THE SOCIAL GOSPEL SLANDER
Every once in a while someone decides to smear those who advocate social righteousness in the practice of both the church as congregation, and the church as members, as the “Social Gospel.”
It is perfectly fine with me to have brothers and sisters debate the extent or parameters of local churches, or the denomination, to deal with social injustices, oppression, and social moral evils. However, with both positive and negative words and actions, public and social sinfulness needs to be confronted by somebody. Certainly we know this is part of the role of government as mentioned in Romans 13, where we are taught that those in authority are to commend those who do right, but hold terror for those who do wrong.
How is the government supposed to know what that is exactly , i.e., what is the difference between those two things, what is good and what is wrong? Do we leave this for “common grace,” that we should assume any and all people who might end up in politics and government know the difference? Do we as believers feel any responsibility to be a moral and ethical voice to secular government, based on Biblical and godly values? Do we feel that the realm of government is none of our business? Do we leave this for those Christians who get into government to carry that burden, if they are indeed trying to be “Christian” in their role as politicians and governors? Do we assume that partisan ideologies are the same as justice and moral righteousness? (God help you if you believe that.)
Some of the “smearing” or labeling against those of us who call for the church, and its members, to live out justice and morality in society is due to a misunderstanding (ignorance) of historical theology in regard to the Social Gospel movement. Some of the labeling I suspect comes down to which social issues are being discussed. Conservatives tend to have their favorite social issues, which to them are seen as legitimate moral issues so they tend not to describe them as social gospel liberalism. These issues are abortion, human trafficking, homosexuality and the gay rights agenda, and alcoholism (though we don’t hear so much about temperance these days).
On a side note it is interesting to me to observe how “Fundamentalist” moral issues have been superseded by secular activists in realms of anti-smoking (public health), sobriety (AA and the recovery “industry”), and sexual constraint (the “me too” movement). These public movements have probably brought more public “buy in” to concern about behavior than the legalism of fundamentalism. This would probably make for some good research in a doctoral program.
Debating the role of the local church versus the involvement of its members is one thing, but to confuse a call for the social application of justice and moral righteousness to society’s ills with a theology that abandoned the need for personal redemption and conversion and replaced it with a passion for societal reform, is to call fellow believers who are members by confession and vows of an orthodox religion -heretics. It is a lie, it is a slander, and frankly seems intended to avoid social responsibility as an obedient follower of Jesus Christ.
People need to be saved, by the blood of Christ, who died for sinners. The cross was a legal and redemptive transaction within the Trinity to satisfy the wrath and righteousness of God. People need to believe in Jesus, and He transforms them. Inner and personal transformation is a necessity for a relationship to God, and that can only happen by grace. At the same time there is a Kingdom of God, and it is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. We are saved unto good works, and those good works are for the good of human beings. God, the God of the Bible, is a God of justice, who hates wickedness, and oppression.
Preachers have to preach, teach, and model good works. Not as a means to salvation or as a substitute for it, but as the end of it. Any preacher who takes his stand that the local church should not be involved in works of mercy, or should stand against local, national, or international injustice, better be preaching, stimulating, and even commanding his people to do good works; or he is simply an obstacle to the Kingdom of God, if not its enemy. The preaching of grace does not nullify the teaching or practicing of good works but empowers them, with liberty and joy.
Most of the time teaching that the local church shouldn’t do anything in terms of social mercy or justice is a luxury of the wealthy, middle and upper class church. Those people have the money, the education and the social networks to deal with their problems. When the church is among the poor then widows often have to be fed by the church itself, and not given over to their own retirement funds. One’s wealth perspective often deprives us of an adequate view not only of reality, but of Biblical application.
There was a theological movement of the early twentieth century, led by men such as Walter Rauschenbusch, who looked upon the need for personal redemption as a mistaken view of the teachings of Jesus. While advocating some of the teaching of Jesus he separated Jesus from his saving work to focus on a social application of love and peace.
Obviously those are worthy things, but not good enough for those who wish to be holistically obedient. Men need personal salvation and redemption, they need their characters changed in order to be able to deal with both their own sins and their own eternity, and to prevent them from sinning against others. Love can only really and radically come from the God who is love within us, and not some moral sentiment.
We need social activists who rise up within and from the church who are saved and blood washed by Jesus, and who become advocates for love, goodness, and peace within the world. We need activists who preach the cross, while they feed the hungry, and stand against evil.