Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 21, 1958
NUMBER 16, PAGE 1,12-13a

Pragmatism, Progressive Education, The Social Gospel, Current Trends (V)

Robert Atkinson, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

The writer knows what underlies the trend to put the church into the business of recreation. Social workers have determined that one factor contributing to juvenile delinquency is that young people have too much time on their hands. Before the Industrial Revolution and the concentration of population in urban areas, young people were kept busy on the farm and learned to enjoy family activities. Now they have an abundance of time on their hands, too much freedom from parental control, easy contact with other young people with the same problems, and so gangs of young hoodlums roam the streets. But society says that they are not to blame for their crimes; adult society is to be blamed. We have restricted them from working until they are sixteen years of age; we have given them money and time. But young people need activity and will be active, and if they do not receive proper recreational opportunities, they will act wrongly. So society, through civic organizations and schools, has set about to remedy the situation by providing supervised recreation. Denominations quickly jumped onto the bandwagon, and now many brethren are demanding that the Lord's church do likewise.

The big trouble is that society has only superficially diagnosed the problem. Young people are not active in crime because they must be active; they are active in crime because they have no values to guide them into actions of righteousness. Society, including educators, parents, and preachers, has not given them eternal truths upon which they may build a solid foundation for life. Treating this problem with supervised recreation is similar to treating a cold with aspirin; the symptoms are relieved for a short time but the disease which causes the symptoms is not affected. But if the church would concentrate on converting people to Christ, the disease itself would be overcome to the extent of the influence of those converted. If the church would confine itself to the work outlined in the New Testament, the souls of many of these young people would be saved, and their conversions would manifest themselves in righteous lives.

The notion that we must use recreation to draw them so they may be taught is purest nonsense. It violates everything taught in the New Testament about the power of the gospel and putting first things first. Besides, we are not to draw them, we are to "go" to them, preach to them, and the gospel will "draw" them. (Mk. 16:15; Jno. 6:44;12:32). The church bears no recreational responsibility to young people; it bears the responsibility of preaching the gospel to them. Good sportsmanship might be taught thru playing basketball, and skilled perseverance might be taught thru the building of an airplane in a hobby shop, but the gospel which saves cannot be thus taught. Does the church bear the responsibility of teaching good sportsmanship, or does it bear the responsibility of converting souls to Christ in the knowledge that good sportsmanship, perseverance, etc., will be some of the fruits of conversion? The church's responsibility to the general social problem of juvenile delinquency is the same as it is to other similar social problems; it has authority to evangelize and edify. In so doing it brings and holds young people to Christ. The fruits of conversion to Christ will correct such social problems to the full extent of the church's responsibility. Paul says, "For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things." (I Tim. 4:8). The church is a soul-saving institution, and when it does what it was established for, the fruits of conversion as manifested in the lives of individual Christians, will benefit all society, as opportunity for such is provided (Gal. 6:10). There is no authority beyond social need for putting the church into the work of recreation. Countless institutions of men are striving to fill that minor need, and when brethren jump on the bandwagon of society, they place the church on a level with these institutions and destroy its distinctive spiritual nature and thereby cover its glory and minimize its importance in the eyes of both young and old. Yea verily, let the church be the church. The works of recreation among us are undoubtedly manifestations of a trend toward the social gospel emphasis of denominationalism.

In a lectureship of 1954, before he received his doctor's degree, a scholarly brother with a well-deserved reputation for slaying modernistic Goliaths, advanced the following basic premise about modernism, "Anything originating this side of the Apostles can in a vital sense be called modernism." Even though our scholarly brother has obediently confessed allegiance to the Neo-Orthodoxy among us since he received his doctor's degree, we doubt if even his changed applications of scriptural principles will allow him to back away from so basic a premise. So until someone finds the Jerusalem Church building a Hobby Shop, the Philippian Church building a banquet hall (with completely equipped kitchen of course), or the church at Antioch maintaining a gymnasium, the Neo-Orthodoxy admits that the work of recreation is a manifestation of modernism. And I have demonstrated conclusively that the specific realm in the general area of modernism which it occupies is the Social Gospel.

