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The Church and Practical Christianity

The present article is occasioned by the recurring voices that arise out of the church for guidance, for direction, for leadership; in regard to the daily life and problems of the Christian in the world of business and labor and politics and amusements and so forth.

For an example in our present season there will be questions with a view to the presidential election that is shaping up again. The question is asked: what should the Christian do. What should be his attitude, his actions?

And in connection with such questions there is often a reproach directed at the church, at the ministry, at Christendom, that these have failed in their duty or in their pretension to give leadership and to bring about improvement.

This reproach or this reflection can often be felt to be directed against two supposed wrongs. Sometimes that the church has not given us a better society, or a better political or economic structure. And in this sense it is of course usually very vague and undefined.

But sometimes it also implies that the church has not been more concerned about giving us a clear-cut message toward the improvement of our world in which we live, or a more clear-cut program by which we can ourselves direct our lives as Christians.

There are of course many things that can be said about this reproach or charge
directed against the church.

The reader will immediately feel that before we can talk profitably and intelligently about such things we shall have to make some necessary distinctions. For example, the church is not the same as Christendom; and again the clergy or the ministry is not the same as the church.

Or likewise, to point the direction is not the same as to give leadership, and again not the same as reaching the goal.

It this way we shall have to distinguish and indicate specifically to whom or of what we are speaking in such connections.

However there can be no doubt but that the church and the ministry must give attention to such voices and give account of itself over against them. It would be very damaging for the church to brush them aside as of no concern.

And there is no question but that the first consideration to be given to such voices is a willingness to learn and a readiness to confess error or failure. Any inclination to stiffen up and to resent such a charge of failure will have to be very honestly repressed in our hearts and the honest confession expressed that we do constantly fail and prove unfaithful. Our Christian faith requires such a confession. Our very high profession of the faith of God and the Gospel of Christ make it imperative and necessary to confess that all along the line there is failing and fumbling and neglect. We owe this to the very Lord we confess and to the very Gospel we proclaim, in order to testify that whatever justifiable reproach there may be directed against the church or the clergy, in no way casts any reflection upon the God whom we profess, nor upon His Christ and the glorious Gospel of the Cross.

And we owe it also to our calling as Christians to confess this frequent and prevalent weakness and failure so that we ourselves may also continually place ourselves under the authority and discipline and rebuke of this very Gospel which is our freedom and victory.

We can indeed apply this all along the line, from the so called Christendom to the very church of which we are members and that ministry and its leadership. Our ways are far from perfect; our best efforts are always feeble and open to improvement.

But now as we stand thus in the full light of the Gospel with this consciousness we must also present a further answer to the above named reproach.

In the first place, to begin with the most simple fact, it is certainly not at all justified to expect the church to remake the world, nor to blame her for the decay of the present world-structure.

To express this a little more carefully, it is not at all the purpose nor the pretention of the church to function so that we could expect an influence or a transforming example from her by which the world would be made appreciably better. And this is simply  because it is not within her competence or her responsibility to have such power and influence. It is, to be sure, the calling of the church to bring her message and example as far and as clear and as persuasively as it is within her power. That may not be denied nor ignored. But whether this will bring men to a conversion of thought and life and to a new manifestation of life in its various departments is outside of her power and responsibility. It is God alone who brings man to sanctification of life. It is even God alone who brings men to the formal adoption of some of the rules of justice and equity and of good deportment, so that society or government takes on a different appearance by it.

Insofar therefore, as the church may have been negligent in faithfully proclaiming the Gospel entrusted to her, or her members negligent in living these principles, there is indeed room for reproach. But beyond this the church and her message is not to be charged with the decay of the world in its various spheres.

But perhaps someone will say. Yes, but that is exactly the point; has the church been faithful in instructing its people unto a life out of the principles of the Gospel in all walks of life?

And that is a different question.

And here we must also make careful distinctions in order to learn well.

First of all we may again express that there is often no doubt unfaithfulness
in this respect. Also the church and its ministry is sinful. And faithful and full-orbed instruction would imply that the church as the carrier of God’s revelation and testimony be so completely sanctified in heart and mind, intellect and will and affections that it senses and feels and obeys in all things the will and testimony of the Scriptures. This would mean a perfectly balanced, perfectly rounded-out teaching and preaching exactly as God wills it. Perhaps we will never fully sense how much of sinful bias and sinful self-will there is in the best of our learning and testifying of the things of the Bible. In view of this principle we shall have to admit that also our teaching in this respect is most probably lop-sided.

But now we must also make another observation respecting this instruction for the whole life of the Christian. And that is that the Church as such is not called upon to develop and outline a complete program or system of action for the daily life of the Christian.

The Church’s primary function is to preach the Gospel. And to be sure this includes the doctrine of sanctification. We shall deny ungodly lusts and live righteously and soberly in this present world. And the Scripture is to our instruction that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. It is the church’s task to expound and proclaim this.

But it is the calling of the membership of the church to take this and to apply it to the various departments of life.

It is the calling of the business man to work this out and carry this out beyond the reach of the preaching and teaching of the church into the complicated relations of his business.

It is the calling of the politician to reflect on this Gospel of redemption unto sanctification and trace out its meaning for politics.

It is the duty of the ministry to apply this into the details of his life and calling as a minister and pastor.

Further also the teacher as educator; the laboring man in his problems.

Now does this not suggest that there should be a more concerted effort to-
ward studying out the practical applications of these principles?

There are Christian Societies and conferences of teachers who unite in the discussion of their specific problems and principles.

Undoubtedly there should be Christian Business Men’s Conferences.

And Christian Working Men’s Groups.

And Christian Parent’s Clubs.

Undeniably there is a great field here for further development.

The Church and the Practical Christian life. . . .