By Mike Willis
In my last article, I gave a brief history and explanation of what the social gospel is. After doing that, I tried to demonstrate wherein the social gospel differed from the gospel of Jesus Christ. In that section, I showed that the social gospel (a) was borne in infidelity, (b) perverts the nature of the mission of Christ, (c) perverts the nature of the gospel, (d) perverts the nature of the mission of the church, and (e) perverts the one hope of the gospel.
Yet, these articles are entitled “The Social Gospel of the Churches of Christ.” They are so named for a reason. I firmly believe that the churches of Christ have become involved in the social gospel. This article is designed to prove that thesis. I shall present evidences to demonstrate that churches of Christ are involved in the social gospel.
Let us begin by remembering what the thrust of the social gospel is. It is involving the church in the work of improving the quality of life in this world. Hence, it is the work of building hospitals, orphan homes, colleges, recreational facilities, and any other number of works pertaining to life on this earth beneath.
Incidences of Churches Involved in the Social Gospel
Those who have lived through the split of the church over church support of orphan homes do not need to be reminded that the church is involved in supporting such human institutions. However, we may need to be reminded that this is one phase of the social gospel. Involvement of the church in the building and maintaining of such facilities was the first step, historically, which the churches of Christ took in the social gospel. Rather than allowing social ills of this nature to be taken care of as a by-product of New Testament Christianity (i.e., through those who were converted to Christ personally adopting the orphaned children), some were bent upon perverting the mission of the church into involvement in the social gospel through church support of orphan homes. This, however, was just the beginning of a major movement in the churches of Christ which is taking them deeper and deeper into the social gospel. Here are some other incidences of the social gospel among the churches:
1. Church support of education. When the orphan home issue raged, Batsell Barrett Baxter, well-known speaker for the Herald of Truth and Chairman of the Department of Bible at David Lipscomb College, wrote a tract entitled Questions and Issues of the Day. In this tract, he wrote the following words:
Some who are agreed that the church can contribute to an orphan’s home are not convinced that the church can contribute to a Christian school. It is difficult to see a significant difference so far as principle is concerned. The orphans’ home and the Christian school must stand or fall together (p. 29).
Brother Baxter was right in stating that the two stand or fall together. He and I differ, however, on whether they stand or fall, he holding to the former and me to the latter. However, in keeping with his belief, he sent out a form letter dated November 29, 1971 on David Lipscomb College stationary, appealing for church support of colleges; he wrote:
Back in the summer I wrote you concerning our pressing and continuing need for congregations to help us in our program of teaching. the Bible to each of our students every school day. We deeply appreciate the way in which many congregations across the land are concerned that this program of teaching the Bible – the most extensive program undertaken anywhere in the world so far as we are able to determine – may continue. We are grateful for the number of contributions received since this request, and we are hopeful that; as you make you financial plans for 1972, you will include this effort in your budget. In a very real sense, this is one of the most extensive mission efforts being undertaken anywhere.
There are currently on our campus 3361 students from kindergarten through college, with 2196 of these in college. The Bible itself (not books about the Bible) is being taught to each of these students every school day by faithful, consecrated Christian teachers. The toal cost of this effort is about $700,000 each year. The students pay less than half of this amount in tuition. We are asking churches to pay the other half, over $350,000 each year.
Not all of those who accept the church involvement in the social gospel of church support of orphans homes are ready to accept the church support of colleges. Yet, the effort to involve the church in the support of secular education is a subtle foe to fight.
When churches refused to become involved in sending contributions to colleges, the church began to become involved in “Christian education” on another level. All over this country, brethren have been building day-care centers, kindergartens, and eventually full elementary schools.. Brethren have been deceived by the promoters of this aspect of the social gospel. They have been taught that so long as the church does not write a check from its treasury to send to this secular educational enterprize that it is not involved in the work. However, these secular education facilities are housed in the buildings owned by the churches, they are promoted through bulletins published by the church, and any activities held by these secular educational enterprizes are promoted in the church. Brethren, do not be deceived. The church is being yoked to another plow of the social gospel!
