Many years ago, mainline Protestant churches began to embrace what is now understood as the social gospel. This reimagined understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ centered on social and economic equality, as well as racial reconciliation and poverty. This new gospel replaced the atoning work of Christ on the cross for the sins of people with a politically charged version of the gospel in which correcting social ills was the highest good and ultimate goal.
First, let us understand that addressing everything from economic inequality to racial reconciliation is good, and there is a place for it. However, this is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come to make everyone economically equal. Jesus did not die to curb inner-city crime. Jesus did not raise on the third day to secure free healthcare or education.
And yet, that is what the social gospel was, and has continued to be.
To be fair, there are typically good intentions underlying the message of the social gospel. Many scriptures speak of taking care of the poor (Lev. 19:15; Prov. 29:7), helping the less fortunate (Rom. 12:15-16), seeking justice (Isaiah 1:17), and resisting oppression (Deut. 15:7; Prov. 31:8-9). These are biblical admonitions that should be taken seriously and pursued by Christians as individuals and churches in general. But, again, this is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And none of these passages are Gospel-centric passages.
When the church replaces the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ with a new gospel that focuses on social or economic policy over the salvation of human souls, it ceases to be the church of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 16 we have Peter’s profound confession that Jesus is “the Christ,” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus went on to tell Peter that it was on his confession that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus would build His church. This is important because the word “Christ” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word meaning Messiah. Jesus was telling Peter that He would build His church on the message that He is the Messiah. It wasn’t on social change or economic policy; it was on the message and truth that Jesus is the Messiah.
As the social gospel found a voice in mainline Protestant churches, it began to take root in the hearts of many Americans that believed being an American Christian meant advocating for certain social and economic policies. Many Christians in America found their identity in championing social causes from a place of “divine calling.” Churches created programs and allotted funds to support local leaders spearheading efforts to make changes in the economic and social landscape of the community.
And, in a relatively short amount of time, the main message of many churches was the need for social change. Yet this message is not central to the church and only secondary to the message which established the church: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Testament admonitions to good works are not Gospel passages, and Scripture clearly teaches that these works cannot save the soul. But saving souls is the express mission of every Christian in The Great Commission, and the very purpose the church was established.
Many of these churches are de facto disciples of Walter Rauschenbusch, a theologian that believed the primary duty of Christians is not to see lives transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but to transform society into a Heaven on earth.
The ideology of Rauschenbusch remains prevalent today via the socialist policies being pushed, in large part by Christians seeking to create “equality for all” by wielding the force only the federal government has the ability to leverage. Whereas Jesus worked to change the lives of individuals by first addressing their greatest need – reconciliation with God – many Christians today believe the federal government should impose equality via force.
Pushing everything from $15 federal minimum wage to higher corporate taxes, free education and health-care, Christians are leading the charge not to equality but to a new tyranny that will end with fewer rights and a federal government in the position of dictating more than any government has the God-given authority to do. And, in the end, the Gospel will be no more prevalent or central to this new tyranny than it has been in the past. The dressed-up tyranny of socialism can’t work because forced equality doesn’t work.
Those who know history are quick to admit that socialism can’t work. America didn’t attain its current level of wealth and freedom via socialism, people aren’t leaving oppressed countries coming to America because we resemble the land they are leaving. If socialism was so wonderful it would not need to be imposed by force and we would have at least one example in history of how it worked well for all parties. No such example exists.
The truth is that our society and culture are not the problem, the problem is found in the sinful hearts of rebellious people that continue to shake their fist at God. It is humankind’s most basic and central problem. Attempting to force equality via government mandate will only exacerbate the problem while creating a new set of social and economic problems.
Nathan Cherry is a financial advisor specializing in personal financial management and debt reduction. After more than a decade in church ministry, Nathan found a place for his talents in money management in the financial services industry working for a respected financial planning firm. Nathan also writes on social and moral issues at www.nathancherry.com.