25 September, 2007

A Liberal Church is not a 'Liberal' Church

It is interesting how many of us have been influenced by the liberalism of the 1920s. Even in conservative Reformed circles the hope for society is placed in government agencies, political parties, and social programs. (Of course, we need to acknowledge that government is a creation ordinance.)
The church used to be that institution that met the needs of the poor, advanced the betterment of society, and promoted all of the 'social' aspects of the Gospel of Christ. In our day, we have handed those reins over for unconverted men and women to do through social programs.

If the church is to take back her rightful place in society, then she is going to need to set up the programs to meet these needs, in advance of those in need coming to her. I am as guilty as the next guy in not reaching out to the needs of the fatherless, widow, and (illegal) alien within our gates. May we all pour our energies into the body of Christ so that she can do that which she is called to do.

It is upon this brotherhood of [the] twice born sinner , this brotherhood of the redeemed, that the Christian founds the hope of society. He finds no solid hope in the improvement of earthly conditions, or the molding of human institutions under the influence of the Golden Rule... A solid building cannot be constructed when all the materials are faulty; a blessed society cannot be formed out of men who are still under the curse of sin. Human institutions are really to be molded, not by the Christian principles accepted by the unsaved, but by Christian men; the true transformation of society will come by the influence of those who have themselves been redeemed. True Christianity differs from liberalism in the way in which the transformation of society is conceived. But according to Christian belief, as well as according to liberalism, there is really to be a transformation of society; it is not true that the Christian evangelist is interested in the salvation of individuals without being interested in the salvation of the race. And even before salvation of all society has been achieved, there is already a society of those who have been saved. That society is the Church. The Church is the highest Christian answer to the social needs of man. -J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism.


steveandjanna said...

The church went hard left in the 20's, though the state didn't until the 30's. In the 20's President Calvin Coolidge (both reformed and Presbyterian) refused to give into socialism. As the church moved hard left in the 20's, so did society and we ended up with Roosevelt's socialism. The church needs to be reformed first and that's only going to happen if the Lord wills it.

MarkPele said...

"Of course, we need to acknowledge that government is a creation ordinance."
- Them's fightin' words in some circles, especially DeRegnoChristi.

voxstefani said...

Ah, a Tuesday à Machen here in Presbyterian Thoughts! What a pleasant surprise. ;-)

I agree with Machen's forcefully stated, larger point concerning the societal roles and responsibilities of the Church, of course, but his postmillennial sensibilities shine through more than once in these words. With that, in particular, I find myself at variance.

Mark said...

Dude, I just got done reading "Christianity and Liberalism". Sweet timing.

I hear ya on not doing enough personally, that's something I'm steal dealing with myself. I think it's great that Machen was willing to admit where the liberals were right and be willing to speak Biblically of those areas. In my experience, we more conservative types tend to avoid certain words or subjects because we don't want to be perceived as being liberal. Which is, of course, being reactionary instead of Biblical.

It's my prayer that our church and others in the area can work towards something like what Machen discusses here.

An Eshelman said...

I believe that one can hold to the reign of Christ as well as understand that it was an institution pre-fall. Just like families need to come under de regno christi, so too does the state.
He is postmil??????????? :)
Mark Jurries
Amen and Amen.

voxstefani said...

Well, you know those (Old) Princeton guys. ;-)

Meanwhile, I remember reading somewhere (if I recall correctly, in an article by D. G. Hart) that Machen steadily moved away from the Princeton postmillennialism in the years after the First World War, and particularly after the establishment of Westminster Seminary. I think Hart was trying to make the point, so often encountered, that World Wars are devastating to postmillennial hopes. While I don't discount that there might be a significant element of truth to this in Machen's case, I believe one shouldn't overlook the tremendous influence that the views of his Westminster colleagues had on Machen's own thinking. His movement away from the Princeton eschatology parallels in many ways his movement away from the Princeton apologetic: not a full or drastic shift (not least of all, I suspect, because of his untimely death), but one easily perceived in his later writings by attentive readers.

Andrew Duggan said...

I think one would be better served consulting Ned B. Stonehouse's Biographical Memoir of Machen, than anything written by Hart.

Certainly, reading Machen himself (of which Christianity and Liberalism is a good example, plus it short and an easy read) is better even than that.

