Tuesday was election day. Since I engage in political activism, I am usually quite busy before an election. Since I am rarely enthusiastic about any of the candidates, not even the ones I support, I don’t get much motivation from them. I am just trying to keep the government from getting any bigger any faster than it already is. I don’t see politics or government as my salvation. I see excessive government as an obstruction to the salvation of my unsaved family, friends, and neighbors. Since I am struggling against something too big for me, I eventually reach the point where I am tired and looking forward to getting the election over with.
If it isn’t government or political activism, what is the solution? Who will save us? Jesus Christ, of course. But what does that mean? What do we have to do? Consider that question in the title of this post.
What would Jesus do?
I have learned to cringe whenever I hear that question. Why? That question too often comes from people with an agenda that has little to do with what Jesus actually did do. Most of us have no idea who Jesus is, but His name has power. If we can convince people Jesus would do something, we can get most people to go along with that something. That is the power of the Social Gospel, a movement that still has great influence among American Christians. In fact, I think belief in the Social Gospel has factored greatly in the increasing popularity of Socialism in the United States. Without the belief of many in the Social Gospel, I doubt the Democrats would be preaching Socialism.
What would Jesus do? (en.wikipedia.org) provides a history of the catchphrase, “What Jesus would do?” Charles Spurgeon first popularized it (He credited it to Thomas à Kempis, from a book written between 1418 and 1427, Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ)). Spurgeon used the phrase in a sermon (see The Agreement Of Salvation By Grace With Walking In Good Works). Here is where Spurgeon used the phrase.
Moreover, that love moves us to patient imitation of Christ. Do you know what that means? “The Imitation of Christ” is a wonderful book upon the subject which every Christian should read. It has its faults, but its excellences are many. May we not only read the book, but write it out anew in our own life and character by seeking in everything to be like Jesus! It is a good thing to put up in your house the question, “What would Jesus do?” It answers nine out of 10 of the difficulties of moral casuistry. When you do not know what to do and the Law does not seem very explicit upon it, put it so—“What would Jesus do?” Here, then, stands the case—by your creation in Christ you come to exhibit faith in Him, love to Him and imitation of Him—and all these are the means by which good works are produced in you! You are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”
When did Spurgeon say we should ask, “What Jesus would do?” When we don’t know what Jesus commanded us to do, we should do our best to imagine what Jesus would do and be like Him. Spurgeon emphasized trying to understand the teachings of the Bible.
Unfortunately, advocates of the Social Gospel have appropriated the catchphrase.
- Social Gospel AMERICAN RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT (britannica.com): Attributes the Social Gospel movement to Liberal Protestant ministers.
The Social Gospel was especially promulgated among liberal Protestant ministers, including Washington Gladden and Lyman Abbott, and was shaped by the persuasive works of Charles Monroe Sheldon (In His Steps; “What Would Jesus Do?”; 1897) and Walter Rauschenbusch (Christianity and the Social Crisis; 1907).
- Social Gospel (en.wikipedia.org): Provides more historical details.
- Three Fallacies of the Social Gospel (tifwe.org) and What is the social gospel? (gotquestions.org): Criticize the theology of the Social Gospel.
Should we ask, “What would Jesus do?” Here are some popular articles that suggest that might not be a good idea.
- Is “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD) something we should seek to live by? (gotquestions.org): Here the author points out we don’t know what Jesus would do, we don’t know the mind of Jesus, and we are not Jesus. Jesus is God.
- What Would Jesus Do? (allaboutfollowingjesus.org): Here the author points out most of don’t know Jesus. That should make the question is irrelevant for most of us, but that does not stop the ignorant from trying to say they know the answer.
- What Would Jesus Do? (tms.edu): Here the author suggests a substitute question.
Hence, a better question for believers to ask themselves would be: “What Would Jesus Demand (that we do)?” What are His directives, His desires, His declarations, and His dictates?
So what did Jesus actually tell us to do?
John 14:15 New King James Version (NKJV)
15 “If you love Me,[a]keep My commandments.
What is wonderful about the Bible? Jesus told us His commandments and how to keep His commandments. He has told us how we can demonstrate our love and appreciation for Him. We can study the Bible and do what it says, and the amazing thing is that the Bible tells us to do what is good for us and each other.
So what is to come in the remaining posts in this series? Well, this series is going to be a discussion of the Social Gospel and what is wrong with it. However, most of us don’t know the history of the Social Gospel, and I am not interested in teaching that history. So what will we do? We will focus on the difference between obeying the Social Gospel and obedience to Christ Jesus.