Liberals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century used the label “social gospel” to refer to their program. They substituted salvation from poverty and ignorance through state-mandated welfare and educational programs for salvation from sin and damnation through the cross and Spirit. One theologian characterized the social gospel of liberalism as a God without wrath, bringing men without sin into a kingdom without judgment though a Christ without a cross. Obviously, that is a total distortion of the biblical teaching.
But in another sense, we could benefit from restoring and redeeming the label “social gospel.” The gospel is social through and through. Traditional Christian teaching claims that outside the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. That is to say, forgiveness from sin and incorporation into Christ’s body go hand in hand. Salvation includes a new status (justification) and a new community (the church).
Moreover, the whole Christian life can only be lived out in the context of the church community. The New Testament authors presuppose that followers of Christ will be discipled in the matrix of an ecclesial community (cf. Acts 2:42ff). Numerous apostolic commands only make sense in this light. For example, we are told to love one another, pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, confess to one another, forgive one another, and so on. In other words, we’re to “one another one another.” But this can only happen in the environment of a church body. It can’t be done in isolation.
Via: In Medias Res the newsletter of Trinity House