12 June 2005

Machen Speaks from the Grave

I'm preaching through Galatians in Gracelife—the group I pastor at Grace Community Church. Later this morning, I'll be dealing with the passage in chapter 2 where Paul publicly rebuked Peter for consorting with the Judaizers.

It's a passage that has some important lessons for Christians today. Many mostly-sound evangelical leaders are currently telling us we need to seek a kind of pragmatic co-belligerency with people who deny the principle of sola fide, in order to win the supposedly all-important moral crusade currently being waged by the religious right. That's similar to the approach Peter seems to have taken with the Judaizers. Paul, on the other hand, clearly regarded every kind of tolerance toward the Judaizers as a sinful act of participation in their evil deeds (cf. also 2 John 7-11).

Anyway, in the process of my study, I came across this quote from J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism. It was written more than 80 years ago. Machen could not have foreseen how popular it would become for evangelicals to turn aside from the gospel in favor of political causes. But Machen's words say precisely what most evangelicals in 2005 desperately need to hear and come to grips with:
What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law... Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity.

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the difference between the Judaizers and himself was the difference between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the difference between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap that must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakening conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust in Him for all.

Paul certainly was right. The difference which divided him from the Judaizers was no mere theological subtlety, but concerned the very heart and core of the religion of Christ.


Jeremy Weaver said...

Great Quote. I am preparing to teach through Galatians also in my sunday school class. Can I use this, or should I ask God to talk to Machen for me?

jthomas899 said...

What are some other good works to consider on Galatians?

My currents resources are:

William Perkins Comm. on Gal. (Pilgrim Press)
B.H. Carroll
John Brown (Geneva series)
William Hendriksen
John MacArthur
Matthew Henry

Jeremy Weaver said...

Timothy George's commentary in the New American Commentary series is good. Oh, yeah, Luther's commentary. There's a link on my commentary blog.

SoccerReformer said...

The current atmospher in broader evangelical circles is similar to political circles, particularly on Capitol Hill, where the highest virtue appears to be preserving the status quo, or perhaps more specifically, making certain that nothing is done to upset a comfortable state of inertia, no matter how poorly it happens to serve those it is supposed to.

Thank God for those He has raised up over the years to take the unpopular stand for the sake of truth. While it must be done with right motives and in the right spirit, it MUST be done. Great excerpt from Machen (reading Ned Stonehouse's biography of him was one of the best book choices I made as a new believer).

Momo said...

If you can only get one commentary on Galatians, get Timothy George's commentary.

If you are collecting, don't even dream of getting along without Martin Luther's commentary. It was a sheer joy to read.

jthomas899 said...

I forgot to list that I have George's and I think I have Luther on software.

I would also add that Tom Ascol has been preaching thru Galatians, however can't remember his web address.

I would also recommend Phil Newton's expositions on Galatians.
I think his site is:


jthomas899 said...



aquascum said...

Wait a minute.

J. Gresham Machen struck up common cause with a secular political advocacy group known as the "Sentinels of the Republic". Machen testified before Congress on their behalf, specifically against proposed legislation for federal schooling (Machen also gave speeches to the Sentinels organization itself.) And in his "The Necessity of the Christian School," Machen praises the Sentinels of the Republic for their political opposition to the child labor amendment, which again was another piece of legislation (and a pretty important one at that: a proposed *constitutional amendment*). Machen himself opposed the legislation because he regarded it as an "attack upon American institutions and the decencies of the American home."

Now why would Machen actively campaign *in Washington* against proposed legislation, *on behalf of* a non-Christian political advocacy group, if he really rejected in principle the notion of 'co-belligerency'? Perhaps in reality Machen had certain political convictions *as a Christian*, and was willing to actively seek their implementation in the political realm. Convictions pertaining to "the decencies of the American home," or as outlined in the following: "I believe in the notion that there are certain basic rights of the individual man and the individual family which must never be trampled under foot--never for any supposed advantage of the whole, never because of the supposed necessity of any emergency--certain basic rights like the right of personal freedom, the right of property, the right of privacy of the home, the real freedom of speech and of the press."

Machen didn't just believe the above. He actively opposed specific pieces of legislation because of it.

The fact of the matter is that, while your quote from Machen is impeccable as usual, its relevance to Christian co-belligerency strikes me as dubious at best. You neglect to mention that Machen's reference to the Judaizers was in the midst of a compare-and-contrast between Paul's tolerance of two different *preaching ministries*, namely, that of the preachers in Rome (with impure motives) and that of the Judaizers in Galatia (with a false gospel). Paul tolerated the preaching ministry of the former, but not the latter. That is, Machen is talking about striking up common cause with the Judaizers for explicitly *religious* purposes, and saying of course Paul wouldn't want to do *that*. He remains silent, however, on whether the distinct goals of the *state* (such as, let's say, the protection of life and liberty) can be pursued by Christians cooperating with others. That is simply not in purview in the Machen quote. It's irrelevant, and Machen's own example tends to undermine the use to which you put the quote.

Interestingly enough, this would be clearer if you reinserted the material you elided from Machen :-) To wit: "What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, ***even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances!*** Machen is saying Paul would have no truck with the Judaizers in supporting *their specific religious purposes* (namely, the reimposition of circumcision). What this has to do with how we relate to the state, or relate to others with respect to state issues, is anyone's guess :-)

Finally, as for Galatians 2 itself, it's precisely that portion of your statement which you italicized which cannot be sustained: "Paul, on the other hand, clearly regarded *every* kind of tolerance toward the Judaizers as a sinful act of participation in their evil deeds (cf. also 2 John 7-11)." No, that can't be right. *Every* kind of tolerance? Well, sure, he wouldn't tolerate *their gospel* (because it was no gospel at all). And so he wouldn't cooperate with them in helping to carry out the message of that 'gospel' (namely, the reimposition of the ceremonial law as a condition of salvation). But cooperation for *other* purposes is surely permitted. Every day, evangelicals cooperate with Roman Catholics and other unbelievers to bring to pass a variety of common purposes, and rightly so: the building of houses, the maintenance of car pools, the repair of computers, and so on. The notion that we can't cooperate with gospel-deniers for secular ends (including accomplishing the legitimate ends of the state, whatever those are) strikes me as wholly outside the purview of Galatians 2.

