Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 8, 1951
NUMBER 27, PAGE 8-9b

Socialistic Developments In The Church

Robert C. Welch, Florence, Alabama

Robert Owen is known by members of the church for his debate with Alexander Campbell on skepticism. He is known by Socialists as the first to formulate a doctrine of socialism:

"Robert Owen, the great and successful textile employer of New Lanark, was the first to formulate the doctrine of Socialism in comprehensive form, and to his followers the name "Socialists" was first applied, though he himself commonly spoke of his scheme as "the social system," or, "the rational system for the organization of society"." (Britannica Encyclopedia)

Is it possible that his doctrine which was discussed in the debate with Campbell can now be developing in the thinking of brethren? His doctrine was applied to economical relationships. We would not expect so much of that, together with its political aspects, in the church: but the principles from which he argued these economical and political changes seem to be used today in the church in application to developing practices. This paper is intended to show the comparison between the principles of socialism as it has developed, and recent developments in the church.

A Definition Of Terms

That this nation is developing socialistic politics and economics is a fact well known to all. This paper does not intend to be critical of the doctrine in politics or economy. The development of Socialism may eventually lead to totalitarian government, but it is not a necessary requisite to the accomplishment of the doctrine. A definition of the term will clearly point out these trends:

"We can only say that Socialism is essentially a doctrine and a movement aiming at the collective organization of the community in the interests of the mass of the people by means of the common ownership and collective control of the means of production and exchange." (Britannica Encyclopedia)

It can be seen in our country in the control and ownership by local and national government of utilities, railroads, industries, farm programs; as distinguished from private ownership and control.

The term is not applied alone to the actual ownership and control by government, but it is applied to collective activity as distinguished from individualistic doctrines:

"And thus tended to be applied very widely to all social theories which stressed the need for collective political or economic action in opposition to the dominant individualistic doctrines." (Britannica Encyclopedia)

Labor unions is one of the best concrete examples of this phase of the definition. Also included in this would be the Farm Bureau and the various cooperatives. They are formed as a result of the idea that the individual cannot get as good results as is possible from a group in cooperation.

Church Work Versus The Individual

This same idea pervades the thinking of a great number of church members, with reference to religious affairs. Maybe those brethren who so think with reference to church affairs would be bitterly opposed to the same principle applied to civic and economic affairs. Instead of the individual doing his work as a Christian alone, he must do it in conjunction with others. Instead of going to his neighbor for a talk on the Bible on his own initiative, he must depend on a church drive, or personal workers' class. Preachers today are not able to preach the gospel in a new territory unless they have a whole regiment of preachers and personal workers with them. Children cannot play in these modern times by themselves, it must be the whole community with community provided facilities; or, if it is the child of a church member, the church must provide his recreation. If a "good Christian" sees a poor widow or orphan in desperate need of food, clothing, or medicine; he must not give her anything directly from his own pocket; he must "glorify God in the church" by taking all of his contribution and placing it in the treasury, giving her the assistance from the church treasury; or he must turn the little orphan down coldly with the explanation that all of his charity is done through the church. All of the preceding theories are held and preached by church members today, and they are precisely the theories held by the Socialist in economics and politics and practiced by others unwittingly.

Not all of the brethren with the foregoing ideas have in mind a centralized governing and controlling agency for all the churches. Many of them are content to retain the congregational unit completely intact. But this is also the doctrine of Socialism in political affairs. In a book, Socializing Our Democracy, by Harry W. Laidler, PhD., this statement concerning centralization is made:

"Socialists do not advocate the centralization of all social or public industry in Washington. They desire as much decentralization as is consistent with efficiency, and would doubtless work out many partnerships between local and federal industries. They would likewise develop central planning boards to coordinate the various public industries and to bring about increasing planning for the common good among the industries of the world."

If the economic terms were removed from that statement it could very easily be the words of some of these people in the church today, who have long since ceased thinking of individual work as a Christian and are now thinking in terms of "cooperative church work."

Often the argument is made that the independent individual work is so inefficient in these days; that it can be done so much better by the church as a whole. Notice a similar statement from the same book last cited:

"Under a socialized system of industry community services which were formerly performed at home will increasingly become the function of outside agencies. This is necessary to ever greater social efficiency under a highly developed industrial system."

Is it possible that such a highly developed system is being evolved in the church that home responsibilities for family living and training of children in the nurture and chastening of the Lord will be lost, and individual deeds of loving help to the destitute will be forgotten?

More and more the church is trying to take upon herself the burden of teaching the children what should be taught them at home. Sunday schools were begun with the idea of teaching the urchins whose parents were not church members and were not interested in their training. Today our Bible study is for the purpose of teaching the children of the members. In vacation Bible schools churches are trying to overcome the lack of individual teaching of children by parents. This is not intended to be critical of the church for doing this work; but it is critical of the Christian for his attitude of letting the church do all of it. The question of efficiency is secondary to the question of how the Lord has said his work shall be done. The church has its work to do. But a great amount of the work of the Lord is individual. Let not the Christian become so socialistic in his thinking and practice that he cannot perform his duties as a Christian without the whole church being involved.

(To be continued)