2. Church support of medical missions. Even as the church has become involved in supportig orphans homes and colleges, it has become involved in “medical missions” as well. The 29 May 1979 issue of Christian Chronicle carried an article entitled “Medical Missions Increasing.” It reported,
Christian medical professionals and students from around the world will gather in Atlanta October 19 and 20 for the annual Medical Evangelism Seminar, hosted by the Decatur Church of Christ and Medical Outreach, Inc ….
The Decatur congregation has long been active in medical mission work. But, in the last three years, members of the congregation have organized to focus on solutions to the personnel problems that have hampered mission clinics and hospitals in the past.
As early as 24 May 1963, the Christian Chronicle was reporting the church being involved in medical work in foreign countries. In “Money Buys Medicine For Korean Endeavor,” written by A.R. Holton, the following report was given:
Our Lord gave some great promises in relation to the sick. In the 25th chapter of Matthew, He tells us that to visit the sick is to visit Him. It makes a contribution to the growth of a Christian to be closely associated with Jesus. You will see to do this is to visit the sick.
The church of Christ clinic in Seoul, Korea offers such an opportunity. We have reached over three thousand families by this medical service in Korea. It is a service to enable the people to care for themselves in illness and to teach them to care for their children
Our medical clinic on the mission ground in Seoul, Korea is in continual need of money for medicine and equipment. This appeal is made in order that churches may make such a contribution and that individuals may make such a contribution.
The groundwork has been laid for a “Church of Christ Hospital,” similar to the Methodist, Baptist, and Catholic hospitals all over this country, right here in America. Although I know of no plans to begin construction on one, I have no doubt that such lies ahead for the churches of Christ who have accepted the concept of the social gospel.
3. Church care of the aged. The October 4, 1968 issue of the Atlanta Journal reported that the Decatur Church of Christ was constructing a 12-story apartment building for senior citizens. The article included a picture of the proposed structure attached to an article announcing the building of Christian Towers under the direction of the Decatur Church of Christ Senior Housing, Inc. This project was to cost a mere $3.8 million.
4. Church sponsored recreation. I do not have the space to report the numbers of articles which I have in my files reporting church sponsored recreation. It ranges from church sponsored ball teams to church sponsored talent shows. The church buildings are already using their property for playground areas; soon they will be building gymnasiums and other recreational facilities. One church purchased land and erected a lodge for a place of recreation for its members. What began as an innocent basket lunch in one of the classrooms of the church building has blossomed into full involvement in church sponsored recreation. “Youth ministers” are hired by those involved in these activities; their primary work is to be is sure to keep a full calendar of social, recreational activities going for the young people.
One Baptist preacher with deep insight into the dangers of church sponsored recreation wrote a tract entitled The Devil’s Mission of Amusement: The Church’s Task Entertainment or Evangelization? (by Archibald Brown, available from Tabernacle Baptist Church, P.O. Box 3327, Lubbock, TX 79410). He made the following penetrating comments:
The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the Church of Christ that part of her mission is to provide entertainment for the people with a view to winning them into her ranks. The human nature that lies in every heart has risen to the bait. Here, now, is an opportunity of gratifying the flesh and yet retaining a comfortable conscience. We can now please ourselves in order to do good to others. The rough old cross can be exchanged for a “costume,” and the exchange can be made with the benevolent purpose of elevating the people.
Even denominational people are able to see what some of the brethren cannot see. The church’s involvement in sponsoring recreation is’ a perversion of its mission; it involves the church in the social gospel.
5. Full program of the social gospel. Some churches have simply accepted the totality of the social gospel rather than individual specific programs alone. For example, Good News From Chicogaland (Vol. I, No. 6, August 5, 1979), the bulletin published by the Downtown Church (P.O. Box 49333, Chicago, IL 60649), reported their receipt of a service award for their “Evangelism Chicagoland” program in the following words:
Evangelism Chicagoland recently received a service award from the Chicago Boys Club, Kiwanis Unit. The award was presented for services rendered to the Boys Club in the area of printing . . . .
Evangelism Chicagoland has been involved in training a number of young people since inception. fifteen high school juniors and seniors have received specialized training in printing, office management, addressing, folding, darkroom and shipping through the Evangelism Chicagoland printing facility. A few of the youth have police records and have received vocational and personal counseling as well as training . . . .
