The following is written by Michael Lofton, author of the website www.consolamini.org
What is the Social Gospel?
The Social Gospel is the view that the main purpose of the Church is to address the temporal needs of man. Thus, according to this view, the Church should primarily concern itself with poverty and social injustices.
The Social Gospel Today:
It has become common place to hear Church leaders wax eloquently on the need to feed the poor, open the borders and turn off one’s air-conditioners to save the environment, but seldom does one hear the need to repent of one’s sins, believe in Christ and unite oneself to His Church. The fact of the matter is, many in the Church no longer believe the Gospel proclaimed by Christ and the Apostles; rather, they believe a Gospel they have invented. For this reason, it is necessary to offer a brief critique of the Social Gospel.
Problems with the Social Gospel
Contrary to Scripture: A major component of the Social Gospel is the elimination of poverty and hunger. The view that it is possible to eliminate poverty and hunger is completely contrary to Scripture, as Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11) Also, the Book of Revelation notes a fourth of mankind will die of poverty before the second coming, as it says:
“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:8)
Thus, it is not possible to entirely eliminate poverty and hunger according to Our Lord and prophecy about the end times.
Elevating Man Over God: The view that the Church should primarily concern itself with social issues is simply anthropocentrism, which emphasizes man’s temporal needs over God. This view essentially turns man into an idol by making his temporal concerns paramount, while displacing the worship of God and His rightful place as the end towards which man should strive.
A Lack of Charity: Charity is defined as “to will the good of another” (CCC 1766). The greatest good an individual may attain is the beatific vision (heaven). However, the Social Gospel doesn’t concern itself with helping people attain this end; rather, it concerns itself primarily with helping man meet his temporal needs. There is no question that charity demands one to be concerned about feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, etc. However, to make this the purpose of the Church, to the exclusion of the greatest need of man (i.e. eternal salvation) is, in fact, uncharitable, as it fails to “will the good of another”.
A False Gospel: The Social Gospel is not the Gospel to which Christ commissioned the Church to proclaim. Jesus said to the Apostles: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Simply put, the Church is primarily commissioned to convert the nations, not to bring about a society that Scripture says is impossible to realize.
A Protestant Doctrine: As odd as it may seem, Catholic who espouse the Social Gospel are in fact espousing a Protestant doctrine that began in the 20th century by Protestants who held to the eschatological view know as post-millennialism, which is the view that the second coming of Christ will only occur after the world has essentially been made into a utopia.
A Counterfeit Doctrine: As the Social Gospel is Protestant in origin, it should be noted that the real Catholic teaching on social justice is ignored by those who espouse the Social Gospel. For an examination of the authentic Catholic Social Tradition, read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum as well as this article.
Imagine for a moment, the condition of an individual who is a victim of the Social Gospel. In other words, imagine that their temporal needs have been met (i.e. they have sufficient food, shelter and employment) while their spiritual needs have been neglected. We know that those who are not in Christ are under the wrath of God (Romans 1:17-32, Ephesians 2:4) and under the domain of Satan (Ephesians 2:1-3). Given that this is the condition of mankind, what profit would it be for a person to have their temporal needs met and yet go to hell for eternity when they die? Jesus put it this way, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36)
May God grant those in the Church who have bought into this false Gospel eyes to see and ears to hear the truth.
Michael Lofton is a Latin Rite Catholic in the Diocese of Shreveport, Louisiana and is also a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. He is a Catholic convert from Protestantism (his conversion story can be found here) and is an author of over a dozen books on Sacred Scripture, Catholic Theology and Apologetics as well as the editor of the St. Jerome Study Bible, found here. He is occasionally a guest on Radio Maria and is the author of the website www.consolamini.org