The International Council of Christian Churches’ 20th World Congress was held January 22-29, 2020 in Puerto Montt, Chile. On Wednesday, January 29 a panel discussed the World Council of Churches’ theme for its upcoming 11th world assembly in September 8-16, 2021. The panelists were Rev. Brad Gsell (ICCC president), Rev. Ken Olson (ICCC general secretary), and Rev. Dan Greenfield (ACCC executive secretary, present as an invited guest). Following are the presentations addressing the WCC’s theme. All three presentations are available as PDF’s at the end of this post.
Panel Discussion on the Theme Chosen for the 11th World Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Karlsruhe, Germany, September 8-16, 2021
“Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”
Rev. Brad Gsell
First, I will tell you a little of the plan for this session.
I will begin by providing some documentation on what the World Council of Churches has to say about its theme verse for its 11th World Assembly, in Karlsuhe, Germany, which is to be held from September 8-16, 2021.
I will then turn things over to Rev. Olson, who will be discussing just exactly what the true Biblical Gospel is and what it is not.
Following this, Rev. Greenfield will be discussing what the Bible says about the social gospel, social justice, and socialism, and what the true mission of the Bible believer and of the Church of Jesus Christ is.
At the end, we may have time for a few questions, and then I will give a few final remarks.
In January 2019, the World Council of Churches (WCC) announced the theme for its 11th World Assembly, to be held in Karlsruhe, Germany: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.” It is said to be based on 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For the love of Christ constraineth us.” In the providence of God, a few months before this announcement, the ICCC had announced that its theme for this Congress would be “God Is Love,” based on 1 John 4:10: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
In a press release announcing the theme of its upcoming Assembly, January 10, 2019, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit stated that the emphasis will be upon Christ’s love expressed by advocacy for “justice and peace, and unity.” Tveit added that the Assembly will further emphasize “The one human family needs love and needs to love to face our future together.”
The WCC has made it clear that the “reconciliation” and “unity” of which it speaks is far different from that presented in the Bible. The theme of the WCC Executive Committee in Uppsala, Sweden, November 2-8, 2018, was “Behold, I make all things new,” from Revelation 21. Instead of rejoicing in the spiritual work of Christ culminating in a literal “new heaven and a new earth,” the meaning was twisted to bolster the WCC agenda for the immediate transformation of society into a grand socialist utopia.
General Secretary Tveit stated at that meeting that the clear meaning of this Scripture, in English, seemed “archaic” to him. It was not that he did not understand what the Bible is teaching. He stated correctly: “The perspective is the eschatalogical horizon, the new heaven and earth.” However, he continued immediately to say that the WCC had “turn[ed] … toward a more modern approach to the world … and urg[ed] the churches to focus more on the enormous challenges of this world” [emphasis his].
He ridicules those he says have their focus on “‘pie in the sky bye and bye,’” and cautions against being “too focused on the life after this one.” He concluded his address by stating: “… may God motivate and guide us in our planning and work, in anticipation of the coming unity of humankind. Thy kingdom come!”
The main emphases of Tveit’s address can be seen in the seven statements passed at this November 2018 meeting. None of them dealt with the true Gospel of Christ, but rather focused on such topics as Immigration, Climate Change, Universal Healthcare, and Economic Transformation.
Although some of these statements addressed matters we all should care about, it is apparent from reading them that the WCC is continuing on with its determined “progressive” agenda of seeking to bring its vision of “the Kingdom of God” on earth, while standing largely in opposition to the true “Kingdom of God,” as presented in the Bible.
“Progressive” Socialism is not Biblical
The strong advocacy for socialism can be seen in several of the Executive Committee’s releases, including its “Statement on the Urgent Challenge of Economic Transformation: 10 Years After the Global Financial Crisis.” It states that the WCC “renews its oft-repeated call for a new international financial and economic architecture for an economy of life that links finance to the real economy, accounts for social and ecological impacts, and sets effective constraints on greed.” It is of interest that no mention is made of the need for constraints on covetousness.
The WCC also advocates for such government-led socialistic programs as universal healthcare: “The WCC considers the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental human right,” and called on its members to fight for “effective national health structures.…”
Another socialist program promoted is for government welfare for those crossing national borders illegally, where money is forcibly taken from citizens and “redistributed” as the government thinks is best.
As a means of accomplishing these grand socialist programs, the WCC calls for government “taxation as a tool for promoting redistribution, accountability and sustainability, and regulating and democratising finance.”
The Love of God and Social Justice
Rev. Ken Olson
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
This verse from Matthew gives us the true gospel of Christ. It is a spiritual gospel of salvation from sin and hell. These are the “good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” which the angel announced to the shepherds on the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Paul gave the same Gospel in I Timothy 1:11-15. He says that he was given the “glorious gospel” and then tells us what that gospel is in verse 15: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
God promises us a spiritual salvation if we pray as Jesus pointed out the publican praying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” The gospel is not one of physical salvation. Many preachers today change the spiritual gospel into a physical gospel.
