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My longest standing and most loyal supporter has been the Revd Dr Gregory Jackson, a Lutheran clergyman who follows the Augsburg Confession of faith.

On November 21, 2018, Dr Jackson posted his online worship service for Thanksgiving Eve. His sermon was about the errors of the social gospel, which, over the past century and a bit, has come to supplant the Good News of the Gospel.

His Epistle is from Paul’s letters to Timothy:

KJV 1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. 7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. 8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

The Gospel reading is Luke’s account of the healing of the Samaritan:

KJV Luke 17:11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: 13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Dr Jackson’s sermon concerns the history of the social justice movement in the Church, beginning with the Lutherans in the United States (emphases mine below):

The Social Gospel Movement is extremely important for our country, because a tiny group of people met to form a brotherhood to promote their political goals for the denominations in America. This Brotherhood of the Kingdom was made up of liberals who redefined the doctrines of the Bible according to German rationalism, which is what CFW Walther grew up in – his father a rationalist pastor. Walter Rauschenbusch is the most famous figure in this movement, though Emerson Fosdick was also well known in his time.

The goals of this Brotherhood of the Kingdom became the agenda of the Federal Council of Churches, renamed the National Council of Churches. The mainline denominations adopted these goals, which became the platform of President Franklin Roosevelt. Naturally, these people were fond of socialism and many thought the real deal was Marxism. In the olden days one could easily identify a liberal activist Lutheran because he published something very positive about Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel.

I wrote my dissertation on this topic, so I will try to be brief. This movement turned the Gospel upside-down, making it pure works. The Parable of the Good Samaritan was not about Jesus as the Samaritan caring for us, but about making the road to Jericho safe! Jesus died to show His solidarity with the poor! Therefore, the purpose of the Christian Church (they imagine) is to change society by passing laws to control our behavior. The Left-wing activism in today’s churches is an outgrowth of this Social Gospel Movement with the addition of various kinds of radicalism.

In the LCA [Lutheran Church in America] this worked by polarizing congregations about various issues, welcoming the exit of those backward people considered conservatives, but called rednecks, Birchers, Fundamentalists. A smaller, smarter church and shrinking but better synod were desirable outcomes.

The Social Gospel Movement combined a rewriting of Christian doctrine to match its political activism

What we see in America is the Social Gospel starting in a rejection of the basic doctrines of Christianity and making an agenda the religion. Once that was achieved in the New Deal, there was agitation for more. Religious agencies dropped the pretext and simply became political action groups using Christianity as a front. I saw this happen in Roman Catholicism too, when the properly social action types wanted to conquer all church leadership and openly despised basic Christian doctrine.

I am concerned about unchurched university students who encounter Christianity for the first time on campus. What are they learning there from campus ministries and other Christian organisations? It’s unlikely to be Christian doctrine based on Holy Scripture.

Dr Jackson explains Paul’s instruction to Timothy (see the first two verses of the aforementioned Epistle) and how that helped to shape the Church (bold emphasis in the original, those in purple mine):

These two verses show that Christianity in the Apostolic Age was quietistic, a phrase used by one of the top scholars of Greek language and culture for that era (A. Mahlherbe). Quietistic means the opposite of activist, engaging in politics, using the church as an instrument to make political points and pass laws governing others. We know that theocratic governments, with the church in control, have been abusive, controlling, and corrupt. The papal states in Italy, owned and poorly governed by the Roman Church, were corrupt and lax.

Quietistic means the Christians were not exhorted to overturn the government or rebel against them. The ultimate tool to remove social evil is the GospelThat solution has worked its way through Western culture over the centuries. Britain, through the influence of Evangelicals like Wilberforce, ended slavery without a civil war.

Instead of church in political action, Paul urged them to pray for all men, for kings and those in authority – the political leaders. That is why Christianity has flourished in all political systems and has grown under persecution.

Indeed.