Regarding the hard left turn of the church in the 20's, and of the state in the 30's, I think it is better really to look at it a little more broadly than that. Starting for at least 50 years prior to that the great turning from Biblical principles.

Don't forget the Wilson was a "good" Presbyterian and while President, the one that gave us the Third Bank of the United States, AKA "The Federal Reserve".

As for the state needing to come under "de regno Christi", I think you could improve that by saying "to become self conscious of being under de regno Christi." Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and all kings and governors rule only at His pleasure, without regard to whether or not they admit it, or embrace Him and turn away His wrath when it is kindled but a little (Ps 2).

An Eshelman said...

There is an 'already not yet' aspect to de regno christi as far as I see. There is Christ's mediatorial kingship over all things; and there is the fact that all his enemies are being made his footstool (Ps.2; Ps.110).

To be honest, I know very little about Westminster seminary eschatology- just what the Bible says. ;)

MarkPele said...

I'm not trying to contradict you. I agree that government is a pre-Fall institution. I'm just saying that on the DRC blog, that very issue is (was) hotly contested.

In fact there was a strong presence of people that say that true separation of church and state is Biblically required. I still can't get any of them to answer how you can demonstrate that adultery (or any "sin", for that matter) should be illegal if the state does not bow the knee to Christ.

voxstefani said...

...just what the Bible says.

Oh, then you do know everything about it! ;-)

Marc Driesenga said...

Interesting...there is a repeated theme, especially in the OT but also in the NT that the poor will always be around. Conversely, the Bible talks about the falling away of sound doctrine. It's seems a common dilemma is the struggle of the church to want to be "pro-active" dealing with social issues and lax concerning her doctrinal standards. So Rick Warren's mantra of "deeds not creeds" isn't really a new idea.

We should take up social issues, but we should do it because of the Gospel. Too many times the church concentrates too much on "doing" (the Law) and not enough on "believing". So we have a bunch of people out there doing things without having any understanding of why they are doing it.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a great chasm: "liberal" churches who are socially focused and have little doctrinal foundation and "orthodox" churches who know a lot but don't have a clue about practical theology.

Kind of a sad tension.

An Eshelman said...

We have 3 different Marc/k commenters!

Marc- Amen and Amen! We are such people of extremes. Balance (in a biblical sense) is so hard for all of us. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy are to be together; not options or preferences.

Andrew Duggan said...

So Nate, are you saying you think it's better that kings and rulers of the nations do not acknowledge that it is from Christ that they get their authority? Saying that the "not yet" part of "already not yet" is better than the already?

What's up with the display of the blue banner then?

An Eshelman said...

I am saying they are under the reign of Christ; and they are being brought under the reign of Christ.

Are all the nations Christian? No... but it is my hope when praying 'thy kingdom come'.

Unliberal & Unconservative said...

There's a start in helping out those who are not so fortunate. My Church maintains doctrinal obedience as well as kindness and looking after the poor. These are gifts of God. If you even bear a hint of being hard-up for finances, the rest of our congregation will be on it.

One can also start getting rid of these social programs and getting the Church involved by not taking foodstamps and welfare and other such programs.

Mrs. P said...

Just because it's a favorite hobby horse of mine...

It is my belief that coming to a country illegally is to forfeit the right to assistance from agencies within that country.

Neither the government nor the church should assist lawbreakers in their efforts to willfully break the law.

An Eshelman said...

Mrs. P
I totally agree! The church should withhold the gospel and its benefits from all who break the law! ;)

That is a tough issue, but we are all sinners who have broken God's law. I would say bring them the Gospel and then tell them to be reconciled with the earthly powers that be.

The church has a great opportunity to ministry to the illegal alien community (Spanish speakers listen up!); but I am afraid that our political theory often gets in the way of ministering without discrimination.

Would Jesus have clothed, fed, and ministered to illegals? I am sure that he would have. He would have also called them to repent of their violation of the 10th commandment (I guess that is where I would put this as a sin).

Mrs. P said...

My personal solution would be to concentrate all efforts on missions and relief work in the home lands.

That way it would be possible to deport the illegals to be evangelized in their own countries and on the churches' dollar. Not taxpayers.

Nobody gets into Christ's kingdom by breaking laws. Nobody is allowed to remain in Christ's kingdom on false grounds.

