Celebrating New Year’s Day is always mixed with sobriety (talk about paradoxes) thanks to January 1 being the anniversary of J. Gresham Machen’s death (1937). He died of pneumonia at 7:30 Central Standard Time in a Roman Catholic hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota.
To honor the man, here is an excerpt from his defense of his vote against a motion before the Presbytery of New Brunswick to support Prohibition (which by the way bears on this matter of the Bible speaking to all of life and the flip side of Christian liberty):
In the first place, no one has a greater horror of the evils of drunkenness than I or a greater detestation of any corrupt traffic which has sought to make profit out of this terrible sin. It is clearly the duty of the church to combat this evil.
With regard to the exact form, however, in which the poser of civil government is to be used in this battle, there may be difference of opinion. Zeal for temperance, for example, would hardly justify an order that all drunkards should be summarily butchered. The end in that case would not justify the means. Some men hold that the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act are not a wise method of dealing with the problem of intemperance, and that indeed those measures, in the effort to commplish moral good, are really causing moral harm. I am not expressing any opinion on this question now, and did not do so by my vote in the Presbytery of New Brunswick. But I do maintain that those who hold the view that I have just mentioned have a perfect right to their opinion, so far as the law of our church is concerned, and should not be coerced in any way by ecclesiastical authority. The church as a right to exercise discipline where authority for condemnation of an act can be found in Scripture, but it has no such right in other cases. And certainly Scripture authority cannot be found in the particular matter of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act . . .
In making of itself, moreover, in so many instances primarily an agency of law enforcement, and thus engaging in the duties of the police, the church, I am constrained to think, is in danger of losing sight of its proper function, which is that of bringing to bear upon human souls the sweet and gracious influences of the gospel. Important indeed are the functions of the police, and members of the church, in their capacity as citizens, should aid by every proper means within their power in securing the discharge of those functions. But the duty of the church in its corporate capacity is of quite a different nature. (“Statement on the Eighteenth Amendment,” J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 394-95).