In the United States, the Federal Council of Churches began in 1908. About 5% of the budget was paid for by John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Rockefeller was a major promoter of the social gospel, as was his son.
Social gospel economics hit the Roman Catholic Church only after the death of Pope Pius XII. But it made rapid gains within a decade. Today, the American bishops are as far to the Left on economic and political matters as the Federal Council of Churches was in 1908.
A good book on the Federal Council and its successor after 1950, the National Council of Churches, was written a generation ago by the American Calvinist historian, C. Gregg Singer: The Unholy Alliance (1975). His editor was Lew Rockwell. You may download it here.
From the beginning, there have been opponents of these welfare state wolves in sheep’s clothing. But there has been a problem with their attempt to refute the social gospel. They have maintained the position that the Bible is silent on these issues, and therefore the social gospel is illegitimate.
This surrenders the high moral ground to the defenders of the social gospel. The defenders of the social gospel come to the people in the name of the moral high ground. The opponents do not take this strategy. They simply say that the Bible doesn’t speak to these issues.
Unfortunately for the opponents of the social gospel, the Bible does speak to these issues. This is why I sat down in 1973 to write a detailed economic commentary on the entire Bible. I wrote 31 volumes of exegesis to show that the Bible does speak to these issues. This is the first time in the history of church that anyone has done this. This puts me at a disadvantage. The project sounds too radical: “not invented here.” Also, who is going to read 31 volumes of exegesis? Nobody. But anyone can look up a verse. But journalists won’t do this — too much work.
The critics of the social gospel have relied on the instinctive opposition of the man in the pew to a government that comes to take money out of his wallet. But this is not a philosophical or theological defense of the idea of liberty. So, step-by-step, generation by generation, the social gospel has penetrated the thinking of evangelicals and Catholics. It has been overwhelmingly successful in the mainline Protestant denominations, which, by the grace of God, have been shrinking for a generation.
MATTHEW LYNN OBJECTS
A recent example of this type of futile criticism of the social gospel was made by a financial columnist in the British newspaper, The Telegraph: Matthew Lynn. In financial matters, he is generally a sensible fellow. But in the area of theology, he is a blind man attempting to lead the blind, and they are going to go into the ditch.
He reports on a presently secret document issued by the bishops of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church has been in the process of disintegration since the end of the 19th century. It has shrunk relentlessly. Fewer than two million Anglicans attend church at least once a month. There are almost three million Muslims.
With this as background, consider Mr. Lynn’s critique of what he calls woolly-headed Leftist Keynesianism among Anglican bishops.
The Church has been hijacked by a woolly left-of-centre Keynesianism, where it is automatically regarded as more moral to support higher taxes, more government borrowing, and a more generous welfare system. And yet, in fact, there is very little basis for that. If you care to look, there are just as many passages in the Bible that support a smaller state and more liberal markets. It might be better if church leaders stayed out of the economic debate and just stuck to spiritual matters.
But social gospel advocates have been working since the 1880’s to get deeply involved in spiritual matters, because they fully understand that spiritual matters affect the social order. They fully understand that whatever people believe about God, man, law, sanctions, and history will affect the way that they vote.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)