Evangelism Chicagoland has cooperated with various high school occupational study programs as well as city, state and federal training programs . . . .
My brethren, one would have to have his eyes closed to fail to see that some among the churches of Christ have totally accepted the social gospel.
Time and space would fail me if I cited documentation of the erection of church of Christ reform schools, church of Christ unwed mothers homes, a project to take cows to Korea, and other activities too numerous to even mention in passing. However, each of these provide further documentation that churches of Christ have become involved in the social gospel. However subtly it has happened, one cannot doubt that it has happened!
What Does The Future Hold?
I make no pretensions to being a prophet; hence, comments under this section should be simply considered as one man’s opinion. However, I think that I can judge what is going to happen so far as the church being involved in the social gospel is concerned. Every congregation has just so many dollars with which to work, so many volunteers willing to donate their labor to the works in which they are involved, and other limited resources. It takes dollars and time to operate the social gospel, just the same as it takes to do the scriptural works authorized of God.
When a congregation’s limited resources are completely expended upon its God-given mission of saving souls, the work progresses slowly at best. However, when these resources are subdivided in order to give a portion of those resources (money and labor) to promoting the erection and maintenance of orphan homes, schools, and other human institutions, to sponsor recreation, to erect hospitals, to build kindergartens and grade schools, etc., the number of resources which can be used to evangelize the world, edify the saints, and relieve the benevolent needs of Christians is diminished to the degree that a given congregation is involved in these activities. Therefore, just so much as brethren chase after the social gospel, they cannot accomplish their God-given mission.
The result will be that the soul winning work of the church will be destroyed. Brethren who have already seen this happening are fighting back with reward motivation programs to persuade people to come to their services. So long as these reward motivation programs are continued, large crowds will be in attendance, but few will be converted. (Do not make the mistake of thinking that all public responses to the gospel are conversions.) Those who are baptized will have little knowledge of the truth, so the church will move more and more toward the mainstream of modern Protestant denominationalism.
Unless something happens to change this trend, I am confident that this is what lies ahead for our brethren who are becoming more and more involved in the social gospel. The question which remains is this: How far are you willing to go with these brethren?
Some Have Had Enough
There are countless brethren among those congregations which have opted to depart from the revealed work of the church in following the humanly devised hope of establishing a heaven on earth who are sick and tired of seeing the church chase after earthly goals. Brethren, there is an alternative to what you are witnessing and experiencing. There are brethren all over this country who are dedicated to letting the church be the church. Our brethren who are following the social gospel call us “anti’s.” That is all right with me. Both of us recognize that we are heading down different paths at a fork in the road. We who are branded as “anti’s” are simply committed to following the revelation of God as it pertains to the mission of the church. We shall not consent to involving the church in any activities for which there is no Bible authority. We find no Bible authority for church support of human institutions (whether they be evangelistic, benevolent or educational in scope), for church sponsored recreation, for church sponsored hospitals, and any number of other works in which some of our brethren are involved.
We invite you to join with us in working to let the church be the church. We have no interest in pursuing the mundane goals of the social gospel. Rather, our citizenship is in heaven where Christ is seated on the right hand of God (Phil. 3:20). We are interested in the salvation of souls. We, therefore, understand the mission of the church to be to save the lost, edify the saints, and relieve the benevolent needs of our members. If you would like me to help you get in contact with some who have no sympathy with the social gospel, fell free to contact me.
- Is church involvement in support of human institu tions a phase of the social gospel?
- Rather than involving the church in support of orphan homes, what would have been an acceptable means of taking care of the orphans?
- Name and discuss some other incidences of the social gospel among the churches in your area.
- What two issues did Batsell Barren Baxter say would “stand or fall together”?
- What are the dangers of church sponsored recreation?
- What happens when the resources of a church are divided in order to give a portion of them to promote the social gospel?
- What happens when reward motivation programs are carried out? Are all public responses to the gospel conversions?
- What is the mission of the church?
- What can the congregation with which you worship do to lead people out of liberalism?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 2, pp. 34-37
January 10, 1980