What is the Social Gospel?
So then what is the Gospel?
Should we believe in the Social Gospel?
Likely Scriptural Disproofs of "Orthodoxy Minus Social Gospel"
Likely Scirptural Disproofs of "Social Gospel Only Christianity"
Logical Absurdities of "Orthodoxy Minus Social Gospel"
Logical Absurdities of "Social Gospel Only Christianity"
What then must I DO? Like-minded Links
Quotes"Ye rich, lay out your money; ye poor, refrain from plundering." St. Augustine Sermon XXXV.
"[The devil] sends errors into the world in pairs of opposites. He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
"Most heresies start out with a grain of truth in a neglected concept of Christian teaching." Tony Campolo
"Furthermore, it is taught on our part that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them, but because it is the will of God." The Augsburg Confession
"Religion consists in disinterested benevolence. Of course, a converted soul takes the deepest interest in all benevolent efforts to reform and save mankind; in good government, in Christian education, in the cause of temperance, in the abolition of slavery, in provision for the needs of the poor, and in short, in every good word and work. Just in proportion as you have lost your interest in these, you have evidence that you are backslidden in heart."
Charles Finney,Lecture XXI, The Backslider in Heart
What is the Social Gospel?The Social Gospel is the notion that feeding the physically hungry and speaking up for the earthly oppressed have something to do with Christianity.
So then what is the Gospel?As succinctly put by C.F.Walther, a brief statement of [Law and] Gospel:
"You are a lost and condemned sinner, you cannot be your own Savior. But don't despair on that account. There's One who has acquired salvation for you. Christ has opened the portals of heaven to you and says to you: 'Come, for all things are ready. Come to the marriage of the Lamb.' "
C.F.W. Walther,The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel,,p. 72
Should we believe in the Social Gospel?That question is a dangerous one, for it suggests some incorrect assumptions about the Social Gospel. An error occurs when one sees it as the totality of Christianity or when one sees this concern as inimical to orthodox Christianity.
There's nothing wrong with a concern for feeding the hungry and speaking up for the oppressed. There are however two troubling movements within Christianity that have taken one extreme tack or another on the subject:
- Social-Gospel-Only Christianity This movement sees the crux of Christianity to be primarily, or in many cases exclusively, concerned with the earthly "life" issues of peace, justice, hunger, and our neighbor's well-being. Richard T. Ely wrote: "I take this as my thesis: Christianity is primarily concerned with this world, and it is the mission of Christianity to bring to pass here a kingdom of righteousness and to rescue from the evil one and redeem all our social relations." [It is one thing to say "I feel primarily called" to perform some sort of service; it is quite another to say "Christianity is primarily concerned" about something.]
This movement neglects issues of eternal salvation for earthly regeneration, evangelism for ethical suasion. They sound like someone who has mistaken Christianity for the legislative agenda of a wing of the Democratic party. It has taken forms such as:
- Liberation theology. Many forms of liberation theology convert Christ's message of salvation for a pogom of earthly revolution. There are also forms of liberation theology which are compatible with the orthodox teachings of the church. The term "liberation theology" has been used to identify heresies by the orthodox and used to criticize orthodoxy by OMSG'ers.
- Orthodoxy minus Social GospelThis movement sees the issues of peace, justice, hunger, and our neighbor's physical well-being as harmful distractions from the preaching of God's word and following our Lord. This movement neglects the biblical emphasis of social injustices as part of sin and God's judgement, ignores biblical warnings against greed, self-interest and neglect of the poor. They sound like someone who so hates the legislative agenda of their politically liberal adversaries that they would rip pages out of Scripture just to deny them the possibility of a good intention. (The SGOC'ers, in turn, sound like someone who came by later and took only those ripped-out pages and turned it into a religion.) This politically conservative view of Christianity may be influenced by the following theologically liberal movements:
- the Gospel of Prosperity,
- certain forms of dispensationalism,
- antinomianism, a view that we cannot be horribly sinful people. Some have said that because a strict assessment of our lives such as Matt 25 would make us abominators, it therefore cannot be talking about the earth's physically hungry.
- "Archeology Today with a Sarcastic Heart" In this worldview, a case for ignoring any modern sin clearly condemned in Scripture can be made by pointing to the lifestyle of Jesus. If a case, however weak, can be made that Jesus was somehow involved in this activity, and since Jesus didn't sin, they say, then this modern thing cannot be a sin. For example, it has been argued that since neither Jesus nor Paul led violent slave revolts, therefore criticism of any form of slavery, including the American institution or similar injustices, has no place in an orthodox Christian's list of concerns.
