The Social Gospel

Joshua West

The term social gospel comes from a movement that gained prominence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Christian intellectuals aimed to use Christian ethics to solve problems such as war, poverty, social injustice, crime, and addiction. 

While trying to tackle these problems in and of itself is a good thing, it was the philosophy behind it that made it flawed. The people behind this movement focused solely on these issues while almost completely downplaying or altogether ignoring issues like true salvation, sin, heaven and hell, final judgment, and other important spiritual matters. 

Salvation in the social gospel is about the here and now rather than eternal salvation which is granted to those who follow Christ and endure to the end. The greatest flaw of the social gospel is that it implies that the return of Jesus somehow hinges on our ability as humans to right all wrongs in the earth. True theology says the world will be imperfect until Jesus returns and at that time he will bring justice to the earth. 

Salvation is God’s Priority
Jesus had compassion for the sick and hurting and fed them, and healed them, and forgave their sins, but he never got involved in politics nor did he mediate disputes. That was not the kind of justice he came to bring. Jesus was not interested in social justice, he is interested in seeking and saving that which is lost. 

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” 
Luke 12:13-21 (NIV) 

Social Justice vs the Gospel
As Christians we should be just and fair and treat people the way God would, but let us never confuse social justice with the gospel. Social justice is focused on a world that is quickly passing away, but the gospel is focused on the eternal soul of man and salvation through Jesus Christ. 

In our day and age people are hungry to feel as if they are part of something greater. Many people use social media to speak out on social injustice from the comfort of their home rather than doing anything to solve the problems that face our world. But increasingly, there are many people who are willing to work toward goals and put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. Those who care enough to take action—not just Christians but people in general.
It is a good thing to care about the underprivileged, the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed. These are biblical concepts and we as Christians should live our lives in a manner that serves others, but let’s not confuse this with the gospel. 

The gospel isn’t about righting social wrongs, it is freedom from the yoke of sin and salvation through Christ, by which we will spend eternity with him. The idea of righting all social wrongs isn’t the point of the gospel. The American dream isn’t the gospel. 

God’s Kingdom
I’m not sure what will become of the great nation of America, but I do know this: one day Christ will return and redeem those of us who have sworn allegiance to his kingdom. We will be transformed in the blink of an eye. The Kingdom of God won’t be a democracy, it will be a theocracy which will truly be one nation under God and Christ will be king forever and ever. 

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:32, 33 (NIV) 

I believe that our democratic republic is the best possible system of government in a world that is awaiting the return of its King, but the only thing that sets us apart as a nation is the fact that we have a right to freely and openly worship God. 

The origins of our nation are uniquely God-centered and everything from our laws to our system of government were designed to honor God and give freedom to man who was created in his image. But as we have given ourselves over to sin, idol worship, and depravity, the very nature of God’s blessing on this nation has begun to unravel. Without repentance we will not escape the judgement of the Lord. 

Love God
The idea of loving your neighbor as yourself is a noble one, but it falls short of the greatest good—to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. Loving others and doing what is right toward them isn’t the highest aim; it is merely a byproduct of God’s love for us. 
Many within the modern church have made it seem like social issues are the highest aim of the church. Helping others is important but if you do this and don’t preach the true gospel you are doing no good. Nothing is more important than drawing sinners to repentance by preaching the true gospel to a lost and dying world. 

If you feed people and help people while presenting the gospel to them, you are using goodness to glorify God, but if the gospel isn’t attached to your benevolence you are merely bring glory to yourself. 

The idea that the gospel is a means to fight all social injustice in the world is a false one. Before we are saved, or when we are new Christians, we show our immaturity because we think everything is about us. Our worldview and perspective is one of “self.” We always consider how things affect us before we consider others or God. 

Love Others
The next level is a view that puts others before ourselves but still considers others’ needs or feelings before God. Although this seems better it is still a flawed order of priorities. It is the reason many within the church have softened toward homosexuality and abortion, and put people's feelings before God’s feelings. 

It is because they have the two greatest commandments out of order. It is wrong to put people before God. Our love for people should flow out of our love for God not the other way around. If we think that telling people that God doesn’t have a problem with a lifestyle of sin, or that God loves them too much to judge them, we are lying to them and to ourselves. 

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV) 

In the words of Scripture, Jesus tells us what he expects from us. How we feel about this is inconsequential. The way we love people and how we prioritize what's important in our life should come from Scripture. What is socially in vogue at the time should never change this fact; we must put God first, others second, and ourselves last if we want to live a life that pleases God. 

The Uncompromised Gospel
Today much of the church seems to think that being benevolent is the gospel, and while we should always be benevolent we should do this in addition to preaching an uncompressed gospel message. If we don’t we are just sending well-fed people to their destruction. 

We have been conditioned to believe that what the world views as success, and what God considers success, is the same thing. That simply is not true. God will judge us by our character and our faithfulness to the gospel, not by how many people attended our church, the success of our building project, or how much money we raised. 

God is looking for Daniels to thrive in Babylon as holy men and women of the Lord, not for people to become Babylonian in order to gain the culture’s acceptance. If we truly believe that God is impressed by gains we make in our compromise, then we are more blind than the people we are trying to save. 

We cannot build Christ’s church by compromising his message, withholding his truth, or editing or watering down his words. Corrupt human hands can never build the church of Christ. We are mere laborers who work in his vineyard and execute his will. Nothing we do to complete our vision by our will and through secular methods, pleases God. 

What pleases God is when his servants and anointed messengers preach and proclaim his Word fearlessly and with conviction, trusting that when the gospel is preached under the anointing of the Spirit, hearts will be changed. We are not called to grow the church, we are called to preach the gospel and go into the world and make disciples. 

Men construct buildings and organizations, but only Christ through his supernatural power will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. 

Churches built with secular methods, by human hands, will not prevail against anything. Just like a house built on the sand, it will not endure the test of time, and neither will their deeds endure the fire by which Christ will try all things. On that day all things built with human hands will be burned up, but what Christ builds upon himself will surely endure forever. 

In Christ,

Pastor Joshua

Joshua West is a pastor, evangelist, and author. He is also director of the World Challenge Pastors Network.


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