Machen on the Church

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.

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