I have already wondered where the PCA’s corporate confession of the sin of racism will lead. Sean Lucas’ article on the spirituality of the church in the freshly e-minted theological journal, Reformed Faith and Practice, makes me wonder more.
One of the takeaways of Lucas’ article is the fair point that Southern Presbyterian ministers and assemblies used the spirituality of the church to avoid speaking out about Jim Crow or even to defend white supremacy. Lucas makes that point stick when he observes the way that Presbyterians ignored the spirituality of the church when it came to alcohol or evolution:
And southern Presbyterians had a difficult time knowing where the line was between spiritual and secular realms. One example of this was the church’s long-standing support and advocacy of abstinence from alcohol. From 1862 on, the southern Presbyterian General Assembly repeatedly advocated teetotalism, reprobated the sale of beverage alcohol, and urged people to “use all legitimate means for its banishment from the land.” Finally, in 1914, as the political process began that would produce the Volstead Act, the General Assembly declared, “We are in hearty favor of National Constitutional Prohibition, and will do all properly within our power to secure the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution forever prohibiting the sale, manufacture for sale, transportation for sale, importation for sale, and exportation for sale of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes in the United States.” Notably, there was no hue and cry in the Presbyterian papers by conservatives about this action as a violation of the spiritual mission of the church.
Another example of blurring the lines between the so-called spiritual and secular realms occurred in the 1920s over the teaching of evolution in the public schools. In North Carolina, the key leaders who opposed evolution both in the public schools and at the University of North Carolina were Presbyterian ministers, Albert Sidney Johnson and William P. McCorkle. In 1925, the Synod of North Carolina adopted resolutions that called for “a closer supervision to prevent teaching anything [in the public schools]…[that contradicted] Christian truths as revealed in the Word of God.” They also “demanded the removal of teachers found guilty of teaching evolution ‘as a fact.’” Again, beyond the rightness or wrongness of the action, the main point here is that the spirituality of the church doctrine did not prevent these Presbyterians from intermeddling in civil affairs outside the “spiritual” realm of the church.
But does inconsistency really invalidate the principle? Political conservatives argue for U.S. independence in foreign affairs and then turn around and support a big military and wars of intervention in the Middle East. So we forget the policy and just send more troops to Syria? Or do you perhaps think about reaffirming the wisdom of the policy in the face of the inconsistency and ask for practice to reflect doctrine?
The problem is that Lucas is not merely calling for the PCA to be consistent. He wants the church to bring transformational grace to the world:
. . . the way forward for all of us will be our common commitment to what the church as church should be and should be doing. Central to that life together will be the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and prayer. And as we use these effectual means of our salvation, what we will find is that the grace that comes to us through them will transform us. It will drive us out into our world to share the Good News of Jesus, but also to live that transforming Gospel in tangible ways, as we love justice and mercy, as we extend ourselves in risky ways into the lives of our neighbors. This Gospel will not leave us alone and cannot leave us the same. After all, King Jesus is making his world new now through you and me—his grace transforms everything.
That sounds pretty good, as if the world will be better when we stop erecting boundaries that cut “off the ‘spiritual’ from the rest of life.” But surely, Lucas recognizes the value of making distinctions between the civil and ecclesiastical realms. I mean, would he want the PCA to affirm a motion that called for the United States to make Christianity the official religion? Or would he want the PCA to endorse a roster of political candidates — Clinton over Trump? Or how about the PCA being salt and light with the State Department and opening diplomatic talks with North Korea? Does the ministry of the word, administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or church discipline give the PCA leverage to apply its spiritual insights to the secular and temporal affairs of U.S. politics? Why stop with national borders? Why not Europe? Why not the world? I can’t believe Lucas favors that kind of mission creep. But from the Baylys in the Rust Belt to Tim Keller in NYC, many in the PCA want the communion to be transformational. Is race really the way to do this?
