The Socializing Gospel

Earnest voices among us warn about a “social gospel” movement. With good reason. Some well-intentioned Adventists are so committed to good neighborliness they diminish our doctrine or even fundamentals of Christian faith.

But the golden rule is not the gospel. Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us is not how we get saved. If so, why did Christ die on the cross for us? All we would need is to be reminded that Jesus wants us to be nice.

That said, walking your sick neighbor’s dog is a natural fruit of salvation by grace. Although there’s no such thing as the social gospel, the gospel does socialize us.

Consider the incarnation of Christ: “The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1:14*). Since we could not find our way up to God, He came down to us. Jesus scandalously socialized with us sinners, and now He likewise commissions us: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (20:21). “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (13:35).

Such love from Christ through us is not icing on the cake of religiosity. It is the very fulfilling of the law we purport to obey. In fact, Adventist doctrine properly perceived and presented radically socializes us.

The social heart of truth

Consider the Sabbath. Each week we set aside personal works, not to forsake the assembling of ourselves but to socialize. We don’t devote two hours in church attendance before rushing home to watch a ballgame. The whole day involves relationality, first in worship and then in fellowship — including those outside our circle of friends. Pure religion invites widows, orphans and parolees to participate in our potlucks and nature hikes.

All Seventh-day Adventist doctrine is (or ought to be) intrinsically social. Christ’s Second Advent will be a totally socialized event. Faithful evangelists correct the misconception that disembodied souls float away at death to heaven, one by one. Instead, we rest until the grand resurrection at Christ’s coming, when we all travel as one triumphal procession to the New Jerusalem. Imagine the great arrival when we parade together through heaven’s gates!

What about our historic (and now neglected) sanctuary doctrine? Its heart and soul is the presence of God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8, NIV). God with us — that’s the social heart of true Adventism.

So why aren’t Seventh-day Adventists famous for being the most social people in town? Much of it has to do with our perceptions of prophecy. For example, we traditionally trumpet signs of the times in Matthew 24 while overlooking Christ’s social scenario that immediately follows in chapter 25. There He describes how He will separate those who are eternally saved from those who are lost. Please ponder the following pronouncement from Jesus about His end-time remnant:

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’" (Matt. 25:31–40).

Christ’s description of His end-time people presents a probing question to each Northwest Adventist: Do you want a merely cerebral religion that inflates the head but leaves your heart empty? Or will the love of Jesus socialize your heart, your home, your church?

Let’s not wake up a thousand years too late to discover what matters most to God.

*Unless noted, all Scriptures are from the New Living Translation.

March 13, 2019 / Church, social gospel / Perspective
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