I am a conservative, Bible-believing Christian, and I intend to remain one. I have had to make many changes in my thinking in the last few years, especially as I have learned about abuse, but those changes are in me, not in the Word of God. God’s Word is truth. It stands forever. Every jot, every tittle, shall be fulfilled. Trust God’s Word and it will never fail you. Our problem is that we so often get our word, or man’s word, jumbled up with God’s Word and then we are in trouble.
In past years, when I heard or read about the topic of domestic violence, I skimmed over it. I was largely ignorant of it’s real nature and of it’s prominence, and how erroneous teaching in my own arm of Christianity was contributing to it. So I blew it off as far as my ministry went. But there was another reason for my blindness to it, and I think that this reason is something that Christians like myself need to name, claim, and own up to.
We have been taught for years and years in the conservative, Bible-believing church, that there is a great evil called “The Social Gospel.” As I understand it, what we mean by that term is the emphasis upon changing this present world through education and various social programs, civil rights activism, anti-poverty movements, and so on. We recognized, and correctly so, that fundamentally Christ has not called us to give our central mission to reforming this present world. It is perishing. We are on more of a rescue mission, calling people through the gospel of Christ to repent, turn to Christ in faith, and be saved from this present evil generation. We know that it gains a man nothing if he gain this whole world, yet lose his own soul. Our power is Christ’s power, and that power is found only in the power of the cross and its proclamation to everyone. These ideas are biblical and absolutely correct.
However, we have done what we so often do – the baby got chucked out with the dirty bath water. As we have stood against the errors of theological liberalism, rejecting notions of a social gospel that says if we just remedy man’s external and social conditions, we will “save” him, we have rejected social justice almost entirely. And yet, God’s Word shows us that the Lord is intimately concerned with social evils and their remedy. He sends preachers to denounce these evils. He calls His people to come to the aid of the downtrodden. James says, in fact, that these kinds of things lie at the very heart of true religion –
James 1:22-27, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (23) For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. (24) For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (25) But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (26) If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (27) Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
And so it is in the Old Testament prophets that we find God denouncing social evils and calling upon His people to repent of and remedy them. Notice in the following example that the context of the well-known passage, “come let us reason together…they shall be as white as snow,” appears right in a context that identifies the specific kinds of sins the Jews needed to repent of. We often think of this call to forgiveness as connected more with personal, private sins — lust, greed and so on. Surely those are included, but specifically in this context the Lord is calling for repentance from social evils – the oppression of the fatherless and the widow:
Isaiah 1:15-23, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (16) Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, (17) learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (18) “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (19) If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; (20) but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (21) How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. (22) Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. (23) Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.”
You can find many more examples of the very same kinds of prophet-sermons in Scripture. In the New Testament as well. In the end, what we find is that any Great Commission preaching of Christ that is devoid of the seeking of justice for the oppressed is a Great Omission and is deplorable to God.
And most local churches, most professing Christians, most pastors and counselors are guilty. We have not rendered justice to the fatherless and the widow. How? By not giving justice to the abused woman and her children. We need to do right and get the blood of the innocent off our hands. How did it get there? Through ignorance? Through not wanting to know. Through oppressive teachings that victims are victims by God’s will and need to remain in their abusive environments. “Come, let us reason together… your sins are dark, deep, stains of red… I can make them white, IF you are willing and obedient.”
I have SO many comments related to this. BUT, I will say for now, because i have to go to work, that I have had comparatively (relative to other Christians raised in a denomination), a lot of exposure (albeit of shallow appearance) to a wide variety of protestant teachings from conservative to liberal. My current working understanding is that the Conservatives have salvation doctrine right (sometimes even salvation experience and practice is also right), and that is the beginning of everything. “liberal” behavior is often the natural outworking of that salvation, taken to its Biblical conclusion.
I will not say “this is most certainly true” but I will say “for now, this is most certainly how I hold this aspect of variation in the Christian population in my mind”.