Phil Johnson said...

Interesting point you are trying to make, aquascum. It seems to me, however, that Machen's involvement with the Sentinels of the Republic was short-lived and ultimately both an embarrassment and a failure. Perhaps I can deal with this more in-depth in a follow-up post.

Still, I'd say that before joining in any kind of common cause with THAT group in particular, Machen would have been wise to contemplate the ramifications of his own words in Christianity and Liberalism a little more carefully.

I also would have to reject your suggestion that advocacy of moral causes in political venues is a "secular" pursuit.

Luthersrose said...

Dear Phil:

Well said and welcome to the battle brother!

I have been writing on what I have named, Evangelical Co-Belligerence (ECB), veraciously for the past six weeks. It has produced a firestorm of emails and comments from a wide spectrum within Christianity. So I greatly applaud your stance against this trend in evangelicalism where some want to turn the church into a PAC (political action committee) or a lobbyist group to strong arm politicians to legislate the veneer of morality in our land.

It's not that they (ECBers) are bothered that people are unsaved--they're just bothered that they're unsaved and gay; or unsaved and for abortion; or unsaved and for euthanasia. Some evangelical leaders have made a career telling the body of Christ how bad unbelievers are. They actually fault unsaved people for living like unsaved people (contrary to Romans 6:20). This is unconscionable. How would any of us be living if we didn't know the Lord and have His restraining grace within us (cp, Titus 2:11-3)?

The very ones we should be sharing the gospel with are the very ones that receive their scorn, ridicule and disdain. Instead of picketing, boycotting and developing political strategery against these groups, wouldn't it be better to take to them the life-changing message of the gospel of Jesus Christ--sola fide. sola gratia, solus Christus? What they need is not legislation, but life transformation through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Political remedies for moral maladies is an effort in futility. The tragic thing is, many fine men of God who have faithfully defended the gospel and His Word in the past turn a blind theological eye to the simple fact that there is no biblical/theological foundation for co-belligerence philosophy--none. But sola Scriptura has to mean something in this discussion. But I have had too many ECBers communicate to me that it is not important to their activity or even essential in the discussion. They believe that "common grace" extends to this area and is sufficient justification for their moorings. Sound theological footing is just not important to them in the battle of the culture wars. Can someone wake me up from this nightmare and tell me "who spiked the living water?"

Furthermore, they are more than willing to partner with anyone as long as they simply agree on the societal cause they're fighting against. Unity on the gospel, the Scriptures, the character of Christ, etc. unfortunately mean nothing in the ECB world--only fighting the culture wars with others who share the same vitriol against the same social ills. This is a clear violation of 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1.

Lastly, could you imagine the Lord saying to the Pharisees after His scathing rebuke of them in Matthew 23 where He pronounce eternal judgment in those seven woes—“I know you've missed it on the gospel and have created a false religion which only makes your converts twice the sons of hell as you are, but thanks for standing up for family values.” Unthinkable! We should remember that the Pharisees were the co-belligerents of Jesus' day and He rejected the merits of their cultural morality and superficial righteousness. We need to “Focus on the Faith” once again.

Please excuse this long post and thank you for letting me share on your blog.

Grace and peace to you Phil,
2 Cor. 4:5-7

Jacob Hantla said...

The tolerance that Paul wouldn't tolerate was a tolerance that acted contrary to the Gospel as Peter was doing. He believed that people were justified by faith apart from the law but he was "tolerating" the elitist mentality of the Jewish separatist by associating with them at the exclusion of the Gentiles. I think that perhaps, "tolerance" is not as precise as word as could have been chosen, but its ok nonetheless.

As for commentaries, since time is always limited, I would spend the bulk of my time with Hendriksen and Luther. I spent two of the last three years with Galatians as my primary interest and those two commentaries were, IMHO, the best.

Brad said...

Enough already of John McArthur-like anti-political crusade. The obvious response to your political involvement analogy to Paul's stance against the Judaizers is that circumcision has absolutely nothing to do with someone's eternal soul. If Tom Delay were enacting legislation against the consumption of shellfish, the analogy would hold.

Until then, those fanatic evangelicals might be doing some good to fight back the world's porn supply spewing from our backyard or potential terrorists flowing illegally into our state. In pursuit of that goal, I will not compromise my faith, but I might enlist allies in or out of "sola fide." In World War II, should the U.S. have remained outside of the war because we had theological differences with our allies? Win the pending war, argue theology later because if you don't win the war, you won't have the freedom to argue theology...

Jeri said...

Let's not forget the cornerstone study of Galatians, Luther's commentary on Galatians, the book that John Bunyan recommended very highly. Reading Luther's commentary on Galatians helped Bunyan at last come to peace after wrestling with assurance of salvation for years.


Richard Goff said...

As a member of Grace Community Church, I am a grateful beneficiary of exceptional biblical teaching. Since I don't attend Gracelife, it's always a thrill for me when you fill the pulpit for John. Now, I'm thrilled to run into you in the blogosphere. I will add you to my link list and spread the word.

I hope to see more from you on this, especially in response to 'aquascum' and 'brad meyer'.

Phil Johnson said...

Brad says, "If Tom Delay were enacting legislation against the consumption of shellfish, the analogy would hold."

I think you have missed the point. I'm not concerned about anyone's involvement with Tom Delay. I don't care if you personally want to campaign for or vote for any political candidate or moral cause you choose.

