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This post concludes Chapter 6 – Salvation from John Gresham Machen‘s Christianity and Liberalism, first published in 1923.  You can catch up on past entries here.

If you think that deeds over creeds, missional universalism (à la Mother Teresa) and the social Gospel are new concepts, think again!  Machen points out the pitfalls of modernist (‘liberal’) Christianity which existed 90 years ago.

He also examines how modern clergy and politicians see churches as tools in resolving socio-political issues.  N.B.: He appears to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek with regard to immigration.  Large influxes of European immigrants had been arriving in the United States since the 1880s; this became a huge political issue by the turn of the century.  More restrictive immigration laws were enacted in the 1920s and relaxed in the mid-1960s, although the next wave of legal immigrants did not become discernible nationwide until the 1970s and 1980s.

The excerpts below are from pages 138 – 146 of Reformed Audio’s PDF of the book.  Subheads and emphases are mine for easier navigation.

The ‘programme’ of the modern Church

… heaven has little place, and this world is really all in all.  The rejection of the Christian hope is not always definite or conscious; sometimes the liberal preacher tries to maintain a belief in the immortality of the soul. But the real basis of the belief in immortality has been given up by the rejection of the New Testament account of the resurrection of Christ. And, practically, the liberal preacher has very little to say about the other world. This world is really the center of all his thoughts; religion itself, and even God, are made merely a means for the betterment of conditions upon this earth.

Religion viewed as part of the state

religion has become a mere function of the community or of the state. So it is looked upon by the men of the present day. Even hard-headed business men and politicians have become convinced that religion is needed. But it is thought to be needed merely as a means to an end. We have tried to get along without religion, it is said, but the experiment was a failure, and now religion must be called in to help.

Church as a welcome committee for immigrants

… great populations have found a place in our country; they do not speak our language or know our customs; and we do not know what to do with them. We have attacked them by oppressive legislation or proposals of legislation, but such measures have not been altogether effective. Somehow these people display a perverse attachment to the language that they learned at their mother’s knee. It may be strange that a man should love the language that he learned at his mother’s knee, but these people do love it, and we are perplexed in our efforts to produce a unified American people. So religion is called in to help; we are inclined to proceed against the immigrants now with a Bible in one hand and a club in the other offering them the blessings of liberty. That is what is sometimes meant by “Christian Americanization.”

The Church and industrial relations

Self-interest has here been appealed to; employers and employees have had pointed out to them the plain commercial advantages of conciliation. But all to no purpose. Class clashes still against class in the destructiveness of industrial warfare. And sometimes false doctrine provides a basis for false practice; the danger of Bolshevism is ever in the air. Here again repressive measures have been tried without avail; the freedom of speech and of the press has been radically curtailed. But repressive legislation seems unable to check the march of ideas. Perhaps, therefore, in these matters also, religion must be invoked.

Church as a force for political stability

Still another problem faces the modern world − the problem of international peace. This problem also seemed at one time nearly solved; self-interest seemed likely to be sufficient; there were many who supposed that the bankers would prevent another European war. But all such hopes were cruelly shattered in 1914, and there is not a whit of evidence that they are better founded now than they were then. Here again, therefore, self-interest is insufficient; and religion must be called in to help.

Religion — the cure for civil instability?

… religion is discovered after all to be a useful thing. But the trouble is that in being utilized religion is also being degraded and destroyed. Religion is being regarded more and more as a mere means to a higher endThe change can be detected with especial clearness in the way in which missionaries commend their cause. Fifty years ago, missionaries made their appeal in the light of eternity. “Millions of men,” they were accustomed to say, “are going down to eternal destruction; Jesus is a Savior sufficient for all; send us out therefore with the message of salvation while yet there is time.” Some missionaries, thank God, still speak in that way. But very many missionaries make quite a different appeal. “We are missionaries to India,” they say. “Now India is in ferment; Bolshevism is creeping in; send us out to India that the menace may be checked.” Or else they say: “We are missionaries to Japan; Japan will be dominated by militarism unless the principles of Jesus have sway; send us out therefore to prevent the calamity of war.”

The same great change appears in community life. A new community, let us say, has been formed. It possesses many things that naturally belong to a well-ordered community; it has a drug-store, and a country club, and school. “But there is one thing,” its inhabitants say to themselves, “that is still lacking; we have no church. But a church is a recognized and necessary part of every healthy community. We must therefore have a church.” And so an expert in community church-building is summoned to take the necessary steps. The persons who speak in this way usually have little interest in religion for its own sake; it has never occurred to them to enter into the secret place of communion with the holy God. But religion is thought to be necessary for a healthy community; and therefore for the sake of the community they are willing to have a church.

Christianity should not be a socio-political tool

… it is perfectly plain that the Christian religion cannot be treated in any such way. The moment it is so treated it ceases to be Christian. For if one thing is plain it is that Christianity refuses to be regarded as a mere means to a higher end. Our Lord made that perfectly clear when He said: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother . . . he cannot be my disciple” (Luke xiv. 26). Whatever else those stupendous words may mean, they certainly mean that the relationship to Christ takes precedence of all other relationships, even the holiest of relationships like those that exist between husband and wife and parent and child. Those other relationships exist for the sake of Christianity and not Christianity for the sake of them … if it is accepted in order to accomplish those useful things it is not Christianity. Christianity will combat Bolshevism; but if it is accepted in order to combat Bolshevism, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a unified nation, in a slow but satisfactory way; but if it is accepted in order to produce a unified nation, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a healthy community; but if it is accepted in order to produce a healthy community, it is not Christianity: Christianity will promote international peace; but if it is accepted in order to promote international peace, it is not Christianity. Our Lord said: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” But if you seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in order that all those other things may be added unto you, you will miss both those other things and the Kingdom of God as well.

