Salvation on This Earth

Brent Lewis
Culver City, California

Jesus never taught it, but our brethren are practicing it. I have just completed the reading of one of the most shocking and unbelievable accounts ever to come from the pen of one of our brethren. I have been aware for some time that the thinking of many brethren has become distorted with respect to the mission of the church, but never did I imagine that some brethren had gone quite so far.

The church in Brookline, Massachusetts, has begun a "mission" in the slums of downtown Boston. It is similar in both function and purpose to the "Salvation Army," "Gospel Lighthouse Mission," and hundreds of other such socio-religious organizations. This "mission" is the clearest proof of the SOCIAL GOSPEL that I have yet witnessed among our brethren. Do you know what this "mission', is called? Its name is "The House of the Carpenter." It is not known as a church of Christ, for this does not meet its needs. William C. Martin authors an article pertaining to this "mission" in the Winter, 1965, issue of "Horizons," the alumni bulletin of Abilene Christian College. I wish that everyone could read the entire article, but this is impossible. However, I wish to quote rather extensively from the article to report some of the things said. First of all, he lays the blame of poor social conditions upon the churches, just as do all social gospelers:

The guilt for the degenerative condition of America's great cities can be laid at the feet of many, but none should bear that guilt with more soul-tearing shame and anguish than the churches. The churches, because of economic reasons and unwillingness to fight a sometimes-unpleasant battle, have joined the exodus to the suburbs. As a result much of the population of the inner city has been unchurched. Many churches that were there have closed their doors and relocated in a "more favorable" section of town . . . The church has lost contact with the heart of the city. It has failed to come to grips with the social disorganization that exists there. It has become blind and deaf to the peoples and problems that fill the city streets

In the face of this deplorable situation, it is simply intolerable for the Church to sit in the suburbs like an over-fat Buddha and content itself with the contemplation of its budget. Creative and redemptive action is imperative if the hellholes of crime, despair, and seething resentment that blight our great cities are to be reshaped into areas where healthy emotional and spiritual growth can occur. This article describes what the Church of Christ in Brookline, Massachusetts, is trying to do in the city of Boston.

The author then continues to describe the mission's beginnings and purposes:

In the fall of 1963, several members of the Brookline Church, mostly students attending graduate school at Harvard, MIT, and Boston University, leased the first floor of an old brownstone tenement in Boston's South End and began an experimental mission known as the House of the Carpenter. Here we have tried to emulate the workmanship of the Master Carpenter, who not only told men what God was like by preaching and teaching, but showed them by loving and serving.

The project exists for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of love and freedom, the good news about eternal life. But we have learned that the traditional methods of communicating this gospel  the public sermon and the private Bible classare inadequate in the inner city. This does not mean that the gospel has lost its power. It simply means we must find effective ways to proclaim it. At the House of the Carpenter the gospel of Jesus Christ has been communicated to the lost people of the South End by men and women who have themselves been seized by the Spirit of Christ. They have taught the meaning of love by loving. They have proclaimed the gospel of freedom by demonstrating they are free to enter into meaningful relationships with people who live in a different world from their own. They have made eternal life more than just a future hope by showing they have already begun to experience it (emphasis mine, BL).

This has always been the philosophy of the social gospeler. The idea that eternal life is in the here and now, that a bit of heaven can be had here on this earth by redemptive social action is the very theory propounded by such ardent social gospelers as Walter Rauschenbusch and Shailer Matthews. And that is exactly what brother Martin is saying in this article. Notice in the above paragraph that he says "the gospel of Jesus Christ has been communicated to the lost people of the South End." He says that the gospel has not lost its power, only we must find "effective ways to proclaim it." Well, now just what exactly is he talking about? In what new way are they "communicating" the gospel to these lost people? Brother Martin defines what he means:

This communication has taken many forms. In the afternoons we have opened our doors to the children of the neighborhood. Inside we have taught classes in remedial reading, math sciences, art, and music, trying to encourage these children to use their bright little minds in a fruitful way. We have invited successful men and women who have grown up in neighborhoods like this one to talk to them about the possibilities open to young people of education and determination, despite the handicap of color. We have taken them to farms, factories, airports, harbors, mountains, monuments museums, concerts, plays, and the World's Fair, in an effort to stretch the limits of a world bounded on one side by railroad tracks and on the other by a row of taverns.

Now, this is the new way that "the gospel of Jesus Christ has been communicated to the lost people of the South End." Seemingly they have learned a lot of things in the slums of Boston. Traditional methods of public preaching and teaching are "inadequate in the inner city." But if you take people to "farms, factories, airports," etc., this is effectiveand still, "this does not mean the gospel has lost its power." Pray tell me, then, what does it mean? Yes, they have learned a lot in the inner city. "We have learned," says Martin, "that all sorts of people will respond when they feel Christianity is being made relevant to genuine human needs." In other words, when we feed a lot of people, we find out that they like it, and they really do respond! Jesus knew that a long time ago when he perceived that many were following him simply for the loaves and fishes (Jno. 6:26).

