There seems to be a quiet, almost indiscernible, battle taking place within the Evangelical Christian world. There is a spiritual war, in which social justice, disguised as evangelism, is destroying sound theology within the church and marginalizing the Gospel of Christ. The Emergent Church movement is slowly whittling away Biblical truth within the Christian community through ecumenicalism and heresy. The social agenda of the Emergent Church is attempting to use the Gospel as a means to correct injustice. The social gospel truly puts the cart before the horse and places the salvation of souls subordinate to caring for the poor and in some cases, makes caring for the poor essential for salvation. The Bible commands us to care for the poor, and we see Jesus and the Apostles caring for the poor as a means to present the Gospel and to deal with the real issue facing mankind, separation from God due to sin. The social gospel piggybacks off of an established system, the church, in order to right societies wrongs. On the surface, this seems to be an altruistic endeavor, but what good is eliminating poverty if we are not making Christ our central message. Jesus, Himself, asked, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" Social injustice is unjust, clearly, however, we must ask ourselves, what is more important, the temporality of our human existence or the eternality of life beyond the physical. Granted, the unregenerated man would lean toward a more humanist approach and focus on the immediate physical need, but as Evangelical Christians, we cannot afford to ignore the eternal destination of men's souls. Eternity must be our central issue, even as we strive to ease suffering in the here and now.
One voice who has taken evangelicalism by storm is that of Francis Chan. Chan first came on the scene with his best selling book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed By A Relentless God. Chan calls the believer to a deeper love and commitment to God, but saddles that message with a social gospel, suggesting that the true role of the church is to right all of society's wrongs and to alleviate suffering. Chan goes as far as saying that feeding the poor is essential to salvation. Chan's theology is a works based faith in which a person cannot be saved unless they preform specified acts, in this case, acts of goodwill for the poor and suffering. Chan seems to be one of a growing number of so called theologians who are less interested in doctrine and more interested in making social change.
Francis Chan uses Matthew 25 as his proof text. In Mathew 25, we see Christ, after the second coming, gathering those who have survived the tribulation claiming to have followed Him. Jesus checks their faith by their actions in helping the poor and persecuted. These are tribulation saints, not born again Christians. Had these people been born again, they would have been regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit of God, and the only judgment they would have been subject to would be the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ, a judgment meant to reward works of service. Either Chan completely misses the point of Matthew 25, or he knowingly misuses the passage to make his point. Either option is unconscionable, especially for someone who has a Masters of Divinity.
This misuse(or misunderstanding) of Matthew 25 is indicative of the Emergent Church's penchant for ignoring doctrine.
Admittedly, doctrinal differences have divided the church for the past 2000 years. The adherents of the Emergent Church have decided the solution to this problem is to forget doctrine all together and to focus on love. The proper response should be, rather, to study scripture in light of scripture and accept foundational doctrines as they are presented in the Word. The Emergent argument makes statements like, "hurting people do not care what mode of baptism the Bible teaches." This may be a true statement, but it does not absolve the believer from studying and establishing doctrinal truth. Once we begin to remove doctrinal purity from the discussion, we are left with an anything goes theology that adheres to emotion and "what seems right" rather than absolute truth. Once we eliminate doctrinal truth, we can take passages out of context, at will, and make them say whatever we want to support our position.
In his epistle to the Philippian church, we see the Apostle Paul mentioning those who proclaim Christ from impure motive. While Paul rejoices in the fact that these false teachers are still proclaiming Christ, he makes a point to call them out for their false motive. We too can rejoice in the fact that Christ is proclaimed by those with an ulterior motive, but we also have a responsibility to proclaim truth.
Perhaps the most influential voice in the Social Gospel movement is Purpose Driven guru, Rick Warren. Author Paul Smith wrote a critique of Warren's Social Gospel agenda in his book New Evangelicalism. To read my review of Smith's book, click HERE Warren has gone beyond sacrificing sound doctrine for the sake of social justice, he has embraced ecumenicalism to an amazing degree. Warren has embraced Pope Francis and claimed that "He is doing everything right." click here to see Warren's comments on Pope Francis Francis has embraced Islam by allowing Muslim prayers in the Vatican and Francis made news when he stated that Atheists can be saved "as long as they are sincere." This does not sound like a man who is doing "everything right" as a spiritual leader meant to represent Christ. click here to see heresy of Pope When Rick Warren prayed at the presidential inauguration, his prayer paid homage to Protestant Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism and Islam. In addressing God, Warren made clear reference to the god of Islam, equating him to the God of the Bible. By referencing God as "the compassionate and merciful one" Warren referenced God in terms that would be familiar to any Muslim. Later, he referenced Christ by the name Isa, the name used for Him in the Koran. Unfortunately, the Isa of the Koran is not the Jesus of history, the Koranic Isa is not the son of God, but a prophet of Islam. Warren should know this, which means he is either unduly ignorant of Biblical truth, or he is willing to disregard what he knows is right to achieve his agenda. Again, neither is acceptable for a man in Rick Warren's position.
When social injustice becomes the main thrust, silly things like the exclusivity of the Gospel of Christ cannot stand in the way of progress, or so believe the purveyors of the social gospel. This is what makes the social gospel of the Emergent Church so dangerous and subversive. When the true Gospel hinders the work of social justice, sound doctrine is marginalized and considered anti-poor. The social justice movement is willing to sacrifice souls in the pursuit of humanitarian efforts.
If Christ's main concern was caring for the poor and persecuted, why did He turn away the multitude after having fed them the previous day? Christ made it clear that the message was Him, that the goal was total commitment to God the Father through the Son. When Jesus was anointed with expensive nard, some were opposed to the apparent waste of resources that could have been used on the poor. Christ's response is very telling "you will always have the poor..." Obviously, Christ was not teaching a Gospel that required care for the suffering as a prerequisite for salvation.
Even as the church continues to downgrade sound doctrine from within, we are bombarded by false teaching from outside the camp in the form of movies like Son Of God and shows like The Bible from new age adherents Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. Roma Downey holds a degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica, a well known New Age institute of learning. Downey also partnered with Medium/Spiritist John Edwards to create a CD for children, helping them to meditate. Interestingly, neither Burnett nor Downey have a salvation testimony or claim to be born again, yet, they are brought on Christian talk show after Christian talk show and allowed to discuss all the work they are doing in the name of Christ. Sadly, the Jesus found in Son of God bears little resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible. to see my review of Son of God - click here I find it disconcerting that Downey and Burnett are able to continue to put out inaccurate representations of scripture, have obvious ties to the new age community, and offer no evidence of Biblical salvation, yet are able to go unchallenged by the Christian community.
This brings us back to the fact that sound doctrine does matter. Without the foundation of sound doctrine, we cannot combat error. By allowing the social gospel to hijack the work of the true Gospel, we are attempting to gain the world while forfeiting it's soul. Again we must answer Christ's question, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" What profit is it to a man if I help alleviate his physical suffering and do nothing to remedy his eternal damnation. We should, unquestioningly, care for the suffering of the downtrodden, but we should do so with their soul in mind. The church should address social issues and care for the poor, but the ultimate goal must be the salvation of the lost. We cannot partner with and give credence to those who are opposed to the Gospel of Christ, we must not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, we must never sacrifice Biblical truth for any reason, no matter how seemingly altruistic. Doctrine matters and so does the salvation of the lost. Christ commanded us to go and preach the Gospel, making disciples of all nations. As people place their lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ, societies will change for the better and suffering will ease. True change can only come through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.