This is how the Gospel and divine grace work (see verses 3 and 4 from Paul to Timothy, emphases mine):

It is good to remember that the Word is more powerful than any empire. There was nothing like the Roman Empire during the public ministry of Christ, and yet the gold, wealth, and majesty of Rome was no barrier to the Christian Faith. It grew from the bottom up, among slaves and criminals, the bottom of society. And yet when they were tortured and killed in huge stadiums, their peace at the time of death rattled and disturbed the pagan Romans. Slowly the faith worked its way up. Rome was knocked into the dustbin of history, as Luther observed, conquered by the One God they could not tolerate in their pantheon.

Opposition has never quashed Christianity. Earthly power means nothing, as Jesus declared, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” A local ruler could not comprehend this, and yet Jesus disturbed people by His death and His resurrection.

The secret of Christianity is that the Word grows and takes over in  a quiet, subtle, but powerful way. When people are occupied with spiritual truths, their hearts do not have much room for error, for the death-traps (scandalon, literally the trigger of the trap) that plunge people into error and destruction

The irony is that mankind trusts its own power and wisdom and disdains the power and wisdom of the Gospel. Nobody can even predict what the Word can do among believers or how it calls out the faithful from among the mass of people today. While many scorn the simple Word of the Gospel, others who have been fed the lentil soup of earthly wisdom say – “This is the feast of God’s grace and forgiveness.” Their hunger and thirst is satisfied, not by Zen but by the Good Shepherd.

That is so powerful.

I hope that churchgoing parents take time over the upcoming holiday period to ask their university-attending offspring what they are learning in chapel and in chapel-sponsored courses. The answers could be surprising — and in error.

A few years ago, I wrote extensively about the social gospel and how it grew. For those who have not seen these articles, they are near the bottom of my Marxism/Communism page underneath the heading ‘Communism and the Church today’:

The origins of ‘social justice’ — you might be surprised

Communism and the Protestant ‘social gospel’ — a long history

The left-wing origins of ‘What would Jesus do?’

Francis of Assisi never said ‘use words if necessary’

The Methodists, Alinsky and Hillary Clinton

SHOCK: Communist Catholic clergy and Vatican II – Agent AA-1025’s story

Communist infiltration of the Church – introduction — Protestant infiltration; social justice; Catholic Agent AA-1025

Insight into Communist infiltration of Catholic Church – Jesuit agents; destroying parishoners’ faith

The curious Vatican omerta on Communist infiltration – Pope Paul VI, Vatican agents, Vatican II

More on Communist infiltration of the Catholic Church – seminaries, parishes with sleeper agents

La nouvelle théologie — heretical menace to Catholics and Protestants

Media silence on persecution – quotes and incidents

Liberation theology — part 1

Liberation theology — part 2

Sojourners: More socialists masquerading as Christians

Progressives and US churches – making the connections – who’s involved with whom

Obamacare: It’s make or break time for radical and Christian organisations

Faith in Public Life: socialism cloaked in Christianity

Alinsky’s influence on Catholic bishops in the US

How the Catholic Church bankrolled Alinsky projects

How radical Catholic clergy spread CHD message in the US

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development goes on … and on

Recent Catholic funding of Alinsky-inspired projects – CCHD

CCHD collection coming in November – starve the beast! – for American Catholics

Pope [Francis] seeks to involve Chinese state in Catholic churches (2016)

The communist nature of Catholic clergy (2016)

Jesus’s words were never about social justice but life eternal through Him.

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One of John MacArthur’s Grace to You elders, Cameron Buettel, wrote an excellent article warning Christians about the ‘whole Gospel’ teaching which focusses on socio-political works.

In ‘Is the Social Gospel the Whole Gospel?’ we discover that, not only are today’s celebrity evangelists promoting something St Francis of Assisi never said, they are also abusing the context of the Gospel of Matthew, turning it into a socio-political one.

Tony Campolo is a primary mover in this regard, advocating the ‘whole Gospel’. Yet, as Cameron Buettel explains, this is not only inaccurate but it also confuses believers who think that by doing charitable work they are effecting their own salvation which comes only through divine grace through faith.

If we are grace-filled and obedient to Christ, we will automatically be drawn to give of ourselves in charity to others. Such acts are the fruits of our faith.

