The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVIII
THE CHURCHES FEDERATE FOR
SOCIAL ACTION

This Federal Council places upon record its profound belief that the complex problems of modern industry can be interpreted and solved only by the teachings of the New Testament, and that Jesus Christ is final authority in the social as in the individual life.1

THE climax of official recognition of social Christianity was attained in the organization of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America in 1908. The significance of this was twofold. Not only was the social gospel acknowledged in an impressive manner by this most representative body in American Protestant history, but social action was itself one of the important factors that brought the Federal Council into being.

The influence of the social gospel upon movements toward the unity of the churches was an important aspect of the rise of social Christianity. Efforts in behalf of church unity had been initiated as early as the overtures of Samuel S. Schmucker in 1838, but not until the last few years of the nineteenth century was any real progress made in this direction. Precipitated by the rising threat of an irreligious civilization and given point by the growing emphasis on the social aspects of Christianity, the federative movements that came into being around the turn of the century were based upon social-active impulses rather than creedal or doctrinal agreement. The gradual emergence of this new idea represented an implicit victory of the first magnitude for the social gospel. As Dr. Charles S. Macfarland has said, the ideal of unity "came from men who were wrestling with the practical tasks of the churches in what was becoming a hostile or increasingly unaccommodating social order." Although the assumption that creedal uniformity was necessary played some part in early negotiations looking toward federation, the

____________________
1
Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, Commission on the Church and Social Service, The Church and Modern Industry ( New York, 1908), p. 14.

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