Desperately trying to finish my second Paul book... still. Here's an excerpt from a section on Romans 13.
A final argument that is sometimes used is an artifact of American history and perhaps to a large degree an explanation for why so many Christians can go against the clear tenor of Scripture on this sort of topic. In the early 1900s, helping the poor among Christians became associated with what was called a “social gospel.” Those who most emphasized helping others were “liberal” Christians, often Christians who questioned things like the virgin birth or the divinity of Christ. As is often the case, we disassociate ourselves not only with the things we disagree with in others, but also with good aspects of their thinking that we might just as well agree with. Such was the case in mainstream evangelical circles of the mid-twentieth century with regard to helping the poor and needy.
The Wesleyan tradition of which I am a part did not fully participate in this reaction, nor of course did Christians from other countries. The Salvation Army, the Free Methodist Church—it would be hard to say that this over-reaction had much of any impact on them. The Wesleyan-Methodist tradition was born with an emphasis on social action, abolition, and the women’s rights movements. Thankfully, our isolation from the broader discussion largely kept our food pantries intact. If we have been affected, it has only been of late because of the political climate of the last few decades.
But is essential to realize that the social gospel message of mainline churches in the early twentieth century was not a reaction against the truth. It was all that was left of the truth. After so many mainline churches had lost their belief in miracles, in the divinity of Christ, in the revelation of Scripture, all they had left was the Christian ethos of loving our neighbor. There was nothing wrong with these drives. It was all they had left of Christianity, the only thing that motivated them to continue to call themselves Christians. Let us therefore not be deceived by the accidents of history into abandoning one of the central messages of the Bible and of Jesus' ministry.