This is an odd development since the point of the spirituality of the church seems evident to many who are not even Machen groupies. Paul Helm once again contrasts favorably two-kingdom theology to the medieval one-kingdom approach among those nostalgic for Christendom:
The current focus on the Two Kingdoms has been on secular society and the fact that it is distinct from the church. That’s freedom, we rightly think, to be free from such things as the obligation to transform culture in the name of Christ. But actually it is only one side of freedom. Christian freedom has not only to do what we are commanded to do or to abstain from doing by the government of the day, but also from what some church or sect, or social group or cultural mood, may try to require of us, or do require of us, that would be sinful. Not permitted by the Word of God, but forbidden by it.
Meanwhile, Carl Trueman comes out for the Benedict Option precisely because of the inherent problems of ecclesiastical overreach:
Maybe the Benedict Option and my own proposed Calvary Option are really two ways of saying the same thing—that the church needs to be the church and Christians need first and foremost to be Christians before they engage the civic sphere. Maybe our current problem is therefore not that society is secularizing but rather the opposite—that the American church is finally being forced to desecularize. This will be painful. It will involve hard choices. It will involve increasingly obvious differences between the church and the world.
I doubt either Helm or Trueman would disapprove of efforts to acknowledge the racism that sometimes lurked among the proponents of the spirituality of the church. But does that acknowledgment necessarily involve abandoning a distinction between the kingdom of grace and the civil kingdom, between grace and the world, between redemption and external justice?
Why you can’t apologize for racism (in other ways) and continue to support the spirituality of the church is beyond me.
47 thoughts on “What’s To Prevent the Nationality of the Church?”
Lucas needs to come hang out over here where we yell about public schools and prohibition too.
And I was thinking the same thing about foreign policy. Just because we had some stupid interventions in the past doesn’t justify the next intervention.
“Why not the world?” We’ve already been there. At the PCA’s 5th GA in 1977, amid protests a personal resolution was passed asking then President Carter to maintain a US military presence in South Korea. It was argued that the resolution fit within the WCF under “extraordinary” situations justifying appeals to the government.
Carl Truman—What we face is not a struggle within a culture but, strictly speaking, a clash of alternative cultures.
mcmark—But as long as you keep saying “we” and “the church”, you will still be assuming one (more universal and secular) culture, even if it’s the “one first kingdom” that the Reformed and the papists supposedly have in common with the pagans to kill for in order to protect the “one second kingdom” Both kingdoms are universal, both kingdoms need each other. . In some “natural” realm, supposedly the solution for diaspora is a theory of two “universal kingdoms”
Carl Truman—-“Anti-political politics,” as Havel dubbed it, was in a sense the most powerful and humane form of political action in the Eastern Bloc.
mcmark—Very much like the New England puritans, the retreat is to be temporary until the present losers have the cultural resources to establish dominion in future cultures. But unlike in New England, this time the papists are to be included in the “catholic” alliance against “sectarians”.
Carl Truman—-The Benedict option presents a move to new and more potent forms of democratic political resistance….The American church is finally being forced to desecularize.
mcmark—Nothing particularly Christian about it,but still somehow it’s transformationist in a “non-secular” direction?
Was Machen a “loser” when he left Princeton? Or did continuing the controversy allow Machen to build a new “old school”?
Paul Zahl—“Traditionally called odium theologicum, it’s the Latin word “theological anger”, and it not only kills our witness, but it kills its protagonists. I’m only one person but it killed me…..everything that I ultimately held dear, was basically profoundly affected by a kind of theological anger that has the blessing of righteousness, but it is cancer to the individual human being. And so I have felt the only way forward is to bury that body and go back to the things that we know. And what do we know? Judgment kills… Grace makes alive. I would like to be able to end my little time as a Christian, focused on that, rather than on ideological, massive, inner emotional, hurtful catharsis.
I have to wonder why Carl didn’t stay in the UK and try to fix their post-Xian culture. Was he lured by better dentistry and larger cars? Summertime temperatures above 70?
markmcculley says: And what do we know? Judgment kills… Grace always makes alive.