There are many other manifestations of emphasizing the gospel from a social standpoint. When a brother states that we are not truly Christian because we have not a single hospital he measures the church's worth according to the infidel's measuring rod. In 1954, at a college lectureship, I heard a "prominent" elder of a "big" church lecture that "the church can contribute to any good work" and in elaborating on that he specifically named the Salvation Army, among other institutions. Other elders have stated that the church could contribute to any good work, and it is clear that by "good" they refer to the stamp of approval by society. They thus evaluate what it is good for the church to do from the standpoint of what is good for society. The writer believes that the church has no authority to commit its work to any other institutions. But whether wrong or right, the present insistence by some brethren upon putting orphan homes in church budgets, when they themselves claim it is only an expedient, is indicative of a Social Gospel emphasis. I am aware of the content and truth of Jas. 1:27 when I charge that brethren who so insist are measuring the worth of the church by the infidel's measuring rod. I think that the point of that passage's reference to good works on the part of individual Christians has been well taken. But yea or nay, it is certain, as Macknight comments, ". . a part of religion is put for the whole." Religion certainly consists of more than good works, or are some ready to insist that caring for orphans only will save? But what is the situation concerning this "expedient" matter? The author knows of one church that "disfellowshipped" another local church (they did not cite their New Testament precept or example for such action) because the other church refused to put orphan homes in their budget! I know of many other situations which amount substantially to the same thing. This is a manifestation of the Social Gospel emphasis inasmuch as the "disfellowshipping" brethren evaluated the "disfellowshipped" group squarely on the basis of their reaction to a social problem. And that is the picture which is shaping up in general. A local church may be evangelizing the community, sending gospel preachers abroad, edifying its members, feeding the hungry and caring for orphans as the opportunity to do so arises, but if it does not believe in sending money to orphan homes out of the treasury of the church, it is the target of ridicule (they're antis, hobby riders, etc.), the butt of steady pressure from papers and schools (a very few teachers therein) to "line up," and the subject of a subtle, or not so subtle, "quarantine." In such cases the worth of the church has been clearly evaluated by the infidel's measuring rod. This trend is another manifestation of the Social Gospel.

The church is clearly obligated to preach the gospel to every creature made in God's image. Nowhere is the church obligated to meet every social need. If Gal. 6:10 refers to the church rather than the individual, the "all" is qualified by the phrases ". . . as we have therefore opportunity . . ." and ". . . especially unto them of the household of faith." The churches in New Testament times did not recognize an obligation to meet the famine-imposed needs of all Judean society; they sent relief "unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea" (Acts 11;29). As Christians we may love all men without acknowledging a responsibility to correct social evils beyond those which come to our attention in the normal course of the Christian life. Jesus presented the Good Samaritan as an example of being neighborly; that is, as one who demonstrated the second greatest commandment, loving one's neighbor as one's self. The Good Samaritan was not out searching for beaten-men, nor had he established a beaten-men's home, but ". . . as he journeyed . . ." he did good to all men in the opportunity was presented to him. (Luke 10:25-37). The very one whom Jesus holds up as an example of loving men was one who did good as opportunities presented themselves in the course of the affairs of life. After we get our "Church of Christ Hospitals" (and who doubts that we'll get them?) the Good Samaritan will be pass, because obviously anyone who doesn't put beaten-men into a "Church of Christ Hospital" that is supported by churches is "anti" beaten-men. Isn't it made plain in Christ's own example of neighborly love, that even though the Good Samaritan personally cared for and made an individual financial contribution to the welfare of one who suffered social abuse, it was the Good Samaritan's belief that churches must make such contributions to social welfare institutions that actually demonstrates his love? Some would have to find such in Christ's example to justify their contemptible conduct toward their brethren, because their brethren believe in and practice good works toward society on exactly the same basis as the Good Samaritan, and the churches of which they are members do benevolent work exactly as the churches of Macedonia and Achaia.