Likely Scriptural Disproofs of "Orthodoxy Minus Social Gospel"
Luke 16:19-31, Dives and LazarusIn this passage, a rich man feasts while a starving, sick man lies outside his gate. The rich man goes to hell and the sick man goes to heaven. Surely this passage (and Matthew 25) tell us a great deal about eternal spiritual truths and heaven and hell, but they also tells us something about what God expects of us while we are living. If this passage has anything to do with the Social Gospel, it would be in the reason the man went to hell. What have Christians held as the sin of the rich man?
- Martin Luther King, Jr: "Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty."
- John Wesley, Sermon 112, The Rich Man and Lazarus
Wesley cites the sin of the rich man as being "too religious to relieve common beggars!" Wesley also notes, "And it is no more sinful to be rich than to be poor. But it is dangerous beyond expression."
- St. Augustine, Sermon LII On the words of the Gospel, Luke x.16.
"Remember that rich and that poor man in the Gospel; "the rich man clothed in purple and fine linen," and crammed with daily feastings; and the poor man "lying before" the rich man's gate, hungry, and looking for "the crumbs from his table, full of sores, licked" by "dogs." . . . If then those haughty men who keep their own goods to themselves, and bestow none of them upon the poor, die in this way; how do they die who plunder the goods of others? . . . Opportune then was it, Brethren, that those words should be spoken to you. Have respect unto the poor, whether lying on the ground, or walking; have respect unto the poor, do good works. Ye who are wont so to do, do it still and ye who are not wont to do so, do it now. Let the number of those who do good works increase; since the number of the faithful increases also."
- St. John Chrysostom, Homily Against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren
"That rich man who was in the time of Lazarus was punished,(1) not because he was rich, but because he was cruel and inhuman."
- John Paul II, "Homily in Yankee Stadium" (2 October 1979)
"We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the Twentieth Century stands at our doors."
- Martin Luther:
- "In our time people are called the best who do no one any evil, even if they do not do anyone any good. But surely this is not enough. For the Gospel does not say that the banquetor did Lazarus andy harm, but he was condemned because he did not do him any good (Luke 16:19f)."Luther's Works, p. 160, Vol. 10.
- Sermon for First Sunday after Trinity; Luke 16:19-31
"From [Dive's greed] now follows the other sin, that he forgets to exercise love toward his neighbor; for there he lets poor Lazarus lie at his door, and offers him not the least assistance. .. For whoever feels the goodness of God, feels also for the misfortune of his neighbor; but whoever is not conscious of the goodness of God, sympathizes not in the misfortune of his neighbor... [The believer] breaks forth with love and serves his neighbor out of his whole heart, with his body and life, with his means and honor, with his soul and spirit, and makes him partaker of all he has, just like God did to him. Therefore he does not look after the healthy, the high, the strong, the rich, the noble, the holy persons, who do not need his care; but he looks after the sick, the weak, the poor, the despised, the sinful people, to whom he can be of benefit, and among whom he can exercise his tender heart, and do to them as God has done to him."
Matthew 25:31-46, the Final JudgementIn this passage, Jesus announces to the assembled people of the earth that those who did not feed the hungry, "the least of these, my Brethren," did not feed Him. Who are these Brethren to whom Jesus is referring? Some have said it applies to any poor neighbor, some have said that it must only refer to called ministers, or at most refers to fellow Christians. What have Christian writers said about this passage?
- St. Ambrose
St. AugustineSermon XXXVI. "Let no one fear to lay out upon the poor, let no one think that he is the receiver whose hand he sees... 'I was an hungred,' saith He, and ye gave Me meat.' And when after the enumeration of all their kind offices, they answered, 'When saw we Thee an hungred?" He answered, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these of Mine, ye have done it unto Me.' It is the poor man who begs, but He that is Rich receives."
Sermon X "For I was hungry, and ye gave Me no meat." What meaneth this, I ask?... For it may be they were chaste, no cheats, nor drunkards, and kept themselves from evil works. Yet if they had not added good works, they would have remained barren. For they would have kept, "Depart from evil," but they would not have kept, "and do good."
St. BasilHomily VI.How can I bring before your eyes the poor man's sufferings that thou mayest know out of what creep groanings thou art accumulating thy treasures, and of what high value will seem to thee in the day of judgment the famous words, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: . . . I was naked and ye clothed me.' St. John ChrysostomHomily LXXIX What sayest Thou? they are Thy brethren; and how dost Thou call them least. Why, for this reason they are brethren, because they are lowly, because they are poor, because they are outcast. For such doth He most invite to brotherhood, the unknown, the contemptible, not meaning by these the monks only, and them that have occupied the mountains, but every believer; though he be a secular person, yet if he be hungry, and famishing, and naked, and a stranger, His will is he should have the benefit of all this care. For baptism renders a man a brother, and the partaking of the divine mysteries. Martin Luther"For Christ commands that these things [sickness, wounds, nakedness, etc.] as well as poverty be cared for and improved among our neighbors. 'I was weak and you did not visit Me (Matt 25:43).'" Luther's Works, Vol. 9, p. 147It is clear that the church has historically held that "the least of these my brethren" applies to the poor at large, or to the poor within our faith. OMSG attempts to limit our responsibility to all poor by applying this passage solely to the pastorate.
