Those words were penned in Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, by D.G. Hart and John Muether. In the early 1940s, there were those in the OPC who feared that the denomination would not be socially involved enough, and they were seeking to bring about a committee to make sure they didn’t drop the social-agenda ball.
Hart and Muether had already shown that the identity of the OPC never was to have a politically-active mindset. In fact, members of the OPC had fought against it from the beginning of the denomination’s history.
Not that they were always silent. They did send letters to like-minded churches in South Africa with concerns about apartheid long before it became popular to bring up the topic in the 1980s. But the OPC has never been one to jump on the political and social bandwagons that we see so many churches doing today.
And with good reason. Much of the OPC adopts the idea of “sphere sovereignty” which was developed by Abraham Kuyper. According to Hart and Muether, “sphere sovereignty asserts that God exercises his sovereign lordship over all spheres of life.”
“There is not one square inch of the entire creation,” Kuyper wrote, “about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!”
Given that, every sphere of life has its own sphere of control. The government should only act in areas that deal with governing, and not faith. The church should only act in the areas that it has control over, namely the preaching of God’s word, the sacraments, and discipline. The family is only to act on the level it has been given within the family.
So it is not the role of the church to be involved in politics, or social causes. Individual members of the church may be involved in politics and social causes, but the church itself must not be. It has a greater calling.
This is one of the reasons I believe that so many in our day are off base in trying to turn the church into an agent of social change. It’s not the church’s responsibility to bring about social change and every time the church sets out to become an agent of social change, the society the church seeks to change, changes the church.
That is why I opened with the quote I did above. When I read that, knowing the influence that the almost defunct and apostate PC(USA) has today, it made me laugh. The man who was attempting to get the OPC to be involved with social causes, was defeated in his attempt in 1941. Since that time, the OPC has pressed on faithfully in its calling to be the church God intended it to be.
Yet, this problem of church leaders who want to change culture still run rabid among those who are reformed. The lesson of the PC(USA) is lost on them. The lesson is very simple for the church: when we leave the sphere God has given us to be good stewards of, and use our sphere wrongly, then we will be given over to those we seek to change.
This is because we are not using the power we have been given. The only power we have been given is the preaching of the word of God. If we want to see real change in the culture, then we must resort to the means God has given us. That is preaching.
The problem with those who reject preaching God’s word is that they do not believe in God’s word. They are functional humanists, thinking that if change comes about, we must do it.
But we don’t see this in the early church. The church that turned the world “upside down” was not seeking to change legislation in Rome (Acts 17:6). They were doing what the church is called to do, preaching and making disciples among the nations. Through their faithfulness to their calling, the culture would change. But that was a result of the gospel, and brought about by the Spirit of God. As the church, we don’t have that ability to change the culture. Only God can do that, and He does so only when we are faithful to do what He has called us to do.