Two Kingdom Tuesday: Machen Was All Wet

The resolution endorsing the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act was introduced to the Presbytery of New Brunswick at the very end of the meting on April 13, 1926. The attendance, which had been large during the early part of the session, had dwindled until only a very few persons were present – y estimate would be ten or twelve, exclusive of the officers, though I believe someone else estimates the number at about five. Under these conditions, the resolution was put to a viva voce vote. I voted “No”; but I did not speak to the motion or in any way ask that my vote should be recorded. . . .

It is a misrepresentation to say that by this vote I expressed any opinion on the merits of the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act – and still less on the general question of Prohibition. On the contrary, my vote was directed against a policy which places the church in its corporate capacity, as distinguished from the activities of its members, on record with regard to such political questions. And I also thought it improper for so small a group of men as were then in attendance to attempt to express the attitude of a court of the church with regard to such an important question. . . .

Such are the facts about my vote. I desire now to say one or two things about my attitude regarding the issues involved.

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 power of civil government is to be used in this battle, there may be different 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 accomplish 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 has 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.

Moreover, the church, I hold, ought to refrain from entering, in its corporate capacity, into the political field. Chapter XXXI, Article iv, of the Confession of Faith reads as follows:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

This section, I think, established a very great principle which was violated by the Presbyter of New Brunswick. . . .

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 soul the sweet and gracious influences of the gospel. Important indeed are the function 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. (J. Gresham Machen, “Statement on the Eighteenth Amendment”)

10 thoughts on “Two Kingdom Tuesday: Machen Was All Wet

  1. Court martials and administrative proceedings await military chaplains from NAPARC denominations who preach that homosexuality is wickedness, sin, transgression and the fruits of depravity. It’s a matter of time without resistance, Machen or otherwise. Count on it.


  2. Mr. Veitch, wouldn’t the same happen if they preached that it was a sin to ordain women? So really, how much preaching of the whole counsel of God goes on when you have to worry about a superior officer with whom you are not in fellowship?


  3. “Important indeed are the function 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.”

    This is the point where I think anti-2kers fail to understand the 2K position. That is, the difference between the Church in its corporate capacity and the duties of its members individually living out their vocations on earth.


  4. This raises the thorny issue of whether Christians can, in good conscience, be involved with the chaplaincy under any circumstances. Can a minister of God preach the whole counsel of Scripture while supporting the agenda of the government? I have serious doubts as to whether military chaplaincy is a biblical concept.


  5. @John – Thank you for saying that. I was beginning to think I was alone among Presbyterians in questioning why we have military chaplains at all. I can’t imagine how a chaplain could avoid compromising his faith when he is in the employ of the military!


  6. I could not in good conscience be a chaplain.

    There was a similar discussion over at Creed Code Cult and that’s basically where I’m at. Not only the chaplaincy…for me it was even being in the military. I had to get out and I did as quickly as I could.

    The post over at CCC was I believe….Looking for a few gay men. Between that site and this one, the titles keep making me burst out laughing. My wife can almost tell which sites I’m at if I get the giggles.

    John A.


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