Mark –suggestion from other post : familiarize yourself with trustworthy authors you regard as especially influential and trustworthy
Learn to judge with righteous judgment; if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged, but when we are judged (chastened purified), we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we will not be condemned along with the world; those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines
I’m still trying to understand the principle of the spirituality of the church. Corrections welcomed.
Hypothetical: If someone in the congregation openly/vocally supports slavery, according to the book of church order, must or mustn’t they come under church discipline? Replace slavery with abortion. Now replace it with homosexual marriage.
Let’s say this same someone doesn’t openly or vocally support these things, but shares with one of the elders or deacons that they voted to overturn Prop 8. Should they come under church discipline?
In other words, I’m having a difficult time figuring out where the line is such that once it’s crossed, it’s considered overreach. No challenge here. I’m a layman trying to wrap my mind around these things. In the PCA.
cw, ben op with a transatlantic chaser.
Miles, you may have trouble figuring out the line because your examples are so broad and vague. I don’t know of any spirituality of the church session that would bring discipline against a believer just for having certain vague, abstract, views. If a person advocated a vague view, in what context, with what intention?
Lots of questions follow, must more having to do with pastoral concerns than with church or magistrate authority.
Why is it hard to understand that the church should not endorse civil policy? Why especially is it hard to see that the church should not expect of a secular government the execution of Christian norms?
Consider abortion – I could imagine that one could believe that attempts to criminalize abortion would do little to reduce the rate of abortion, would lead to greater governmental intrusiveness, and create a backlash against progress being made reducing the rate of abortion. Thus one should vote pro-choice and perhaps donate to advocacy groups that work to keep abortion “legal, safe, and rare”. Now that person could be totally, absolutely, horribly wrong regarding the politics of abortion, but that is not the proper purview of the church. That person should not face discipline by his session.
Now if that person instead publicly stated that he believed that abortion was a positive good – that women who can’t afford to have a child *should* have an abortion, paid for an abortion, or was a doctor who performed abortions, then I think the session would have a duty to intervene.
I think the same could be said of ssm. Following Misty Irons (in the PCA now), one might believe that gay people should have access to civil unions in order to ameliorate the worst effects of the so-called gay lifestyle. One might be mistaken about such a view, but the political question is not addressed by scripture, so it is not the purview of the session. Now if the advocate where to enter into gay marriage, bless a gay civil union, or claim that gay sex is not sinful, then the session would have the responsibility to act.
Another example might be sabbath keeping. This is a creational ordinance that applies to God’s elect and strangers inner midst, so one might think believers have a duty to maintain blue laws. Alternatively, one might recognize the spirituality of the church and note that the state should not enforce sabbath keeping. A session should not discipline a member for voting against Blue laws, but they would have the duty to discipline a member who did not keep the sabbath himself.
I’m just a PCA layman as well, but I think this gets at the distinction for 2k.
Sorry for my vagueness. sdb answered my question.
“Why is it hard to understand that the church should not endorse civil policy?”
I don’t recall having said that the church should.
Okay, more questions: the Bible isn’t silent on the sanctity of life, the imago dei. Wouldn’t the very advocacy of abortion run counter to this doctrine? The Bible doesn’t say “Vote against the right to have an abortion” but it implicitly states that abortion, by its very nature is wrong. The same goes for SSM. The Bible does not say “Gays shouldn’t marry” but doesn’t it say that implicitly?
Lest anyone else think I’m advocating for the church to disseminate an offcicial “Vote this Way” guide, I’m not. I’m simply wondering what the bounds of discipline allow should one of these topics be raised by a layperson in the church.
Also, on this point (“Why especially is it hard to see that the church should not expect of a secular government the execution of Christian norms?”), we agree. I’m with you 100%. Hope you didn’t perceive the opposite in my questions. I’m fairly new to the PCA which is way more Orthodox than anything I’ve been raised up in, so I’m having growing pains and just asking questions. Your distinction in this last question actually gets at why I’m at a PCA church and not under the SBC “circus tent” currently. Baby steps…
So Carl Truman and the Red Tories? What’s next, the Christendom of John Milbank and/or Oliver Odonovan?