But if Christianity be directed toward another world; if it be a way by which individuals can escape from the present evil age to some better country, what becomes of “the social gospel”? At this point is detected one of the most obvious lines of cleavage between Christianity and the liberal Church.  The older evangelism, says the modern liberal preacher, sought to rescue individuals, while the newer evangelism seeks to transform the whole organism of society: the older evangelism was individual; the newer evangelism is social

True Christianity versus modern Christianity

It is true that historic Christianity is in conflict at many points with the collectivism of the present day; it does emphasize, against the claims of society, the worth of the individual soul. It provides for the individual a refuge from all the fluctuating currents of human opinion, a secret place of meditation where a man can come alone into the presence of God. It does give a man courage to stand, if need be, against the world … In that sense, it is true that Christianity is individualistic and not social.

But though Christianity is individualistic, it is not only individualistic. It provides fully for the social needs of man.

A man is not isolated when he is in communion with God; he can be regarded as isolated only by one who has forgotten the real existence of the supreme Person. Here again, as at many other places, the line of cleavage between liberalism and Christianity really reduces to a profound difference in the conception of God. Christianity is earnestly theistic; liberalism is at best but half-heartedly so.  If a man once comes to believe in a personal God, then the wo[r]ship of Him will not be regarded as selfish isolation, but as the chief end of man … Very different is the prevailing doctrine of modern liberalism. According to Christian belief, man exists for the sake of God; according to the liberal Church, in practice if not in theory, God exists for the sake of man.

Family waning as an institution

But the social element in Christianity is found not only in communion between man and God, but also in communion between man and man. Such communion appears even in institutions which are not specifically Christian.

The most important of such institutions, according to Christian teaching, is the family. And that institution is being pushed more and more into the background. It is being pushed into the background by undue encroachments of the community and of the state. Modern life is tending more and more toward the contraction of the sphere of parental control and parental influence. The choice of schools is being placed under the power of the state; the “community” is seizing hold of recreation and of social activities. It may be a question how far these community activities are responsible for the modern breakdown of the home; very possibly they are only trying to fill a void which even apart from them had already appeared. But the result at any rate is plain − the lives of children are no longer surrounded by the loving atmosphere of the Christian home, but by the utilitarianism of the state. A revival of the Christian religion would unquestionably bring a reversal of the process; the family, as over against all other social institutions, would come to its rights again.

‘Applied Christianity’

The “otherworldliness” of Christianity involves no withdrawal from the battle of this world; our Lord Himself, with His stupendous mission, lived in the midst of life’s throng and press. Plainly, then, the Christian man may not simplify his problem by withdrawing from the business of the world, but must learn to apply the principles of Jesus even to the complex problems of modern industrial life. At this point Christian teaching is in full accord with the modern liberal Church; the evangelical Christian is not true to his profession if he leaves his Christianity behind him on Monday morning. On the contrary, the whole of life, including business and all of social relations, must be made obedient to the law of love. The Christian man certainly should display no lack of interest in “applied Christianity.”

That is where the Christian man differs from the modern liberal. The liberal believes that applied Christianity is all there is of Christianity, Christianity being merely a way of life; the Christian man believes that applied Christianity is the result of an initial act of God. Thus there is an enormous difference between the modern liberal and the Christian man with reference to human institutions like the community and the state, and with reference to human efforts at applying tile Golden Rule in industrial relationships. The modern liberal is optimistic with reference to these institutions; the Christian man is pessimistic unless the institutions be manned by Christian men … This difference is not a mere difference in theory, but makes itself felt everywhere in the practical realm. It is particularly evident on the mission field. The missionary of liberalism seeks to spread the blessings of Christian civilization (whatever that may be), and is not particularly interested in leading individuals to relinquish their pagan beliefs. The Christian missionary, on the other hand, regards satisfaction with a mere influence of Christian civilization as a hindrance rather than a help; his chief business, he believes, is the saving of souls, and souls are saved not by the mere ethical principles of Jesus but by His redemptive work. The Christian missionary, in other words, and the Christian worker at home as well as abroad, unlike the apostle of liberalism, says to all men everywhere: “Human goodness will avail nothing for lost souls; ye must be born again.”

Next week: Final chapter – the Church

Over the past few days, I have seen several searches for my Mariology dossier from November 2010.  No one has found all of them, so to make things easier, here are links to the entire set.

Informative and educational, these will no doubt answer a number of questions you might have about how Mary is viewed within Christianity:

A summary of Mariology and the Church – November 17, 2010

John MacArthur on Mariolatry – Part 1 — November 18, 2010

John MacArthur on Mariolatry – Part 2 — November 19, 2010

Emotion, sensation, Mary and ecumenism = One World Religion — November 21, 2010



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