- The gospel is not that Christians will be prosperous. Many times Christians will be prosperous but that is never promised to all Christians. Jesus and the apostles gave us examples of a life of poverty on this earth. Jesus said that he had nowhere to lay his head and the apostles spoke of having none of silver and gold. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us and having just food and raiment we can be content. Sometimes it is God`s will for a Christian to be poor. We see Lazarus in Luke 16 as poor as could be imagined but he was one of God`s own and went to heaven.
- The gospel is not that Christians will be freed from oppression and have social justice. Many times Christians will be freed from oppression but that is never promised to all Christians at all times. God has a purpose he is fulfilling when Christians have affliction and persecution. Some Christians suffer martyrdom according to the will of God. The church in Smyrna in the book of Revelation was told that they would suffer and have tribulation. God did not tell them he would deliver them from tribulation but He would be with them through their sufferings.
- The gospel is not that Christians will be healed of all disease. If that were true there would be no death. Many Christians are healed and we seek to be healed but that does not mean that we always will be healed. Paul had his “thorn in the flesh” and it is clear from the word “flesh” that it was a sickness of some sort. God made it clear that he would not be healed but would have the grace of God in his sickness. It is not just the devil that wants us sick but God himself wants us sick at times. The gospel is not that God will take all problems away from us but He will give us grace to endure problems.
The tendency today is to replace the spiritual with the physical, to replace heavenly things with the earthly “here and now.” A missionary preaches the spiritual gospel of salvation and his main job should be dealing with spiritual things as he teaches all nations whatsoever God has commanded. Many times today the effective missionary is seen as someone who does social work, bettering people`s lives from day to day. It needs to be put in perspective how short our life is here on earth.
As the focus moves from a spiritual gospel to a physical gospel, pastors are no longer seen as having a special calling but being just like the bricklayer next door. It is said that the bricklayer can be doing God`s will in his bricklaying, which is true, but that does not put it on the same level as spiritual work. Where in the Bible is a special call given to be a bricklayer or any other physical occupation? The special calls of the Bible are when someone is called from the physical bricklaying to do spiritual work. The apostles were called from their physical fishing to do spiritual fishing.
There may be applications of the gospel and spiritual teachings to physical things on this earth. However, the “good tidings of great joy” announced by the angels is a spiritual gospel of salvation from our sin and hell that is for eternity.
The love of God and social justice: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”
Rev. Dan Greenfield
Many, if not most human beings, feel pity and sorrow for those who suffer or are taken advantage of. There is the sense that wrong has been done toward those who deserved better. It does not seem right that only a few experience abundance, seemingly at the expense of others. The thought then is that something must be done about the misery, exploitation, and lack of opportunities. Such wrongs must be righted—we must bring justice to society.
Christians rightly feel sorrow when people truly suffer. Indeed, Christians are the only ones who understand why people truly suffer and why people take advantage of others. Christians understand that suffering and injustice exist because of sin. Sin brought God’s curse on every aspect of human existence, from physical pain, to the struggle to stay alive, to the very earth itself (Gen 3:16–19). Sin has so corrupted every human being that they do evil and wicked things to one another. Only Christians understand that sin is the reason there is evil, suffering, and injustice in the world. Such are the inevitable effects of sin.
Accordingly, Christians must understand that the only remedy for these effects of sin is salvation in Jesus Christ. Trying to fix humanity’s problems apart from salvation in Jesus Christ is like putting a band aid on skin cancer—you might look a little better, but death is coming quickly. Applying this to suffering and injustice, you could help them get on their feet, but the cancer of sin is still present throughout every part of their life.
This should help us see why trying to fix humanity’s problems through the government is so foolish. God created government to restrict and punish evil and promote what is right and good (Rom 13:3–4). God ordained that those in government would be able to accomplish these purposes through our taxes. This is the purpose of government and taxes.
Sometimes governments take on responsibilities and power that God never ordained for them to have. Such put themselves in the place of individuals promising equality of opportunity and abundance. That kind of government is not, never has been, and never will be the answer! That kind of government promises to end oppression by the wealthy and powerful but replaces such by government oppression over every aspect of life.
The terrible, heart-wrenching problems of humanity are the effects of sin. No government, social-justice effort, or humanitarian organization can remedy this, for sin is a spiritual problem that manifests itself in every realm of human life.
Thus, humanity’s only hope of truly dealing with its spiritual problem is salvation in Jesus Christ. When sinners are born again they receive a new nature and the effects of the new birth are evident in every area of life, bringing real, demonstrative, felt effects in every human institution. Families will be changed for the good—though Christ didn’t promise that every family would enjoy peace in this life (Matt 10:34–36). Society and government will be changed for the good—though Christ didn’t promise that every strata of society and government would enjoy peace in this life (Matt 5:10–11). These changes happen because saved individuals in society are made in the image of Christ and live Christ-like lives. As Christians grow more like Christ they sin less and do more righteousness. The effects of less sin and more righteousness are seen in everyday life.
