It stands to reason that as the church becomes “involved” in the affairs of the community and of society in general, it creates a certain public image of itself. That image is either the image of the church as the true church of Christ, or it is the image of the modernistic church and its social gospel. One might gain some idea of the image which the Christian Reformed Church is creating of itself from an in-depth article about the Eastern Avenue Community Center which appeared in the Grand Rapids Press on March 9, 1968.
That image is not a good one.
It is, I do not hesitate to say, the image of a church addicted to a social gospel.
And those who are concerned to keep the “image” of the church what it ought to be, according to Scripture, should be deeply disturbed about the reflection of this image in the public press.
The Eastern Avenue Community Center was started in 1966 by the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church, and it is now supported by nine inner city Christian Reformed Churches. This center is described as not having been set up to conduct mission activity, though it has a religious tone. But here are some snatches of the description furnished in the newspaper article:
Two men and a woman, students at Calvin College, are giving new meaning to the term “Black Power” in Grand Rapids. For distrust, they are substituting concern; for violence, patience, and for ignorance, the power of understanding.
Established as a neutral ground where members of the white and black communities might meet, the center is building a degree of trust between the two. Its programs include tutoring for grade school youngsters, cooking and sewing classes for girls and recreation programs. A basketball program directed by Harris is held Tuesday nights at Baxter School. A Christian group, the center holds devotional services once a week.
“The center’s function,” White says, “is to provide a sort of focus point for those in need and those desiring to help. Unlike a government program, we can go out in the street and find people, people who would not contact a bureaucrat. If our own resources can’t answer their needs, we are able to direct them to other kinds of help that are available. We act as a kind of clearing house.”
I ask: what does all this have to do with the calling of the church to preach the gospel? This is so-called social action. But where is the Christian character of this social action?
But the rationale behind this movement becomes abundantly clear from the following paragraph:
“The Church has not been active enough in the past,” says White, a seminarian, “but rightfully Christianity should be leading in the struggle for a better life. Christ did not preach ‘pie in the sky’, but said: ‘Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me.’ Black Power, in the sense of giving a man control over his own life and destiny can be a Christian Power.”
This is the “gospel” behind this project. It is the social gospel, pure and simple.
I ask: is it the calling of Christianity to be “leading in the struggle for a better life?” Can a Reformed man refer disparagingly in this way to Christ not preaching “pie in the sky?” Though a text is partially quoted, and jerked out of context, is that indeed the gospel, that Christ said, “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these…” rather than preaching “pie in the sky?” Is Black Power capable of being converted into Christian Power, and does that Christian Power consist in “giving a man control over his own life and destiny?”
All this kind of talk smacks, on the very surface of it, of the same social gospel being proclaimed by so many churches today.
I had not imagined that the Christian Reformed Church was so deeply “involved” in the same sort of thing.
And it seems to me that anyone with a remnant of Reformed sensitivity must be disturbed, deeply disturbed, about something like this,—so disturbed that he must rise up in protest and express radical disagreement. What, in Christ’s name, is becoming of the church?