Welcome To the Machine

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Every Thought Captive, Volume 5, Issue 1

It may be a sign that we are in a technological age that we tend to equate technology with machines, but technology is not just about machines. Technology includes in its range of meaning the entire idea of techniques. Human technology need not refer to mechanical pacemakers, but instead can refer to the systems by which we bring about changes in humans. Both a ten-ton bottle-capping machine and an insightful question are tools. One keeps a bottle of soda from spilling and going flat on the way to market; the other, one hopes, provides insights toward spiritual growth. The difficulty is when we begin to see our friends, families and our churches as an assembly line of bottles, in need of the right cap.

Much of the wise criticism that has been made against the church over the last ten to twenty years falls into one of two jeremiads. Sometimes we chasten the church for succumbing to that spirit of the age that we call the therapeutic revolution. Other times we chasten the church for bedding down a different spirit of the age that we call the managerial revolution. In the former the church exists to soothe the tender spirits of the congregants, to keep the pop from losing its fizz, with a dose of pop-psychology. In the latter the spiritual CEO organizes the troops and motivates them until they become an efficient ministry, what else? Machine. These two models for the church share two things in common. First, they are utterly unbiblical. Second, they are both technologically minded. They see the church, and its members, as products to be manipulated to bring about a desired end.

The Bible never describes the church in these technological terms. Never is the church called that which guides the soul toward health, nor that which provides the greatest efficiency for the building of the kingdom. The Bible has all sort of analogies for the church, none of them technological. Instead each of them is organic. The church is not a set of gears and levers, a clockwork orange. Rather it is a set of limbs and appendages, or as Paul describes it in I Corinthians, a body. Of course that might not steer us completely clear of our problem. We’re so technological that we have come even to think of God’s great gift of our own bodies as yet another machine to be tweaked to maximize efficiency. We see our parts as parts, and miss the holiness of the whole.

Paul has another image for us, however, that is hard to reduce to something made down at the machine shop. Paul says that we are, the church as a whole, bride of Christ. Brides are not given to technology. I’m not saying that tools are a man thing, and ladies should stand clear. Rather I’m saying that when we think bride, we necessarily think in organic and not in machine terms. No one says as the bride walks the aisle, “Mercy, look at the torque she’s able to handle with her medial collateral ligaments.” No one says to the bride, “You know, that veil of yours is not ergonomically designed for the giving of a kiss. Why not leave it off?” No one brings a stopwatch to measure the bride’s time in getting up the aisle. A bride is not meant to be efficient, but to be beautiful.

We will not, however, ever read a church bulletin that reads, “First Community Church By the Freeway’s purpose is to look really, really nice for Jesus.” Or, “Our first priority here at Our Lady of the Perpetual Committee Non-Denominational International Family Center is to clean ourselves up good for the wedding day.” That, however, is the health and the business of the church. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be proclaiming the good news, or that we must cease and desist from visiting the sick. I’m not saying we can never have a church picnic for the sake of fellowship, or never deliver turkeys to the poor. Instead we do these things, all that we do, in order to make us more beautiful as a bride. We are not a machine that needs to be honed, but a bride that needs to be beautified. That’s what the Groom has not only called us to do, but what He is doing in us.

That’s not all though. Brides do far more, though never less, than look their best. We are indeed a trophy to our Lord, but we are more. Brides have other callings as well, the first of which is to love and to honor the Groom. The problem with machines is that they lack heart, something the church must cultivate. We are to grow in our love of Christ, to love Him more daily not with our gears and our levers, but with our hearts and souls, minds and strengths. That’s why we study Him and His Word, why we meet Him at His table. That is why our preachers preach His glory, to fill our hearts with sincere affections.

That we are a bride is a given. We were made for such. And so when we take a technological approach to our calling, we turn our Groom into a machine. He is not a machine. He is not a tool by which, if we punch in the right code, we can have happy, successful, well-ordered lives. He is not a means, which is all tools are to some other end. Instead our Groom is the end. He is our delight and our joy, not because of what He has done, what He now does, or because of what He will do, but because of what He is.

He will succeed. He will, because our Groom is altogether sovereign in authority and in power, get us to see what He has already told us, that we are His spotless bride. And when we see it, maybe then we will be spotless, besmirched with neither grease, nor sin.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.