“If the Church descends to promoting socialism, it will become as short-lived as our secular organizations.”
There is little about poverty that I do not understand from personal experience, and my sympathies are with suffering people. Indeed, I have spent a good part of my life trying to help the unfortunate.
There are those who would have the Church make pronouncements and take positions on social, political, and economic questions. They cannot possibly be more interested than I am in relieving poverty and lifting the burden of misery from the backs of men. We agree on goals. We divide sharply on the best way of making progress toward them.
Church bodies should not make pronouncements in these areas. Nor should they assume that all people who are really Christians must take a certain view of current problems. To do so will divide the Church.
It is a great mistake for the minister, speaking from his pulpit, to take a position on controversial economic, social, and political problems. Of course, he should discharge his duty as a citizen in these matters, and he has the same secular means that are available to the rest of us.
Equally honest and devoted Christian men and women will disagree about tariffs, monetary policy, agricultural problems, federal subsidies to schools, housing, relief, foreign aid, and many other problems. Consecrated Christians just do not agree as to the will of God in the solution of these problems. If the Church undertakes to speak ex cathedra concerning them, it will divide its membership.
Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He did not command us to go into the world and organize a peace corps or civil-disobedience demonstrations. He did not resort to law or coercion as a means of improving society.
I am not saying that these social, economic, and political questions are not important. They are important, and every Christian should be concerned; but our concern and action should be expressed through secular organizations and not through the churches.
We need to get our hearts right through the worship of God and then mobilize our secular organizations to take the required action for the improvement of society. The Church is not the proper instrument. If we attempt to use it for that purpose, we shall destroy it.
When spiritual rebirth takes place through repentance, forgiveness of one’s sins and growth in grace is continued through persistent worship of God. The high ethical standards we find in Christ become the ruling principles of our lives. Reborn men and women go out and remake society.
I am just as much interested in meeting social needs and solving economic problems as the socialists, but I insist that we must not try to do it by changing our churches into social-action agencies. They must not climb down from the spiritual plane to take sides on controversial questions of economics and politics.
Jesus said if he were lifted up, he would draw all men unto him. He did not say that he would draw a majority and then coerce the others. When the rich young ruler was not ready to surrender his life and possessions to the will of Christ, Jesus might have said to his disciples, “The young man does not know what is good for him, so draw up a law that will dispossess him of the greater part of his wealth and we will use it properly.”
If the Church descends to promoting socialism, it will become as short-lived as our secular organizations. To remain permanent, it must be a divine institution proclaiming eternal spiritual principles.
A company of people were listening to Jesus and one said to him, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” Then Jesus said to the people, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness” (Luke 12:13–15a).
Naturally this does not mean that we should not be good trustees for God both with our time and with our means. It is the duty of our ministers and church leaders to inculcate in all of us a sense of trusteeship. On the other hand, if Jesus refused to be a “judge or a divider over you,” it would seem altogether out of place for the Church to assume those roles.
The proponents of the so-called social gospel say, “How can a Christian ignore the great need?” He can’t. He will do his utmost to bring about improvement, but he will do this as a Christian citizen and not by seeking to make a wrongful use of a sacred divine institution established by Jesus Christ for the purpose of operating permanently in the spiritual world.
Our liberal friends often speak contemptuously of pious people. They say individual piety counts for little and has no bearing on great sociological issues. They are wrong. If the Church had fulfilled its mission, had taught the people to worship God and respect his moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments, our present seemingly insoluble problems would not exist. The only cure is to improve the character of individuals, to regenerate people one by one; that is, to promulgate the personal piety which the welfare staters ridicule.
When John Calvin went to Geneva, it was one of the most depraved cities in Europe. He constantly reminded his ministers to concentrate on proclaiming the spiritual message of the Church. This was done, and within a few years Geneva became one of the most wholesome and best-governed cities in Europe. Today the Church has taken the opposite direction, and we hear little about personal piety.
Recently I heard a liberal Christian leader speak of the “dedicated, high-principled young men who surrounded Castro in his move for social justice in Cuba.” Shocking! But this is what happens when religious leaders place their faith in material movements and reforms.
Nothing but faith in God can cause a man to overcome his temptation and to be honest, truthful, and just in all his dealings. When the Church places its faith in coercive governmental action, it is bound to be defeated. Government can control people and drive them, but it cannot regenerate their hearts. Without the latter, there is no internal, redeeming self-help through the renewal of a right spirit within man. Until this change takes place, the best we will have is a coercive society and discipline through police action. In the end, it means a master-and-slave relationship.
Salvation for society awaits the rebirth of its individual components. We shall never overcome the woes of mankind until we pray with the Psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).
Faith in God puts courage, compassion, and determination into the hearts of men. These are the qualities that conquer poverty and solve other social problems. It is the business of the Church to mobilize spiritual power. By doing so, it can solve our perplexing social and economic ills; but if it deserts its true function, the Church will meet with tragic failure.
When secular organizations advocate measures that are proved wrong, no great damage is done, for they are of a temporary nature and may be supplanted by others that are able more accurately to interpret the will of the people. But when our one permanent divine institution deserts its commission to preach the Gospel, it and the world suffer irreparable damage.
The Church now advocates many of the measures of the welfare state. In so doing, it violates and tears down the very moral laws of God it is supposed to champion, teach, and proclaim.
We have in this country divided ourselves into a vast number of pressure groups with lobbies in every statehouse as well as the Capitol. We want the wealth of others and strive to see how much of it we can obtain for ourselves. We have become a nation of coveters.
The Church has too often failed in its mission of proclaiming the Gospel and devoted its time to the impossible task of trying to divide the wealth and redistribute it among the people. A Church which continues to do that cannot prosper and cannot for long retain the confidence, respect, and love of its people.
Much of our church leadership is advocating socialism for our country. The appeasement and wasteful foreign-aid program it urges for friend and foe alike are recognized by a large part of our church membership as threatening the solvency and even the very life of our country. If our church leadership continues to pontificate in this realm, it will greatly injure the Church. Even though it might give the right advice, it would still divide the Church, for there are many who do not agree that this is the proper function of the Church.
The Church must recover its mighty influence over individual lives. It must point the way to salvation from sin and thus achieve a happy, prosperous, and self-governing free society. The alternative leads us only deeper into socialism with its accumulating misery and despair.—HOWARD E. KERSHNER, in Christian Economics.
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