The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). It is based upon the vicarious suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Its major thrust is eternal, not temporal—heavenly, not earthly (Col. 3:1-4). Its design, within the present life, is to transform the lives of individuals into the image of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). Whatever influence it is to have in correcting social problems is to be accomplished as a by-product of the conversion of individuals from the depths of sin to the truth of God.
This true gospel of Christ does not provide for any other religious organization other than the local New Testament church to accomplish such a change (Phil. 1:1). This was—and is— sufficient for all that the gospel was divinely intended to accomplish on this side of eternity. The accomplishment of God’s intended purpose does not require multi-million dollar structures based largely as places for social gatherings. While buildings owned by local churches are to be properly viewed as scriptural expedients to accomplish their divinely authorized works; it is not the collective work of the local church to provide meeting places for community affairs and/or social functions.
When one gives careful consideration to the components of The Social Gospel one will readily observe the influence that such has had not only upon Protestant denominationalism and Roman Catholicism, but also upon churches of Christ as well. The Social Gospel had its origins in the minds of modernist religious leaders especially among the more liberal Protestant denominations. Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), a Baptist turned progressive/liberal was the primary leader of this movement. In the great universities of Germany both scientific and secular Humanism gained such credence in various intellectual circles that many of the mainline denominations began to adjust their religious thought to accommodate these Humanistic views. These individuals renounced their previous held views on the inspiration of the Scriptures, the Deity of Christ, Sin, Judgment, and Eternity and advocated a humanistic view of one’s existence to this present life in this world exclusively. The shift was made from the spiritual to the physical.
While the progressive/liberal churches of Christ have not gone as far into both Modernism and Post-Modernism as the various Protestants and Roman Catholics, they are not very far behind. Over the last thirty years we have seen a greater emphasis place upon the physical and temporal and an appeal to the secular by various local churches identifying themselves as churches of Christ.
Since The Social Gospel gives emphasis to the physical over the spiritual it thus required bold new approaches and imaginative solutions to appeal to the masses. After all; if those in the world would be reached such would require a more attractive secular approach that would appeal to a non-religious persuasion. Like those of the Community Church Movement, liberal churches of Christ are rapidly making the concept of the local church the center of community services. In consideration of this view, recreation halls, family life centers, church sponsored recreation, and various social events are the order of the day. While these things are not morally wrong within themselves the proponents of these ventures have either forgotten, or else have never understood the Biblical distinctions to be made between individual action and that of church action. When one considers the importance of Bible authority as per Col. 3:17, one will see that the local church is not authorized to function as a social institution. The next time you read a copy of Where The Saints Meet, take careful note of the various social and secular educational programs as provided by local churches.
The staff of many churches of Christ has been expanded to include every type of “minister” found in any Social Gospel denomination. The colleges and universities operated by individual members of churches of Christ are not only being unscripturally tied to local churches, but also now offer training for “church workers” in all types of social gospel oriented fields. Please take note of new church buildings being erected with offices for various counselors, banquet facilities, and family life centers equipped for everything from basketball to video games. These things are all the trappings of The Social Gospel and have brought about the secularization of the church.
We note the influence of The Social Gospel as it relates to the way families view child-rearing. Such is the responsibility of the home, not the church! While indeed the local church is authorized to provide instruction in the Scriptures for all individuals, it is not the work of the church to become parents to all of the children who attend the services of such a church. Such a responsibility is that belonging to the parents (Eph. 5:22-6:4). While wholesome recreation is a responsibility of the home, such is not the work of the church. Many members of local churches of Christ today are composed of second and third generation members who have done little study of the New Testament pattern and get their ideas of what a local New Testament church should be from their non-Christian friends. This has taken, and is currently taking, many into apostasy. A case in point: The University Church of Christ in Denver, Colorado hosted a “Christian” Comedy night. Tickets were $10 in advance and $12 purchased at the door.
Perhaps the greatest influence resulting from the Social Gospel is the secular approach local churches are taking in their preaching and/or teaching programs. The Maryville Church of Christ in Maryville, Tenn. hosted a program for awareness and prevention of youth suicide in conjunction with The Jason Foundation, a secular human organization. While indeed the topic of youth suicide is of great importance and needs to be addressed, there is absolutely no Bible authority for a local church to accomplish its teaching responsibility through the means of a human organization with a secular approach.
An additional case in point: the West End Church of Christ, located in Knoxville, TN, hosted an Internet Safety Conference in which topics dealing with internet pornography were addressed. While such topics are of valid concern and need to be addressed by local churches, such an obligation must be discharged from a spiritual perspective of a presentation of Bible truth rather than addressing such a problem from a social/secular perspective. Pornography, regardless where it is found, is sinful not because it is repulsive to human society or secular ideals, but rather due to the fact that it is a violation of moral principles set forth in the Scriptures. The West End Church took a secular approach in this conference by charging admission and offering door prizes to those in attendance. It should be obvious to all that such scenarios emphasize the aspect of social change rather than seeking to change lives by the power of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16-17).
Let us remember that the real problems we face in life are spiritual, not secular or social. The local church is God’s authorized organization for dealing with such problems and the gospel of Christ is the divine means provided for us to confront such problems by changing the lives of those in sin. It is indeed crucial that we as Christians and collectively as local churches do not permit ourselves to be distracted from our God given obligations by that which is social and/or secular.