What disturbs me is that Christian leaders and evangelical ministries are becoming so entangled in ecumenical relationships (mostly stemming from their political involvements) that they deliberately tone down the gospel, leave out the offensive bits, or even adapt their theology to accommodate their partners in some political common cause.

And it is happening. This is one of the major reasons the drafters of ECT explicitly gave for promoting evangelical/Catholic ecumenism. It's also a major impetus behind the current push to recognize Mormonism as an alternative expression of authentic Christianity.

And that is wrong for exactly the same reasons Peter's behavior in Antioch was wrong.

BTW: for future reference: Deliberate personal disparagement of my pastor, my church, my wife, my dog, my children, or the ministry I work for will be deemed outside the parameters of Christian civility and therefore a violation of Rule 2. Say whatever you like about me (as long as you keep your language clean), and I'll let you post it. Take a cheap shot at someone with whom I have a personal relationship of love and respect—whether it be John MacArthur, my dog Wrigley, or anyone in between—and I'll delete it.

Mark said...

Thank you very much for your holding to Christian civility.

Momo said...

Not only that, Phil, but it is a loss of focus.

Paul said that when he went to Corinth he determined not to know anything among them save Jesus Christ and him crucified. Why?

Obviously because the gospel is the most powerful weapon in the Christian arsenal for cleaning up a society.

And cleaning up society is just a side goal anyway. The primary focus of Christian ministry is bringing glory to God *through* the procalimed gospel.

But for those who insist that cleaning up society is the primary goal, they should at least have the sense to use the gospel to do so.

Apparently the gospel is just not powerful enough.

aquascum said...

Hi Phil,

(Before I begin, I just want to say that you have profoundly impacted my life for good over many years through your editorial responsibilities, even though you don't know me. I just want you to see this particular kerfuffle in the proper context :-)

With respect to Machen's involvement with the Sentinels, I'd just say that many activities that are perfectly legitimate for Christians to pursue end up being "short-lived and ultimately both an embarrassment and a failure," despite best intentions to the contrary. It's legitimate for me to cooperate with others (even unbelievers!) to train my son to play basketball well, even if his career is a (mercifully) short-lived, embarrassing failure ;-) That's just the nature of divine providence, and man's rather subordinate relationship to it. The question is whether we can justly lay any of these deficiencies at *Machen's* feet, as an abdication of his Christian responsibilities (rather than, say, as a result of Machen failing to be omniscient and omnipotent).

I can see why you'd say that Machen should have taken his own advice in C&L (as it were) before testifying before Congress. But, of course, that depends on how you interpret the scope of Machen's remarks on Galatians 2, which I've already said I think you've misconstrued (quite unintentionally, of course).

Certainly, Paul wasn't opposed to the practice of Mosaic law in "Gentile cities" *per se*. Indeed, he often grounded his exhortations to Christian believers residing in those cities, in terms of the abiding authority of the Mosaic law (cf. Eph 6:1-3). And he was quite clear that the Law is good, and is *made for* those who are lawless and rebellious (said right before a summary of the Decalogue, 1Ti 1:8-11).

What Paul would have no business doing, and what Machen brings out in the quote you supply (when read in full and in context), is that Paul would never strike up common cause *with the ministry of* the Judaizers, whose goal was clearly to impose the full Mosaic law (including its ceremonies) *as a condition of salvation*. Paul's beef with the Judaizers was *never* over their support of the Mosaic law in principle, but with *how* they related it to salvation. As Machen himself puts it (just before the quote you provide!), "Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical--not even, perhaps, the temporal--order of three steps." Is it faith, then justification, then law-keeping? Or is it faith, then law-keeping, then justification?

In order to say that Gal 2 precludes cooperation with others for the purpose of passing legislation by the state, you'd have to show that "passing legislation by the state" was even remotely the goal of the Judaizers. I'd be highly surprised if it was, given that we're talking about the Roman Empire here, and not a contemporary American republic in which we have a say. Rather, the Judaizers had a goal for the Gentile cities *by means of the churches* (not the state), and here Paul would not cooperate at all. How we relate to the state in cooperation with others is simply not in purview.

As for whether "advocacy of moral causes in political venues is a 'secular' pursuit," that depends on how we're using the term. Since all that we do is to be done to the glory of God, there's a sense in which there is simply no such thing as a 'secular' pursuit as a Christian, and with this I agree. But I was using the word with a restricted scope. Ordinarily, evangelical Christians make a distinction between church and state, such that the ends of the one (the preaching of the gospel and the building up of the church of God) are not to be confused with the ends of the other (the punishment of evildoers, restraint of wickedness, perhaps national defense and protection of life, etc.) In saying that pursuing these latter goals via the state is a 'secular pursuit,' I am not saying that they are done apart from a motive to please God. I'm simply saying they're not a realization of the specific goals of the church.

BTW, your citation of Machen against cultural co-belligerence is ironic in that the Family Research Council -- a cultural co-belligerent *par excellence* -- explicitly draws attention to his political activism as a model for today. Cf.:


AuthenticTruth said...

I am very concerned that too many evangelicals are willing to join hands in political causes with groups such as Roman Catholics. It has been my observation that when this takes place, Evangelicals are more reluctant to point out the doctrinal error of those they are cooperating with, fearing they may take offense. The key objective becomes furthering moral and political objectives and the truth of the Gospel takes a back seat to everything else. When the pope passed away this year, I was disheartened when some Evangelical leaders presented the pope and the Catholic Church in a way that gave the appearance that the RCC was just another evangelical church, which it certainly is not. I am becoming increasingly concerned with the rising tide of ecumenism within the ranks of Evangelicalism. It is every Christian’s duty to proclaim the truth of God's Word, not just those involved in ministries formally dedicated to apologetics. I am not opposed to any political involvement, but we need to keep in focus the real task that Christ has charged us with-making disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Sled Dog said...

