When evangelism becomes politics, it is no longer Christ’s Gospel

First in a Series on the Church in Politics

In short, evangelism, in its varied dimensions, is politics.” That blunt statement by George W. Webber in The Congregation in Mission (Abingdon, 1964, p. 67) puts in a nutshell the new form of the social gospel. Gibson Winter says it this way: “The public spheres of social, economic, educational and political life will have to provide the main fields of ministry for the servant Church in coming decades …” (The New Creation as Metropolis, Macmillan, 1963, p. 58).

For a long time church leaders have talked about politics; now they mean to do something about it. Some of them are leaving the pulpit for jobs in government. Such a shift makes the headlines when a clergyman leaves a Capitol Hill pulpit for the Peace Corps. More often the “pastoral dropouts” are seminary students who turn to more direct forms of social action than the ministry seems to provide.

Other churchmen, however, want to gear the Church itself to political functions. They are the advocates of a new secular shape for the Church. They see no future in the traditional suburban congregation, rooted in a rural past. Local action cells, neighborhood associations, international commissions—these offer more promising forms for the evangelism of politics.

A plausible case for action-centered political secularism follows this line of argument: The issues of our time are social: war, racial tension, poverty, famine. If the Church ignores such problems to cultivate personal positive thinking, it will be worse than irrelevant. Social reform is accomplished by political power; the Church cannot redeem society without reaching for power. Let the Church go where the ...

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