"[Monks] exonerate themselves very nicely from these works of mercy which Christ warns will be expected of them in the day of judgement. Matthew 25:34-40. If a monk sees anybody who is hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, captive, and all the rest, he is warned that he cannot leave the monastery to visit the sick and comfort the sad. He just lets perish what is going to perish."Ibid,Vol. 44, p. 329.
"Now without any doubt among the 'least' are those who are in spiritual poverty, and captivity and in need, of whom there are now far more that those who suffer such bodily need...But God's commandments drive us to our neighbor's need..."Ibid,Vol. 44, p. 71.
"And as Christ foretold, on the Last Day the words will be heard: 'I was hungry and you gave me no food (Matt 25:42).' Then such people will think, 'Who would refuse to feed the hungry?' It is indeed remarkable that he should say, 'I was hungry. Did I not feed my wife, children, and neigbhors?' This, however, does not include Christ, but only your good friends."Ibid, Vol. 44, p. 71.
Though Christ himself has given us this rule, yes, though He has promised that on the Last Day He will praise the deeds of kindness we have done for the poor (Matt 25:31-46)."Ibid,p. 187, vol. 3.
"The poor you will always have with you.", John 12:8, Mark 14In this passage, Jesus rebukes those who had rebuked a woman who had annointed him with expensive oils they thought should have been given to the poor. This passage has been dredged up for sarcastic rebuttals to everything from public funding of hospitals to the merest private sector Christian social concern. Some have said that this means that God is comfortable with a certain level of poverty, and point to the apparent confirmation in Deut 15:11. "Our Master Himself seems reconciled to this continuing reality as an acceptable part of God's providence in this age." capo. Let's look at the verses that would apply:
God told the people of Israel that obedience would lead to material blessings of the nation. In the same breath, he predicted that there would be need "on the earth" and commanded them to open their hands wide to the poor. Luther says, "Spiritual poverty is to be praised (Matt 5:3) but the external kind is commanded to be corrected, no differently from other disadvantages of one's neighbor."
- Deut 15:04 "There will however be no one in need among you because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that you are to occupy."
- Deut 15:11 "Since there will never cease to be some need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy in your land.'"
- John 12:8 "You will always have the poor with you."
- Acts 4:34a "There was not a needy person among them."
"[Monks] sing to us the glory of enduring poverty, which the Lord has commanded to be abolished, that we might follow the example written for Christian people in Acts (4:34): 'Nor was anyone among them who lacked.'"
I do not believe that we will successfully eliminate poverty on this earth--I have no Utopian hopes of eliminating all social ills before Christ's return. I believe that we are commanded to struggle to correct poverty, just as we are to fight teenage prostitution and abortion and use of date-rape drugs and torture.
Watchman Nee said in a sermon,
Have our eyes been opened to see the preciousness of the One whom we are serving? Have we come to see that nothing less than the dearest, the costliest, the most precious, is fit for Him? Have we come to see that working for the poor, working for the benefit of the world, working for the souls of men and for the eternal good of the sinner -- all these so necessary and valuable things -- are right only if they are in their place? In themselves, as things apart, they are as nothing compared with work that is done to the Lord. Watchman's counsel is that we are not to disparage working for the poor but rather to put this "necessary" activity in its proper light.
Logical disproofs of Orthodoxy Minus Social Gospel
Abortion.Too often, OMSG'ers view abortion as totally separate theologically from other social concerns about our neighbor's well being. Concern for neighbor's well-being is called a distraction from the gospel, yet failure to advocate pro-life legislation is listed as a justification for church schisms. Concern for an end to abortion is the ultimate social cause, and fits nicely within the Social Gospel, whether the political biases of OMSG'ers or SGOC'ers will admit it. Consider what can be said of the pro-life movement, using rhetoric that is often used disparagingly of "the Left". Fighting abortion is a "social cause" that involves:
At the same time, issues like global warming and apartheid surely are issues of protecting the innocent, about the sanctity of life, in that they involve killing people for our own convenience. It is one thing to say that abortion is the most urgent social cause, it is absurd to hold at the same time a theology of opposition to the social gospel that logically would also discredit the prolife cause. Again, my purpose is not in any way to disparage prolife concern, but to decry the absurdity of a theology that is confessionally both prolife and anti- Social Gospel. At the same time, I am saddened by those running around worrying about "the least of these" without considering the very least of all.