I believe that putting all our efforts into political action to change culture is not the best use of a believer's time, and that the Gospel is what its all about. As a pastor, I am constantly being pulled by people to pursue the latest cause, and use my energy toward that pursuit. It is clear in my mind, though, that I am called to preach, teach, equip, and shepherd the flock.

I believe that believers have responsiilities to some political issues whether we like it or not, because those matters cross over into scripture. We cannot ignore abortion, because abortion is sin.

I believe that comparing the issue of Peter, Paul and the Judaizers to the political activities of some believers of today is a stretch. It's a sort of proof texting...using scripture to make a point that the scripture isn't trying to make. 1 Corinthians seems to work better at making the point that, ultimatly, friendship with the world comes up empty. America is much more like Corinth.

Random monday morning thoughts...

Dave said...

Phil, great thoughts!

The entaglement that you mention is not only completely contrary to 1 Cor 6, as Campi eloquently remarked, it is fundamentally a denial of the responsibilities we have to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5.20). The appeal that God is making through us is NOT family values, a pornographically free society or a conservative judiciary. The appeal is reconciliation - "Be reconciled to God."

By campaigning for a morally conservative culture, without boldly, unashamedly proclaiming the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone we are creating white washed sepulchres - that is, dead people who look good on the outside! Thereby, we give people a flase sense of hope and confidence.

We must seek the transformation that comes as a result of the gospel, nto a result of legislation.

Keep up the good ministry Phil!
You too Campi!

aquascum said...

Hi James (Spurgeon)

It's quite true that Paul "determined not to know anything among them save Jesus Christ and him crucified." This was his full-time calling, however. Unless you're willing to say that other callings in life, such as being an English professor, or computer technician, or watch repair guru, are illegitimate and *ipso facto* involve a "loss of focus" in the life of that Christian, I fail to see the relevance of Paul's example here. We're not all called to give 40-50 hours a week in gospel ministry, are we? Indeed, most Christians are not, as far as I can tell.

I think it's quite right that "cleaning up society is just a side goal," when measured against the great and glorious goal of the gospel. But so are the other activities named above, when measured against that standard. What, exactly, is the problem here?

Finally, I have yet to find anyone committed to co-belligerence who *doesn't* think "the primary focus of Christian ministry is bringing glory to God *through* the proclaimed gospel." As far as I can tell, most of these people are simply saying that attention to legislative issues is something that Christians should spend *some* of their time thinking about and relating to. They also imply that this activity is legitimate for *some* Christians (those not called to full-time gospel ministry) to spend quite a bit of time doing, in accordance with their gifts and opportunities.

The question here is very simple: are the callings listed in the first paragraph above legitimate for the Christian to pursue, even though they (1) are not the Christian ministry, and (2) are not explicitly commanded in Scripture? If so, *why* are they legitimate? The answer to that question (which involves reflecting on instrumental and intrinsic goods) helps shed a bit of light on the co-belligerence issue, I think.

"Apparently the gospel is just not powerful enough."

Apparently, neither is watch repair! ;-)

Momo said...

Aquascum, I can appreciate much of what you are saying. I love politics. I have strong political opinions. I have even thought of going into politics before. There is nothing wrong with being politically responsible and active. It is part of our mandate to be salt and light.

But the focus of Christian ministry should be the gospel. The gospel will bring about the societal change these Christian PACs want, but it will do much more than that.

The Church of Jesus Christ was founded to change the world and told how to do that. It is a three-prongd approach. It consists of making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them kingdom principles.

I think it is a loss of focus on this that Phil is decrying along with the tendency to water-down and compromise the gospel in order to make friends with the moralists and legalists of this world - whether their corporate headquarters be in Rome or Salt Lake.

If the energy, money, and time that good men like James Dobson have put into political action, had put into fervent gospel ministry instead, society would have been and still could be impacted more than what their efforts have gained so far.

Momo said...

Aquaman, I think we just posted past each other.

I like your sense of humor.


aquascum said...

I'm ambivalent about whether I should continue commenting in this thread. My posts tend to be lengthy (because I want to consider others' ideas carefully), and I don't want to appear to be hijacking the discussion. I do have specific replies to just about every significant concern (and Scriptural text) raised so far, but I don't want to flood the page with them. So I think I'll bow out (unless there's a general clamor for more :-)

Just a couple of final comments.

James Spurgeon, you speak of "the focus of the Christian ministry," but my point is that when it comes to cultural co-belligerence, we aren't talking about "the Christian ministry" *at all*, even as we're not talking about it when we consider millions of different activities that Christians can engage in (occasionally, or as a full-time calling).

The idea here seems to be that if you repair people's watches all week, you *also* have to preach the gospel while you're doing it, or else you're turning away from the gospel. I think that's absurd. The question is whether *it is good* to repair watches, not whether it accomplishes the goal of the gospel.

I think there are definitely excesses in the co-belligerence movement. I think having a Justice Sunday instead of a Justice Saturday was a PR disaster. It was very foolish to use the time on Sunday evening in a church for that. But in my mind, this doesn't undermine the cause in principle. I make a distinction between the fundamental justification of the theory, and foolish or excessive applications of it. After all, anti-co-belligerent conservative evangelical churches aren't discredited *in toto* because some guy preached a bad or even heretical sermon one day ;-)

The appeal to 2Co 6:14-7:1 is a completely erroneous inference, in my view. No one is "binding themselves together" with unbelievers in some illegitimate sense. We *already* enter into various relationships with unbelievers for a variety of purposes that don't measure up to or accomplish the preaching of the gospel. So what?! Does the fact that I make house payments and car payments to a bunch of unbelievers -- entering into a contractual relationship with them -- somehow undermine the gospel and reveal that I've sold out my Christian profession? No: we're all working together for a common good (house and car ownership), and that is that. That common good isn't the gospel, to be sure, but it's something :-)

Momo said...

