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A Challenge to the “Spirituality of the Church”

 By Larry Ball - Posted at The Aquila Report:

Believers can publicly call out the evil, e.g., in abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism, and in so doing honor God and fulfill their obligation to call the civil magistrate to repent.

The term “spirituality of the church” has become one of those phrases that often stops all further conversation about the relationship between church and state. Few Christians ever question the meaning of the phrase. It assumes that the church should remain silent about all political matters. Although the expression does not appear in any of our confessional standards, it has become a doctrine of Presbyterianism as sacrosanct as any one of the five points of Calvinism. No one is allowed to challenge it without being labeled with a pejorative term. It is my contention that rightly understood, it can be a useful phrase, but if contextualized in terms of either dualistic Greek thought, or in terms of present-day secular pluralism, it is not only faulty, but also dangerous to both the church and the civil government.
  1. If the spirituality of the church is interpreted in terms of Greek dualism, then it assumes that the spiritual is the higher good and that the physical is the source of evil. The goal of mankind is to escape the physical (this world) and rise into another realm of spirituality where the pains caused by this present world will disappear. The Church is heavenly and therefore good. The Civil Magistrate is earthly, and therefore the root of evil. The goal of the Christian is to escape living in this world. From this perspective the concept of the spirituality of the church is more Neo-platonic than it is Christian.
  2. If the spirituality of the church means that the church must not speak to political issues because we live in a pluralistic society, and we must not impose our views on others, then this is not only a faulty view, but a dangerous view. It is an impossibility because some law-system derived from some religion will always reign in any society. Silence by Christian leadership when sin is legalized by law, even in a so-called pluralistic society, is a dereliction of duty. It lets evil run wild without rebuke, and therefore will bring judgment on both the civil magistrate and the church. It may be worse than Greek dualism. R2K theologians believe that the civil sphere should be ruled by natural law, but since homosexuality and transgenderism are now considered natural, this approach is bankrupt.
  3. If the spirituality of the church means that there are two realms ordained by God and they must remain separate, then this view is biblical. If it means that the civil magistrate has been given the power of the sword to punish evil, and the church has been given the Holy Spirit to empower her to preach the word of God, to administer the sacraments, to pray, and to carry out church discipline (the ordinary means of grace), then it is a legitimate way to speak of the spirituality of the church. Both realms have separate powers and limitations on that power. The church is not to make laws for the body politic, no more than the civil magistrate is to make laws for the church.
The politics of the Civil War in the United States in the 19th century drove the southern church into a hidden cave where she thought she should retreat and rest in peace at a distance far from political issues. It is very dangerous to take sides in the middle of a war. Getting the elect into heaven became her primary calling. We still have not recovered from that. Unknowingly, the church became irrelevant to issues that her sheep must face every day in the workplace because of political decisions. The spirituality of the church still holds a powerful grip on neo-puritans.


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