Years ago Dr. Machen, the founder of Westminster Seminary wrote in his customary exquisite prose:

You cannot expect from a true Christian church an official pronouncement upon the political and social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning from its proper mission, which is to bring to bear upon human hearts the solemn and imperious, yet also sweet and gracious, appeal of the gospel of Christ. 1

I love that quote. It is one of my very favorites. It reminds me of my calling as a minister of the Gospel. It also brings me peace and contentment because there are many complex, evil, and devastating things that are currently taking place in the world about which we should all be concerned. No one in this life is untouched by “time’s rude hand” as we were singing from a hymn the other night in church. Even though I cannot understand or address so many complex problems that bring pain and suffering to people, I can be resolved to stick to my mission as a minister of the word of God and the sacraments. I can also be resolved to be just and make sure the church is just in her application of discipline within the church.

The quote above from Dr. Machen touches on a doctrine traditionally called the “Spirituality of the Church.” It is a doctrine that knows no earthly geographical boundaries because it is a very important doctrine that has been given by our Lord in order to define, restrain, and govern his church in her corporate responsibilities until he returns again. The spirituality of the church defines the community created by Christ and the Holy Spirit. The spirituality of the church sets out her special charter and spiritual functions. It also limits her officers to ministerial authority versus legislative authority. Simply stated, that means that ministers are restricted only to declare the laws and doctrines that are in Scripture, and no other. The church may only bind the conscience of believers in a way that Scripture binds the conscience of a believer.

 This next year I will be on Sabbatical. I will be writing a book on the Primary Mission of the Church. In this book, I plan to discuss the historical, confessional, and biblical basis of the Spirituality of the Church. The historical issues are complex. There are differences of opinions about the confessional teaching on the subject. Even so, the biblical teaching seems clear. God has clearly outlined the primary corporate responsibilities and mission for his Church.

You may wonder why a biblical scholar would take time to engage in such a project? Because some have been asserting that many have had a flawed understanding of the spirituality of the church. Some have been asserting that the doctrine has merely been a tool used to perpetuate evil and injustice. Although it may be true that this precious doctrine has been abused in the past; nevertheless, that is no justification for throwing the baby out with the bath water, or for redefining the primary mission of the church. The doctrine, rightly understood and taught, is liberating for pastors and Christ’s church.

1 Machen, “The Responsibility of the Church in our New Age,” The Presbyterian Guardian 36:1 (January, 1967), pp. 12-13.