By John A. Gibson
The mission of the church belonging to Christ has been divinely given and sufficiently revealed in the Scriptures. Those who have an attitude of respect for that divine revelation will be content with that arrangement and strictly adhere to it. But those who are lacking in this respect will resort to the only other alternative, man’s wisdom, to activate the church in a mission. The subject of our consideration in this article is the Baptist Church and how it distorts the divine mission of the church by its involvement in various social programs.
A Distorted Mission
The Baptist Church has rejected God’s design for the mission of the church by refusing to accept the church as a totally spiritual organization. This rejection has resulted in their belief that the church is a social institution. Listen to their own words.
It is plain that Christ, in providing for the formation of churches, recognized and sanctified the social principle. A church is a society – a social institution.(1)
To what extent should a church relate itself to the various movements for civic and social betterment which are found in practically every area? They include such groups as temperance societies, organizations for world peace, movements against gambling, and bodies concerned with the welfare of children, youth, the aged, or minority groups. A church is a society emphatically concerned with carrying out God’s will for a better community, both locally and throughout the world.(2)
This acceptance of the church as a social institution has paved the way to involve the church in many activities. Whether it be a recreational program to fulfill a physical need, a retirement home to fulfill a social need or a university to fulfill a mental need, the Baptist Church has expanded itself in all areas regarding man, yet without scriptural authority to do so. In a manual written exclusively to aid in building a church recreational program, the following statement is found.
A church, recognizing its responsibility to the whole man physical, social, mental, and spiritual – will include in its program a ministry of recreation to help meet these needs – recreation has a positive role to play in helping a church do its work.(3)
This distorted mission of the Baptist Church is wide in scope involving colleges, theological seminaries, hospitals, retirement homes, children’s homes, recreation and such like. In order that all of these might exist and function throughout, the Baptist Church had to act universally. This was accomplished through various associations and conventions. For example, notice this quote concerning the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist organization in the world. It has more than 12,751,000 members. The convention has more than 34,000 churches in 50 states, but most of its members live in the South and Southwest. The Southern Baptist Convention has 29 state conventions that operate 38 senior colleges, 15 junior colleges, 7 academies, 6 seminaries, and 4 Bible schools. The state conventions also operate hospitals, children’s homes, and homes for the aging. The conventions also support about 2,300 missionaries in other countries and about the same number in the United States .(4)
It is clear to see that the Baptists had to abandon the local autonomy of the church to accomplish their social aims.
Since the Bible is rejected by the Baptist Church as the sufficient revelation of the mission of the church, thus, it is also rejected as the only means by which men are drawn to Christ. In place of the gospel the social programs are used as the most profitable and reasonable means of drawing individuals into their memberships and maintaining them. In the area of recreation they have this to say:
Unsaved persons, unenlisted Christians, and inactive church members can be reached through a properly conducted sports program. Church sports can provide a setting to enlist the unreached in other church activities where the gospel will be proclaimed . . . A common interest point – sports – can be the key to unlock the door in allowing the Son of God into one’s heart.(5)
What ever happened to the old-fashioned gospel being the key to unlocking one’s heart to the Son of God (Jn. 6:44,45)? It is obvious that the Baptist Church has forsaken the authority of the Scriptures by enlisting itself in a social mission.
When men become discontent with God’s arrangement for the church, they naturally turn to their own wisdom to determine what the church should do. This is demonstrated by the following quote which indicates that at one time the Baptists considered the church to be complete with simply a spiritual goal. But their thinking changed.
At one time many churches and denominational leaders believed it was no job of the church to care for the aged. This, they said, was the responsibility of the community and the government. The church was concerned with evangelism, the winning of individuals to personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Later, however, this thinking changed, and there began an evangelism of the total person in all stages of life. These changes have played their part, of course, in the establishment of Baptist homes for the aged.(6)
Upon what basis was this change made? It certainly was not the Word of God. It is not until man begins rearranging God’s perfect plan that the church is burdened with the care of man’s social needs.
A Perfect Mission
The church is spiritual in its purpose, nature and design (Jn. 18:36). Therefore the work of the church is spiritual consisting of preaching the gospel (1 Tim. 3:15), relieving needy saints (Acts 4:32-35), and building itself up (Eph. 4:11-16). By the design of God, the church is fully capable of doing this work within the framework of the local congregation (Eph. 3:10-11). The church does not have to act through any conventions or associations to fulfill the Lord’s mission for the church. If the church does what God commands in the area of evangelism, benevolence, and edification then there won’t be time or money for anything else. The church is not to be burdened with meeting recreational, retirement, secular educational or other social needs. These needs must be dealt with individually.
Many of our brethren fostering liberal attitudes toward God’s word have this lesson yet to learn. Far too many are involving the church in social programs for which there is no Bible authority. This makes them no different than the Baptists. They are following the Baptists along the same road, drifting away from God’s rule of order. Instead of relying on God’s word to draw individuals into the church our liberal brethren are providing fellowship halls, gymnasiums, kitchens, retirement homes, youth retreats and other physical attractions to gratify carnal desires and increase their numbers.
Just as the Baptists at one time did not feel it was the work of the church to care for the aged but changed to care for man’s social needs, so also have many among us changed. This change comes as a result of a dwindling respect for God’s wisdom to the increase in man’s wisdom.
The Baptists have not hesitated to state that their social programs are aimed at drawing people into their memberships and for keeping them there. Our liberal brethren are not usually that bold in their statements. Yet, the fact remains that growth is often the objective of social programs in the church. Carnal-minded disciples may be won as a result but when the programs fade away so will the disciples. True growth can never be attained by physical allurements. It can only occur when the gospel, without alteration, comes to rest upon good and honest hearts.
How far will our brethren travel in the direction of the denominations? None of us can forecast the likes of this digression. But as long as the social gospel continues to be heard in the pulpits and practiced as the mission of the church they will not be far behind.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 4, pp. 107-108
February 17, 1983