One of the interesting conversations going on in blogosphere is over a issue that I've spent a great deal of time, pastorally and academicially--"the spirituality of the church." I think this is an important conversation, because it gets to all sorts of very important issues for Presbyterians: the "power" or "authority" of the church; the freedom of the conscience; the relationship between "church" and "state"; etc.
That being said, it does strike me that in some quarters, there is a tendency to a "spirituality" doctrine that is far beyond what is necessary to protect the church's spiritual nature as well as beyond what Presbyterian forefathers believed. This view seems to be (my summary) that the church, especially in its ministerial and declarative functions, has no authority or power granted to it by the resurrected and ascended Christ to teach on moral matters that may be issues under consideration in the broader public realm. This would be evidenced in comments that the church should not preach or teach on issues related to poverty, systemic injustice, or racism because those are "public" issues.
[The more telling comment is that we shouldn't preach or teach on these issues because these were the concerns of the "Social Gospel," Presbyterian progressives in the old PCUS, or political liberals of the 1950s and 1960s. Such reminds me of a comment by L. Nelson Bell, founder of the Southern Presbyterian Journal, who once observed, “We resent this further intrusion of Church leaders into the realm of international polices for three reasons. First, they are not competent in that particular field. Second, they have no right to use the prestige of the Church in this matter. Third, we think their advice is dead wrong.” For Bell, the point was really the issue: he simply believed that progressive leaders were “dead wrong." But instead of making the case, leaders like Bell would simply appeal to the "spirituality of the church."]
I think this position is far beyond what 19th century southern Presbyterian leaders, for example, would have recognized. Thornwell and Dabney, among others, commonly made the distinction between taking a particular policy position or advocating a particular political solution as "the church" on the one hand and instructing members on the moral duties required of them as individual Christian citizens on the other. That is why you can find sermons from Thornwell on the "duties of masters and slaves" or from Dabney on "temperance"; both were moral issues that were also political issues and as such required the pulpit to open God's Word on those topics.
The issues under consideration today--poverty, racial and social injustice, AIDS, peace, women's roles in church and society--are both difficult and challenging issues that individual Christians face. While the spiritual nature of the church would prohibit binding the consciences of God's people on particular policies or approaches to deal with these issues, it does not prohibit a ministry of God's Word to deal with the moral requirements involved with them. And while we would not want to have a ministry that demands that Christians support debt relief for Africa, we do want a ministry that raises the point of how God cares (and by extension, how God's people must care) for the poor and forsaken in every culture, American or African.
By overextending the logic of the spiritual nature of the church, perhaps our ministers might fail to declare "the whole counsel of God," which cares not only for the glorious doctrines of our faith but also cares for the grim and desititute of our world--both of which are Gospel concerns. These are things concerning which ministerial power should declare God's Word.