Domingo, 03 de Março de 2024
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The Church and Social Action

The apparent piety of liberal theology

Christians should be careful when engaging with evangelical communities that give much emphasis to social work. That's because this tonic may result not of a Biblical conception of suffering and poverty, but liberal doctrinal trends.

Liberalism was a theological movement that emerged in the 18th century and hosted the reigning worldview of modernity generated by the Enlightenment. This worldview gave way to the supremacy of reason (human logic rather than biblical revelation defines what is true), proposed the smooth functioning of nature (the natural order does not change; therefore, there are no miracles) and creates the progress of humanity through the use of reason, scientific advancement and moral education.

Liberal theologians realized that a worldview such did not attribute any meaning to orthodox Christian doctrines, as they clash with the modern scientific mentality. Therefore, issues such as the divine transcendence, biblical inspiration, the deity of Jesus, the atoning death of Christ, the resurrection and eternal judgment were totally rejected by liberal theologians, or at least reinterpreted in purely moral or symbolic terms. Your goal with this was to make Christianity relevant and appealing to the younger generations who were not willing to sacrifice reason, accepting the supernatural.

How, though, to keep the church doors open when the heart of his message is removed? In other words, how the church could continue living and making a difference if the doctrine of the God-Man who died and rose again to deliver sinners from eternal damnation is, as said, only a fable inspired by old pagan myths? Stripped of its fundamental message, would not the church closed its doors and put their buildings up for sale?

The response of liberal theologians to these questions was the following: the church should even abandon their old dogmas as unacceptable to the modern scientific mind, but can still keep running and to become relevant to the world since it embraces the task of moral educator and agent for social assistance. Instead of being, therefore proclaiming a gospel meaningless and fanciful biblical story, the church should now show their importance to the world, acting as a promoter of ethical values and as a healthcare entity.

Theologians and philosophers as Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889) and Adolf Harnack (1851-1930) Christianity then restricted the scope of ethics and especially Ritschl and Harnack, highlighted the work of the church to promote kingdom of God and universal brotherhood, transforming this world through practical acts of love and justice.

The doctrine of liberalism was devastating damage and is clearly perceived even today in many churches and theological seminaries where this aspect remains alive and active. Indeed, as a result of their proposals, the Christian dogmas were discredited, and today ridiculed in some theological circles.

In terms of ecclesiology applied, however, the legacy of liberalism was to build a mindset that the church shows its relevance especially to the extent that it operates as a school of ethical values or association of support to the needy and victims of social injustice.

That mentality, it seems, has become quite popular in Brazil in the 1970s thanks to the strong impact of the book “in His steps what would Jesus do?”, by Charles M. Sheldon - a book that does not propose liberal ideals but it highlights very the need for the church to accomplish great social works. An atmosphere of remarkable liberal enthusiasm, still marked by appealing challenges posed by works like Sheldon, many churches began to open kindergartens, distribute food, make clothes collection campaigns and provide literacy courses to disadvantaged.

Although these actions were not wrong in themselves, were all developments of a theology that denied or left in the background the pure gospel message and try to protect the importance of the church turning it into a welfare organization, with little emphasis on education, preaching, holiness and discipline.

The irony of it all could be seen in the fact that in trying to give importance to the church, depriving it of sound doctrine and giving it a social function, liberalism drew its main focus and eventually reduce it. In fact, in many cases, the church only holds the message of salvation, became involved in charitable distractions, putting aside the preaching of the cross. Adopting a populist, sentimental and appealing speech, she left to fulfill the mission given by God to spread the saving truth and went on to accomplish tasks that fit the state, handing out soup and blankets.

At other times, churches were carried away by social discourses have become really useless and even harmful organizations, providing assistance to families and unemployed individuals, funding indirectly, thus, idleness, drunkenness, carousing, prostitution and drugs. Also some churches, following the same aspirations of "impact" in the community where they were, became truly banal, promoting animal protection campaigns, conducting prayer services by trees or forming groups distributing hugs to passersby on the street (!) .

So the people who should form an army of soldiers who bravely defend the faith and the truth was, in some cases, turned into a sentimental group of Scouts who cherish abandoned kittens in the squares.

The proposal called Integral Mission

In July 1974, he met in Lausanne, Switzerland, the 1st International Congress on World Evangelization, with the main objective of defining identity and evangelical mission in the contemporary world.

Leaders meeting in Lausanne revealed concern about many current threats directed against the church. They correctly perceived that one of these threats were liberal proposals to deprive Christianity of genuine biblical message. Then positioning yourself against this and other dangers, the theologians of Lausanne reaffirmed some central doctrines of the faith and encouraged the church to give back to the world the true gospel.

Involved in these discussions and debates, some theologians present in Lausanne, especially those coming from Latin America, as Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar, both speakers at the conference, stressed the statement that the true gospel, to be announced, should encompass actions of social impact , economic and political. Even participating in an anti-liberal congress, the fact is that these theologians yearned air blown by the welfare liberalism of the time and the Theology of Liberation, as influential in their countries of origin.

Thus, according to them, church involvement with the social needs of humanity was part of his task as a Christian witness. According to these theologians, for the gospel to be announced in full, it was necessary to emphasize what they understood to be a "social dimension".