However, we must not expect charity to deliver us to the pearly gates if we lack faith.

Buettel unfolds the argument (emphases mine):

Advocates of the social gospel … appeal to Matthew 25 as their apex argument:

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:34–46)

Was Jesus saying that our eternal destinies hinge on feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, and visiting the oppressed? And how would that square with salvation by grace through faith apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9)?

Buettel explains that Campolo:

is implying that proclamation of the good news is only a partial gospel and must be accompanied by social action in order to become a complete or “whole” gospel. But his imbalanced emphasis betrays his mishandling of Matthew 25:35–40.

The Bible repeatedly teaches that good works are ultimately God’s works because they are the natural fruit of salvation; never the cause (cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27; James 2:14–17). And in Matthew 25 you don’t see judgment based on works, you see works revealing who is truly saved by faith.

No doubt with the refugee crisis these verses are at the forefront of European Christian activism. However, it is worth remembering that throughout the New Testament the predominant message was exercising charity to fellow believers as well as non-believers. We are not meant to put non-believers above our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Buettel expands on this in a comment (#18) to a reader:

… if you read the post through you’ll see that I also mention our responsibility to love our neighbors and our enemies. My point is that Matthew 25 is not an argument for social responsibility to unbelievers. Scripture is also clear that Christians must have a greater priority on caring for fellow believers than unbelievers. Note that I did not say only priority.

“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Ultimately, Matthew 25 warns against false beliefs — and this ‘whole Gospel’ misinterpretation of it may well turn out to exemplify what our Lord referred to:

the division Christ makes is not between the church and the pagan world, but between true and false Christians. While the pagan lives in open unbelief, the false Christian is an imposter who has blended in among God’s people. False Christians are the recipients of Christ’s most terrifying judgment:

So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:20–23)

Matthew 25:34-46 makes a similar division between those who have genuine faith and those whose faith is false, according to the evidence of their works. Note carefully that both groups of people think they are Christians because they address Jesus as “Lord” (Matthew 25:37, 44). Both groups are also surprised by the verdict. The surprise reveals humility among Christ’s people (“when did we,” Matthew 25:37–39) and self-righteousness among those who are faking it (“when did we . . . not,” Matthew 25:44).

Let us give careful consideration to how and why we are performing charitable works and getting involved in political activism.

Above all, may we pray for the wisdom and grace to care for our own — less exciting? — Christian brethren: the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the poor. They are right on our doorstep. They deserve our love first and foremost.

 

 

You might be surprised to discover that the term ‘social justice’ comes not from the United States or from Marxism, but from a Catholic priest.

Luigi Taparelli, a Jesuit, coined it in 1840.  Living in Italy in the 19th century, he was concerned about the socio-economic effects of the Industrial Revolution on the new working class.

To that end, he revived the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas — Thomism — in order to help resolve these problems, on which the Church had taken no defined position.

Taparelli’s scholarship played a part in Pope Leo XIII‘s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes).

Social justice has since influenced Catholic and Protestant teaching, despite its Modernist and Pelagian tendencies. It includes Taparelli’s concept of subsidiarity, which ties in with communitarianism.  Like it or not, subsidiarity is part of today’s Church — Catholic and Protestant.

Subsidiarity relies on church programmes, small groups, volunteering in the community via the church and developing ties with community organisers, which the CCHD collections fund in the United States.

Many orthodox Christians shun these more populist programmes, and they are right to do so. Pope Pius X and John Gresham Machen both spoke out against making the Gospel into a social mantra and ignoring its message of salvation.

However, a number of Anglican parishes in the UK are helping David Cameron’s communitarian Big Society programme by getting members of church congregations ‘involved’ in volunteer work for national charities and community-based programmes.

Is that making ‘disciples of all men’? Traditionalists are right in saying that it does not. Modernists and postmodernists would counter that it doesn’t matter — the perceived social benefits trump Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for our sins and His promise of eternal life.

Unfortunately, recent Popes have openly supported social justice concerns as have ‘liberal’ Protestant churches.

A Gospel message of eternal life has gone by the wayside.

Tomorrow: More on communitarianism

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