Can—should—we as Christians help with the many needs around us? My answer is a qualified “yes.” There is a big difference between helping those in the course of our life and saying that is essential to the mission of the church.
Christians must help fellow believers with their pressing needs (Acts 2:44–45; 1 John 3:16–17). Christians must care for their families by working hard (2 Thess 3:10–13) and caring for both immediate and extended family members (1 Tim 5:8). Christians must live godly lives among unbelievers, being good neighbors and citizens. This involves Christians on an individual basis readily doing good and helping neighbors in need (Luke 10:30–37; Gal 6:10). In the course of our life the Spirit’s fruits of love and kindness will be seen in concrete ways.
Individual Christians who get involved in addressing societal issues must never do so in disobedience to other commands, especially separation from apostasy and compromise. You must also never get involved in such efforts at the expense of other roles and responsibilities that are essential, especially the church and your family.
When it comes to the mission or purpose of the church, however, that is a different matter. God created the church to spread the gospel to the lost and help Christians grow in the faith. The church as Christ’s body is entirely spiritual in character and aim. It alone is responsible for evangelizing the lost and edifying the saints.
Frequently—if not inevitably—organized church efforts aimed at social activism result in crossing theological and ecclesiastical lines that otherwise would not have happened. In other words, ecclesiastical separation (holiness to God) is set aside and ignored for the sake of meeting societal needs (the physical needs of man).
Another frequent result of involvement in social activism is a proportionate decline of spiritual effort in making disciples through one’s church. One simply cannot be involved in both spheres at the same time.
Christians can involve themselves on an individual level in the various societal issues of the day, but the organized, institutional church should not—that is not its genius, character, and calling.
Organizations like the World Council of Churches who say that the church must “make the world a better place” usually point to some Old Testament passages calling for doing justice and mercy and caring for strangers and the poor. This is a wrong application of those passages.
- OT Israel had the Mosaic Law as their “constitution,” governing every aspect of life. Civil, social, and religious aspects were all intertwined. When OT Jews did not care for their widows, orphans, etc. that broke the Law resulting in God’s judgment on the nation.
- OT Israel’s social emphasis was to their nation, those who were of the seed of Abraham and under the Mosaic Covenant. They were not responsible to show “social relief” to the down and out of the surrounding nations (Canaanites, Philistines, etc.)
- This is not the case for Christians today. We live in two “arenas”—the church and the state. The church has no social agenda for the state, nor does the state have a religious agenda for the church.
- I wonder if social gospel advocates who make their appeals to the OT would be consistent and insist on other OT passages such as Psalm 101:5, “whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off [destroy].”
Another “biblical basis” given for the church meeting physical needs is “doing the work of the kingdom.” Whether one views the Kingdom as essentially equivalent with salvation and the church or one views it as yet to be established at Christ’s Second Coming, the citizens of the Kingdom are believers who have been born again (John 3:3). Sin’s effects in society will not be alleviated apart from King Jesus doing that work himself. It is ironic that those who emphasize that Jesus’ kingdom is exclusively spiritual in nature in the next breath talk about doing the work of the kingdom in this world with the weapons of this world!
The World Council of Churches believes that God’s love requires the church to address life and world sufferings and seeming injustices. No. God’s love requires the church to address the root cause of tragedy and suffering, namely, sin, by preaching the true gospel and striving for Christ-like righteousness and purity.
Because sin is not always “seen” like felt tragedies and suffering, addressing sin doesn’t seem to really do much. Friends, that’s exactly what Satan wants you to think. He wants the church to be distracted, if not entirely derailed, from it’s Christ-given assigned task. Satan would much rather see clothed, wealthy, safe, healthy, and empowered sinners go to hell than anyone go to heaven.
Satan would much rather see the church give its time, talents, and treasure trying to alleviate physical instead of spiritual needs. That kind of “ministry” only puts a band aid on cancer. Remember, that may hide some of cancer’s ugliness, but the patient will still die.
So—are you moved to pity by injustice, suffering, abject poverty, etc.? Socialism is not, never has been, and never will be the answer! Make disciples of Christ! Baptize and add them to the church! Teach them to obey all Christ commanded! Such believers may be poor in this world, endure much suffering, even injustice, but such lasts only awhile—their time will soon come when there will be no tears! That will only happen through gospel preaching, the new birth, and repentance and faith.
Download these presentations:
Gsell-Panel Discussion-WCC Theme
Olson-Ken-The Love of God and Social Justice
Greenfield – ICCC 2020 Panel Discussion – WCC