Many Orthodox are fond of claiming that modernism or ecumenism is a heresy. While I sympathize with their stance, they’re playing fast and loose with definitions. Modernism is a poorly defined set of fashions, not an ideological or belief system, and ecumenism can mean any one of hundreds of different things. Both are undesirable. Neither, at least not without further detailed definition, is a heresy.
What I will call the “social gospel,” which could also be called Dorthy Day-ism in a Roman Catholic context, is definitely a heresy. Note that I am not saying we shouldn’t help others, or even challenge ourselves and others to do more to help others. But Christ did not incarnate to create a more “socially just” world; note that when others identified Christ as an earthly king and associated Him with “social justice,” they were rebuked. Christ came to save souls, and the salvation of souls is the church’s sole mission. Everything else is cursory.
The reason that the “social gospel” is heresy is that it invariably strips Christ and His reason for becoming man, then dying and resurrecting for mankind, from the church, and replaces Christ with an androgynous Jesus stand-in for Karl Marx or some reactionary figure. Always.
Talk to a liberal mainstream Protestant, and the conversation will be Christ-free. He will talk social issues, and run screaming from the divinity of Christ, or the salvation of souls. The same is true of your garden-variety liberal Catholic.
But it’s worse than a mere heresy. It’s a perversion of morality, as one can see with Catholics who support the “right” of a woman to murder her innocent child, but are “morally” outraged by the execution of murderers. Those who subscribe to the “social gospel” heresy have no moral compass.
The liberal Catholic has perverted the teaching of his church and twisted it into its gruesome twin. The church calls us to help others. The liberal Catholic distorts this into “social programs.” This is not only heresy; it is blatantly immoral. Welfare programs violate two of the Ten Commandments (thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not covet), and they are immoral because liberals support them so they can feel good about having helped others without actually having lifted a finger or spent a dime to help anyone. That’s why they want to “help others” with other peoples’ money. See the recent story about that great liberal Catholic Biden, and what an embarrassingly tiny amount of his money he has used to help others, then contrast it with how much President Bush and Vice President Cheney gave of their income to help others.
But the “social gospel” heresy isn’t confined to the left. Many in the so-called Religious Right have succumbed to it as well, and have forsaken Christ for the latest fashionable right-wing issue du jour. They invoke Bible passages just as their leftist counterparts do, using God as nothing more than a cudgel with which they beat their political opponents.
Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with volunteering at the soup kitchen, or praying at an abortion clinic. Neither comes close to heresy. But replacing Christianity with a social agenda, left or right, is nothing but heresy, and should be condemned as such.
And that, my friends, is about as strictly conservative as a Christian stance can get. People who have fallen prey to the “social gospel” heresy can be called many things, but Christian is not one of them.