‘But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18).’
In these times ‘social justice’ has become a slogan of the leftwing. There’s a desire to bring about more equality and fairness in society. As I thought about this, another set of words drifted into my mind – ‘the social gospel’. I must have heard it somewhere, but what it meant I hadn’t a clue. So I’ve done some superficial scratchings to discover the basic facts for sharing with you.
As I continue looking into the subject I want to examine its doctrines and practices to see if they are in accord with the Word of God, i.e., the Bible which says we should, ‘Test all things: hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).’ This could take quite a while; so I ask myself will this exercise distract me from my main purpose which is to preach the gospel of salvation and dispense practical love to my neighbour? Having grasped what is entailed in practising the social gospel will I be attracted to it and become a proponent?
First and foremost, I am a believer and follower of Jesus. My purpose and desire is to be His effective servant and to demonstrate my love for Him by obedience to Him. I am also a member of His body here on earth. I am a citizen of His kingdom (John 18:36), and He is my King. I recognise that everything that is achieved towards glorifying Him is through His grace which He supplies in abundance (1 Timothy 1:14). He is the One who *energises and motivates me; He is the One who sustains me through all the vicissitudes of life.
It’s important to rehearse these facts; for I must look to Him at all times, because He supplies all His benefits, and because it is His desire that I should focus on Him (Matthew 6:33).
So What is the Social Gospel?
As far as I can gather, there are different interpretations as to nature and purpose of the movement which was active in the United States between about 1870 and 1920. It was a time of change brought about through industrialisation. Exploitation of the poor in the building of fortunes for those in positions of power and influence was rife. A number of Protestant ministers according to their interpretation of the Scriptures believed they could make a difference by spearheading reforms in things like abolishing child labour, reducing the length of the working week, providing a living wage and establishing factory regulations for the safety and benefit of workers.
High on their agenda was the concept of ‘building’ the Kingdom of God on earth (Luke 11:2). The primary goal and purpose of the gospel of salvation would appear to have been sublimated by their desire to bring about better living conditions, which they believed in turn would lead to more people being in a position to carry out good works. They argued that people should emulate the life of Jesus by carrying out good works.
There is no doubt that many good works were done, including the building of settlement houses for the less fortunate, and by giving better access to education, plus free or low-cost health care and other benefits.
**Walter Rauschenbusch, a New York City pastor, believed the church had a bigger agenda than just that of preaching the gospel for sowing seeds in the hearts of men and women for the regeneration of their souls by the Holy Spirit. He and other pastors believed social problems were moral problems on a large scale. They thought that by actively engaging in ‘practical Christianity’ by meeting the needs of the poor, and the disenfranchised, they would be transformed spiritually and morally, and thus their lives would be improved.
The quality of their material lives may well have been improved, but the primary task of preaching the gospel and of making disciples was supplanted by the pastors’ desire to build God’s kingdom on earth. It appears they overlooked the fact that God builds His church (Matthew 16:18) and He builds His kingdom (cf. Luke 22:28, 29). Theses things are not done by human hands. The role that Christians play is in their obedience to their Saviour (John 15:14). God places each one in Christ’s body, i.e., the local church, where each member has a role to play (1 Corinthians 12:14-31): That may happen to be in serving the local community along with the church, perhaps by giving shelter overnight to rough sleepers, as is done by ***churches in my local community. They open their buildings overnight during the cold winter months.
While these homeless people are under their temporary care, Christian helpers will take any opportunities that may arise for preaching the gospel. They will also help with social matters, such as involving local town or city councils who by ****law should provide accommodation for rough sleepers. If the homeless seek help with other problems such as alcohol and drug addiction they can be put in touch with organisations who can address their needs.
There’s so much more to ‘the social gospel’ that I want to explore, but as I said at the beginning, I must not let my research distract me from my prime calling which is to preach the gospel, love God and my neighbour as myself.
***Winter Night Shelter, Southend
****Homeless Code of Guidance for Local Authorities