Tuesday, December 4, 2007

THE "SOCIAL" GOSPEL

This posting is a response to a comment made by Dan regarding the previous posting, "MYSTICISM AND THIS GENERATION". I felt it was appropriate to respond in this manner so that I could add relevant links, and because it was originally my plan to further explain some of these "other gospels" I had mentioned in that post in greater detail at a later date. So here it is...

It is important at the outset to accurately define what I mean when I use the label "social gospel". For a good definition of it, read the definition at The Canadian Dictionary website (you can link directly to it by clicking on the underlined words above). According to this definition, the purpose of the social gospel is to create social change, reforming the world's social programs by aligning them with scripture (their rather thin view of scripture) or inventing new ones. Please keep in mind, that by and large, the proponents of the social gospel hold a liberal view of scripture, not believing it to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God, but rather a historical book written by men and containing error.

In the social gospel, salvation is collective rather than individual. They also do not believe in the literal return of Christ to the earth at a future date, but rather that we have been left on earth to build the kingdom of God here and now, and that's all there is. No new heaven and no new earth. It is basically a works-based gospel rather than a grace-based one and it teaches that we can follow Jesus without being born again. Their definitions of biblical terms are very different from the biblically-based definitions of them. Instead of reading scripture to understand what it says and means, they enforce their pet belief onto scripture, twisting it to align it with their own theology; therefore, their theology is not biblical. To them, the cross was a senseless act of violence against an innocent man who died a premature death at the hands of the Romans; Christ did not die to make atonement for our sins; and He did not lay down His life by His own will, rather His life was taken from Him. This is contrary to Scripture and this is what happens when you proof-text. The cross does not have the same meaning to them as it does to conservative evangelicals; their teaching makes the cross of no effect.The Christ they present was a good man who came to teach us how to live life better and make the world a better place to live, rather than a Saviour who would completely reform us as individuals.

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:17-18

In a practical sense, is it really possible to reform society and align it with biblical values? (Because this is what proponents of the social gospel want to do). In reality, this is not possible. The social gospel denies the presence and power of sin and our fallen human nature. They have completely erased sin from the equation. Now if you believe that we aren't sinners, you can buy into the social gospel, because that is what it does. If you deny that the inhabitants of earth are under the curse of sin, why would you need a saviour to die to pay the price for sin? It would be unnecessary. Then Christ becomes just another prophet, another good man, another great leader, but not the Saviour.


Now, to move on...

Should the cross change how we treat people?
Absolutely. We are to love justice, to have mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). This should be the outcome of a redeemed life. But those who adhere to a social gospel will not first come to the cross for cleansing. The works that they do are works of the flesh, not of the Spirit. This gospel misses a key ingredient. They attempt to make Jesus Lord, but refuse to accept Him as saviour and redeemer. This gospel attempts to save by good works, placing man in the position of redeemer. The Christ of the social gospel is not the Christ of the Bible, just as their cross is not the cross of the Bible. Yes, they use the Bible to validate what they teach, but they are using it incorrectly. They want to throw solid biblical doctrine to the wind.

Romans16:16-18 says:
"Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness."

In order to become a true servant of righteousness, according scripture, we must first be made free from sin through the atoning blood (according to the doctrine which was delivered). Until then we are servants of sin, which leads to death.

Christ and His disciples fed those who had come to hear what they were teaching when they became hungry. They met people's needs as they were going about preaching the gospel. They didn't go preaching in the villages and around the countryside with the purpose of solving a hunger problem in the physical sense. They didn't set out to abolish slavery or close down houses of prostitution. Christ did not come to correct societal problems, but to reach individuals. I believe Christ wants followers who come to Him with pure motives, not just for the food or for healing...but because they want HIM, the bread of life. He was always pointing to Himself as the ultimate fulfillment of their deepest need. When Jesus walked on the earth, did He heal every sick person on the earth? It sure doesn't say so. He may have even healed some who were not interested in the salvation He came to offer. But this was definitely not His primary objective. He did not come to establish an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual one; so His primary objective was spiritual rather than physical. But obviously that doesn't mean that he ignored the physical needs of those around Him. This is where we have to carefully examine our own hearts. Are the good deeds we do for others just a way of excusing ourselves from offering others the gift of salvation? Have they become a substitute? It's always so much easier to just offer somebody a cup of coffee and walk away feeling good about ourselves, rather than being willing to step out in faith and share the gospel with them. But if that person does not know Christ, we will have loved them straight into the pit of hell. Left them without even trying to meet their primary need. We need to examine our motives for helping others. Is it with a sincere heart? Because true love always seeks to meet man's deepest need, his spiritual need.

If you see a man dying on the side of the road, should you rush over and preach to him? Well, I think trying to save his life first by getting him medical help would be a good idea if it looked as if he were going to survive, and then later go back and witness to him. But what if he is in the process of dying in your arms? Would you not help him know the way to eternal life? When it comes down to the crunch, it becomes obvious what is more important in the eternal realm of things.