Let's scour the countryside for the mentally ill, the physically ill, the maladjusted, the juvenile delinquents, the adult delinquents, the robbed, the beaten, those suffering marital misery, those who live in slums, etc. These are properly the innocent victims of social tragedy and injustice in many cases as are orphans. Orphans are only one part of the social problem. We may as properly obligate the church to support institutions designed to help all these social problems as to obligate it to one. We can teach the sick, the martially unhappy, the juvenile delinquents, etc., as well in hospitals, guidance centers for marital bliss, reform schools, etc., as readily as we can teach orphans in orphan's homes, so let's make the church build all these institutions for all these pitiful victims of social tragedy, "lest the Catholics get them." But the fact is, if I, like the Good Samaritan, do good works as I have opportunity, but do not scour the countryside for these orphans and the Catholics do get them, yet I see to it that those whom the Catholics got are reached with the gospel of Christ, either by going or sending (Rom. 10:14, 15) I will have done as the New Testament directs. The gospel thaws honest Catholics to Christ as powerfully as it draws anyone else. Or does the Neo-Orthodoxy subscribe to the infidel notion that environment is all-important?

Those who demand more authority for what the church does than the mere stamp of "good" as determined by man in his social experiences, are still searching for the command, example, or necessary inference in God's Eternal Word which authorizes obligating the church to the support of human institutions which contribute to social welfare. And those who merely accept social approval as authority for the church's work had best be aware that even society is now beginning to doubt the worth of Orphan Homes.

I claim no great discovery of an hitherto obscure truth that will certainly put present errors to flight, for these articles. The basic issue, as is the case in every departure from the truth, is authority, and this fact has been rightly brought out in scores of articles designed to check the present erroneous trends. I have simply endeavored to show the striking similarities of attitudes and thoughts that prevail among the advocates of the materialistic philosophy of Pragmatism, the advocates of the infidel Social Gospel, and the advocates of the doctrine among us that the church of Christ may and should be obligated to meet social needs of unlimited scope and support human institutions of social welfare. The similarities and errors have been shown. Emphasis is shifting film the divine to the human.

I am well aware of the fact that the nature of this article invites the skilled sophistry of those who oppose the truth. What sophist will be first to assert that some Johnny-come-Lately "Guardian Angel has called James an infidel because James measured religion by caring for orphans? So, for what good it may do, I go on record in stating that I believe in caring for orphans, and I do not believe that either the church or individual Christians may close their eyes to social injustices. I have not contended against orphans or other objects of compassion in this article. I have affirmed, along with Christ and the apostles, that there are greater and more important things than healing bodies and feeding bodies and otherwise providing for social welfare. There are greater things than these (John 14:12), and I am set firmly against leaving the word of God to serve tables (Acts 6:2). I acknowledge both benevolent and evangelistic responsibility, and I also acknowledge that the latter exceeds the former in importance. I further contend that to be "complete" in Christ (Col. 2:10) demands the existence of a pattern in all things (Heb. 8:5; Phil. 3:16; II Pet. 1:3).

We plead for proper recognition and emphasis for all parts of the work of the church and the adequacy of both the church and the word to accomplish God's will. The question or issue is one of emphasis. The Bible emphasizes the church as a divine institution with a spiritual purpose. These articles have pointed out that some brethren, by some of their actions, are emphasizing the social responsibility of the church. Even as certain Judaizers acknowledged belief in Christ but emphasized circumcision after the custom of Moses (Acts 15:1), so do these brethren acknowledge belief in the divine nature and purpose of the church but emphasize its obligation to social welfare.

"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him; Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware let any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." (Col. 2:6-10).