Social Reform or the Good News?
What is God’s work for Christians? Is it the so-called “social gospel” or the Kingdom good news?
IT COMES as a shock to many persons. What? That a person could spend his whole life performing highly praised works and yet not meet the approval of God. Declared the Lord Jesus concerning our day: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Master, Master,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day: ‘Master, Master, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you at all. Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matt. 7:21-23.
We want to avoid being “workers of lawlessness.” The only way to avoid being such is to do the will of Jehovah God. So it is a serious thing as to how we expend our life’s efforts. What we do might be viewed as a good work in our own eyes. But is this enough? Says the inspired Word: “There exists a way that is upright before a man, but the ways of death are the end of it afterward.” (Prov. 14:12) We are not the judges, then, of what is the right work for Christians. God’s will must prevail, and we must harmonize our lives with the will of God.
What are we to think, then, about what is popularly called the “social gospel”? Is reforming the world the work of Christians? There is no doubt that much time could be spent on efforts toward social reform. Some persons, for instance, might spend their whole lives combating some vice such as gambling, prostitution or alcoholism. Trying to clean up the world’s entertainments, movies, books and magazines, could consume our life energies. What great energies could be expended fighting poverty and delinquency! Seeing the world in a frightful mess, the Christian wonders: How can I do the most good?
The answer is that we can do the most good by doing the will of God. The will of God for Christians is that they closely follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. One of Christ’s apostles, Paul of the city of Tarsus, said: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) How, then, can we imitate Jesus as Paul did?
PREACHING THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Many were the reform movements in Jesus’ day. There were reforms along the line of abstinence, some along the line of asceticism. There were also various political reformers. Jesus joined none of these movements; he concentrated his energies on doing the work that his Father had given him—making known the Father’s name and kingdom. So Jesus stuck to the work of preaching the kingdom of the heavens. We read: “Jesus went into Galilee, preaching the good news of God and saying: ‘The appointed time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Be repentant and have faith in the good news.’” (Mark 1:14, 15) It was good news Jesus preached, and the effect of his Kingdom preaching was to cause right-hearted persons to repent of evil works, turning away from what is bad to what is good.
The apostles likewise preached good news. They did not allow themselves to get sidetracked from their work of preaching the coming Kingdom. Social reformers today are thus often more than a little shocked over the fact that the apostle Paul made no attack on slavery. Widespread in Paul’s day, the slavery was of both blacks and whites. Yet Paul did not start a movement for abolition of slavery, giving his life in behalf of a social reform movement. No, Paul gave his life in behalf of Kingdom preaching, because it was the will of God. “Really, woe is me,” declared Paul, “if I did not declare the good news!”—1 Cor. 9:16.
Social reformers of Paul’s day may well have attacked the apostle for not fighting slavery. We can well imagine how a social reformer might have attacked the apostle: ‘Paul, I think this religion of yours is cruel. How can you ignore the plight of the slaves? Why not speak out against slavery and work for its abolition? You say that God has doomed this world—well, what a negative approach! I see that you have written to the Thessalonians that “relief” has to await “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings due punishment upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction.” That’s what you say at 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9. Well, who wants to wait till this “relief” you speak of comes? It might not come for centuries, and are you going to let these poor people suffer? Let’s get busy and join a movement to abolish slavery and reform the harlots, tax collectors and drunkards.’
Such an attitude toward Paul’s work would show little understanding of true Christianity. But Paul knew what God’s will was, and he refused to get sidetracked from preaching the good news. When Paul met up with a runaway slave by the name of Onesimus and converted him to Christianity, Paul did not pronounce him a free man. Rather, the apostle sent Onesimus back to his master Philemon, to slavery, but under a Christian master. (Philem. 10-16) Why did Paul refuse to waste precious time on the “social gospel”? Because he knew that Jehovah God through his kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ would blot out economic, industrial and social slavery at the war of Armageddon, “at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire.” Paul knew that God’s will was what really mattered, so Paul did just one thing: He preached the kingdom of God. To the Ephesian older men the apostle could say: “Look! I know that all of you among whom I went preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. Hence I call you to witness this very day that I am clean from the blood of all men, for I have not held back from telling you all the counsel of God.”—Acts 20:25-27.
A LIFESAVING WORK
Not by preaching the “social gospel” could Paul have been “clean from the blood of all men.” By preaching the Kingdom, Paul kept himself free from bloodguiltiness. Because the Kingdom is destined to destroy this evil world, to remain silent about it today would bring bloodguiltiness upon the head of the dedicated Christian. Preaching the Kingdom good news, then, saves lives. Kingdom preaching warns and enlightens people, enabling them to take action, that they may survive God’s execution of this world at the “war of the great day of God the Almighty.”—Rev. 16:14.