Odonovan—“Our limited purpose is not to engage self-conscious liberal theorists but to articulate the grounds for a common and largely implicit distrust of the Christendom idea. Those grounds seem to take us back behind alarm about governments to an alarm about society. For it is society that makes outsiders. Government may wrong dissidents by repression or persection; but it does not make them dissidents by recognizing and affirming things upon which its society agrees and they disagree…
od– We are left with the suspicion that this liberal view springs from a radical suspicion of society as such and of the agreements that constitute it—to be traced back, perhaps, to the contractarian myth which bound individuals directly together into political societies without any acknowledgment of the mediating social reality…..it is not Christendom but Christianity that is attacked, since by implication it makes THE CHURCH inadmissible.
OD—If there is no religious test on the right to vote, or to have access to education or medical care, why should there be one on attending Mass and receiving communion, which is, after all, a source of satisfaction to religious temperaments and an important means of social participation? This conclusion, that the church should not be defined by belief, seems to me to follow rather obviously from the general refusal of ideology, though I do not know of anyone who has yet drawn it, except for the incomparable Simone Weil, who proposed, in her wartime tract The Need for Roots, that it should be prohibited to publish any opinion on any subject in the name of a collective body. Any society defined by its belief was to be banned.”
Truman needs to remember that it’s only the “sects” who define things by “belief”. Christendom always has “the church” to prevent the destruction of “society” (culture) by means of infant water for the next generation.
Nations are not sects. Tribes are not sects. Nations and tribes include, only excluding those who resist inclusion. NT Wright—“The whole meaning of God’s kingdom is about the one true God calling time on the world’s wicked empires and setting up a radically different empire instead.“When Jesus talks of the Kingdom of God, he really did mean that this was the time for God to become King and reign in a way that not only challenges Caesar’s kingdom but challenges Caesar’s type of kingdom….When you put it in context, it is anything but a mandate for church/state split.”
Miles, “I don’t recall having said that the church should.”
Then you understand the spirituality of the church.
Though your comment to sbd suggests otherwise. Do you think preserving the life of the mother is something that could allow someone to advocate abortion? The problem you may have is running from these situations and truths to public policy. Why do the politics of morality come to mind first?
Miles, thanks for following up.
A big help to thinking about the spirituality of the church is constitutionalism. Enumerated powers in the constitution supposedly put limits on the branches of government (federal) and leave room for state governments (or county and municipal). Once you get used to asking what government/authorities should do on the basis of their specified powers, spirituality of the church becomes easy. The Bible is the church’s constitution. It designates what the church may or may not do.
Miles, the Bible also prohibits drunkenness. Prohibition sought to legislatively embody that morality. Is opposing Prohibition to endorse drunkenness? My guess is that you’re with the rest of the 21st century Americans who think Prohibition was a failed legislation so you can sense how the line of questioning is wobbly.
But to pick up on Darryl’s last point about the politics of morality in relation to abortion, some think the question isn’t “may she or mayn’t she?” but rather “who gets to decide (SCOTUS or local jurisdictions)?” We think that because that’s actually what RvW was all about, form of government before personal morality. Some say SCOTUS, other local jurisdictions. It’s an important question. What’s the Bible say? Nothing, even to those of us with local convictions. Maybe you say SCOTUS. Should I say you should be disciplined? No, I just say you pull the other lever in the voting booth. And even if it become settled in the direction of local powers and the next question is “may she or mayn’t she” and you say she may and I say she mayn’t, do I threaten you with spiritual discipline or content myself with the other lever?
Darryl asks what’s so hard to understand that the church should not endorse civil policy. I wonder, what’s so hard about fighting political battles with political weapons and not spiritual ones (and vice versa)?
If antiracism is a religion, should the PCA be concerned about syncretism?
sdb, since Loury didn’t write it, PCA is fine.
