What professing Christian could be opposed to a “healed creation” and “holy community”? What’s not to like about “loving God and neighbor”? This is nothing more than re-packaged and warmed-over Social Gospel liberalism of the sort advocated by Walter Rauschenbusch in the late 1800s. In this view, Jesus is not so much a divine savior as a powerful exemplar, one whose holy life of love and concern for the poor and sick and outcast inspires his followers to work for justice and peace until, gradually, the Kingdom of God is ushered in and all people dwell in freedom and love. It was predicated on the notion of constant incremental improvement in human social behavior. The cataclysm of World War I, of course, pretty much destroyed this thesis, and World War II drove the point home.
What’s missing from the Social Gospel is a connection to the Paschal Mystery, and the practices (including the Eucharist) that flow from it, rooted in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the sending of the Holy Spirit as the Church is constituted, all seen as God’s definitive saving and redeeming intervention in the human predicament. It is God who brings about his own Kingdom, in his way and in his time. The Church’s vocation is to announce that Kingdom and model it, but not to take responsibility for making it happen. Yes, God has a “mission” of reconciliation, and, yes, the Church’s mission is congruent with God’s own mission. But the Church’s mission has a finer point on it. We take our place within the missio dei not by reforming society…but by being an alternative society, a sign that says to the world, “Things can and will be different.” We live out that semiotic vocation in a number of ways, all of which, by the way, spring from and lead back to the Eucharist. (emphases added)
Dan Martins, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Warsaw, IN