Which Matters More, Branding or Order of Precedence?

Old Life took a wee vacation last week thanks to (all about) my trip to Belfast which included delightful discussions with a historian who must remain anonymous for the sake of his good name and sightseeing with an old (not as old as mmmmeeeeeeEEE) friend who also deserves protection from tawdry associations with this blog.

I had the privilege of speaking informally with folks from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Those communions are not in fellowship thanks to the split in 1927 over liberalism in the PCI, a debate that has all the earmarks of the so-called fundamentalist controversy in the U.S. In fact, W. J. Grier, who studied at Princeton Seminary with J. Gresham Machen, took some inspiration from conservatives in the U.S. to oppose the teaching of J. E. Davey, who taught church history and theology at Union College (in effect the seminary for Irish Presbyterians). When the trial against Davey failed, Grier led the formation of a new Presbyterian communion.

That parallel suggests that PCI is to the EPC what the PCUSA is to the OPC. But such reading of American dynamics into Ireland misses how different American Presbyterianism is. If anything, the U.S. equivalent to the PCI is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (the American one that had Tim Keller speak at its GA). The PCI is more evangelical than the PCUSA and does not go out of its way to be inclusive. Whether it will ever go out of its way to discipline erroneous views is another matter.

Another difference is that the PCI’s moderator is tenth in the Orders of Precedence in the United Kingdom.

I have no idea how to reconcile the Wikipedia chart with the church’s website about political status in Northern Ireland. But I do suspect the matter has something to do with the Regium Donum, a “royal gift” from Charles II to dissenting Protestants (outside the Church of Ireland — Anglican) to support their ministry. In fact, the royal recognition of the PCI’s moderator means that he receives invitations to affairs in London held by the British government. I suspect it also means some sort of royal representative at PCI General Assemblies the way that the Queen still sends a delegate to the Free Church of Scotland.

This difference with the USA is striking. The federal government or POTUS never sends representatives or invitations to moderators of Presbyterian communions in the U.S. Not even the Presbyterians in the “Protestant establishment,” the PCUSA, have the standing that Presbyterians do in the UK. American Presbyterians are pikers compared to Presbyterians in the British Isles.

But we American Presbyterians compensate with celebrity.

Which raises the question whether a brand like Tim Keller has more influence in national (or urban) life than a royal gift. I am asking because inquiring minds want to know.

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9 thoughts on “Which Matters More, Branding or Order of Precedence?

  1. Speaking of lines of succession for all-important leadership roles, does Redeemer, Inc. have a designated survivor that they keep outside of the Five Boroughs in case of catastrophic terror attack? I offer these ideas free and without obligation to my PCA (for now) brethren.

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  2. Believe me, the Order of Precedence means squat diddly in terms of influence in the UK, so any NI PCI folks who like to think it means anything except a little pomp and circumstance are deluded. Britain is run by diehard leftie social liberals with Theresa May simply being a useful tool/idiot who is guided by the Rasputin like Nick Timothy.
    Brands on the other hand are indeed huge over here, with UK churches referring to Kevin DeYoung who hangs out over here more or less exclusively with New Calvinists and posh-ish evangelical Anglicans; he seems to avoid any advocacy of Presbyterian ecclesiology which is no surprise. Brand Keller is equally big, channelled and unquestionably defended by smart alpha males such as David Robertson in Scotland. So, brand, big name books, personal visits by big names (Tim Challies in NI, John Piper in London) and having locals to carry their torch is very influential in the UK, arguably softening and weakening any Old School influence.
    I did hear, incidentally, from a knowledgeable NI source that you were about to pop across the pond. I was disappointed however that there no mention of a visit to the mainland, especially the North West to simply enjoy the delights of Cumberland and even a decent chippy tea in Lancashire.

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  3. DGH – glad you had a good trip to Belfast. Brings to mind a tall, black Guiness – or really any other stout for that matter. This is a problem when my clock still displays the letters AM after the time.

    cw – not to worry: Redeemer has designated survivors in Nyack, Nassau County, and even New Jersey for good measure. But it will all be moot in about 6 weeks anyway, as Redeemer will particularize into 3 separate congregations when Tim Keller steps down as senior pastor.

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  4. The closest denomination in the US to the PCI was probably the United Presbyterian Church. I suspect that many EPC(US) churches are probably former UP churches that elected not to become part of the PC(USA). In my view, it would have been better if the UP had not merged, or if it had sought merger with the Southern Presbyterians (PCUS).

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