Dispensational Truth And The Social Gospel

by Alan Burns

AS THE foundations are sapped on which are built the future hopes of the church, for itself and for others, the church naturally turns its attention from "things to come" to the "things that are." The tense in which the church expresses its hopes gradually changes from the future to the present. Its onlook becomes an outlook. If the prophetic scriptures relating to the future are deprived of final authority then all the church has left is the ethical utterances of such prophets as it chooses to believe. Let us hear what one of the prophets of the "Social Gospel" has to say:

"It is profoundly pathetic to see how a people, paralyzed, broken on the rack, and almost destroyed, still clung to its national existence and believe in its political future. Even the crusted dreams of apocalypticism have a tragic dignity and a lingering touch of vital force. In those dreams the Jewish people kept alive both their memories and their hopes, much as an impoverished aristocratic family will preserve the tarnished swords and the faded uniforms worn by illustrious ancestors, and nurse the hope in its sons that they may some day regain the old position...Yet the unhistorical and artificial schemes of apocalypticism have been and are now more influential in shaping the imagination of men about the future course of history than the inspired thoughts of the great prophets. Men still rival the rabbis in learned calculations that somehow never turn out correct, and follow wandering lights which have thus far disappointed and led astray all that have ever followed them" (Christianity and the Social Crisis, P.36).

Naturally, if the value of the Old Testament prophecies be reduced to that of "dreams"--no, not that, these are not even "cultured" dreams, it seems they are "crudest dreams" in the authoritative finality of the above writer's judgment--then we may concentrate our puny efforts on the task before us, and eliminate from our thoughts such unproductive humbug as is to be found in the "unhistorical and artificial schemes," say of Daniel the Prophet. Of course it is true that the Christ, Whose name we still like to use in connection with our "Social Gospel," also indulged in apocalypses, even quoting this same Daniel with approval, but then He was deluded and ignorant on these points, we are not, the difference between Him and us (should it be him and Us?) being the difference between the First and Twentieth Centuries!

Paul must be convicted of "cravenness" as well, for he also seems to have been caught in the apocalyptical of the Man he loved to call his Master. If Paul had but met Rauschenbusch how different our New Testament would have been! But let us note another expression of prophetic evaluation:

"When religion was driven from national interests into the refuge of private life, it lost its grasp of larger affairs, and the old clear outlook into contemporary history gave way to an artificial scheme. Instead of reading present facts to discern God's purposes, men began to pore over sacred books, and to piece the unfulfilled prophesies of the dead prophets into a mosaic picture of the future. The sunlight of the prophetic hope gave way to the limelight of the apocalyptic visions of later Judaism" (Social Crisis, P.35).

The "prophetic hope" must be interpreted as a prosperous state of society, achieved by mean of ethical practice. This hope of our "social evangelists" is "sunlight," it rests on man, depends on man, and is to be effected by man. The "limelight" is the false hope which rests on God, depends on God, and is to be effected by God. Rauschenbusch's "hope," resting upon man, would be Paul's despair as Galatians explains, but then Paul was not a Professor nor was he mentally or culturally equipped to express a judgment on such matters! He was in fact only inspired and divine inspiration, as valued by the "Social Church," has been supplanted and its place taken by human perspiration.

The disparagement of "apocalypticism" by all writers of this school is logically in place in their false gospel. If you despair of man then you will hope in God; and if you despair of God you will pin your hopes to man. Apocalypticism leaned all its weight upon "the everlasting arms." It was divinely placed in the faith and vision of the men of God who had seen the failure that ends every trial of the "arm of flesh." "Man cannot: God can and will" was the message flashed on their waiting minds by the inspiring Spirit. "God will not: man can" is the result of our modern movements of thought.

Our author again refers to the God of Israel's prophets: "Israel had the strongest of all gods for its champion" (Page 36). The diminution of the G in God naturally, capitalizes the P in people.

But let us have the rights of God and the rights of man weighed in the balances of "critical insight." It looms up in the same writer's opinion of Ezekiel, though we cannot help wondering what Ezekiel's opinion of his critic would have been!

"His ideal city was no longer a city of justice so much as a city of the true worship. The older prophets had condemned the sins of man against man, especially injustice and oppression. Ezekiel dwelt on the sins of man against God, especially idolatry. Not justice but holiness had become the fundamental requirement, and holiness meant chiefly ceremonial correctness. The righteous nation was turned into a holy church. Ezekiel was a prophet by calling, but he was a priest by birth and training, and in comparing his literary style, his outlook on life, and his spiritual power with that of the older prophets, it is impossible to avoid a sense of religious decadence" (Social Crisis, P.30).

