The Social Gospel
I received the latest issue of VOICE magazine, from the IFCA (Independent Fundamental Churches of America) the other day and as I was reading through it, two articles really struck me. I would like to take highlights from both articles and summarize their main points.
The articles are “The Social Gospel: You Just Can’t Do It” by David J. Brown, and “Biblical Church Based Poverty Ministry” by Don Tack.
Brown and Tack note that going back to the late 1800s, things took a turn. They trace this turn back to Rev. Walter Rauschenbush who “was moved with compassion by the extreme poverty he saw all around his church in the slums of New York City.” 
Is there anything wrong with this? Absolutely not. In fact, both authors consistently refer to the gospels and other portions of Scripture that command followers of Jesus to do what we can to help those who are in need financially, economically, and of course, spiritually.
But not long after Rauschenbush came to be deeply concerned for the poor he began writing extensively about ways to help them. One book he wrote in particular – “Christianizing the Social Order” – influenced protestant denominations throughout America. He eventually came to be known as “Father of the Social Gospel in America.”
The emphasis slowly began shifting from presenting the gospel to concern about the physical welfare of people. It was almost as if Christendom was unable to do both and taking care of people became the overriding concern, to the near exclusion of the presentation of the gospel.
Many came to believe that by simply helping others, Christians were fulfilling the Great Commission. This belief was loosely based on the parable of the sheep and the goats and other passages of Scripture that seemed to uphold the idea that helping people was more important than simply presenting the gospel. By helping others, we were presenting the gospel in our life.
Since that time, what has become known as the social gospel has made greater and greater inroads into the church and society. Too many churches today no longer emphasize things like the cross, sin, righteousness, and repentance and in its place is the teaching that we should help others.
Based on this definition, David J. Brown points out that “There are a number of dangers involved with compassion ministry, but for someone who holds to the beliefs of the IFCA, it is virtually impossible to promote or be involved in the Social Gospel.”  Certainly, while feeding the hungry and clothing the naked are very important, these things do not take precedence over spiritual needs and are not really even part of the Great Commission, except indirectly.
The proponents of the social gospel today – in many to most cases – have tossed out the need to share the gospel with people who are lost. They have come to believe that by meeting a person’s physical needs, they have “met Christ” and that is often good enough. However, it is not good enough and I believe Jesus makes this abundantly clear.
Of course, the other extreme that both authors also discuss, is the plain fact that too often today, churches are absent when it comes to any form of compassion ministry. They wrongly believe that all they need to do is present the gospel and all will be well. People need food. They need clothing. They need jobs. All of it must be dealt with as far as we are able to help. There must be a balance, but the presentation of the gospel does take precedence because there are times we may not be able to physically help a person, but the gospel should always be given.
I have read too many books and listened to too many messages from proponents of the social gospel who emphasize helping people to the exclusion of presenting the gospel. At the same time, I have read too many books and listened to many messages that emphasize the presentation of the gospel without bothering to help supply a person’s physical needs.
Brown provides what he calls a three-fold cord of gospel ministry:
- Preaching the Gospel message of His coming, His person, the Kingdom of God, and salvation from the coming judgment through faith in Him,
- Teaching His moral/ethical commands, which affirmed the law and the prophets but extended ethical obligations far beyond them for those who followed God, and
- Acts of compassion that involved physical healing, feeding, delivering, and resurrecting.
Ultimately, that is our model and while we may not be able to perform the miracles that Jesus Himself performed, we can bring healing to people through medicine. We can bring food to them any numbers of ways. We can help deliver them from their physical problems.
The biggest problem that the church needs to avoid when being involved in compassion ministry is to avoid doing what our government does. Today, millions and millions of people are on Welfare and other entitlement programs made possible by the taxpayer. These programs create slaves.
On the other hand, in God’s welfare program, the person always worked even when they gained something for free, unless they were physically unable to do so. Then, they had to rely on friends or family. As Don Tack says, “the work ethnic was preserved.” 
In today’s government handout programs, money in the form of EBT cards is simply provided. There is no obligation at all for the recipient to preserve any work ethnic. In fact, the government strips that away. Eventually, they come to believe they are entitled to whatever they get.
The government programs unfortunately entrap and ensnare. They do nothing to allow people to retain their dignity or self-respect.
We will talk more about that in our next installment of this two-part article.
 VOICE, May/June 2013, Biblical Church Based Poverty Ministry, Don Tack, p. 16
 Ibid, p. 12
 Ibid, p.18