Aqua, I think we're talking past each other anyway. I'm agreeing with most of what you are saying.

What's scary is when gospel compromises are made to further political goals.

What's scary is when the focus of changing society becomes something other than the gospel.

Watch-making is a worthwile pursuit. It should be done well and for God's glory. No one should ever compromise gospel principles, however, in order to advance his opportunities to repair more watches.

I think it is the excess and the compromise that we are flummoxed over more than anything else.

Kevin Jones said...

Phil, thanks for the posting. When I read your chapter on the American Evangelical approach to politics in Fool’s Gold, I felt an affirmation of a nagging sense of discomfort that I’ve held for the past 15 years.

Recently, I’ve felt that the new Evangelical creed has become an opposition to abortion on demand and an opposition to same sex marriage. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a strong opposition to either of these, and we, as Christians, should oppose both. But they are not the Gospel. When we begin to define ourselves by our opposition to liberal social agendas, then there is really no reason that we should not accept the Roman Catholic Church (and even the Mormons) as true believers.

I was brought up to believe that social liberalism was the worst threat to the spread of the Gospel, but it seems that we have now been blindsided by social conservatism.

Frank Martens said...

I'm doing this in a quote by quote reply :)

Aquascum: "The idea here seems to be that if you repair people's watches all week, you *also* have to preach the gospel while you're doing it, or else you're turning away from the gospel."

Me: Does repairing watches provide the living expenses to spread the gospel within your living vicinity and also provide the funding for others to "go out" and preach the gospel? Are you able to provide the gospel to those whose watches you repair? Or are you repairing watches for personal gain in wealth and to get more for yourself?

Aquascum: "We *already* enter into various relationships with unbelievers for a variety of purposes that don't measure up to or accomplish the preaching of the gospel."

Me: If it were Paul, it would, or he would not have gotten himself in that situation. For me, I try for the same purpose, however, I'm still young, lots to learn, and not perfect, and no where near the kind of man that Paul was.

Aquascum: "So what?! Does the fact that I make house payments and car payments to a bunch of unbelievers -- entering into a contractual relationship with them -- somehow undermine the gospel and reveal that I've sold out my Christian profession?"

Me: Does it prevent you from spreading the Gospel, either in your home, job, school, church, family, friends? If so, then yes.

Aquascum: "That common good isn't the gospel, to be sure, but it's something :-)"

Me: If it's not, then it's not for the gospel, you are correct, instead it's for personal gain.

I'll stop here so this doesn't get too long.


Scott Nichols said...

Machen for Machen. It seems that in the same book you are quoting, he seems to believe that working with Rome is preferable to working with liberal Christians. I agree with you Phil that we must not too closely tie our theology with any politcal agenda, but machen is not a real help here.

"Far more serious still is the division between the Church of Rome and evangelical Protestantism in all its forms. Yet how great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today! We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all."

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999 [1923]), p. 52.

Jacob Hantla said...

The whole watch repair and other things are missing the point. Watch repair is not contrary to the gospel. Roman Catholicism is contrary to the gospel. The Judaizers were contrary to the gospel. We don't have to spiritualize everything that we do in order to somehow allow it to be ok. We can glorify God in drinking Organge juice without sharing the gospel to our dog while we're drinking it. Paul's issue with Peter was that his actions were contrary to or inconsistent with the gospel he claimed.

My developing webpresence

Brad said...

Nice to meet you...

Making a factual statement (hyperbolized slightly by my use of the word "crusade" which you used in your original blog) about a man's well-known public stance is not a "cheap shot". Sorry, just can't hear another preacher again speak against political involvement at a time when it is critical for Christians, without replying to it.

Forgive my directness, but I do believe you miss the point. It is not someone's entanglement with politics that is to blame- it is their ambition for power and entanglement with heretical doctrines that oppose sola fide.

Are these "cheap shots"?
- "all-important moral crusade currently being waged by the religious right."

- Paul, on the other hand, clearly regarded every kind of tolerance toward the Judaizers as a sinful act of participation in their evil deeds (cf. also 2 John 7-11) (don't know were this reference is from)- this is obviously over the top- Paul did not tell Peter to kill the Judaizers so he must have had a little "tolerance" for them...

In the infamous words of Sylvester Stallone: "They drew first blood- not me" ha

Dave said...


I think you are inserting your definition of tolerance into Phil's comment, but that isn't really the right way to handle it. While Paul did not advocate the unright killing of the Judiazers, he did state plainly that they were under the curse of God (1:6-9) and wished that they would go ahead and emasculate themselves (5:12). It seems to me that most moderns (and post-moderns) wouldn't consider this stance very tolerant.

It seems that, although Phil tried to restate his point, many are missing its central thrust: he opposed any kind of cooperation that obscures essential gospel differences. Many of the counter statements to his point have related to things irrelevant to his point (e.g., personal or individual business dealings, personal civic responsibilities). It seems that the real issue is whether people who hold fundamentally opposed beliefs about the gospel can act as brothers in order to counter cultural decay. I believe that Phil (and Mr. Camp) are correct to point out that the gospel was of paramount importance to Paul and could not be compromised for anything.

aquascum said...

In the interest of a shorter post :-) here's a link which points out in devastating fashion some of the fallacies in the typical anti-co-belligerence literature.


One brief comment on Jacob Hantla's post. Jacob, I agree that Roman Catholicism is contrary to the gospel. But this would only be relevant if co-belligerence were the same thing as "Roman Catholicism," which it's not.

The idea behind the critique of co-belligerence seems to be: "cooperating with Roman Catholics for the purpose of attaining goal X is illegitimate, because it involves a tacit acceptance of their version of the gospel message." Then you fill in X with "passing laws."

