Social Gospel

<<reform of society>>

This refers to the thrust of applying Christian ethics to social problems such as poverty, poor nutrition, lack of education and alcoholism with the doctrines of sin, salvation, heaven and hell given an ever-increasing low profile, with the focus on the world now, not the world to come. While the Bible supports social justice with regard to the plight of the poor, the afflicted, orphans, widows and people unable to support themselves there should be a balance between faith and action (based on the concepts of human rights and equality), without diminishing the spiritual dimension (Jas 1:27, 2:14-26). Although Jesus showed deep compassion for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, and the outcasts of society and healed countless people of their physical ailments He did not come to earth to be a political or social reformer. Rather He came to change people’s hearts (the core of their being) through the saving power of the gospel and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, pointing us to God’s Kingdom as He desires for all people to be saved from eternal destruction (Mt 20:28; 2 Pet 3:9). By living in right relationship with Him and others, working out the principles of His Kingdom through each believer, society will be improved. This is very noticeable during periods of revival.

The gospel message is addressed firstly to the individual. God’s way is to change society from the inside out, by commencing in the heart of the individual. As the inner values are transformed, they will be outworked practically in each facet of life. Paul didn’t seek to bring down the Roman empire. Rather he worked within it to change people’s core values by connecting them to Christ (Rom 13:1-7). The en-mass adoption of His teachings on a mental level will not actually achieve the changes needful in society.

The ‘golden rule’ is to “love your neighbour as much as you love yourself” (Mt 22:39; Lk 6:31). Jesus instructed us to care for those who are hungry and thirsty, sick, or in prison, that is, the outcasts of society. In so doing we express our service to Him (Mt 25:34-45). Obviously the balance needs

It’s only Christians who can be light and salt – Matthew 5:13-16

to be maintained, between the natural, physical realm and the spiritual dimension, between the ‘now’ and the ‘hereafter’, for what is the point of a well fed man spending eternity in hell compared with a starving man going to heaven?

We should take a God-centred approach to social justice, not a man-centred, humanistic approach as that evolves into the Kingdom Now theology that endeavours to change the structure of society yet increasingly fails to proclaim the gospel. Our motivation to be involved in the lives of others should be to build bridges of connection ‘where they are at’, developing friendships so we can introduce them to Christ. Yet, conversely, we can’t show concern for people’s eternal destiny unless we also demonstrate concern for their earthly needs, by connecting with them and ‘scratching them where they itch’. The social gospel is most concerned about circumstances here on earth, yet the true gospel, while not ignoring physical circumstances, is most concerned about the state of people’s souls and their eternal destiny.

See also: balance, being and doing, empathy, eternal/eternity, golden rule, good works, humanism, Kingdom Now theology, others, social action, society.