The Church and Socialism


By Professor Charles R. Erdman, D. D.

…multitudes who are not openly allied with political Socialism are imbued with Socialistic principles and are advocates of Socialistic theories.

With this great movement the Christian Church is deeply concerned; first, because of the endeavor which many are making to identify Socialism with Christianity; and, secondly, because, on the other extreme, popular Socialism is suggested as a substitute for religion and is antagonistic to Christianity; and, thirdly, because the strength of Socialism consists largely in its protest against existing social wrongs to which the Church is likewise opposed but which can be finally righted only by the universal rule of Christ. …

Some are insisting that Jesus Christ was a Socialist and that the early Church was established on Socialistic principles. Others declare that Socialism is merely the application of Christianity to industrial problems, and that it is the duty of a Christian minister to preach Socialism, and the supreme function of the Christian Church to introduce and support Socialism as the one cure for all existing social evils.

As to Jesus Christ, it is impossible to identify Him with any social theory or political party. His teachings are of universal application and eternal validity; but they do not deal with the questions of political economy….

….the movement called “Christian Socialism” should be criticized. To say the least, the name it has adopted is unfortunate, for it implies, whether intentionally or not, that other Socialists are not Christians, and that other Christians should be Socialists….

“Christian Socialism” is neither Christian nor Socialism…. It is disappointing to Christians and irritating to Socialists. It minimizes or denies such Christian truths as the incarnation, the virgin birth, the atonement, the resurrection, justification by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, the second coming of Christ, and insofar it ceases to be true Christianity.

On the other hand, it is not real Socialism. Few of its adherents deny the right of private capital, or insist upon the “collective ownership of the instruments of production.” In the effort to unite Christianity and Socialism justice is done to neither….

II. Popular Socialism, however, is something quite different from a scientific economic theory. It is a social creed, offered as a substitute for religion, promising material benefits to all mankind, and bitterly opposed to Christianity and the Church. Much of this hatred is due to ignorance and prejudice. Great multitudes who call themselves Socialists have vague conceptions of the problems of political science or of the serious difficulties involved in the establishment of a Socialistic state, but they are vividly conscious of their hatred against existing institutions which they hold responsible for the present social inequalities and wrongs….

2. Popular Socialism unjustly places all capitalists under suspicion of dishonesty and selfishness. … Its outcries against the rich are engendering the bitterest class hatred and arousing passions which, unless controlled, will result in violence and anarchy and universal disaster….

3. Popular Socialism fails to recognize that the principles of justice, fraternity and charity, by which its leaders claim to be animated, are Christian principles, and have been expressed by the Church as by no other society of men. …

4. Popular Socialism is vitally defective in that it places the physical above the spiritual needs of mankind. It is, as a philosophy, definitely materialistic. It insists that better social conditions will produce better men;

III. Socialism is… a serious protest against the social wrongs and cruelties of the age, against the defects of the present economic system, against special privilege and entrenched injustice, against prevalent poverty, and hunger, and despair….

1. This protest of Socialism is a call to the Church to proclaim more insistently the social principles of Christ. This does not mean the adoption of a so-called “social gospel” which discards the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and substitutes a religion of good works; but a true Gospel of grace is inseparable from a Gospel of good works. Christian doctrines and Christian duties cannot be divorced. The New Testament no more clearly defines the relation of the believer to Christ than to the members of one’s family, to his neighbors in society, and to his fellow-citizens in the state. These social teachings of the Gospel need a new emphasis today by those who accept the whole Gospel, and should not be left to be interpreted and applied by those alone who deny essential Christianity….

The Church must proclaim anew the teaching of her Lord relative to the stewardship of wealth. … It must be insisted that one is as responsible for the methods by which his power and position and property are acquired as for the way in which these are used; and that every man must render an account to the Lord not only for his use of one-tenth of his income, but for every fraction he selfishly retains or spends. Christians must be reminded that an infallible test of being a child of God is the treatment shown to one’s neighbor who is in need.

3. The protest of Socialism is a distinct call to the Church to define anew to herself her function, and to interpret anew the prophecies of her Lord. There are many who, in the name of Christianity, have been promising a new social order, a kingdom of God, which they declare the Church will introduce. …

The Church is now being held responsible for social sins and injustice, for the wrongs and grievances of the age; and for this unfortunate position she must largely blame herself. She has arrogated functions which are not her own; she has made promises for which there is no written word of Scripture. …

More important still it is to ask what predictions of Scripture support the assertion that the Church is herself to introduce the kingdom of God. She is certainly to promise the coming of that kingdom; she is even now to insist that her members shall obey its laws, but it is impossible for her to compel unchristian men to accept the principles of her Lord. Her supreme function is to secure, on the part of individuals, wholehearted devotion and allegiance to Christ. It is for her to increase as rapidly as possible her membership and to extend in every legitimate sphere her benevolent influence; but the real blessedness of the Church and of the world awaits the personal return of Christ.

The hope of the world is not in a new social order instituted by unregenerate men; not a millennium made by man; not a commonwealth of humanity organized as a Socialistic state; but a kingdom established by Christ which will fill the earth with glory at the coming of the King.

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