The problem with this critique is that you can fill in X with *any number* of legitimate, fairly mundane activities, such that the consequence of illegitimacy *obviously* doesn't follow. (The gospel isn't compromised when I teach English at a state university with Roman Catholics in my department, nor when I work for my Roman Catholic boss by repairing watches.) But somehow, when you fill in X with "passing laws," you get an illegitimate activity.

The challenge for the anti-co-belligerent crowd is to identify the *principled distinction* between the activity of "passing laws," and these other, seemingly-innocuous, activities (that's why I'm repeatedly raising these latter cases, folks). Why is cooperation verboten in the former case, but not the latter? Why is the gospel at stake in the former, but not the latter? If someone (such as "dave," most recently) is going to claim that the cooperation in one case and not in the other "obscures essential gospel differences," then they're going to have to *argue* for that claim. Otherwise, this whole line of reasoning looks like a huge "does not follow". Is it really wise for Christians to bludgeon other Christians in public with nothing more powerful than a logical fallacy? ;-)

As a final example, think of a Christian who is a full-time policeman. Should he be ashamed of the fact that he cooperates with unbelievers (including Roman Catholics) in *enforcing* the law? Then why should a Christian feel ashamed if he cooperates with unbelievers in *passing* laws? Are they "acting as brothers" in the latter case but not the former? Why think a thing like this?

Dave said...


Two points:
(1) You continue to lump all activity (whether individual or corporate) into this discussion, but the real point raised initially was ecumenical efforts (at least that is what I took Phil's reference to evangelical leaders to mean). By definition, an ecumenical effort establishes a different kind of relationship than your boss and you; it is a religious relationship.

(2) This is why I used the phrase "act as brothers" to pinpoint the problem--it is a betrayal of the gospel to accept as a brother someone who denies the very gospel that makes one a genuine brother. Not only does it betray the gospel, it is contrary to the best interests of the other person (therefore it is not obedient to the command to love your neighbor as yourself).

aquascum said...

Hi dave,

I appreciate your concerns. When you call cultural co-belligerence "ecumenical efforts," your argument trades upon an equivocation. And as is usual with equivocation, when we iron out the ambiguity we end up with either an irrelevant observation or a patent falsehood. We ordinarily think of 'ecumenical efforts' as efforts to merge together, by means of persuasion, previously distinct religious groups, or to collapse previously existing theological distinctions. In this respect, temporarily banding together for the express purpose of *passing laws and appointing judges* hardly seems 'ecumenical,' in the way that, say, dialogues between Lutherans and Roman Catholics on justification *is* ecumenical. Absolutely no distinctive of the gospel is at stake in this activity, as far as I can tell. Theological doctrines are not being discussed and fuzzified, as is the norm in actual ecumenical efforts. Rather, action is being taken on moral, legal, and judicial issues where there is *already* agreement. So again I ask: what, exactly, is the problem?

Again, the phrase "accept as a brother" is ambiguous. For starters, I simply haven't heard this talk from the co-belligerent crowd. In what *meaningful* way are those involved in cultural co-belligerence treating non-Christians as their brothers, at least in a spiritual sense? Now, I suppose that men fighting on the front lines in Iraq, Christian and non-Christian, might consider themselves a "band of brothers," but that's hardly a relevant sense of the word :-)

Once again, it is incumbent upon the opponents of cultural co-belligerence to *state clearly* in what sense that activity is an "ecumenical effort" in which Christians "accept as brothers" (in a spiritual sense?) those who are non-Christians. Merely slinging these phrases around without definition might in the end be covering up a poverty of argument.

Dave said...


It seems that you have pointed out two problems for what I have stated, so I will attempt to answer them both:

(1) Perhaps the clearest illustration that I would offer of an ecumenical effort expressly for the purposes of cultural co-belligerence is ECT. Here we see groups with differing theology forging an agreement that: (a) obscures those differences; and (b) tries to establish a broad common ground for acceptance of one another as fellow believers. This seems to fit the bill of ecumenical in the sense that I have understood that term and is a demonstration of precisely the problem about which I am concerned. In order to minimize the doctrinal differences between the two "theologies" (Catholic and evangelical) something is surrendered (sola fide).

(2)It seems that you have misunderstood my point with regard to who is a brother or not (or perhaps I am misunderstanding you). It looks as if you and I may differ on the definition of a "non Christian" (to use your term). I guess I was mistaken to assume that it was obvious that the Catholic "gospel" is a false gospel and therefore those who embrace it are not genuine brothers in Christ. It seems as if you think I was referring to some form of pagan (if that is what you mean by non-Christian), but I was referring to those "Christians" that teach a false gospel--it is biblical wrong to accept them as brothers.

I believe that it is completely biblical to sound the alarm about the danger of denying or minimizing the true gospel of Jesus Christ in any way. That is exactly where Phil's original post drew its impetus--Paul's confrontation with Peter over the hypocrisy of actions which deny the truth of the gospel. To form alliances "as brothers in Christ" (mutually accepting Christians) with those who deny sola fide (or any essential doctrine) is also hypocrisy.

Besides being misguided in terms of the biblical mission of the church, it also confuses the very distinctive which sets the true church apart from false religion (whether labeled Christian or not).

SoccerReformer said...

As a former Congressional staffer perhaps the most amusing thing about the tendency of some evangelical churches to make political activism a priority, is their notion that they are getting somewhere with it.

The political powers in the Republican party recognize the value of social conservatives when it comes to fundraising, volunteer work and, most importantly, votes in elections.

When it comes to rewarding all of that assistance, evangelicals get a colorful array of platform languages, catch-phrase filled speeches and meaningless Congressional resolutions. Even in the case of truly impacting decisons such as federal judges and particularly Supreme Court justices, we social conservatives have accomplished very little.

When you hear the comments the party powers make behind closed doors about "those people," you can get a real sense of just how misplaced those political activist efforts are when it comes to the work of the church.

pondscum said...


Your blog name inspired me to come up with a funny, disgusting blog-name for myself!