But what is there in the word of God that makes them think this is what the church should be doing? Strangely enough, Martin gives some "Bible principles" which he feels demands the church to engage in social redemption. He says:

Admittedly, much of what we are doing at the House of Carpenter breaks with traditional ideas about what constitutes "church work." What does the Bible say that makes us think we ought to be in the inner city operating this kind of a mission?

The Bible tells us God is Creator. The doctrine of creation does not teach us simply that God did some creating once upon a time. It teaches us that he continues to hold sway in the universe and to sustain it by his presence and power. All the world is the creation of the Father. He loves all the world. And a Church that is faithful will be concerned about all His creation.

The Bible tells us God became incarnate in Jesus Christ. God loved the world not just the Church, but also the worldso much, so deeply, that he sent his only begotten son. Yes, God identified himself with the world. God got involved. He did not simply lean over the edge of heaven and shout, "Straighten up down there!" He came down and became one of us. He shared with us in our sufferings. His love took on flesh. And the bent were straightened, and the broken were healed (emphasis mine, BL). It is time for our words of love and justice and equality to become flesh and dwell in the world.

The Bible tells us Jesus Christ died on a cross, but that he was raised on the third day to a new and glorious existence. The cross demonstrates that it costs something to get involved in human life. But the resurrection proves that involvement is the path to life that is life indeed (emphasis mine, BL).

The Bible tells us God is interested in justice. The classical prophets, especially Amos, uttered touching words of pity for the poor and delivered fiery warnings against luxury, oppression of the poor, the abuses of wealth, and the substitution of external ritual for justice and mercy. Can we seriously believe he is no longer concerned to see "justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream?"

The Bible tells us we are to love, as God has loved us. Love cannot be expressed toward an individual being crushed by such social forces as bad housing, unemployment, or discrimination, without an attempt to alleviate these conditions. Love is many things, but it is at least justice. If the Church does not seek to do all in its power to help such a person, by working to change these conditions, the Church is not being loving. The kind of pietism that is blind to what is going on around it is more of a curse than a blessing to the inner city. For it disillusions the poor and oppressed who look to the Church for guidance. The view that we should simply preach the gospel and let social problems take care of themselves indicates a bad case of spiritual near-sightedness. It is a narrow spirituality that refuses to exercise the interdependence and wholeness of human life (emphasis mine, BL).

The Bible tells us the Church is the Body of Christ. We use the words, but too often we have lost the image . . . The Church is intended to be a suffering body in the world, sharing its burdens and crosses.

Yes, we believe the Bible makes it clear we should be in the inner city, preaching the gospeland repairing broken toilets (emphasis mine, BL).

We have not the space to comment on all of the above. In fact, I truly believe that what is said is so "far out" that it actually needs no comment. The author concludes his social gospel discourse with a look to the future:

With additional personnel  the Brookline Church has less than one hundred memberswe hope to launch several new efforts, including a "halfway house" for patients leaving mental hospitals, and participation in some type of non-profit housing program. The state mental hospital and the Boston Redevelopment Authority have offered full cooperation if we are able to mobilize the necessary resources to begin these programs. Another challenging possibility is a ministry to large office building complexes.

Then comes the inevitable pitch to the brotherhood to help pick up the tab for such programs:

Most thrilling of all is the knowledge that Christians across the nation are awakening to the physical and spiritual needs of the city. Programs similar to the House of the Carpenter are being developed in at least a dozen major cities. In the face of this tremendous surge of interest and activity, a well-supported pilot program would be one of the best investments the brotherhood of the Churches of Christ could make.

If this kind of program can achieve its goals, the Churches of Christ will never be quite the same again (emphasis mine BL). No longer will our ministry be directed primarily to those who are already pretty dose to what we want them to be. Now it shall penetrate the tenement house and the racial ghetto. Now it shall accept men wherever they are and seek to lift them on arms of love to where they ought to be. Now it shall be present and available. It shall seek to speak a sensitive, meaningful word whenever possible. Now it shall seek to show the power of love to people who will have to test it awhile before they believe it is genuine.

I believe many of us have tasted the emptiness of our religion. It is time for the Church to speak, as her Lord spoke, from the reality of her life rather than the imagination of her heart.

Brethren, this is the very philosophy that is being taught and heralded by the social gospelers in every corner of this earth. It is rank modernism, and is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you haven't become alarmed yet about the social message being preached by the churches of Christ all across this country, then you had better wake up and become concerned!

There was very little in brother Martin's article with which the word of God would agree, and therefore very little with which I could agree. But I'll agree with one statement he made "If this kind of program can achieve its goals, the Churches of Christ will never quite be the same again." My humble estimation is -- it has, and they won't!

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 8, pp. 13-15 May 1966