I had indicated in my write-up on the PCA’s 49th General Assembly that I wanted to separately address Overture 26, the Overture proposed by Potomac Presbytery opposing political violence. My basic criticisms are twofold: 1) that I think the situation prompting the drafting of the Overture lent itself well to a rediscovery and restatement of the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church, but Overture as written missed to opportunity to do that; and 2) there were more specific issues with how the Overture was written that undercut its potential effectiveness. To make the case for the first point, it is necessary to lay out my understanding of the Spirituality of the Church and that is the purpose of the essay attached to this blog post.
The Spirituality Doctrine of the Church can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith 31.5:
“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.”
The doctrine has at times been used historically to push a quietist agenda to preempt and prohibit the church from speaking on hot political issues such as slavery or the Civil Rights movement, but this these things have been a misuse. Properly understood, the Spirituality Doctrine means that the Church can only speak as far as Scripture itself speaks. Thus, the Church can speak to the moral aspects of contemporary issues, but it would be beyond the authority of the Church to speak to specific proposals for resolving political disputes. The Spirituality Doctrine is important for the Church in keeping its mission focus and protecting its institutional integrity amidst a politicized environment. This was important during the Civil War, but the positive and negative lessons from that experience have tremendous significance for us today, as we navigate a similarly politicized environment. The attached essay lays out in greater detail was the doctrine is and what this means for us today.