Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 4, 1959

The Social Gospel Among Churches Of Christ (III.)

Robert Atkinson, Miami, Florida

The previous articles in this series have shown the vast difference between the Gospel of Christ and the Social Gospel. The former is God's power to save man from his sins, and the latter is man's attempt to establish a new social order which would "save" man from social injustice in this present world. The Gospel of Christ is the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:8-12) while the Social Gospel is the wisdom of infidels. The first sees the church as a divine institution to do God's will upon the earth, an institution established by Christ, and in which both Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God (Eph. 2:13-18); the second, the Social Gospel, sees the church as an institution developed by man in an effort to preserve the teachings of Jesus and unite His followers. Deploring the dogmatism of the Apostle Paul and the other Apostles, the infidel advocates of the Social Gospel insist that the church must justify its existence in the same manner as any other institution built by man, that is, by concentrating upon improving conditions in this present world. The following quotation concerning the work or "mission" of the church sums up the infidel attitude toward the church as fully as any that I have read.

The mission of the church will thus always be twofold, the perfecting of personal character and the transformation and rebuilding of the social fabric. The "coming" of the Kingdom of God involves both aspects as much as physical life involves breathing-in and breathing-out.

In any case the utilitarian motives of reward and punishments must fall away and be replaced by a glowing passion for a redeemed and purified inward self and a no less glowing passion for a redeemed (socially redeemed, RMA) and morally ordered social world. There will be little place in the future for a Church whose main function is conceived to be the securing of a SUMMON BONUM for a favored few in another world beyond this one where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. A Church which accepts the mission of being a peaceful refuge or an ark of safety for a chosen remnant of the race is doomed like Noah's ark, to an end on some lonely, barren Mt. Top, apart from the actual lives of the men who toil and suffer.

The true Church of the future will be recognized as Christ's Church, not by the purity of its speculative dogma, nor by the validity of its claim to have preserved unaltered the genuine apostolic ECCLESIA, but by the unmistakable demonstration, in spirit and power, in love and service, that it is an organ in the world for the revelation of the Life of God to the lives of men, and by its brave and fearless championship of those social and economic ideals of life which in the best and truest way enlarge the scope of human freedom and enable men and women and little children to fulfill their divine possibilities, not in a world beyond the stars, but here in this checkerboard world of black and white, which man is to subdue and conquer for spiritual ends.

A restoration of New Testament Christianity, a setting of one's affections on things above, and an acceptance of the Bible as God's Word would mean very little to those who hold the same concept of the church as that expressed above. This attitude will account for the fact that many former gospel preachers are now preaching sermons which would be approved by sectarians themselves. Now, another pertinent quotation from a liberal:

Religion, like every form of life, is marked by permanence and change. The recognized conservative tendency in all religion has various grounds . . . inertia . . . selfish fears of those in ecclesiastical positions. More often its root is the same as that of the opposition to social change in general, that is, a fear that precious goods of life may be endangered . . . One other reason is obvious. Religion is concerned with the divine; it seeks some point where the Eternal has revealed Himself in the midst of time. When now it has found God in Bible or creed, in Church or sacrament, it feels that its certainty of God is imperiled by change. Moreover, it is easy to identify the divine with the forms that it has taken or the channels through which it comes. So the Bible becomes infallible and creeds unchangeable. The unlearned look upon the theory of evolution and historical criticism as products of the pit." (Emphasis mine, PA)

High religion is never static; it is not satisfied with any voice of the past, for its search is for the living God. It knows that we see now only in a mirror darkly, THAT NO FORMULA CAN COMPRISE ALL TRUTH, that the Eternal is more than all that has been won in human thought and deed. It is a pilgrim seeking a city. Its spokesmen have been the great centers of religious advance: Akhnation and the Buddha, Amos and Jeremiah, Socrates, Jesus, Paul, Savonarola, Luther.

Then, after asserting that Christianity has "approved itself", the same author asserts:

That would naturally follow from the character of Judaism and Christianity as prophetic religions. for their distinguishing mark has been to find the clue to the nature of God in the highest ideals exemplified or suggested in human life, and to insist that salvation must be ethical and social.

We shall notice one more quotation with regard to how the advocates of the Social Gospel belittle the all-sufficiency and infallibility of the Bible and ridicule those who attempt to worship and work as the Lord commands.

These social principles are the fundamental principles which the great prophets of Judaism and Christianity and of every vital religion supremely emphasized. In their eyes the petty differences which today divide the religious forces of the world were utterly unimportant. Deeds, not creeds, spirit, not forms, attitude, not professions, alone are essential. The social teachings of the prophets and Jesus therefore, furnish the practical working basis on which the social and religious leaders of the world can cooperate in promoting and conserving the highest material and spiritual interest of the human race.

The discovery that the great prophets and founders of Judaism and Christianity were above all else social teachers and reformers is rapidly revolutionizing the study of the Bible.

The writer does not wish to assert that the liberals among us today give their whole-hearted endorsement to the views expressed in the above quotations, but the fact remains that they have made certain concessions to those views and are moving farther and farther away from the ancient order of things toward a religious viewpoint which is more acceptable to our modern society. The insistence upon putting the orphan homes in the budgets of churches, the centralization of authority in certain "local" churches for the sake of efficiency and economy, the "discovery" that we have been neglecting our youth, the building of extravagant meeting-houses, boasting towering steeples that cost enough to support an evangelist in a needy field for many years and including "fellowship halls" and other places for recreation and feasting, the area-wide "youth meetings" featuring worldly persons of fame to draw big crowds, the endless round of parties and other social functions for which the church has at least provided the place of gathering, and in many instances has actually borne other attendant expenses, the accent on intellectualism and degrees for preachers, all of these and many other things are concessions to the Social Gospel and steps away from New Testament Christianity. Even infidels realize that these things were not a part of the ancient order of things, and they taunt the churches that engage in them, as we shall see in our concluding article, next week.