Unless you have been vacationing in an Amish community for the last few months, you will have noticed that America is once again gearing up for a Presidential election, and inevitably questions regarding the nature of the relationship between the church and the political process will be raised. Inevitably many churches, both liberal and conservative, will do all they can to see that a party or a candidate is elected, including handing out voter guides, preaching blatantly political messages, or even inviting candidates to occupy their pulpits. Some denominations have become so politicized that the docket of their General Assemblies reads more like the agenda of a political party than a court of the church. But is this right?
Please note that I am not questioning whether Christians, as citizens, should be involved in the political process, nor am I saying that the preachers may not preach what the word teaches regarding moral issues that sometimes become political issues as well (for instance, condemning abortion from the Word is not preaching politics). Rather I am asking should the church, as an institution, be about the mission of advancing the cause of political parties and candidates? Is that part of the great commission? Old School Presbyterians have historically answered this question with a resounding “NO” and have stated that to do so violates the doctrine of the Spirituality of Church that states that the church has been granted no right to meddle in political matters concerning the state. James Thornwell, for instance, wrote in a paragraph that has become part of the PCA Book of Church Order, that:
“The power of the Church is exclusively spiritual; that of the State includes the exercise of force. The constitution of the Church derives from divine revelation; the constitution of the State must be determined by human reason and the course of providential events. The Church has no right to construct or modify a government for the State, and the State has no right to frame a creed or polity for the Church. They are as planets moving in concentric orbits: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).”
Therefore the church needs to be clear on what matters fall under its commission and which do not, and not attempt to muddle the two. Morton Smith in his Systematic theology did an excellent job in outlining what observing the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church consists of and wisely counsels Old School Presbyterian Churches to avoid any activity which will detract from the primary duty to preach and teach the Word of God.
“Before leaving the teaching of Christ regarding the Church, we should examine his commission delivered tothe Church after his resurrection. Bannerman says, “The chief end of the Church is to be in this world what Christ himself was, to do in it what he did, to carry on to final success the great work for which he came from heaven.” This concept of the purpose of the Church is found in various passages. It is a central theme of the high priestly prayer of Jesus. Among the first words that he spoke to his disciples after the resurrection were these, “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” In particular we find the great commission of Jesus recorded in Matthew 28:18–20, “ Jesus spake unto them, saying: All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I Commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
There is a twofold work for the Church to accomplish. It is the gathering of the elect through the preaching of the Word, and then the instruction of those thus gathered in the full teaching of the Word. In other words the mission of the Church is to evangelize the lost, and then to teach the whole counsel of God to those who have been evangelized. We see the Church in Acts also ministering to her poor, but ultimately this was to the end that they could be taught the faith. This and this alone is the mission of the Church. R. B. Kuiper says,
‘The church’s task is to teach and preach the Word of God. Whatever else it may properly do is subordinate and subsidiary to that task. This is its supreme task.” He concludes his chapter on this subject by saying: Just because the preaching of the Word is so great a task the church must devote itself to it alone. For the church to undertake other activities, not indissolubly bound up with this one, is a colossal blunder, because it inevitably results in neglect of its proper task. Let not the church degenerate into a social club. Let not the church go into the entertainment business. Let not the church take sides on such aspects of economics, politics, or natural science as are not dealt with in the Word of God. And let the church be content to teach special, not general revelation. Let the church be the church.’
We may add further that since this was the only task given to the Church by her King, the Church should confine herself to carrying out this task and this task alone.” [Morton Smith, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press: Greenville SC]