Sounds fair to me... but you know how militant I am ;)

steveandjanna said...

The church has no business aiding and abetting criminals. It's one thing to share the gospel with someone, it's another thing to harbor criminals. No one has a problem with prison ministries, but as Christians we certainly wouldn't endorse the church breaking the criminals out of jail or harboring them so they can avoid going to jail. Likewise with illegals, the church has no business aiding and abetting these criminals.

Nate said...

I was under the impression that we are criminals in the light of God's law.

Should we make a list of criminals that we minister to and one's that we do not?

We should minister to all who God's providence puts in our path- no matter what their sins.

(For the record, I think that we should tell them to use legal means if they want to be a part of this country..that is what I mean about repenting of the violation of the 10th commandment...coveting another man's land.)

steveandjanna said...

I think there is a very clear difference between trying to save an illegal and aiding and abetting their criminal activities. If you're all about ministering to illegals, feel free to start doing so. Until then, this is really a moot topic.

Andrew Duggan said...

There are lots of other types of "illegal" aliens in the US, besides those entering illegally. Some overstay their visa etc, and some are illegal because they are fleeing persecution (e.g. Christians from Islamic countries), but are unable to get legal status because the country they fled is a state sponsor of terror? Should the church turn away those, or just turn them in to be deported and sent back the slaughter of the jihad? There are many for which that is not a moot point.

steveandjanna said...

If you're here illegally, you're here illegally and it really matters not that the illegal is here because he overstayed his visa or if he tip toes across the border. They're committing a crime and the church has no business aiding and abetting criminals. Try to save their souls? Yes. But the church shouldn't harbor these criminals.

There aren't a whole lot of Christians trying to escape jihad coming to America, that point is dripping with irrelevant emotion. The United States has granted foreigners the opportunity to apply for asylum if they're political refugees. Let these Christians, all 10 of them, apply for asylum rather than commit a crime by being here.

Mark said...

I don't think anybody here is advocating harboring criminals. I think Nate's approach of "preach the gospel and call them to repentance - including repentance for entering the country illegally" is a good starting point.

Andrew's point is relevant, methinks, and we should at the very least be prepared to deal with those situations. Shoot, if we can't help Christians fleeing persecution, we're not much of a church.

I think one of the better examples of dealing with immigrants in Urban Nations in NY. Say what you will about Steve Schlissel, but his approach of teaching foreigners English using the Bible is outstanding.

steveandjanna said...

Those Christians facing persecution are likely eligible for asylum, so what the church needs to do with these people is take them directly to the state so they can apply for asylum. If we're talking about your run of the mill illegal, we need to give them a spanish Bible and report them to the INS for deportation.

Anonymous said...

You might not know of any, but that doesn't mean there aren't. In fact while they might not constitute a measurable percentage of illegal aliens, those fleeing jihad are real. So nice to hear that some think they deserve that persecution. Do you have a friend named Job?

Daniel Ritchie said...

Does nobody realise that the "laws" against immigrants are unbiblical? Therefore, the church should be helping immigrants, not helping the Messianic state to persecute them for exercising their God-given right to move country.

steveandjanna said...

What nonsense. The state has every right to enforce its borders and the church has no right to ignore the immigration laws that the state has created. Christ told us to follow the laws of the state and so long as they aren't in opposition to God's law, we must obey them. There is nothing in scripture even hinting at the right to immigrate to foreign lands, especially when foreigners are not welcomed.

Andrew Duggan said...

Wasn't Pharaoh just enforcing his borders when he denied Israel request for emigration? There was no scripture and Pharaoh was the legitimate ruler of the State, the minister of Christ.

Weren't the East Germans only enforcing their borders? How about Fidel in Cuba?

Maybe the reason why Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion died in Moab was because they were after all illegal aliens. (There is no record they ever registered with government of Moab.)

To top it all off, Ruth and illegal alien in Israel has the audacity to go collect Israelite welfare by gleaning.

steveandjanna said...

Nations by their very nature have borders and governments have every right to enforce them. Of course the Communist East Germans had the right to enforce their borders, the fact that we didn't like it and sought to undermine it doesn't change the fact that they had the right to enforce them.

