Martin Luther King Jr. wrote after reading Walter Raushenbusch in 1958:
“it has been my conviction ever since reading Raushenbusch that any religion which profess to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried”
The scripture says in James 2:17, “Faith without work is death.” As a Christian one must walk the talk. God wants us to care for people who are in need not just in spiritual areas. It is not just lip service but putting it into practice of what we preach. We need Jesus’s example as Charles Sheldon said in his novel In His Steps, “to be a Christian, one needed to walk in Jesus’s footstep.”
With the outbreak of industrialization and Urbanisation, there arise an ongoing social evils and the deterioration of situation in the society that needed a serious attention. These circumstances led the social reformers a zeal to reform the society. Many of them began to take interest to look into the social evils and how to deal with it. With such intention, Social Gospel Movement came into shape. This article tends to bring out the background which are responsible for the rise of the movement, the role of the social gospel leaders and biblical reflection.
Etymology/Background of Social Gospel Movement
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Americans and the churches experienced a huge waves of urbanisation and industrialisation. This period was the feature of the revolutionary age, not only in United States but also in other parts of the European countries. The industrialization also resulted to the outbreak of civil war and demand for arm forces began to rise, which was also followed by the marked of moral deterioration in public and business life. Different institutions such as government, national and states were bounded by corruption. Materialism became their main concerned. On the other hand, the evils appeared in the society in different form. Seeing the whole situation of that period challenged the Christian forces to bring a reform movement it is incomplete. therefore,yet if this does not meet the needs of God’srs problems. s were followed by many
Today in India we witness issues like caste system, gender inequality, majority minority issues, religious communalism, racism, poverty, environmental issues, peace and justice, unemployment, drug addiction, human rights, political corruption etc. As Christians we have huge role to bring about transformation from all these problems. French Reformer Hendri de Saint Simon (1760-1825) opined that amidst these problems religion should guide the community towards development. Thus, Social Gospel Movement attempts to Christianize the society by applying the biblical principles of love and justice.
Prominent Figures in Social Gospel Movement
Washington Gladden (1836-1918)
Social Gospel had many expression and spokesmen. Among many, the most prominent was Washington Gladden, who is also known as the father of the social gospel. He was an ordained Congregationalist minister and the most influential of the early social gospel minister. He was a well known advocate of the movement at the turn of the twentieth century in the United States. His interest is focused on economic sphere, where he argued against the industrial exploitation of the workers and for the right of Labour Union. He served on city council, advocated municipal ownership of public service utilities, and sought to ease the tension between employers and labour unions. He maintained that the society could be Christianized by the application of the principles of “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” and said that this should be the chief business of the church. We need such dynamic leader/forerunner in our Christian community now.
Walter Raushenbusch (1861-1918)
The outstanding prophet of the Social Gospel was Walter Raushenbusch. He was a graduate of the university of Roschester and of Rochester Theological Seminary. After a period as a pastor in New York City in which he came to know the people and problems of a great city, he returned to Rochester Theological Seminary as a teacher. His Christianity and the Social Crisis, published in 1907, brought him a nationwide recognition. For him religion’s chief purpose was to create the highest quality of life for all citizens. He was dynamic, gracious, winsome, and vividly humorous and he was much sought after as a speaker and lecturer. He insisted that the social and economic life of the nation should conform to the requirement of the Gospel.
Social Gospel Movement was purely a Christian Movement. It was the application of Christian ethic to social problem, and also made the people realised the holistic vision of the Christian witness.
The Bible clearly told us to love our neighbour in Matthew 22:37-40; 10:42. Amid the Corona Virus pandemic churches are taking good initiative by giving away food items to their Meitei neighbours which is very much appreciated. There are people who cannot even afford daily needs around us. Praying for them will not meet their needs until we step out provide them. It is God’s will that we help the poor and needy (Matthew 25:35; Is 58:10; James 2:14-18; Proverbs 28:27, 19:17, 14:31). We need to bear one another’s burden (Galatians 6:2). God even want us to feed our enemy when they are hungry (Romans 12:29).
Today we witness issues of racial discrimination at different places in India. As a Christian we also need to voice for such problems. There are gender inequality even in our community where women are discriminated in various areas. It is God’s will that we protect the minorities (Proverbs 31:8-9; is 1:17; Psalms 82:3). God wants us to live in peace with everyone (Romans 12:18) and seek justice for the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17; Micah 6:8).
Having said all these we need leaders from amongst us who could bring transformation in our society in all these areas and more. We need leaders like Washington Gladden and Walter Raushenbusch who through social gospel movement brought tremendous changes in the society.
In India we find personalities from foreign women missionaries like Mother Teresa and Dr. Ida S. Scudder whom along with their faith work out for the betterment of the society. They believed that one need not only be healed spiritually but also need healing of the body. Everyone seem to be interceding for God’s providence for the sick, needy, for peace, political corruption etc. but in fact did not work out our faith. It is good to have preacher preaching God’s word and filling the spiritual thirst of His people and prayer warriors praying fervently for various issues yet if this does not meet their physical thirst it is incomplete. Therefore, it is high time for the Christians today that we stand for these causes, voice our concerns and subsequently join hands together and work out our faith.
James Hasting Nichols, History of Christianity 1650-1950: Secularization of the West (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1956), 279.
J.D. Doughlas, “Socialism, Christian”, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell (Michigan: Baker Books,1996), 1029.
Jerald C. Brauer, “Social Gospel,” The Westminster Dictionary of the Church of History (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1971), 775.
Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day (United Sates of America: Prince Press, 2004), 257.
Kenneth Scott Latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and the Twentieth Centuries Vol. II: The Nineteenth Century Outside Europe The Americas, The Pacific, Asia and Africa (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961), 223.
Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity: Reformation to the Present, Vol. II (United States of America: Prince Press, 2005), 1263-1264.
M.A Noll, “Gladden Washington (1836-1918),” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell (Michigan: Baker Books, 1996), 442