Believers can help to make the world a better place, but is that really our main goal? Is a “social gospel” biblical?
They say that if you help others to help themselves, God is pleased, and I believe He is, but to offer the soup and soap without salvation is to leave off the most important subject; the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. If we only try to make the world a better place, but fail to share the good news with them, all we’re doing is making it a better world for them to go to hell in. It’s good to provide water wells for those who need water, but without offering the Living Water, it has no value beyond this life. Of course this doesn’t mean we do no works. Jesus Christ calls us to help the hungry, poor, sick, and in those in prison. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt 25:35-36). What they didn’t realize was what they did for others was actually the same as doing it unto Christ (Matt 25:40), so even though it’s good to help the poor and feed the hungry, unless we speak of the everlasting, sustaining Bread of Life, they will die with a full stomach but still not enter the kingdom.
The saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not from the Bible, but of course, there’s nothing wrong with being clean. That’s certainly a good thing. The Old Testament contains several laws that had to do with civil issues like waste disposal, quarantining the sick and contagious, and proper washings, but the Old Testament focus wasn’t on having the perfect society, but their living in obedience to God. God is more concerned with what’s on the inside than the outside. Jesus said that “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matt 15:11). Dietary laws are not what the kingdom is all about, so it’s not what we eat that defiles us, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matt 15:18). James gives a perfect example of what comes out of the mouth, saying that “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). It’s good to be clean, but it’s essential that we are clean inside (2 Cor 5:21). And by the way, what comes out of our mouth reveals what’s in the heart, and God alone knows the heart. He isn’t like us who look at the outside (1 Sam 16:7), but only the “Lord, who know the hearts of all” (Acts 1:24).
The first century church took collections for the poor, primarily for the Jerusalem Christians. They had suffered so much by the time the Apostle Peter wrote his second epistle (letter), that many were starving to death, however, never did these collections take precedence over presenting the gospel. The gospel that says Jesus is our one and only hope of being saved (Acts 4:12). The early church focused on telling the lost that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). To confess our sins means we agree with God about our sins. They’re an offense to a holy God, and that offense can only dealt with through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. To believe means more than just head knowledge…it means you act on that knowledge. I can believe in cars, but if I never drive one, can I say I’ve really believed in them or have trusted in them? What Jesus said the Martha, He says to all: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this” (Matt 11:25-26)? We can help a person receive some of the essential things in life, but if we fail to mention that eternal life is found only in Christ, it is not truly the work of Christ. Tragically, Jesus Christ will say to “many,” not a few, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). Those works they did were useless in eternity if they did not mention Christ.
The Social Gospel
In the Book of Jude, why did he say he “was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3)? It was because “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). What had happened was the “faith that was once delivered…to the saints” became a different gospel, and in time the some of the churches began to remake themselves into a social organization. Then a “social gospel” emerged. By doing so, they hoped to attract lots of people with lots of activities, and by doing things for others, they could feel good about themselves. This may explain why some churches tend to shy away from offending people by avoiding subjects such as repentance, sin, hell, confession, and sanctification. They’re good with collecting cloths for the poor, but not so much with sharing Christ. Many churches and many Christians have now replaced the true gospel with a real-good, feel-good, man-centered message…a “me-ology” rather than a theology…and one that focuses on things and not on Christ.
I hope you understand what I am saying. It’s a good thing to help the poor, visit the sick, and those in prison, but if that’s all we offer, then we’ve fallen terribly short of our calling. We are to do good works, but we do them for God’s glory (Eph 2:10), not ours, and we must mention the need for repentance and faith. We are commanded to share Christ as the only hope in this world. Helping others is fine, but it’s only temporary, and it’s not the gospel. Jesus told us what the gospel is, and it’s not a social gospel. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is an ordained elder of the Brethren Church and a Pastor and Prison Minister in the State of Kansas, but also a writer at Christian Quotes and What Christians Want to Know which address questions about the Bible. He also plants ministries like nursing home ministries, Outreach for the poor, and other evangelistic activities, and check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.