education process that counters individualism.” It seems that the media is holding up its end of the bargain.
16. A number of churches have been divided and virtually destroyed by adopting Warren’s Purpose Driven church model. For a free brochure entitled, “Is Your Church Going Purpose Driven? How You Can Tell,” call Southwest Radio Ministries, 1-800-652-1144. N. W. Hutchings has written a book entitled, “The Dark Side of the Purpose Driven Church” and can be ordered at the same number. Warren has recently visited Syria where he found “no evidence of the persecution of Christians,” but rather that they were being treated well in that Muslim nation. Nor did he find any evidence of terrorist activities going on in that nation. “If the blind lead the blind….” He also visited North Korea during 2006.
17. This statement was made in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 8, 2006
18. www.bwacongress2005.org. Warren’s big church, his burgeoning popularity and his winning personality have combined to give him a worldwide audience, but they have also enticed him to back away from basic Christian doctrines.
19. Rebecca Barnes, editor of Churchcentral.com. Rather than evangelism, we are witnessing a revival of Rauschenbusch Christian socialism.
20. There are probably several reasons many African children do not have shoes—all beyond our control. The first may be that many of them neither need them or want them. And hunger is not widespread in India and Bangladesh because they are trying to feed everyone and just can’t do it without our help. It is not because there is no arable land. It is because of their religion. They won’t kill animals for food. Cows are sacred and millions roam freely in the streets. They eat seven times as much in one day as a human. A large percentage of the foodstuffs shipped into Indian ports is eaten by rats before it gets out of the dock warehouses. All animals are protected because they believe in reincarnation. American Christians cannot fix all the world’s problems, even though we care and want to lift people to a higher standard of living. We must yield to the social and political realities—and the sovereignty—of other nations.
21. Berit Kjos, NewsWithViews.com, October 1, 2006.
22. The definition of pluralism, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “[All] the great world faiths, including Christianity, are valid spheres of a salvation that takes characteristically different forms within each—though consisting in each case in the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to a new orientation toward the Divine Reality. The other religions are thus not secondary contexts of Christian redemption but independently authentic paths of salvation. The pluralist position is controversial in Christian theology because it affects the ways in which the doctrines of the person of Christ, atonement, and the Trinity are formulated.” http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/1/0,5716,108311+8,00.html. In other words, one faith is as good as another. One religion should not be viewed as transcending others. See the booklet The Perils of Pluralism by J. R. Ensey. See also www.crossroad.to/Quotes/spirituality/Pluralism.html#1