Just so I understand what you're saying here about the co-belligerence idea:

You're saying that those who oppose evangelical co-belligerence (let's call it ECB) appear to be arbitrary in their condemnation since, while they would condemn an evangelical's working with a RCC to pass good moral legislation, they would not condemn him for working with a RCC in other innocuous "good" causes (say, making a profit via business deals, engaging in the exchange of goods and services in order to provide for one's family, etc). In other words, the anti-ECB hasn't provided any *principled* distinction between:
[1] Joe Reformed's working with Harry Catholic on Monday to petition the other residents of their common apt building to demand, in mass, that the slumlord start fixing the backed up plumbing of their rented quarters that he's responsible to maintain, and

[2] Joe Reformed's working with Harry Catholic on Tuesday to petition the other residents of their common apt building to demand, in mass, that their elected representatives oppose pending legislation to provide public funding for abortion,

such that [1] would be laudable and permissible and [2] would condemnable and impermissible for the true believer.

Is that roughly what you're saying? And if so, does *anyone* want to take a stab at what that *principle* is?

Sled Dog said...

Seems to me the reason for so much 'splainin on this post is because the premise wasn't that clear to begin with. I don't think anyone here is saying we ought to join up with Catholics, Mormons, etc. for religious purposes. At this point, everyone is talking around one another, off the main point...if there was a main point.

aquascum said...

Well, I stupidly forgot to turn on "display email address" in my Blogger profile. Anyway, it's turned on now, in case anyone wants to contact me. It will just take awhile for emails to reach Sydney, Australia ;-)

In response to dave's post, I just have a few comments.

First, I completely agree with you that ECT is a disaster. I have no interest whatsoever in forming alliances with Roman Catholics and others, if these alliances involve "acceptance of one another as fellow believers." However, I see no need for an "ECT" statement in order to justify co-belligerence. As far as I can tell, the best arguments for co-belligerence have little if anything to do whether the co-belligerents have any soteriology in common.

I share Al Mohler's view of ECT, as it relates to co-belligerence:

I did not sign the statement. I could not in conscience sign the statement. At the most basic level, I am in full agreement with the critics of the statement who have registered serious theological concerns about the document and its interpretation.

Those on either side of the ECT project who express surprise at this verdict should take note to distinguish those who reject the statement for both its call for co-belligerence and its theological content beyond a foundation for co-belligerence, and those who reject the statement for the latter, while joining in the former, at least in spirit.


In other words, ECT statements are irrelevant to co-belligerence. However, I think you are rightly concerned about attempts "to minimize the doctrinal differences between the two 'theologies' (Catholic and evangelical)." I share this concern, and seek no minimization whatsoever. I would join you (and Mohler) in criticizing those co-belligerents who *do* seek such minimization, as I think it is misguided.

Second, I emphatically agree with you that it is "obvious that the Catholic 'gospel' is a false gospel and therefore those who embrace it are not genuine brothers in Christ." I'm not sure what I said that made you think otherwise. From the beginning, I have used "Roman Catholics" as the prime examples of *unbelievers* in most of my illustrations. I wanted to make that point clear at the outset, but I guess I failed. Consider this a clarification :-)

Third, I agree with you that "To form alliances 'as brothers in Christ' (mutually accepting Christians) with those who deny sola fide (or any essential doctrine) is also hypocrisy." But I'm not sure who or what you're critiquing here (if just ECT, then all is well; I reject ECT). I have no interest in forming alliances with unbelievers (such as Roman Catholics) in which I characterize them as "brothers in Christ". But, again, I don't think one needs to do this for co-belligerency.

Finally, you speak of activity which is "misguided in terms of the biblical mission of the church." If you're speaking of co-belligerence here, then I simply disagree. Not because I think that co-belligerence *is* the biblical mission of the church (it's not; *that's* gospel ministry), but because I don't see co-belligerence as something *the church* (as the church) is called to do. Nevertheless, I see nothing impermissible in individual Christians working for the passing of laws, etc., and even cooperating with unbelievers (such as Roman Catholics) for the sake of this change.

Here I return to an earlier example. If it's OK for a Christian (policeman) to cooperate with unbelivers (even Roman Catholics) in seeking to *enforce* the law, then why is it not OK for a Christian to cooperate with unbelievers in seeking to *pass laws*? What makes the former relationship "non-ecumenical" but the latter relationship "ecumenical"? Why is the gospel preserved in the former relationship, but it's being abandoned or 'minimized' in the latter relationship? Unless someone can really give an argument here, the judgement against co-belligerence looks totally arbitrary.

aquascum said...

To reformedsoccerguy, I appreciate the realism of your remarks, and I think those committed to co-belligerence need to hear it. However, I'll just say that any arguments for co-belligerence worth accepting will have little to do with pragmatic results, and have everything to do with principled responsibility.

To pondscum, gee, that's original :-) Seriously, though, you've gotten my basic critique right. I don't see the principled difference between what "Joe Reformed" does on Monday, and what he does on Tuesday, such that one is objectionable but the other is not. But I'm all ears.

I agree that all of the mundane counterexamples I gave do not amount to "ecumenical efforts" and the establishing of a "religious relationship" (to use dave's terminology). But that was the point: why put efforts "to counter cultural decay" into these categories? I can't think of any reason to do this. Or, let me put it this way: if these latter efforts are "religious" (simply because some but not all of the people involved are Christians), then so are the former, and then the critique is worthless, because it condemns all cooperative relationships for any temporary good whatsoever. And that's a bit extreme.

Brad said...

To summarize this in "Average Joe," non-impressive, non-seminary terms:

- If you want to stay completely pure and completely useless to God, isolate yourself from all non-Christians lest you be tainted (hmm... sounds like Catholic priests...)
- If you want to actually accomplish something in this world, work with those whom share your goals but guard the faith.

