Cultural Revolution - Part VII
The Social Gospel
We have traveled through some of the history of the modern church and the cultural revolution that has syncretized the way of the modern church with the world system. They are nearly indistinguishable. One cannot be factitious in discussing the next aspect of this synchronization—social justice. In and of itself, the term is not inappropriate.
The Bible is the only true book where true justice can be found and understood; especially how it must be evaluated within society. The concepts of equality, discrimination, fairness, and equity are being challenged and redefined today. Can the church effectually change society by using the system of the world that made society? It is no surprise to see that in the woke culture of today. Colleges are blaming our Founding Fathers on all of society’s ills.
Although preposterous, history has been rewritten to now claim that the rich slave owners who formed our government in America did so to protect their monopoly of slave and land ownership. To better understand the modern elements of social justice, let us first look back and see when and how it began.
Social justice was formally known as the Social Gospel movement. It sought to remedy a broad array of social ills, including poor working conditions, child labor, and illiteracy.
Social Gospelers exhorted Christians to stop focusing only on individual sins and to recognize the devastating impact of more complex social sins. Focusing on “social sins,” the Social Gospelers promoted justice and equal opportunity in society. Also known as “social Christianity,” the movement included a diverse array of proponents. They consisted of women and men, blacks and whites, theological liberals, mostly Protestant; moderates and conservatives, socialists and capitalists, pastors and laypeople, and Republicans, Democrats, and Progressives.
These all served in the Social Gospel army. Most of the advocates of the Social Gospel believed that God’s kingdom could be established on earth. (The seedbed of the modern Kingdom Now theology was birthed out of this movement). They all agreed that Jesus Christ emphasized this concept in His public ministry and commanded Christians to construct His kingdom on earth. Creating a more righteous and just social order was a central aspect of the biblical mandate and a vital part of advancing God’s kingdom on earth. Christians must work to restructure society so that justice, freedom, equal opportunity, brotherhood, and service could flourish.
Most of the Social Gospel advocates insisted that Jesus did not endorse any particular economic system or political agenda. All Christians were called both to convert individuals and improve social conditions. Redeemed individuals who understood biblical teaching and strove to implement it could reform society. Social service was a natural byproduct of conversion, commonly explained by Calvinists as perseverance—the observation of good works. Conversion, Social Gospelers contended, was not simply a personal experience that removed an individual’s sin and guilt, reconciled him to God and guaranteed that he would go to heaven. Rather, it should also be a life-changing event that motivated people to faithfully follow Jesus in every area of their lives and to work to regenerate the social order. This can be accomplished by removing barriers that inhibited people from hearing and responding to the gospel.
In essence, social ministries were a type of evangelism. An interesting thought—during this time the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was taking place in the Azusa Street Revival. Out of that revival came the birth of Pentecostal churches and the teaching on the rapture of the church.
The Social Gospel movement made its greatest impact during the Progressive movement. During this time, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson were the presidents of America. Also during this time, the Federal Council of Churches was founded to help improve employer-worker relations. The Federal Council of Churches was created by thirty-three denominations in 1908. Together they adopted a twelve-point “Social Creed of the Churches.” The social creed was the most widely endorsed summary of the movement’s aims and goals.
Consequently, the Social Gospel did not speak or act with a single or unified voice; it was a diverse movement with many participants and components that make it hard to classify precisely. The teaching was that Christians must labor to reconstruct the entire social order, not simply reduce particular social maladies. Many Social Gospelers insisted that destitution was the root cause of many other social ills. They argued that poverty usually sprang not from defective character but rather from exploitation and lack of opportunity and worked to change the economic and social circumstances that produced it.
Theologian Walter Rauchenbusch pushed the Social Gospel agenda through his popular books, Christianity and the Social Crisis in 1907 and A Theology for the Social Gospel in 1917. The aims and objectives of the movement influenced religious organizations, theology, and public initiatives to address social problems.
Because things have changed, it is imperative we look at social justice and what it means for today. To begin, social justice and Christian benevolence should not be confused. When God speaks of benevolence through the Scriptures, He directs His instruction to each person as an individual. The social justice movement defines itself as a means to establish laws that support its goals and aspirations.
For example, a report by the United Nations says, “Social justice is not possible without the strong and cohesive redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.”1 The same report goes on to say, “Social justice may be broadly understood to be the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.”2
Today many activists list the following among the rights that all should have: free access to healthcare, free college education, free childcare, a guaranteed income, guaranteed reproductive rights (right to abortion).
Many argue that corporations, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, churches, and governments at all levels should have demographic quotas to ensure that the employment of people of different races, genders, sexual orientations, and lifestyles are represented in proportion to their respective ratios found in the society at large. Further, many social justice proponents insist that all these rights should be afforded to every individual regardless of his or her ability or willingness to work.
How are these so-called rights secured and enforced? Supporters of social justice today believe the means of achieving social justice is large and powerful government bureaucracies, expansive and draconian laws and regulations, high taxation, and wealth redistribution. Social justice is not just another means of generosity. Its adherents view social justice as the belief that a strong central government with far-reaching laws and regulations, high taxation, and wealth redistribution is the solution to societal inequity.
In other words, it is the surrender of individual liberty and free will not to Jesus Christ but to an authoritarian state which ostensibly has the power to bring about a fair and just society.
There are prominent Christian teachers, preachers, and publications that tout social justice as benevolence. It is not. As we continue this series, we’ll address how the social justice movement became the means to spread communist principles into society.
1 Department of Economic and Social Affairs, The International Forum for Social Development, “Social Justice in an Open World: The Role of the United Nations” (2006).