Sin demands justice. We live in a world of sin and to be quite honest—we’re all sinners—broken sinners who can’t impress God in our flesh. Therefore, when we hear stories of people working to build campaigns to help people build huts in the jungle, put shoes on the feet of the impoverished in Africa, and feed the hungry under the bridges in major American cities without providing them with the good news of Jesus—such stories should cause us to weep. The problem with the social gospel is that it often never gets around to sharing the gospel at all.
The Social Gospel Leads to Mission Creep in the Local Church
The mission of the Church of Jesus is to make disciples through the good news of Jesus among all peoples for their joy in Christ alone. No matter the setting of the local church (rural or urban)—their mission is a gospel mission. You could start out with good intentions in a ministry in the local church, but over time it could creep over into a social gospel that does little more than meet surface needs in your community.
How many people get excited in local churches about a homeless ministry that organizes the clothing collection, labor early Saturday morning on distribution teams, feed the hungry, and go home fulfilled in how they provided such humanitarian needs without ever sharing the good news of Jesus? The same thing is true regarding clean water ministries devoted to digging wells in rural villages in Africa without telling them of the living water that comes through Jesus Christ.
This is a danger in many areas—even sports ministries in local churches that provide a nice safe atmosphere for children to play basketball and soccer without ever sharing the gospel. It could happen with a local church’s oil change ministry for single mothers on Saturday mornings where men change oil and never get to the gospel. Local churches must avoid this dangerous mission creep that majors on humanitarian needs or cultural needs in the community without first providing people with the gospel of Jesus. People who drink clean water die and go to hell without Christ. People who are warm and comfortable with good clothing die without Jesus and perish eternally. The gospel is the answer to the problems in the world today.
The Social Gospel Opens the Door to Progressive Politics
The danger in emphasizing the social gospel is that it often focuses on something other than the true gospel of Jesus. While focusing on the external hurts of the people in the culture—the social gospel warriors tend to avoid the spiritually dead soul that needs the gospel of Christ. Sadly, this improper emphasis leads people down a broken road through the doors of progressive politics that often talk about redistribution of wealth, “male privilege,” “white privilege,” and now—”Christian privilege.” What will be next?
Many times those who have reverend preceding their name appear on television promoting better social structures, equality for men, women, minorities, and the LBGTQ persons—yet their focus is centered on social structures rather than the gospel. Many of those same people lobby for social change in their community in the name of Jesus without ever getting to the true message of Jesus. Often a social gospel commitment majors on redeeming a city of social-ills rather than individuals within the city through the good news of Jesus. No matter how reformed our social structures become—people will not become better as a result of social change. Lost people need Jesus—not an improved social structure.
Did Jesus meet the physical needs of hurting people? Sure he did and we must care about the needs of people in our culture as well (Luke 10:25-37). However, Jesus’ social focus was always built upon a theological foundation of the gospel. Jesus healed people to reveal their need for spiritual healing. If we know of someone who needs food—we should not turn a blind eye to the need—and we should not serve without sharing the gospel. If we have people in our community who are hurting in various ways—it would be the right thing to investigate ways to meet those needs. However, if local churches focus on the cries of physical needs without addressing the spiritual needs—our ministry becomes a politically motivated humanitarian mission rather than a gospel mission of a local church of Jesus Christ.
People die and go to hell everyday while wearing good clothing, eating good food, and living in comfortable homes with good educational opportunities. Our communities need the gospel of Jesus not Marxism or socialism or communism or any other ideology. It’s the gospel that saves sinners. Far too often the social gospel majors on social issues, complaints, needs, and cultural trends while theology takes a backseat. That’s a tragedy. Consider the reality that Jesus never once sought to reform the social structures of his culture. Jesus majored on the gospel. Remember Jesus came to seek and to save the lost—not to run a clothing pantry or a mobile chili ministry in an urban city. Serve people, but don’t silence the gospel in the process. Preach the gospel.