October 30 – Our Churches: Social Gospel

Veering From the Original Message

The concept of a social gospel came into prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as a Protestant Christian movement.  Promoters of the social gospel sought to apply Christian principles to social problems, with a focus initially on labor reform. Over time other issues, such as poverty, nutrition and health, education, alcoholism, crime, and warfare were also addressed as part of the social gospel. However, social needs were emphasized while the doctrines of sin, salvation, heaven, hell, and the future kingdom of God were downplayed. Theologically, social gospel leaders were liberal and generally postmillennialist, asserting that Christ’s second coming would not happen until humanity rid itself of social evils. According to the social gospel, Christians needed to concentrate on the world now, and not the world to come. 

In 1937, Richard Niebur, a theologian, described the message of the social gospel this way: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” 

Progressive Christianity is a “post-liberal” movement within Christianity that “seeks to reform the faith via the insights of post-modernism and a reaching for the truth beyond the verifiable historicity and factuality of the passages of the Bible by affirming the truths within the stories that may not have actually happened.” 

The parenting website “Bless This Mess” describes progressive Christianity as a “modern guide to faith” in which the Bible is neither regarded as inerrant nor is it taken it literally. The assertion is that the Bible is metaphoric and that it is filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, like an ancient game of “Telephone.” The claim is that the Bible is full of contradictions and people are encouraged to discard much of it.

On the other hand, progressives recognize that God is still speaking. One motto they offer is “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” They teach that science is “cool” and a gift from God, that gay people are beloved children of God, that the Bible and the world have all kinds of beloved and blessed families, and there is more than one path to God and to salvation.

In an article in The Christian Chronicle, Bobby Harrington, an author and minister for Harpeth Christian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and executive director of Renew Network, a multinational, multi-ethnic group of faith leaders, says,   “Progressivism challenges core doctrines of Christian orthodoxy. The Scriptures teach that Jesus was crucified to atone for our sins, but progressives tend to argue that Jesus’ death was merely a martyrdom.“  

He continues, “The Scriptures claim that Jesus is divine, but often progressives only emphasize the humanity of Jesus-. … The sinfulness of humanity is generally downplayed by progressives, who tend to think that all people are basically good and not really in need of salvation.” Harrington adds, “Finally, the heart of the Gospel message shifts from sin and redemption to social justice.” 

Alisa Childers, author of Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, says, “The solutions that progressive Christians have come up with have not led to better results than the culture they’re reacting against.” Many of the doctrinal challenges that progressive Christians raise are not new. They have been dealt with time and again throughout history. There is nothing new under the sun, and progressive Christianity is no different. It is simply heresy in a new package. 

Galatians 1:8-9 gives this warning, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” 2 Peter 2:1-22 is also a helpful passage regarding false prophets and teachers who bring destructive heresies. And the apostle John states, in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 

How then should we pray? 

  • For those in positions of authority to recognize the truth of God’s Word and the gospel.
  • For church and congregation leaders to understand the reality of the Scriptures and the dangers of departing from the truth.
  • For your pastors and elders to stand strong upon the message of salvation through faith in Christ.
  • That the Lord would lead you into all truth as you seek Him daily.

See previous Pray 7 daily featured readings.

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