Theologians of Lausanne substantially embraced these concepts and at the end of the Congress, produced a document called the Lausanne Covenant (written by John Stott) which, although clear and emphatic in their orthodox utterances (as the affirmation of biblical authority, rejection of universalism and belief in the literal return of Christ), allowed to seep through echoes of Liberation Theology, a model of strong liberal coloration.

In fact, the Lausanne Covenant stated that the church must show interest "for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression" and "evangelism and sociopolitical involvement are both part of our Christian duty."

It is true that the Lausanne Covenant, being predominantly Orthodox, expressly stated that social action is not evangelism, which is not a political liberation salvation (Article 5) and that the church cannot be identified with any social or political system, nor with human ideologies (Article 6).

However, despite these caveats, pastors of liberal and Marxist tendencies, considering the conclusions of the congress too timid regarding the social role of the church, gave emphasis to the statements of the Covenant that were more convenient for them. Then proceeded to talk about the overall mission of the church with a distinctly libertarian and leftist tonic, something certainly never intended by the wording of the Lausanne Covenant.

That's how the expression of Integral Mission Church became strongly associated with a "gospel" that is little more than a defense, contrary to the distinction between classes egalitarian political ideology - an ideology that insists on major social interventions part of the church, but, as a rule, gives no emphasis to cross the danger of eternal damnation and the need for repentance of a sinner before a holy God. In fact, the gospel proposed by liberal and Marxist advocates of Integral Mission Church eventually fill stomachs (sometimes!), Leaving empty hearts (always!).

Obviously, God's church should reject the paternalistic discourse called Integral Mission. The principles and priorities on assistance to needy are all exposed in the Scriptures and is with them that God's people must commit not with philosophical, sociological or partisan strands left that are actually evangelical versions of liberation theology.

The Church of God must flee all this not only because the heightened emphasis on social action away from its essential task of proclaiming the cross and repentance. The church must flee all this because apparently pious proposal from Integral Mission is just a more or less veiled reflection of liberal and libertarian theology that remains alive and does not accept the reality of eternal damnation, announcing, so a salvation purely political and share in this.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that, contrary to what many Christians today think, was never duty or responsibility of the church to be a source of material to help the world. Indeed, the church was never designed by God as an organization has an obligation to reduce poverty and the suffering of people. If, as we have seen, she has this responsibility in relation to the household of faith (Gal 6:10), this in no way extends to society as a whole. It is on this issue that the final part of this series will deal with.

The real duty of the church

The claims made in the previous section may shock the ears of modern Christians who are familiar with the constant appeals of the Integral mission, but the truth is that God never put on the shoulders of the faith community to the task of improving the world through programs or social welfare projects. Absolutely nothing in the Bible teaches or even suggests it. Israel, the covenant people, never received this commission in the face of nations who should proclaim the true God and the New Testament churches were never encouraged it.

Some say that the messages of the prophets of the Old Testament was centered on social calls, and that the church must also accept them in that aspect. However, this perception is mistaken. Although condemn the social sins of their contemporaries, the prophets did not see this as their main concern, but rather as further evidence that the people had forsaken the commandments of the covenant with Yahweh. The center of their complaints was, in fact, the religious apostasy of the nation. Therefore, the vision of the prophets, the solution to the injustices that repentance was both attacked and not the implementation of welfare programs.

So it is wrong to say that the prophets were urban social reformers and the church needs to hear your message as a kind of voice of the oppressed. In fact, the only task for the church before the world is to preach the gospel of the cross, the gospel of the true God who gives eternal salvation and complete. This gospel, when received by someone through faith, ultimately ennobling the person taking it out of ignorance, idleness, dirt, bad company, addictions and crime.

We see, therefore, that the real suffering and promotes converted an impact that is felt not only in your spiritual life, but also in their work, in their policy choices, in their assessment of the law and laws in their ethical views in his moral behavior in its vision and economic practice and the importance that happens to give education.

The individual transformed by faith also begins to act on behalf of his fellow (especially their families and brothers in Christ), not moved by Marxist concepts or political-philosophical tendencies, but by a holy inclination that is replaced as a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). He is the man that stole but now does not steal more before working to rescue what has need (Eph 4:28).

All this social impact of the gospel is not, however, the final target of the work of the church before the world that surrounds her. It's "only" the common transformative effect that the Holy Spirit works in saved man. Again, the ultimate goal of the church is lost before attempting to deliver them from the condemnation of sin, showing that the only way to protect themselves from the wrath of God is seeking refuge in the cross of Christ. Accomplishing this task of proclaiming, the church will see sinners being saved from hell and, as a "bonus", see also the being freed from many other forms of oppression, including social.

Note that the gospel of Jesus Christ always produced this magnificent effect, simply observe the change of life for countless individuals reached by the saving grace throughout history; Also just look at the number of hospitals, kindergartens, schools and shelters founded by Christians for centuries, long before any liberal or "integral mission" proposal arise. This all shows how unnecessary are the demagogic appeals of these movements and raises suspicions that these are just gimmicks to transform the church into an ally in promoting heretical doctrines and ideologies of the left, under the guise of a servant of Christ.

So if the church really wants to impact the world, concentrate your efforts in preaching the authentic gospel, highlighting the work of Christ, repentance, faith and deliverance from eternal punishment. This will make her look lost man be freed from the wrath of many misfortunes and present. If you do not accomplish this task, you will not see neither one thing nor the other.

Pr. Marcos Granconato
Soli Deo gloria

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