Saturday, January 17, 2009

Social Gospel and Conservatism

I've been reading some posts on Facebook where those in the Conservative camp are decrying churches getting caught up in the Social Gospel.  So I decided to do some research on what it is or was and quite frankly I'm concerned about those Christians that are of the conservative persuasion who are simply carping and not doing.

Here's what wikipedia defines the social gospel as:  The Social Gospel movement is a Protestant Christian intellectual movement that was most prominent in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The movement applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially poverty, inequality, liquor, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, child labor, weak labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war. Above all they opposed rampant individualism and called for a socially aware religion. Theologically, the Social Gospel leaders were overwhelmingly post-millennialist. That is because they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort.[1] Social Gospel leaders were predominantly associated with the liberal wing of theProgressive Movement and most were theologically liberal. Important leaders include Richard T. ElyWashington Gladden, and Walter Rauschenbusch.

After the Social Gospel movement faded after 1950, many of its ideas reappeared in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Social Gospel principles continue to inspire newer movements such as Christians Against Poverty.

Now if you read thru the statement you'll see that speaking out against the oppression of people is something that should be a mark of Christianity.  Remember scripture says that Jesus went about his ministry doing good.  And James tells us not only that faith without works is dead but also that pure undefiled religion is to care for the widow and orphan.  Put those two together and I believe we have a mandate to actually do some good works and stop wringing our hands from the sideline about whether or not the church is going down the tubes because we are actually going to start doing good instead of talking about it.

Sure we need to make sure our motives are right -- ie we are doing it to serve Christ - and to share his love and free gift but as I have stressed before we need to do it with a language that is clear.  We throw around so much church jargon that no one understands.  Michael W Smith wrote the following :

Were passengers aboard the train
Silent little lambs amidst the pain
Thats no longer good enough
And when its time to speak our faith
We use a language no one can explain
Thats no longer good enough

And God knows its a shame
As we look to pass the flame
We are not the worthy bearers of his name


For the world to know the truth
There can be no greater proof
Than to live the life, live the life
Theres no love thats quite as pure
Theres no pain we cant endure
If we live the life, live the life
Be a light for all to see
For every act of love will set you free

Theres something beautiful and bold
The power of a million human souls
Come together as one
And each in turn goes out to lead
Another by his word, his love, his deed
Now the circle is done

It all comes back to one
For it is he and he alone
Who has lived the only perfect life weve known

This song was written in 1997 and we have simply gotten even more bizarre to a world around us that no longer has a Christian world view.  And so what does the conservative evangelical church do:  Complain about moving down a path to a Social Gospel mindset.  True, we have to guard against just doing good with no end game - but we need to start doing good instead of TALKING about doing good.  I am so encouraged by the efforts of some of our guys to go into the homeless camps around here and just doing good.  Some of the post'ers would say - see that's a social gospel because you didn't go in and share the gospel right away after giving them the sleeping bag.  However after a series of visits the men starting asking the why are you doing this question.  And as of a couple of weeks ago one of the men accepted the free gift of salvation.  It took our guys to earn their trust and show an interest in the men as a fellow human being and not a conquest.

We do, however, need to remind ourselves that we are 1) Serving Christ by showing love to "the least of these my brothers"  2) showing the love of Christ with the goal of sharing the clear gospel message not bogged down with our jargon that no one understands.

Let's stop worrying about the church in America going down the tubes by standing on the side complaining about folks wanting to do good works and get in the game and show love.


Terry said...

Interesting point too that I had intended to make. Those fellow conservatives that are decrying the social gospel movement are really involved in the social gospel movement when you look at the original purpose of the movement. Remember Social Gospel was a main piece of the Temperance movement -- preaching against the evils of liquor. Don't get me wrong - Scripture says to not be under control of alcohol but under the control of the spirit. But aren't we as conservatives practicing a form of social gospel when we get accused by the left of "legislating morality" Isn't the opposition to abortion a form of social gospel (if you look at the original purpose of the movement) and aren't we just as guilty of practicing social gospel if our rationale for opposing abortion isn't based in trying to win them for Christ and show his love. That old phrase still holds true: "where's the love, man?"

Tim said...

What are the bloggers complaining about?

Stevie said...

I was listening to a sermon from Matt Chandler at The Village Church in Dallas Texas and he said this after reading Matthew 25:31-46(;&version=31;)...

"Now let me stop because I’ve got to unpack something for you here. Because one of the problems with unpacking this for you tonight is you can go, “Okay, I’ve got to handle the poor, I’ve got to work with the poor. I’ve got to do that to make God pleased with me.”
What you’ll notice in this breakdown is God says, “You’ve done these things,” and they’re going, “When have we done that?” as if they were unaware that they were trying to do something in order to please Him, but were doing something that was natural once the gospel hits their heart. Which is why they’re saying, “When did we do that?” Because it wasn’t a one week event every summer, it wasn’t a Saturday afternoon. It was what they did. It was how they lived. It was how they saw the world. So when the King on His throne says, “You did all these things,” they’re going, “When did we do all that to You?” And He says, “Well anytime you did that to the least of these, you did it to Me.” So this isn’t a works based thing. This isn’t at thing that they did in order to please Him, but rather once they felt His mercy it was a natural part of progressive sanctification."

It was a really good sermon if you want to listen to it you can find it 07.26.08 Hands and Feet. I suggest plugging in some headphones and listening to it while you work