I love your courage. Normally I lurk, but I have to ask you what you meant by “Social Gospel”. I’m surprised it’s considered a great evil. I was proud that Christians contributed to the New Deal and some good ideas on how to manage an economy. Of course, I know I’m out-of-sync with most believers. I didn’t grow up with believers. I became one during college. A few years later, an abuser destroyed my Christian social network. So I haven’t kept up, but now am trying to reconnect if possible.
But I suppose me being a liberal will probably hinder that. I used to be conservative. But my Liberal friends and husband are the ones who helped me recover from an awful abuse experience. Their wisdom was critical to my recovery. Plus I do think that Liberals are better at running the economy. I can live with it if my Liberalism makes me persona non grata, but it doesn’t seem right that politics became more important than fellowship.
JR – By “social gospel” I mean a false gospel that inists that the sinner and this fallen world can be “saved” by the church working to provide the poor with money and benefits, providing people with better education, and so on. Its adherents deny the biblical doctrine of man’s total depravity and claim that the sinner is able to climb to heaven by his own works if he is just given the proper environment and help. The historic social gospel characteristically denied the fundamentals of the Christian faith, reinterpreted the Cross to be simply a demonstration of God’s love for man which we are all to imitate and thereby be “saved” ourselves. Social gospel doctrine denied the inerrancy of Scripture, viewing the Bible as a human production rather than God’s Word. This kind of supposed “christianity” detested any idea of the wrath of God against evildoers.
The social gospel then is a false gospel and it is an ally of evil. It excuses wickedness, including aiding the domestic abuser – claiming that we just need to show him more “love” and he will see the light and change himself. In other words, abuse becomes the victim’s fault and it is her responsibility to be “more loving” so the abuser will change.
Now, does this mean that real Christians are not to work to help the poor. No. Absolutey not. But my point is that because of the denial of God’s truth in His Word that has been so common to social gospel types, it seems that real Christians can tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater and fail to work for social justice in truth.
Thanks! Your answer explains things I didn’t understand before. I always thought the Social Gospel as political/economic position rather than a doctrine. But yes its a crowd where many are dismissive of biblical teaching. But inerrancy doesn’t seem to be the proper word for someone who was never religious. I thought that the “everyone is inherently good” was a secular position too. (Back to Summon Bonum??). I had no idea how much theology influenced politics.
I think that the political Social Gospel brought many good things, by their fruit you know them: Women’s Suffrage, the New Deal, the beginnings of LBJ’s Great Society, Civil Rights. All of it reduces opportunities for abusers to control targets. It’s harder for employers to financially abuse their employees, etc.
I appreciate you seeing how the New Testament fought for just treatment of people (which is what I understand Social Justice to be)
Many people in my church are social justice minded and approximately 50% would categorize themselves as conservatives. But it all seems relative to me…
The one who identify as social justice minded seem to have their social justice focus on other things besides widows and the fatherless.
It seems like there are a lot of social justice warriors in my community – secular and ‘religious’ – who are very preoccupied with things that seem to me to be completely unrelated to protecting widows and the fatherless, especially from the destructive institution called the family court system.
One person wanted to “discuss” with me about the term psychopath and sociopath – they were offended by my use of it when I was teaching a Russian Lit class and when giving short background on the Russian Revolution and Post Revolution addressing Stalinism, Leninism and its Marxism and I said Hitler and Stalin were psychopaths. I also suggested Anton Chekhov’s character, Sasha, in his short story, “The Problem,” met criteria on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. They took issue with my suggestions and insisted psychopathy a/ sociopathy was a mental health disorder and such people can’t help themselves for how they are, and so it is therefore offensive to label anyone as a psychopath or sociopath because these are not officials term in the DSM….. I was not sure how to respond without encouraging an argument, so I just said Thank you for telling me that….?
Let them try that argument with the Lord. A psychopath knows exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. Being a psychopath will not win them an insanity plea.
I wonder what these people who objected to what you said would have done if they had sat in judgment at Nuremberg? Just let the Nazi butchers go free because they couldn’t help themselves?