Machen on the Church

Machen on the Church

Is there no refuge from strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus’ name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world.

The closing paragraphs of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism are among the most moving words he ever wrote, and they seem well-nigh prophetic 100 years later as ethnic and national strife again (or still) roil the church. After lamenting the state of the liberalizing mainline churches, their skewed mission, and their fading, worldly gospel, he ended the book in this way:

Sometimes, it is true, the longing for Christian fellowship is satisfied. There are congregations, even in the present age of conflict, that are really gathered around the table of the crucified Lord; there are pastors that are pastors indeed. But such congregations, in many cities, are difficult to find. Weary with the conflicts of the world, one goes into the Church to seek refreshment for the soul.

Gospel and gospel rest are in view here. The “table of the crucified Lord” does not only refer to the proper administration of the sacrament. Machen knew that the Lord’s table was of no benefit to church members unless the gospel framing the supper pointed them to the supernatural Jesus of the bible, the God-Man. This is why Machen spent considerable time earlier in the book on orthodox Christology. He also knew that a non-atoning “atonement” for people not convinced of their lost condition (thanks to milquetoast preachers of vague moral uplift) was not worthy of being called good news. Then as now, clear biblical gospel presentation was a rarity, as was a church focused first on the spiritual rather than the material.

The church, instead restful refuge for weary pilgrims and strangers, had become a job center, a feel-good clinic, and a lifestyle brand. Such, he said in chapter two, had not been true of the “Christian movement at its inception (which) was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message.  It was based, not upon a mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but on an account of facts.” Machen knew that the primary work of the ministry was to proclaim the facts of the good news. And he knew that the church should be the most unusual of places—an auditorium that is also a free-admission hospital, a hospice, and a hostel.

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