- speaking up for the oppressed,
- love for the the unlovely that inconveniences us all,
- paternalism and the 'nanny state,'
- a concern for human's physical well-being,
- advancing the rights of an (unborn) individual over the rights of society,
- fighting a business that cares more about profits than people, and
- fighting a mutally voluntary transaction in the marketplace that has externalities which damage a third party.
Bad legislation is not proof of bad theologyThe Devil surely could wreck the implementation of any noble intention based on Scripture. If bad legislation (the worst abuses of the welfare state) were written by someone who had a high view of Matthew 25, that is not evidence that Matthew 25 is not to be taken literally. It may say something about a faulty theology of means, however. Poor decisions about means are not proof of faulty ends. Queen Isabella was surely right to wish that all Spainiards know Christ; she was surely wrong to use the state and the Inquisition to expel and torture Jews. One may find that attempts to discuss Christianity and the poor with OMSG'ers were at one time likely to degrade into a discussion of Monica Lewinsky.
OMSG weakens the Gospel and weakens evangelism
- C.F.W. Walther said,"Man is by nature a conceited being. He says: 'What wrong have I done? I have committed neither manslaughter, nor adultery, nor fornication, nor larceny.' Wrapped in these miserable rags of his civil righteousness he purposes to make his stand before God..." the Proper Distinction between law and Gospel, Concordia Publishing House, St.Loius Mo, 1986, p.97
[Walther tells the story of how Martin Luther had consoled a fellow pastor, Spalatin. Spalatin was deeply grieved over his sin, that of giving very bad moral advice to one of his parishoners. According to Walther, Luther reminded Spalatin that he should not be surprised at his ability to do a very bad thing:] "... Luther says to Spalatin: Had you fully realized the awful corruption of your heart in its relation to God, you would no be so inconsolable; for you would say to yourself: Alas! the fountain is so polluted; that is why such filth has to flow from it.
" [Luther tells Spalatin:]'Therefore my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ seem paltry and trifling to us, as thought He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in grand total.'
"To the company of real, great, abominable sinners to which Spalatin is invited Luther feels that he belongs himself. He argues that by making our sins small, we make Christ small."Ibidp. 108 emphasis added.
- C.S. LewisLewis wrote about the arguments that were helpful to his coming to Christian faith. Among them were a fundamental sense of right and wrong he felt in his heart that no other religion seemed to adequately address. He said, "For the trouble is that part of you is on [God's] side and really agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time, but you you at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behavior, then He cannot be good."
Orthodox Christianity would understand that we are "lost and condemned sinners" because of our mistreatment of the poor, among many other sins. OMSG on the other hand tells us that concern about "greed and trickery and exploitation" is inimical to the Gospel. It says that our sins are actually quite small and that we have done very little wrong.
Likely Scriptural Disproofs of "Social Gospel Only Christianity"
Paul & John vs. Early writers.Often SGOC'ers point out how the Gospel of Mark was written before the Gospel of John, where John paints a "meaner" Christianity, and that Paul's writings also represent a "meaner" version of the faith "originated" in Mark. The exclusivity of Christianity, however, can be found in all the Gospels. If one insists on finding offense in the exclusivity of Christianity, then it is to be found in all Gospels. Consider the Great Commission and the parable of the unjust stewards.
- The Great Commission occurs both in Matthew Mt 28:19 and Luke 24:47. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." If the Lord intended that all nations be made disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then it seems hard to believe that evangelization and conversion of the entire world is not the Creator's aim.
- The parable of the unfaithful tenants is related in Mark 12:1-9, Luke 20:9-16, Matthew 21:33-41. In this parable, the tenants of a vineyard disobey the instructions of the owner of the vineyard. The owner then warns that he will return to take away the vineyard from the tenants and give it to others.
Logical absurdities of Social Gospel-Only Christianity
Why bother?It tells me to change my behavior toward my fellow man based on the writings of some book, but then that most of this book is not to be trusted.
What then MUST I DO?
I?Dietrich Bonhoeffer:"[T]he aim of the Christian life is to produce those good works which God demands... But all our good works are the works of God himself, the works for which he has prepared us beforehand.. From this it follows that we can never be conscious of our good works... The left hand knows not what the right hand does... While we knew is not, we gave him food, drink, and clothing and while we knew it not we rejected him. Great will be our astonishment in that day, and we shall then realize that it is not our works that remain, but the work which God has wrought through us in his good time without any effort of will and intention on our part. (Matt 25:31ff)." The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 296-7, Touchstone, NY 1995.
DO?Martin Luther:"The law says, 'do this,' and it is never done. Grace says, 'Believe in this,' and everything is already done." quoted in p. 103 and p. 107, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputations, 1518 Gerhard O. Forde, Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1997Like-minded Links Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Transformation: The Church in Response to Human Need
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Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment
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