Your comments on Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion will be ignored because it's nothing more than dramatic speculation. As for Ruth, statements about her life don't prove your point about immigration laws.

Andrew Duggan said...

You wrote in a comment timestamped as 29 September, 2007 17:30 the following:

"There is nothing in scripture even hinting at the right to immigrate to foreign lands..."

The book of Ruth is at least a hint. Ruth was from Moab a foreign country with which Israel was at war (Judges 3), and let's not forget the matter of Balaam.

You really do have to deal with the case of Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion, since they permanently immigrated to Moab (since they died there). I was using their case to poke a little fun, but there is a hint.

When you use absolutes like you did (as quoted above) all I have to do is demonstrate that there is at least a hint and your argument is lost.

The fact there were Jews dispersed throughout the near east (See the Act of the Apostles) and the fact that Joseph was warned to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, at least show a hint that governments may not have an absolute right to control their borders.

Finally we have in Matt 28:19 Christ commanding "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..." which means that no nation has the right to refuse entry to missionaries. Therefore, they don't have absolute right to control their borders.

The command of Christ is even more than a hint.

Andrew Duggan said...

Lest we get off track, saying that no nation has the right to refuse entry to missionaries, doesn't mean they lack the capacity.

steveandjanna said...

Scripture never once suggests there is an absolute right of immigration. Obviously there are people throughout scripture seen moving from one land to the next but that doesn't mean there is an absolute right created.

Andrew Duggan said...


Earlier in that same comment 29 September, 2007 17:30 of yours I quoted previously you also wrote:

"The state has every right to enforce its borders and the church has no right to ignore the immigration laws that the state has created." [emphasis mine]

Those phrases every right and no right are absolutes.

I have not argued for an absolute right of immigration, what I have consistently argued against is the idea the state has an absolute right to control its borders.

You've been trying to cast this in absolutes, but it really can't be. Matt 28:19 proves the state does not have such an absolute right.

So how about letting the church show a little of the mercy in God in Christ by ministering the Word to everyone? Can't we put immigration status in the category of not asking questions for conscience sake, when it comes to the preaching of the Word?

Daniel Ritchie said...

"Christ told us to follow the laws of the state and so long as they aren't in opposition to God's law, we must obey them."

The immigration laws are contrary to Scripture, the state does not have totalitarian control and is not commanded in Scripture to forbid immigration. Christ was not a "Messianic Statist" he told us to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, not what does not belong to him which is what you are calling for.

Furthermore, I would also appreciate it Steve if you would prove somebody wrong before accusing them of "nonsense". Your manner does not endear me to you.

"There is nothing in scripture even hinting at the right to immigrate to foreign lands, especially when foreigners are not welcomed."

There is nothing in Scripture indicating that the state has the right to forbid people from moving from one country to the next, hence strangers were allowed to sojourn in Israel. Immigration is therefore a civil right given to us by God, which the modern totalitarian state has no right to interfere in.

The reason that immigration laws exist is largely because of state welfare; taxpayers do not want their money going to fund immigrants who come to sponge. However, they are hypocrites as they are not opposed to the welfare state in principle.

Sadly the modern church (and I include the Reformed churches) has aided the rise of the Messianic State by not preaching against Statist Welfare and by supporting immigration "laws" which autonomous men have invented without any warrant in Holy Scripture.

Daniel Ritchie said...

I would however add that I do not believe that non-Christian immigrants should be allowed to hold civil office or vote in a Christian nation (I am going to publish a book in the near future - God-willing - which explains this principle in more detail). However, this has nothing to do with their right of freedom of movement. In Israel pagans were allowed to sojourn in the land, therefore there is no reason for a modern nation not to allow immigrants to do the same.

MarkPele said...

I think a state has the right to deny immigration, at least under certain circumstances. In Israel, there were cities of refuge. Citizens "fled" to the cities to avoid death at the hand of the avenger of blood. When the avenger came for the refugee, there was a trial, and the city could effectively deport the refugee into the hands of the avenger of blood.

So, there are at least some circumstances where immigration is not a "right" that are upheld by the Bible.

I personally think that free immigration is fine (minus the welfare state), provided the alien renounces citizenship (i.e. no dual citizenship) in any other countries he's a citizen of. Dual-citizenship by birth would be the only approved multiple citizenship.