Evangelicals dispute the liberal thesis that the Church’s evangelistic task is to change the structures of society, not to proclaim a message of personal salvation

Evangelical foreign missions have traditionally been concerned almost exclusively with evangelism. As William Gillam of the Oriental Missionary Society observes, “In the drive of evangelism, too often we have rushed by the hungry ones to get to the lost ones.”

There are good historical reasons for this evangelical aversion to church social action. At the turn of the century, the writings of Walter Rauschenbusch and others who advocated the social gospel set forth salvation through the utopian hope of ushering in the Kingdom of God by man’s efforts. This radical departure from biblical truth caused a very strong reaction among conservatives, a reaction that largely remained for many years, even after the decline of the social gospel in the 1930s.

The reasons, however, do not constitute an excuse. The Bible has always spoken up clearly against social injustice. Passages such as Ezekiel 22:23–31, Amos 8:4–14, and James 2:1–20 leave no question as to God’s concern that his children be involved in social problems. Yet it is only within the last decade or so that many evangelicals have been restudying the passages that bear on social ethics, and repenting for their shortsightedness. The lag has put us at a distinct disadvantage in the crucial area of social service, especially in the underdeveloped countries.

On mission fields such as Latin America, where people are deeply involved in one of the most explosive and widespread social revolutions in history, the relation of the Church to society is a top-priority issue. There is no pulling back. Christians, like everyone else ...

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