When my daughter was in Brazil on a missions trip this summer she was deeply impacted by the poverty she saw all around her. She told me that she realized there was no way either she, nor the group she was with, nor the church in the area, and not even the denomination she represented could solve the hunger problem there. She understood that the best thing she could do for the people there was give them the gospel.

I believe it is a fallacy to think that we can solve the world's problems, and also the height of arrogance. This, however, is the social gospel's objective. We will not save and change the world. Just look at what Scripture says about how it's all going to end. It has a different ending than the social gospel.

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"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

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If you would like to read some comprehensive articles about what the social gospel is, I suggest you start with the following links in the order given:

A Brief History of the Social Gospel by John A. Battle
(this article also explains what the true gospel is)

The Impact Of The "Social Gospel" On The Church
by Sewell Hall

Treason in the Church: Trading Truth for a "Social Gospel" by Berit Kjos

It always pays to do your homework! :)

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Some current promoters of the social gospel are Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Rick Warren, N.T. Wright (see my November 24th post entitled DO YOU NEED A NEW PERSPECTIVE? by clicking on his name), and Bono of U2. Check out the links provided here to see how this is so.

If you are interested in hearing an example of solid biblical doctrine on this matter, putting faith and good works in perspective, go here to listen to a song by Robert Evans entitled "Make Me Want You Want Me To Be", found in "Other Songs #1"~at the bottom of the page~at his website called Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.

3 comments:

Jenna said...

I think you explained the problems with the "social gospel" very well. Being a Christian doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to help people's physical needs, but that has to go hand-in-hand with the message of salvation--and the salvation message needs to be the most important part. That's what Jesus' ministry was like; He fed people as he taught and preached. We need to follow His example and do the same. There are lots of people willing to do good deeds, but we are the only ones with the message of salvation.I think it's good to take a homeless person out for a meal-just make sure your motive is to share the gospel and make sure you do!

Betty said...

Thank you Bonnie for posting a more complete comment on what the social gospel is. My comments on this in reply to Dan's scenario of only giving the gospel to people and not offering help in time of need was not intended to respond to groups that have totally replaced salvation with the social gospel to the point of believing Christ's death was a terrible waste but to those who are now shifting in that direction from a more evangelical stand. Those who are already focussing only on reforming the world minus Christ's death for our sins are more easily detected than those who downplay the central place of Jesus to the gospel in their teachings after having been evangelical in the past. I was trying to address this group in my previous post since it is whis group most of us from an evangelical background have to deal with in our personnal situations.

For example in situations I have been in, the Easter morning service became a viewing of four children's Bible stories having nothing to do with Easter although they were all accurate, the same year good Friday became a service to dedicate the new church building with no mention of christ's death for us, thus a time of year that has usually been set aside to remember Christ's death for us in a particular way was totally wiped off the church calander.

If you had asked this group if they believe Christ died for our sins they would have said yes. They just rarely taught it. More recently the Easter season in a church we attended was marked by lighting purple candles for lent and having a reading to go with it and focussing more on this and the crucifixion and less on the joy of the resurrection. The danger in all this is in the slow decline from making Jesus central to our faith.

For me it was easier to see the problem when Jesus death and resurrection were whited right out of Easter than when they were just sort of set aside for something "new" that still referred to Easter. I came away from the watered down version of Easter feeling sort of deflated and empty but not knowing exactly how to put a finger on what was wrong. There was no blatant wrong teaching to point out like statements about Christ's death being a shameful waste or Christ being just another prophet. For us the problem has been dealing with subtle shades of the social gospel and other "gospels" that are not Biblical rather than the whole story. As you may have guessed it has been necesary for work reasons for us to move a lot and this becomes and ongoing problem for us as we try to guess which church in our new home is still teaching from the whole Bible. I believe we are not alone in this as more and more people are having to move to find work.

I have seen churches that started with what we experienced and ended up accepting a whole false gospel. For example in our city at this time there are about 38 Mennonite churches(by phone book listing)and while they all subscribe to only about four or five actual denominational types they are all in different stages of accepting the social gospel among other things. I have also seen this variance in other evangelical denominations like the Baptists for example. The subtlety of the issues is making it almost impossible for people that are new to an area to find a church that still believes the whole Bible. Herein lies in my opinion one of the very real dangers in all of this. Many of us don't have the luxury of dealing with churches we grew up in but we have to look for fellowship in what has become the shifting sands of evangelical Bible doctrines or the lack of them. It has become hard to obtain a statement of faith from many churches or if we can get one it is very sketchy and basically only says something like we are a fellowship of people modelling the love of Jesus.

Thank you again for posting a more detailed discription of "social gospel" and also the links to where you found some of this. It is always helpful to be able to check these things out for oneself.

I also would like to say that I do see the value of knowing what the social gospel looks like when it is fully followed. It helps me to understand where the trend can take you when it is followed to the full extent.

BONNIE said...

You're welcome Betty. I'm glad you found this helpful. Thank you for relating your own experiences of encounters with the social gospel and the different faces it can have.