Putting the Nationalism in Denominationalism

Colin Hansen makes an arresting admission in his piece about having grown up a Methodist and how he left the communion:

As a former United Methodist, I thank God for these friends and co-laborers in the gospel, even if I no longer share all their theological views. I recognize my spiritual debt. They were my family. They are my family.

I’m in no position to advise these people called Methodists. I forfeited that right when I left. And no one is asking for my advice, anyway. But I want my United Methodist friends to know something important. I did not leave because of your views on sexuality. By the time I left in the early 2000s I didn’t even realize you had been debating sexuality for decades. I left to find the theology of George Whitefield and Howell Harris that converted the Welsh, including my Daniel kin. I left to learn the spiritual disciplines that sustained the Wesleys amid their conflicts with established church leaders and quests to reform British society. I left to find the spiritual zeal that made my grandfather belt out the Methodist hymnal by heart as cancer ravaged his body.

I left the United Methodist Church to find Methodism.

Imagine if New Calvinists and Gospel Allies followed the same logic. “We do not belong to the PCA or the OPC or the URC, so we have no reason to offer you advice or criticism. By virtue of our not being members in your communion, we are in no place to tell you about Reformed Protestantism.”

Imagine too if those who associate or form alliances with New Calvinism — ahem — also followed what is implicit in Hansen’s understanding of membership. Imagine if a Presbyterian ally of the gospel said, “well, because I am a member of the PCA, even ordained in it, my first duties (PCA First) are to the denomination where I serve. That means, I might have to cut down on participating with non-Presbyterians. I might even reconsider my relationship to non-Presbyterians because we are merely allies, not fellow members of the same body.”

But I also noticed what Hansen did with Methodism. He did with it what he did with Calvinism. “I left the United Methodist Church to find Methodism.” The same goes for Gospel Allies. The identify less with Calvinist communions to find Calvinism.

And so, the problem of belonging to the church, the ministry of the church, ordination, and membership rears its head again. To parachurch or to church?

But Hansen did seem to acknowledge that not being a member of an institution means he loses standing for being heard by members of a denomination. That point also suggests that someone who is more involved in parachurch endeavors while belonging to a body of Christians also loses some of his or her standing for dialogue and instruction. As if.

After all, if borders between countries matter, if governments of nations matter, why shouldn’t the borders and polities of Christian communions also matter?

11 thoughts on “Putting the Nationalism in Denominationalism

  1. Why is it either or. A seminary like WTS or RTS or an independent Christain college like Wheaton is a parachurch organization right? Surely one can be grounded in the ARP and a member of a Christian College faculty, right? Why not other parachurch organizations?

    I wonder if there is a problem with independent seminaries and Christian colleges too. I can see temptation for these organizations to become counterfeit churches in principle. However, I am less sure that Erskine, Covenant, or Calvin is in better shape than RTS or WTS.


  2. Machine seems to have addressed this matter in a similar way…

    “… But if such a course of action is wrong, another course of action is perfectly open to the man who desires to propagate “liberal Christianity.” Finding the existing “evangelical” churches to be bound up to a creed which he does not accept, he may either unite himself with some other existing body or else found a new body to suit him self. There are of course certain obvious disadvantages in such a course–the abandonment of church buildings to which one is attached, the break in family traditions, the injury to sentiment of various kinds. But there is one supreme advantage which far overbalances all such disadvantages. It is the advantage of honesty. The path of honesty in such matters may be rough and thorny, but it can be trod. And it has already been trod–for example, by the Unitarian Church. The Unitarian Church is frankly and honestly just the kind of church that the liberal preacher desires–namely, a church without an authoritative Bible, without doctrinal requirements, and without a creed.

    Honesty, despite all that can be said and done, is not a trifle, but one of the weightier matters of the law. Certainly it has a value of its own, a value quite independent of consequences. But the consequences of honesty would in the case now under discussion not be unsatisfactory; here as elsewhere honesty would probably prove to be the best policy. By withdrawing from the confessional churches–those churches that are founded upon a creed derived from Scripture– the liberal preacher would indeed sacrifice the opportunity, almost within his grasp, of so obtaining control of those confessional churches as to change their fundamental character. The sacrifice of that opportunity would mean that the hope of turning the resources of the evangelical churches into the propagation of liberalism would be gone. But liberalism would certainly not suffer in the end. There would at least be no more need of using equivocal language, no more need of avoiding offence. The liberal preacher would obtain the full personal respect even of his opponents, and the whole discussion would be placed on higher ground. All would, be perfectly straightforward and above-board. And if liberalism is true, the mere lose of physical resources would not prevent it from making its way.

    At this point a question may arise. If there ought to be a separation between the liberals and the conservatives in the Church, why should not the conservatives be the ones to withdraw? Certainly it may come to that. If the liberal party really obtains full control of the councils of the Church, then no evangelical Christian can continue to support the Church’s work. If a man believes that salvation from sin comes only through the atoning death of Jesus, then he cannot honestly support by his gifts and by his presence a propaganda which is intended to produce an exactly opposite impression. To do so would mean the most terrible blood-guiltiness which it is possible to conceive. If the liberal party, therefore, really obtains control of the Church, evangelical Christians must be prepared to withdraw no matter what it costs … “


  3. Great find, George. Machen could’ve written that today about the PCA. RR Reno nailed it further in the introduction to “The Return of the Strong Gods:” we’re trapped in the 20th century. This applies to almost all battles being fought nowadays. The remaining Protestant churches are fighting the same battles they were fighting 100 years ago with some slight twists. The liberals are using the same tactics with the same success. The States still think this is the post WWII-era: Russia! is still the nemesis and there are Nazis around every corner. The Boomers still think it’s the 1960s. They’ve even conditioned many of the youth to think this way. Communism – for crying out loud – is making a comeback in the form of Cultural Marxism.

    When will Groundhog Century be over? When will the 21st century begin?


  4. It sounds like you don’t know who Howell Harris and George Whitfield are. I don’t think that I should have to tell a historian. They are Calvinistic Methodist. So when Colin states that he finds genuine Methodism outside of the Methodist Church he makes complete sense. Similarly if I want to find genuine historic Reformed theology, I certainly would not go to the OPC.


  5. Scott Oliphint: “God has acquired covenantal properties”. I wonder if they are near Park Place or Boardwalk. Just as long as I get $200 for passing go.


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