The late Robert D. Knudsen was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; he was one of my professors when I was in seminary. In the February 1962 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian, Dr. Knudsen wrote the following still-timely editorial, “Let the Church be the Church”:
Those who are for church union at any price tell us over and over again that the church would be so much more powerful and effective in its struggle against evil if it were only united. If all the churches were true churches, that might indeed be the case; but when we look at what the church unionists are actually doing, it seems that their unions have only enabled them to produce more grandiose pronouncements and schemes about moral and social questions, such as peace and race relations.
To be sure, there is nothing to stop Christians from voluntarily organizing to discuss and to act on social issues. The church should even encourage them to do so.
The church itself steps out of bounds, however, when it tries to throw its weight around socially and politically. It was not intended to do so, and it is not built to act like a social or a political pressure group. Whenever it tries to do what its Lord never intended it to do, it is neither effective nor right.
To the church under its Head, Jesus Christ, has been given the task of preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, and having oversight of the people of God. True enough, the preaching of the Word has a bearing on social questions. The Bible teachers, for instance, that all people are of one blood. Unlike that of a social or political group, however, the influence of the church on society is indirect. Within this century this truth became very largely ignored in our country. The result was the “social gospel.” Many churches became little more than social clubs with a religious flavour, thus ceasing to be churches in the true sense at all.
We must let the church be the church. As the pillar and ground of the truth, it must uphold and faithfully preach the Word. In its life it must be joined to Christ and be nourished by feeding on him. Having the keys of the kingdom, it must exercise discipline to maintain the purity of the Lord’s body.
The church must take care that it not be led astray in a mistaken search for greatness and power. It will never make up in organizational unity what it lacks in faithfulness to the Word of God, in devotional fervor, and in missionary daring.
Let the church be the church!