In our critic's opinion it seems more important that man should be right with his fellow creatures than with his Creator- -but why not if the God of Ezekiel was only a god? Social justice, too, seems to rank higher than the truest worship: "His ideal city was no longer a city of justice so much as a city of true worship." This appears to be classified and labeled as "Religious Decadence!" Ezekiel seems to have exaggerated the importance of God, and unduly exalted His claims.

Our "Social Gospel" preachers prefer the prophets to the priests. The latter smell too much of "blood and entrails." They like to trace the similarity between the priestly religion, against which the later prophets protested, and the religious conceptions and practices of a priest-ridden Christendom:

"Under the influence of non-Christian customs and conceptions Christianity early developed its own ceremonial system. It is, of course, far more refined. Our places of worship have no stench of blood and entrails; our priests are not expert butchers. But the immense majority of people in Christendom have holy places, where they recite a sacred ritual, and go through sacred motions. They receive holy food and submit to washings that cleanse from sin. They have a priesthood with magic powers which offers a bloodless sacrifice. This Christian ritual grew up, not as the appropriate and aesthetic expression of spiritual emotions, but as the indispensable means of pleasing and appeasing God, and of securing His favors, temporal and eternal, for those who put their heart into these processes. This Christian ceremonial system does not differ essentially from that against which the prophets protested; with a few verbal changes their invectives would still apply. But the point that here concerns us is that a very large part of the fervor of willing devotion which religion always generates in human hearts has spent itself on these religious acts. The force that would have been competent to seek justice and relieve the oppressed `has been consumed in weaving the tinsel fringes for the garment of religion'" (Social Crisis, P.7).

The "stench of blood" perhaps accounts for the apparent repugnance of our "Social" writers to any mention even of "precious blood," and explains why the cross on which God's Prophet-Priest was slaughtered is absent from any place of prominence in their pseudoevangel. As to the priests of Christendom not being "expert butchers," with this Writer's volume before us, so sadly indicative of the "slaughter-house" methods of so-called criticism, we can hardly refuse the title to its author. The word "critic" means "to cut" and our butcher has surely done that.

Having associated themselves in a false parallel with the prophets of old they like to praise their supposed forerunners. We are told

"The prophets were public men and their interest was in public affairs. Some of them were statesmen of the highest type. All of them interpreted past history, shaped present history, and foretold future history (Social Crisis, P.9).

If the inspired prophets of old interpreted past history it is surely more than our critical professors of today can do; and, as to foretelling future history, it only has to be suggested of our moderns to compel a good-natured smile.

Our modern church leaders are neither priests nor prophets. They do not bring man to God, nor God to man. They are merely religious politicians, their churches clubs, and their sermons speeches. They degrade the Bible in their methods of attempting the uplift of humanity. They dishonor its Author in the way they handle His Book. They question the veracity of the apostolic historians, or else condemn the eschatological utterances of the Christ. They reduce the Olivet discourse to a par with Grimm's Fairy Tales or the Arabian Nights. When they reject the key to Bible truth, need we wonder if they find the doors of revelation unopened to them? Like an aged man looking for the spectacles that are meanwhile resting on his forehead, they at times handle the key to Bible knowledge without perceiving the fact that it is the key they hold. This is the valuation of Paul in the book we have been quoting from, which summarizes his worth to the modern "political" church:


And Paul is God's appointed apostle for today! Paul knows nothing of "social programmes," "civic consciences," "ethical politics"--and a little of Paul evaporates a great deal of Rauschenbusch.

The Jew is God's earthly politician, and no gentile--however learned--can take his place, or fulfil his office. Israel is God's political nation, not England, or the United States, and as Israel--God's politicians--at present is laid aside, Paul's epistles are "almost devoid of social elements." In order therefore to find even a nominal Christian basis for the "Social Gospel" Paul has to be ignored, in the attempt to get "Back to Jesus," as they say. The Sermon on the Mount is wrenched out of its dispensational setting in order to modernize its application. The "Social Gospel," of course, has no Galatians in its literature, for it does not wish it to be known that it is really "Social Law" masquerading under a Gospel name.

Dispensational truth puts the "Social Gospel" in its place which is a future one. Those who will administer the longed-for social justice will be Abraham's despised seed. Such a happy state of society will be attained under the theocracy alone--the coming kingdom of God. The "Social Gospel" has only, and knows only, the kingdom of man. It is the delusive hope of deluded men--futile activity of a Christless church. But "our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil.4:20). That in a nutshell is the difference between Rauschenbusch and Paul; between God's gospel and man's despair.

©Concordant Publishing Concern

[Return to main indexpage]