SoccerReformer said...

Do you really mean to say that "completely pure" equals "completely useless to God" ???

Dave said...


Thanks for the clarifications. Given all that you have said, I am not sure why we seem to be disagreeing with each other.

I attempted to make clear (apparently somewhat ineffectively) that I do not have a problem with individual involvement in these types of endeavors. My point, and I think Phil's original one, relates to organized efforts of Christian leaders and, by implication, organizations.

If all you are referring to is an individual believers activity then you are using the co-belligerence concept differently than I am used to seeing it. Our difference with each other, at this point, would seem to be only over the matter of priorities in life.

If I may just offer one observation about this subject it would be that seldom remain something that is purely individual. Many individuals who adopt some crusade tend to think that the church should embrace it as well. E.g., they aren't content to stand alone in the Right to Life chain, they want their church to sponsor the effort and recruit workers for it. It seems that the line gets blurred pretty quickly.

Again, thanks for the clarifications.

Brad said...

to ReformedSoccerGuy:

yes! unless you are Christ Himself, you will get "dirty" if you step outside of the church walls- then we return to Him to renew/cleanse us.

Brad said...

I wish it weren't so, but well-educated, well-intentioned people have no grasp of the Church's history in America- that America, historically the epicenter of evangelism to the world, would not exist unless Christians (God) founded and maintained it.

With all the pessimism I've read here about how useless Christian political involvement is (i.e. taken for granted by politicians), it's no wonder we're in the position we're in. As long as Christians continue to find a convenient "out" for their sole responsibility to maintain what we've inherited (the most inherently Christian nation in the history of the world, although faltering as people forget this). Somehow, Christians believe the Great Commission supercedes the most fundamental Commandment to love your neighbor. If you love your neighbor, you'll do your part (and then some) in the legislative process to ensure his children won't be snatched out of their home, indoctrinated at school, molested... Don't tell me you're a passionate Christian if you're not concerned enough about the decay in society to oppose it through action. If your neighbor's house is on fire, but you're too busy "spreading the gospel" to save him, I reserve the right to question your heart. Somehow, Christian leaders today think that Christ said to go and make "converts" of all the nations:

Mat 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Mat 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

Can't really be surprised however that Christian leaders, most of whom have in the last 30 years traded their right/responsibility to speak in the political process for tax-exempt contributions by changing their tax status with the feds to 501(c)(3), now say that political speech is not their role...

Dave said...


Could you clarify what you mean by your citation of Matthew 28:19-20? I am missing your point (I hope).

I wonder, also, about your appeal to the second great commandment. Do you really believe that seeking the eternal benefit of someone is less important than their temporal benefit? And shouldn't the greater good of that person have priority over other concerns (while not necessarily excluding them)? Or, to turn it another way, have I really loved my neighbor if I allow the pursuit of civic good to permit confusion on the gospel message (which was the point of the original post)?

One last thought, I wonder how you correlate the views you have expressed with the essential silence on these issues in the NT? There doesn't seem to be much support there for what you are suggesting.

Brad said...

thanks for asking.

the main reason for original response to Pyro was because of his probable political shot at the "religious right"- very possibly he's using religious argument to veil a political criticism. Generally, people in concert with a certain cause politically, would not use terms like "the supposedly all-important moral crusade currently being waged by the religious right." It's his blog...

The point of my citing Mat 28:20 is that we are not called just to convert people but to teach them to observe all things He has commanded. If we say that we are passionate about saving people from hell, but not about saving them from present suffering on Earth, I say we are liars. And the way that we do that in America is to uphold God's Law.

Even if I were to accept the false premise that the NT is silent on political activism (America would not even exist giving us the freedom to discuss this if Christian leaders had not said enough and went to war physically with our oppressor), the entire OT is about the spirituality/politics of Israel. Slavery would still exist in America if Christian Abolitionists had not said enough is enough. Hitler would have taken over the world unless Christian America decided to die for the cause of defeating him.

The story of the Good Samaritan, the command to love God and your neighbor... the way we show that we love God is by loving our neighbor. The NT is replete with the theme that faith without works is dead.

As I alluded to earlier, pre-1950 Christian leaders realized the fallacy of the separation of Church and State as it is understood today. Today's leaders have made a dangerous deal, trading their right/responsibility to speak to their nation spiritually/politically for money- 501(c)(3) filing status precluding them from political speech.

Brad said...

One more thing and I promise I'll be off the thread and/or site...

After listening to Pyro's message over the internet and agreeing with most of it, i think I've honed in on my difference. Pyro is basically warning us of legalism in the Church and society at a time when all hell has broken loose in it- especially in the San Fernando Valley- when the law of our land is streteched and twisted to its limit. it's simply 180 degrees out of phase with reality. If this were the 1950's and people were completely restrained because of strict taboos and Ricky and Lucy are sleeping in separate beds on TV... But we're lucky if people wear clothes today in public....if there was a time for the Law to bring about the awareness of sin, it's now! the only reason i can think of for this (other than an oversight) on his part is a discomfort with the direction of the nation politically...???

Momo said...

I think that to insinuate that Phil's motive in this is that he does not like political/social conservatism is a cheap shot.

Political activism is not the primary goal of the Church in this world. We are not trying to reform earthly kingdoms, we are working for the heavenly kingdom.

As citizens we are to be civically responsible. Vote. Speak out. Run for office. Wonderful.

But as Churches we are to be gospel-oriented. To imply that being gospel-oriented is tantamount to ignoring the second command is patently absurd. There is no more powerful force for change in any society than the gospel. When the abortion crowd repents on its knees before Christ, it will no longer be an abortion crowd. The gospel takes on individuals and transforms their world-view. Political activism does not.

As an individual I am politically active. As a pastor I speak out on moral issues. As a church, we focus on the gospel - it is the best thing for us to do on both a principal and pragmatic level.