I cannot give a thumb up the way Scott Clark did to Kevin DeYoung’s post about the spirituality of the church. As Scott implies, DeYoung’s point is useful for showing that the doctrine was part of the Reformed churches’ toolkit well before the sectional crisis in antebellum America. It was not the product of Presbyterians defending slavery. DeYoung is also helpful on showing that the doctrine protects the jurisdiction of the church from that of the magistrate or king.
the magistrate and the minister exercise jurisdiction over different spheres. The magistrate can only deal with external things. That is, he cannot make laws that demand certain affections or compel the conscience to believe certain things. The minister, on the other hand, has the right to judge inner dispositions and outward obedience, though the minister mainly deals with spiritual things (as his sphere) and only “handles external things for conscience cause.”
The problem comes when, and I’m not happy to put it this way, he quotes Charles Hodge:
Hodge strongly disagreed with Thornwell’s contention that since the church was only to preach the gospel that the church had no right to open her lips against the slave trade (p. 289). “Yes,” says Hodge (who was mostly a moderate when it came to slavery itself), “the Bible gives us no rule for deciding the litigated questions about public improvements, a national bank, or a protective tariff or state rights. But it does give us rules pronouncing about slave-laws, the slave-trade, obedience to magistrates, treason, rebellion, and revolution” (pp. 289-90).
This understanding of the spirituality of the church, then, keeps church and state distinct but allows ministers to pontificate when they read the Bible a certain way. Here is where the matter of the sufficiency of Scripture is crucial to the spirituality doctrine. The point of keeping pastors out of politics wasn’t simply to maintain checks and balances or some kind of differentiation of spheres. It was mainly to limit ministers to expounding the word of God. If the Bible speaks to a particular matter, ministers should speak to it. But where the Bible is silent, ministers should also keep quiet.
Okay, then, clever readers may be wondering, doesn’t the Bible speak to slavery? Well, it does but maybe not in the ways that Hodge or DeYoung or Frederick Douglass would find encouraging. Does anyone want to open the Bible to Exodus 21 and instruct southern slave owners about slave policy and tell the abolitionists to back down?
“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.
Or how about reparations (as Jemar Tisby advocates)? Should 2 Samuel 21 be the church’s standard?
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. 3 And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” 4 The Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “What do you say that I shall do for you?” 5 They said to the king, “The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, 6 let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.” And the king said, “I will give them.”
That sort of puts a point on it.
And how about the John-the-Baptist 30-year diet?
John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)
Don’t even start on the John-the-Baptist line of men’s ware for those offended by the Gillette commercial.
So the spirituality of the church is not simply about distinctions between church power (spiritual) and state power (civil). It is also about the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the way of salvation.
Sometimes Scripture does speak to social and political matters. But because the biblical authors were so distant from ours, following their counsel about monarchy or about executing adulterers may not be what God wants his church circa 2020 to do. In other words, the Bible comes packaged in all sorts of historical circumstances that good interpreters generally know how to render so that women who don’t wear hats to church do not have to meet frequently with session or consistory.
If the Bible is a guide to life, then I guess you can consult it for political hot button issues like abolition and reparations. And if humans have no recourse to wisdom about daily living, including social and economic policies, then some Christians may think the Bible is the only source of answers. But if the Bible is an account of how God reconciled sinners to himself and how the church ministers that plan of salvation to God’s people, then Christians need to use the best insights from the unregenerate and the redeemed to achieve a modicum of peace and order this side of glory.