“The church shouldn’t get involved in [ ].”
Here is one of the most familiar complaints of our day, aimed primarily against the theological-political liberals in the pulpit. Those who listen to such preaching mutter this phase under their breath, or else ignore the whole thing, since it is obvious that the millions and millions of parishioners who attend the weekly sessions of “political salvation by direct action” presented by liberal Establishment pastors do not get involved in the projects recommended to them. The vocal complaints come from the more conservative churches, the members of which want a theological justification for staying as inactive as their fellow attendees “in the Establishment denominations. (People who spend their lives in liberal Establishment churches seldom search for theological justifications of anything, including apathy, since theology carries so little weight in such churches.)
The debate over whether the church should get involved in this or that, or how it ought to get involved, has been going on for about 2,000 years. The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 was called to explore this very question. The question has many facets.
First, if the church can get involved in affairs not strictly ecclesiastical, wouldn’t the pastors have to become experts in too many different fields?
Second, does the Bible really present criteria for settling arguments in these other fields?
Third, can these other fields (the State, for example) claim jurisdiction over the church? After all, if the church can tell the State what it should do, why can’t the State take steps to control the church as a means of self-defense? In any case, won’t the State do just exactly that?
Fourth, will new discoveries in the various fields threaten the integrity of the church’s message? If the church places a heavenly seal of approval on one interpretation, won’t new discoveries eventually force churchmen to reverse their former judgment?
Fifth, isn’t such preaching a violation of sphere sovereignty? Won’t we wind up with a tyrannical church that tries to control everything?
Sixth, as a practical matter, won’t such meddling force some members to leave the local church for a rival one (which either takes the opposite position or says nothing at all)? In some cases, former members may leave the churches altogether. If a man’s financial contributions are going to support a rival philosophy of life in an important area of a man’s life, won’t he quit? Won’t this lead directly to a breakdown of churches along lines of “secular concern”?
All of these questions are quite valid, and the inability of the institutional churches to deal completely successfully with them over 2,000 years has led many concerned Christians to abandon the idea of the church speaking out on matters outside strictly ecclesiastical-institutional concerns.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)