Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 28, 1959

The Social Gospel Among Churches Of Christ (II.)

Robert Atkinson, Miami, Florida

The New Testament teaches that the church was bought with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28.) Christ is the Saviour of those who are in the body, the church (Eph. 5:23.) But the social gospel does not recognize the church as a blood-bought institution in which the human race is reconciled to God. The infidels who promote the social gospel look upon the church as just another human institution which may fill some of the material needs of humanity. They put it on a par with schools, lodges, fire and police departments, community centers, etc. This is not surprising. Since they reject Jesus as a Redeemer, they would naturally reject the church as a blood-bought, soul-saving institution. When the infidel speaks of "spiritual" interests and goals of the church, he speaks only of moral values, principles and ideals conceived by men; he does not speak of the things of God which are aimed at redeeming the lost souls of men and providing for their eternal welfare. When the infidel speaks of Jesus as a "prophet", it should be kept in mind that he refers to Him thus in the sense that Jesus was a teacher who understood the needs of the human race a little better than other men of his time did; he does not speak of Him as an inspired messenger of God. Now, the reader's attention is directed to the testimony of the advocates of the social gospel as they define the social gospel and explain the mission and work of the church in harmony with their definition.

The Social Gospel Defined

Jesus said "farewell to reform" and announced nothing less than a social revolution — a revolution which was to be no whit less radical in its realization for its being spiritually inaugurated. In short, the new order was to be a new social order, an order of human brotherhood, a classless society.4 The writer's concern is with the application of principles of valid social religion to such pressing problems as the prevention of war, the abolition of poverty, the safeguarding of liberty, and the reformation of government. What is meant by social religion in this connection is the free acceptance of the true well-being of humanity as the will of God for man, and thus as an absolute moral, social, and religious obligations.5

Shailer Matthews, in speaking of faith in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the world, defines the attitude of the social gospel as he belittles those who have such a faith.

That such a theology did not always produce the attitude of Jesus in the minds of his followers was due partly to the fact that they still thought of Him as an absolute sovereign, and partly to their pre-scientific ignorance of group morality. To no small degree the same difficulty persists today in the minds of many persons. They are ready to have Jesus pay the debt they owe to God, but they do not see that a similar attitude toward all aspects of life is involved in their loyalty to him. Much less do they realize that faith in God as Father involves something of tremendous significance to all social relations. Theology here has not adequately represented Jesus. He was not concerned to prove that the Father was begotten. To him God was no metaphysical problem, but one to be trusted in serene confidence that his will was good. For this the church ought to stand, not only in the case of individuals, but in the case of group action. To express this attitude in social activity is something more than to relieve the unfortunate. It is to remove the causes that produce human suffering. It is not enough to play the Good Samaritan on the road from some Jerusalem to some Jericho — the road itself should be policed. It is not enough to pluck brands from the burning we must put out the fire . . . Any religious organization that disregards the ethical nature of group action is attempting to set up a reform against nature.6 W. R. Inge, D.D., who was Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral at the time he wrote The Social Teaching Of The Church, is frank to state that the social gospel is not that which the apostles taught but is an improvement over that gospel. The fact that the Apostle Paul condemns those who depart from the ancient gospel does not bother this promoter in the least.

The Christian standard of values is permanently true. But I should not be honest if I suppressed my conviction that there is something lacking both in the outlook of the New Testament and in that of the Church, both in early times and down to our own day ... The notion of an "end of the age," a legacy of Palestinian apocalyptism, helped to paralyze the secular energies of the Christian Church and infected even the Pagans. In short, we look in vain for any trace of that inspiring vision of a better world, to be brought about on this earth by the collective efforts of mankind, which forms so large a part of the idealism of our own time.

Do we really think that the work assigned to us as Christians is less important than that which occupies the attention of politicians? Do we really think that any solid and stable amelioration of society can be made without a new heart and a new spirit? If we do, we shall be making a far worse mistake than the early Church did when it neglected social reform altogether. (Emphasis mine, RA) .8

The above quotations clearly demonstrate that the infidels who promote the social gospel feel free to criticize the early church because it emphasized salvation from sin and felt no universal social obligation. The infidels have set about to correct the mistakes made by Jesus and the apostles, and they would do this by emphasizing the universal obligation of the church to social welfare and minimizing the "other-world" emphasis of the gospel of Christ. They bemoan the fact that churches in apostolic times helped only other churches in distress and neglected the great mass of humanity. They criticize the individual character of the good works of that time and suggest that "human nature" demands that the church act as a group to remove the causes that produce human suffering.

The brethren who long ago made up their minds that the church could "contribute to any good work" (including, of course, their own institutions of "good works") and then began a frantic search for Bible authority for their belief, can now cease from their labors. The authority for such is not in the Bible. The authority for such is found in the writings of the infidels who promote the social gospel ". . . which is not another gospel: only there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." (Gal. 1:7, RSV)

Just as many brethren fail to distinguish between what the Christian may do as an individual member of the Body of Christ, and what the Body itself has authority to do, so do the advocates of the Social Gospel insist that the church (group) can and should do any good work which might be done by individuals. They, however, do not assert that this is in harmony with the New Testament, but to the contrary, it is in harmony with the laws of social evolution.

The church has not been moving in circles but in spirals. The motives and the faith of Jesus we have come to see are not limited to individual men and women, but are equally applicable to the action of groups. For them, too, the church has a message of hope born of its faith in God and the consequent practice of goodwill. An ideal incapable of dominating group action will inevitably lose its power with individuals.

Such a social gospel does not carry with it a program of economical or political activity. The church is not an economical or political institution. But none the less (and here everything said before is "butted" out, RA) it does promise success to group altruism. In an issue among classes and nations which demands choice between a policy that is selfish and one less selfish, between one that seeks to give justice and one which seeks to maintain a privilege, the church as the institutional exponent Of the principles of Jesus cannot safely hesitate. It cannot be silent when silence means consent to injustice or cowardice . . . Why should not organized Christianity champion — as it has — the better way? The position of organized Christianity here is the same as in its use of science . . . Here again practical experience (Emphasis mine, RA) is showing that attitudes are more than epigrams and that the reproduction of the attitude of Jesus is not independent of group action and the laws of social evolution. (Emphasis mine, RA) 9

After reversing his field swiftly, Dr. Shailer at least ends up more consistent than many brethren. If the individual may be active in politics, by running for office or influencing people to vote a certain way or believe a certain thing, why may not the church (group) be similarly active? And the same goes for economics and many other things But he is in error and so are many brethren. (I Cor. 12:14; I Tim. 5:16.)


4. Douglas Clyde Macintosh, Social Religion (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1939) p. 37.

5. Ibid, p. 3.

6. Shailer Matthews. Jesus On Social Problems (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1928), p. 139.

7. W. R. Inge, The Social Teaching Of The Church (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1930), p. 48.

8. Ibid, p. 109.

9. Matthews, op. cit., p. 143.