Sure, and if a church member had an abortion, claimed that abortion was not sinful, engaged in gay sex, or claimed that gay sex is not sinful, then that church member should face church discipline. But how the state should deal with these issues is very different – that’s a prudential question. In the NT world where Paul lived, infanticide, sexual slavery, was indeed part of the culture. Much of the appeal of Christianity was that the church stood against these things and for the dignity of people created in the image of God. But what we don’t see in the NT is Paul using his status as a citizen to fight for political change – nowhere are believers exhorted to advocate for the criminalization of many of the evil things that Rome allowed. Furthermore, in discussing church discipline over sexual sin in 1Cor, Paul explicitly notes that they do not have the authority to judge those outside of the church.
Now this isn’t to say that believers cannot have opinions on these political issues. Rather the claim is that the question of the role of the state in using means of force to coerce behavior is a prudential question. There are lots of sinful behaviors (neglecting sabbath observance, lusting after your neighbor, murdering that idiot driving slow in the left lane in your heart) that we realize the state cannot prosecute for a variety of reasons. I would argue that this is true for all of politics which is why the NT does not prescribe political behavior outside of a few broad strokes (that we mostly make a hash of anyway) such as pay honor to whom honor is due, obey the law, etc…
But when we say that there is a Christian approach to politics and it extends beyond what scripture requires, we are falling into the trap described in Colossians – there is an appearance of wisdom, but it is really legalism. This is my principle objection to the transformationalist steam of neo-calvinist thought. I remain unconvinced that there is a uniquely Christian way to do science, history, politics, engineering, mathematics, plumbing, accounting, etc… God’s law provides bounds for the Christian (and really all people), but when one defines Christian ______________ without Biblical warrant, then one has fallen prey to the sorts of things Paul warns the Colossians about.
Very helpful. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I feel like I have to keep reading DVD’s “Living in God’s 2 Kingdoms” over and over again.
Do you have any other suggestions on 2k theology? I’m open to suggestions from anyone.
You ask important questions. I appreciate that. Basically there is no such thing as a naked public square.”Transcendence abhors a vacuum”
“Why is it hard to understand that the church should not endorse civil policy? Why especially is it hard to see that the church should not expect of a secular government the execution of Christian norms?”
Why is is hard to understand that individuals Christians have to endorse a civil policy?
Why is it hard to to see that as far as the people still retain any semblance of Christian norms that it should expect the government to execute the will of the people?
Since the first advent of Jesus, Christendom is expanding, but it also ebbs in as far as we let it.
sdb, he left out SIPTSD(Slavery Induced Post Traumatic Disorder) which, as diagnosed, afflicts both whites and blacks. I, for one, am willing to sign off on my white privilege if I can get a refillable scrip for Klonopin in perpetuity. I need medicine to heal and make me amenable to reparations. This WP is rough.
Left out the STRESS of SIPTSD. See! I need help. I’m still at denial.
Hello Again Miles,
If you’re open to looking at all the views on the table, this article might be helpful to you too
Susan, the government executes the “will” (singular) of the people? Have you not heard, non-Christians live in the U.S. legally. Does government have a duty to ignore them?
Come on, fess up. It’s a post-Vat II world out there. You’d be on solid grounds when the Vatican taught, “error has no rights.” But John Courtney Murray convinced the bishops otherwise.
Were you once a theonomist?
@Susan: Okay… so do you have any protestant articles or resources? Not really interested [at all] in reading anything c2c has to offer. No offense.
Okay, I’m not offended that you don’t want to read anything from CtC.
Maybe someone else will take a look.
If not, that’s also okay. The only thing I would point out is that if this blog is any barometer of the pluralistic town meeting, then you aren’t being very democratic.
If a system is good, fair, doing what it should, then who cares about its source.
I can read 2K and I can read Transformationalists without fear.
I think.they both.have good ideas. I never did make the Catholic sit in the corner. Whatever is good is from God. May He be eternally praised.
Anyways, wish you well.
