Posted by: Andrew Webb | October 8, 2008

Let the Church do the Work of the Church!

The Following quote is from William Hendriksen’s commentary on Matthew and seems particularly apt, not only because of the various kinds of politicking going on in American churches at election time, but also because evangelicals in particular once again seem to be turning their desire from the pursuit of the heavenly country to the old social gospel lie that we can build heaven here on earth and undo the effects of the fall  without waiting for the eschaton.  Once again we are turning from the spiritual to the earthly, from the proclamation of the gospel to the pursuit of trendy political and economic causes. As one evangelical put it using phraseology that would have been pleasing to the old modernists but not at all in keeping with what Peter teaches us in 2 Peter 3:10-14 about God’s final plan for the world  – “What if the Church began to understand that God wants to fix this entire planet?”

Now since it is the business of the church to shine for Jesus, it should not permit itself to be thrown off its course. It is not the task of the church to specialize in and deliver all kinds of pronouncements concerning economic, social, and political problems. “The great hope for society today is in an increasing number of individual Christians. Let the Church of God concentrate on that and not waste her time and energy on matters outside her province.”275 This is not to say that an ecclesiastical pronouncement revealing the bearing of the gospel upon this or that not specifically theological problem is always to be condemned. There may be situations in which such an illuminating public testimony becomes advisable and even necessary, for the gospel must be proclaimed “in all its fullness” and not narrowly restricted to the salvation of souls. But the primary duty of the church remains the spreading forth of the message of salvation, that the lost may be found (Luke 15:4; I Cor. 9:16, 22; 10:33), those found may be strengthened in the faith (Eph. 4:15; I Thess. 3:11–13; I Peter 2:2; II Peter 3:18), and God may be glorified (John 17:4; I Cor. 10:31). Those who, through the example, message, and prayers of believers, have been converted will show the genuine character of their faith and love by exerting their influence for good in every sphere.

275 D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1959, Vol. I, p. 158. The two volumes of this excellent series should be in everyone’s library!

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What if the church actually began to understand that God wants them to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” and not waste precious redemptive time with utopian political schemes or playing at being Captain Planet and the Planeteers? If the church would simply do the work she has been called to, then society might be filled with individuals who were ready to obey the command: “let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

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Responses

  1. “There may be situations in which such an illuminating public testimony becomes advisable and even necessary, for the gospel must be proclaimed ‘in all its fullness’ and not narrowly restricted to the salvation of souls.”

    Dosn’t seem nearly conservative enough. It reminds me of the subscriptionist rule about subscribing “because” the forms are faithful witnesses to scripture or “insofar as they are” so faithful. The above quote seems to leave as much of a door open to social gospels as the latter subscriptionist rule does to modern (read: low) views of the forms.

    So is the gospel to save souls alone or isn’t it?

  2. Hi Zrim,

    I don’t see how that is the case. First, Hendriksen points out that

    “This is not to say that an ecclesiastical pronouncement revealing the bearing of the gospel upon this or that not specifically theological problem is always to be condemned. There may be situations in which such an illuminating public testimony becomes advisable and even necessary, for the gospel must be proclaimed “in all its fullness” and not narrowly restricted to the salvation of souls.”

    We must leave room for the fulfilling of Christ’s mandate to the church to teach his disciples “all things that I have commanded you.” So we have a duty not only to proclaim the teaching of scripture regarding salvation but to teach those who have been saved to obey Christ’s commandments and to make known the first, second, and third uses of the Moral Law. For instance, the commandment “You shall not murder” has three uses:

    First, in revealing to me that I am, in fact a murderer having hated my brother in my heart and raged against him and have thus broken God’s commandment and am thus a sinner deserving of judgment, which should drive me to forsake myself and flee to Christ for forgiveness.

    Second, in its civil or political use in directing the magistrate to make laws forbidding and punishing murder and encouraging the promotion and preservation of life.

    Third, in directing the regenerate to “all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others” to quote WLC 135.

    So in preaching on the sixth commandment, all three of these dimensions should be incorporated, and certainly in expounding the second the preacher should say that the civil magistrate has a duty to condemn all forms of murder, and some basic explanation will note the way this should be done.

    In doing this, the church is not preaching a SOCIAL GOSPEL which teaches that via moral behavior and political action we can create heaven here on earth and fix the ills of the earth, the church is making known the whole counsel of God. Preaching the teaching of scripture regarding theological and ethical issues and commenting for instance that scripture teaches that such and such an action is evil and that the civil magistrate is given the sword to punish evildoers (Romans 13:4) is not opening the backdoor for the social gospel. If it is, then the blame lies with the Apostles and Prophets who did it before us.

    Sometimes I think that we are prone to forget that the gospel teaches us not only how to be saved, but how to live lives of holiness. Yes as Hendriksen points out, “the primary duty of the church remains the spreading forth of the message of salvation” but the same scriptures also teach us to pay our taxes, work dilligently, support our bretheren, love our families, dress modestly, and so on. Pointing that out is not a problem until we allow it to trump the message of salvation, or teach that we are saved by doing these things, or more often than not simply replacing the teaching of scripture with the materialist agenda of a political party or environmental cause.


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