By the 1830s, the Church of Scotland was in the midst of a true evangelical revival. Yet with the revival came conflict. Increasingly, the State transgressed into the sphere of the established Church. Its interference called into question the very spiritual independence of the institution that John Knox and others had helped consolidate under Christ’s ultimate authority.
Thomas Chalmers, the premier Scottish preacher of the day, threw his full weight on the side of the evangelicals. In temporal matters, the Church was to be subject to the State. But not one inch of ground should be given on matters spiritual. Christ is Head of the Church, and His law is higher than the law of the land. His servants must at the end of the day obey God rather than man.
In Chalmers’ Memoirs, we read the following words about the dire consequences for compromise. Speaking of the State’s intrusion in spiritual things, he writes, “Why, this would be lording it over us with a vengeance! It would be making us swallow the whole principle; and the Church of Scotland, bereft of all moral weight, might henceforth be cast a useless and degraded thing into the bottom of the sea” (Memoirs 4:139). In short, pragmatism leads to cultural irrelevance.
Though writing in a very different context, his words ring true today. If the Church should indulge in pragmatism, then it not only breaks allegiance to Christ, but so debases itself as to be contemptible even to the wicked. “If the salt loses its saltiness, how shall it be made flavorful? Is it then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trampled under men’s feet.”