A.W. Tozer once said this in a sermon: “There are churches that have almost given themselves over to the kingdom of man. Their philosophy is man’s philosophy. Their beliefs are man’s beliefs. And their viewpoint is man’s viewpoint. They go the way man goes and they live the way man lives and yet they call themselves churches.”
There would not just be churches today that fit this description, but whole denominations. We are all aware of denominations which have very little to say nowadays about Jesus Christ and the Biblical Gospel, but have much to say about the latest agenda of the secular world.
A good example occurred in a Melbourne newspaper on Christmas Eve. Three religious leaders were asked to write about the meaning of Christmas. The first two were orthodox and Christocentric enough. The Catholic and Anglican leaders in Victoria managed to give a more or less biblical view of what Christmas was all about.
Sure, they provided contemporary examples of the spirit of Christmas, but they both recognised and emphasised the importance of Jesus’ life and work two thousand years ago. The third article was conspicuously different. Written by a moderator of the Uniting Church, one would be hard-pressed to know that the author was a Christian.
The whole piece was about the usual social causes that the secular left is especially keen to champion. Thus we had discussion about climate change (“the threat of calamity”), and the Copenhagen conference. We had talk about the global financial crisis and the need for goodwill.
But strangely, not once was Jesus Christ explicitly mentioned anywhere in the entire article. Given that this person claims to be a Christian leader, and was supposed to be writing about the meaning of Christmas, this is a most curious – and alarming – omission.
After all, even the most biblically illiterate person would somehow be able to make the connection between Christ and Christmas, if for no other reason than the word ‘Christ’ is actually a part of the word ‘Christmas’. Yes, she once did mention the “first Christmas” but that seemed to be as far as she could go in acknowledging the reason for the season.
The bulk of the piece was about how we all need to treat each other nicely, and seek for peace, justice and equity. Now these are all good things (depending on how we define them), but from a biblical point of view, they are all by-products.
That is, when we first get reconciled with God, and make our peace with our Lord, then we are able to be agents of peace in a hostile world. Only when we know a just and righteous God can we properly work for justice on this earth.
Of course because of God’s common grace to all people, we are all able to do some good on planet earth. That is because we are made in God’s moral image, and have a moral nature within us which longs to conform to God’s moral image.
But because of sin, we are all fallen, and we all have a tarnished image of God in us. It has not disappeared, but it is badly damaged, and in urgent need of repair. The only way we can restore our fallen humanity is to once again get into right relationship with God.
And that is why Jesus Christ came to earth, to die at Calvary, taking the punishment we justly deserve, so that we might be reconciled to God. That is the true meaning of Christmas. That is the very heart of the Christmas story. Thus any talk of social justice and the like is ultimately secondary, and must flow from the one source of justice, the one source of peace, and the one source of life.
There is no question that Christians, and Christian churches, should be up to their ears in social reform. The history of Christian missions tells us exactly that. Wherever men and women have gone to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, they have also demonstrated what that Gospel looks like in practical terms.
But the two have always gone together. Or they should always go together. Without the public proclamation of who Jesus is, and why he came, the good works become of secondary importance. But without a visible and tangible demonstration of how the good news fleshes itself out in the world around us, the gospel message can ring empty and hollow.
The first two denominations I mentioned seek to do both – tell the good news and live out the good news. The third one seems in many ways to have abandoned the first half of the formula, and is concentrating just on the second.
If that is the case, then it is selling itself short, and not providing a real service to fallen humanity. Yes, by all means, work for social good, but never at the expense of a clear proclamation of the Biblical Gospel. After all, it was Jesus who said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?”