We have reached the penultimate post of excerpts from John Gresham Machen‘s Christianity and Liberalism. For previous entries, click here.

Today, Machen explains why upholding biblical and doctrinal truth is not intolerant, regardless of what today’s clergy tell us.  He also had a particular concern about what was happening in Presbyterian missions.  You can find out more from his contributions to the earliest issues of The Presbyterian Guardian.

For my Reformed Anglican friends, note that Machen regards the Episcopalians as being apart from other Reformed churches.

Today’s excerpts are from pages 156 – 161 of Reformed Audio’s PDF of the book.  Subheads and emphases are mine for easier navigation.

On intolerance in the Church

Involuntary organizations ought to be tolerant, but voluntary organizations, so far as the fundamental purpose of their existence is concerned, must be intolerant or else cease to exist. The state is an involuntary organization; a man is forced to be a member of it whether he will or no … But within the state, individual citizens who desire to unite for some special purpose should be permitted to do so. Especially in the sphere of religion, such permission of individuals to unite is one of the rights which lie at the very foundation of our civil and religious liberty …

Among such voluntary associations are to be found the evangelical churches. An evangelical church is composed of a number of persons who have come to agreement in a certain message about Christ and who desire to unite in the propagation of that message, as it is set forth in their creed on the basis of the Bible. No one is forced to unite himself with the body thus formed; and because of this total absence of compulsion there can be no interference with liberty in the maintenance of any specific purpose − for example, the propagation of a message − as a fundamental purpose of the association. If other persons desire to form a religious association with some purpose other than the propagation of a message − for example, the purpose of promoting in the world, simply by exhortation and by the inspiration of the example of Jesus, a certain type of life − they are at perfect liberty to do so. But for an organization which is founded with the fundamental purpose of propagating a message to commit its resources and its name to those who are engaged in combating the message is not tolerance but simple dishonesty.  Yet it is exactly this course of action that is advocated by those who would allow non-doctrinal religion to be taught in the name of doctrinal churches − churches that are plainly doctrinal both in their constitutions and in the declarations which they require of every candidate for ordination.

Creeds and the Church

Certainly the essentially creedal character of evangelical churches is firmly fixed. A man may disagree with the Westminster Confession, for example, but he can hardly fail to see what it means; at least he can hardly fail to understand the “system of doctrine” which is taught in it. The Confession, whatever its faults may be, is certainly not lacking in definiteness. And certainly a man who solemnly accepts that system of doctrine as his own cannot at the same time be an advocate of a nondoctrinal religion which regards as a trifling thing that which is the very sum and substance of the Confession and the very center and core of the Bible upon which it is based. Similar is the case in other evangelical churches. The Protestant Episcopal Church, some of whose members, it is true, might resent the distinctive title of “evangelical,” is clearly founded upon a creed, and that creed, including the exultant supernaturalism of the New Testament and the redemption offered by Christ, is plainly involved in the Book of Common Prayer which every priest in his own name and in the name of the congregation must read.

The separation of naturalistic liberalism from the evangelical churches would no doubt greatly diminish the size of the churches. But Gideon’s three hundred were more powerful than the thirty-two thousand with which the march against the Midianites began.

The man in the pew, his money and the missions

The propagation of the gospel is clearly the joy as well as the duty of every Christian man. But how shall the gospel be propagated? The natural answer is that it shall be propagated through the agencies of the Church − boards of missions and the like. An obvious duty, therefore, rests upon the Christian man of contributing to the agencies of the Church. But at this point the perplexity arises. The Christian man discovers to his consternation that the agencies of the Church are propagating not only the gospel as found in the Bible and in the historic creeds, but also a type of religious teaching which is at every conceivable point the diametrical opposite of the gospel. The question naturally arises whether there is any reason for contributing to such agencies at all. Of every dollar contributed to them, perhaps half goes to the support of true missionaries of the Cross, while the other half goes to the support of those who are persuading men that the message of the Cross is unnecessary or wrong.  If part of our gifts is to be used to neutralize the other part, is not contribution to mission boards altogether absurd? The question may at least very naturally be raised … Many Christians seek to relieve the situation by “designating” their gifts, instead of allowing them to be distributed by the mission agencies. But at this point one encounters the centralization of power which is going on in the modern Church. On account of that centralization the designation of gifts is often found to be illusory. If gifts are devoted by the donors to one mission known to be evangelical, that does not always really increase the resources of that mission; for the mission boards can simply cut down the proportion assigned to that mission from the undesignated funds, and the final result is exactly the same as if there had been no designation of the gift at all

In the support of such agencies, many congregations obviously must unite; and the question arises whether evangelical congregations can honestly support agencies which are opposed to the evangelical faith.

Church liberalism worse than heresy

The plain fact is that liberalism, whether it be true or false, is no mere “heresy” − no mere divergence at isolated points from Christian teaching. On the contrary it proceeds from a totally different root, and it constitutes, in essentials, a unitary system of its own. That does not mean that all liberals hold all parts of the system, or that Christians who have been affected by liberal teaching at one point have been affected at all points. There is sometimes a salutary lack of logic which prevents the whole of a man’s faith being destroyed when he has given up a part. But the true way in which to examine a spiritual movement is in its logical relations; logic is the great dynamic, and the logical implications of any way of thinking are sooner or later certain to be worked out. And taken as a whole, even as it actually exists today, naturalistic liberalism is a fairly unitary phenomenon; it is tending more and more to eliminate from itself illogical remnants of Christian belief. It differs from Christianity in its view of God, of man, of the seat of authority and of the way of salvation. And it differs from Christianity not only in theology but in the whole of life. It is indeed sometimes said that there can be communion in feeling where communion in thinking is gone, a communion of the heart as distinguished from a communion of the head. But with respect to the present controversy, such a distinction certainly does not apply. On the contrary, in reading the books and listening to the sermons of recent liberal teachers − so untroubled by the problem of sin, so devoid of all sympathy for guilty humanity, so prone to abuse and ridicule the things dearest to the heart of every Christian man − one can only confess that if liberalism is to return into the Christian communion there must be a change of heart fully as much as a change of mind. God grant that such a change of heart may come! But meanwhile the present situation must not be ignored but faced.

Tomorrow: Conclusion – Machen’s solutions