Telling of the work for true Christians at the “time of the end” or in the “last days,” the Lord Jesus showed that it would be preaching, not the “social gospel,” but the Kingdom gospel or good news: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.” (Matt. 24:14) Now is the vital time for the preaching of the Kingdom good news—before the “accomplished end” of this world at Armageddon. So Kingdom preaching enables those of obedient mankind to survive the end of this world and to enter into the righteous new world. God does not purpose to reform this old world: “The heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” To replace this old world, God is creating “new heavens and a new earth.” The kingdom of God makes a righteous new world possible.—2 Pet. 3:7.
SUCCESS WHEREIN SOCIAL REFORMS FAIL
But even now the Kingdom good news works for the benefit of mankind in a most practical way. It cleans people up. Kingdom preaching really accomplishes what the social reformers are unable to do. In the days of early Christianity, for instance, the reformers could do little to improve the situation. Contrasting the results obtained by the reformers with that obtained by the Kingdom-preaching Christians, the volume Readings in Ethics, edited by Gordon Clark and T. V. Smith, says:
“The astounding thing is that while the Greek schools in general appealed only to a select class of especially educated people and even with those usually failed of actual reform, as is pictured for us in Kingsley’s Hypatia, and while the comparatively wide appeal of the Stoics neither affected the masses nor stayed the corruption of the Emperor’s court, Christianity, within twenty-five years of its inception gave a totally new life to thousands and thousands. This new life most noticeably expressed itself in a virtue . . . which certainly was absent from the practice of the public.”
Yes, Kingdom preaching brought the results the reformers failed to get! How is this? Because no one will gain everlasting life in or under God’s kingdom unless he cleans himself up by obeying all the commandments of God. Wrote the apostle Paul: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean.”—1 Cor. 6:9-11.
Kingdom preaching thus results in people’s being cleansed from such unholy practices as fornication and drunkenness in a way that no social reform program could ever accomplish. How is this cleansing brought about? Said Jesus: “Every branch in me not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:2, 3) So the Christian becomes “clean because or the word” that Jesus preached, that is, God’s Word. God’s holy Word has cleansing power, causing righteously disposed persons to put forth heart-deep efforts to bring forth the fruitage of proper Christian qualities such as “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—Gal. 5:22, 23.
DOING THE ONLY TRUE CONSTRUCTIVE WORK
So the preaching of God’s Kingdom good news works in a very practical way now, turning people to a life of righteousness and virtue. True Christians become “children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation.” (Phil. 2:15) To try to bring about this result by any other way will not only fail but be out of harmony with the will of God. God is not going to reform this world; he is going to destroy it. This evil world is not a friend of God; “whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:4) To join in with this world’s programs of reform, preaching the “social gospel” instead of the Kingdom good news, places one at enmity with God. To make one’s religion the “social gospel” instead of the pure worship of the Bible brings futility and ruin. Soon now, at Armageddon, God will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” The “social gospel” cannot reverse God’s decree nor save lives at Armageddon.—Rev. 11:18.
The New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses thus works at the most constructive work there is in the world today—declaring the good news of the established Kingdom “in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations.” (Matt. 24:14) This work is in harmony with the will of God and saves lives. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s book “New Heavens and a New Earth” thus states on page 328:
“On earth today the New World society is the only group that is doing true constructive work. All others, being a part of this world and joining in its schemes, programs and works, are sharing with ‘those ruining the earth.’ They are pursuing activities that are out of harmony with God’s established kingdom and that bring ruin and destruction upon themselves in the day of God’s wrath at Armageddon.”
A new world is at hand. It comes, not at the hands of social reformers, but at the hands of God. Happy are those who work in harmony with God’s declared purpose regarding the “new heavens and a new earth,” wherein “righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:13) The kingdom of God is the divine instrument for making possible this everlasting new world. So follow the example of Jesus and his apostles: Have a share in advancing the interests of God’s kingdom. Enjoy the happiness of seeing people turn from evil practices to good practices because of their love for God and his kingdom. Be obedient to God’s will. Refuse to be sidetracked from the Kingdom good news. Then you will not be among those “workers of lawlessness”—rejected despite their many works. Then you may be spared alive through Armageddon into the righteous new world with everlasting life in view. All glory goes to Jehovah God, the new world’s Creator!