@miles I don’t have much in the way of a bibliigraphy. My views were largely formed from my reading if the history of 19th century protestantism, though I’m certainly no expert. Darryl’s Secularism is a great companion to DVDs 2k book.
“..you aren’t being very democratic.”
Susan, you say that like it is a bad thing. Isn’t RCism not so hot to trot for democracy? After all to cite my favorite philosopher, Homer Simpson, “Democracy just doesn’t work!”
b, sd, don’t ask Susan for coherence. THINK!
Susan, this is just sloppy:
“William Cavanaugh is at his most convincing in arguing that the separation between sacred and secular is artificial and can’t be maintained.”
mcmark, well, maybe, but it’s not going to keep me from cutting down and burning (instead of worshiping) trees.
I hear thinking gives you wrinkles. I think not.
D. G. Hart says:
June 2, 2016 at 9:22 pm
b, sd, don’t ask Susan for coherence. THINK!>>>
You think you know, but by your own epistemology, you actually KNOW nothing.
You cannot say with 100% certainty that the Virgin Birth is 100% certain. You cannot say with 100% certainty that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. You cannot explain in a coherent way what “Scripture is the only INFALLIBLE rule of faith and practice” means. You cannot define Scripture. You cannot define infallible. You cannot define rule. You cannot define practice. Well, each one of you may have idiosyncratic ideas about what each one of those doctrines means, but you have no real basis for consensus.
You have no one to guide you except your own conscience, which is in your own theology, totally depraved.
THINK about it. What you have are theological preferences. That’s fine. I don’t blame you for attacking the Church. At least you know where to aim because the Church is real.
Well, each one of you may have idiosyncratic ideas about what each one of those doctrines means, but you have no real basis for consensus.
You realize that there is no consensus in Roman Catholicism on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, even the deity of Christ. Sure you have kind of a nominal Magisterium, so in theory you can have consensus based on picking those aspects of the Magisterium you agree with . But isn’t that the kind of consensus you all think Protestants have?
Does the proper administration of the Word of God include being silent on the sins around us? At times, I think we forget that our confessions and standards are for us what the tradtions were for the Pharisees of Jesus’s day in that they are consist of our interpretations of the Word of God. And sometimes, we make those confessions and standards the only way to understand God’s Word rather than being subject to God’s Word.
So, is it wrong for a minister to remain silent on a societal sin that some in which some in the Church might be participating? Or is speaking out on that sin the first step of sliding down a slippery slope that will wed politics to faith? There should be some political positions that should be verboten to Christians. In Germany, the Nazi Party should have been verboten for Christians to join?
Of course, saying that some positions and parties should be verboten must be done cautiously; but we shouldn’t shirk back from doing so because of fears that we will slide down a slippery slope that supports a national religion–which, btw, we already have.
Mermaid, you have no love for me.
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Curt, you’re repetitive.
Mrs Webfoot “You have no one to guide you except your own conscience”
please reread: http://www.pewforum.org/2016/04/12/religion-in-everyday-life/
“About three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (73%) say they look to their own conscience “a great deal” for guidance on difficult moral questions. Far fewer Catholics say they rely a great deal on the Catholic Church’s teachings (21%), the Bible (15%) or the pope (11%) for such guidance.
Catholics who are highly religious are more likely than less religious Catholics to turn to church teachings, the Bible or the pope for guidance on difficult moral questions. Still, far fewer highly religious Catholics say they rely a great deal on any of these three sources for guidance on tough moral questions than say they rely on their own conscience.”
I’m old, what do you expect? However, repetition has never taken anything away from truth. And really, that is the only criteria that matters.
Liberty, license and inconsistency….. keep liberty and repent of the rest. What other story should we expect?
In the classic “you are basically Pharisees” critique, it’s very clear who’s being compared with the Pharisees whose current interpretations of the Scriptures are wrong, but it’s not as clear who is the Jesus figure correcting their interpretations with the perfect interpretation.
The PCA is a lot more discriminating than Ole Miss: