Slavery was the context for the birth of the spirituality of the church rubric, and thus the R2K (Radical Two Kingdoms) error...

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In the deep South, Reformed people were adamantly opposed to any interference with the practice of black slavery and emphasized aspects of the tradition that favored confining the activities of the church to strictly "spiritual" issues. -George Marsden

(Tim) Where did R2-K Normative Withdrawalists come from? They like to claim the Apostolic Age, but the Apostles were persecuted and died at the hands of the civil magistrate, and it wasn't for their ministry of the Word and Sacrament during Lord's Day worship services. Certainly they can't trace their lineage back to Calvin's Geneva or Knox's Scotland. And they themselves deny a Puritan blood line and much of any affinity for Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards.

Some try to trace it back negatively, claiming it's the necessary lesson to be learned from certain errors of those who have given themselves to Christ's command to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. Men feeding the hungry and clothing the naked in the past were Quakers or suffragettes or Arminians, so there you have it: doctrinal heterodoxy proves the danger of Christians joining together to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

Or it's bad when the church does it. Or bad when the pastor of the church does it. Or bad when the church and the pastor and the church officers do it. Or bad when someone preaches the necessity of doing it on a blog. Or bad when someone says its still normative today--the feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, that is--in such a way as to call into question justification by grace alone...

Or bad when someone commands it in such a way as to paint men who are R2-K Normative Withdrawalists in a bad light, causing them to be misunderstood.

Sorry for the imprecision of that paragraph, but I'm groping in the dark for precisely what it is that R2-K men are so dead set opposed to, leading them to condemn those moralists and pietists and theonomists and deacons and simple-minded ministers who believe in Christians feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

Yes, I know these men will consider such characterizations of their position to be unfair, but speaking for myself, I'd run into this spirituality-of-the-church normative withdrawal long before I'd read Darryl Hart or heard of Pastor Clark. From way back then, it's been clear it's a cultural and character issue--the kind of cultural and character issue the Apostle Paul and Calvin and Luther and Knox dealt with all the time, doctrinally.

Maybe I'm not quite where others are in this discussion? I can't agree to leave the R2-K Normative Withdrawal men alone if only they'll stop condemning the historically Reformed men for preaching and teaching and practicing the works that please God. Seems crystal clear that we must feed the hungry and clothe the naked as we preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments (while allowing for Biblical specialization in those callings, of course).

But back to our question: if the R2-K Normative Withdrawal/Spirituality-of-the-Church error is not to be traced back to the Apostles or Calvin or Knox or Edwards, where is its origin?

Here's the dean of American church historians, George Marsden:

Prior to the nineteenth century, questions concerning social reform had not been conspicuous, divisive issues. Until that time almost all the Reformed groups seem to have been working on the basis of a vaguely formulated, but deeply entrenched, tradition that, ideally, the religion of a nation should be exclusively Reformed. So they assumed that being Reformed accordingly involved transforming the moral ethos and legal system of a people so that it should comport with God's law. ...By the early nineteenth century, however, these Reformed principles had to be translated to fit a pluralistic and democratic situation. The question therefore became that of how much emphasis the Reformed Churches should put on shaping the legal structures of a society they did not otherwise control. Was it not the case that the true mission of the church was to proclaim a pure gospel and be a model moral subcommunity within the larger community, leavening it rather than attempting to legislate morality for all?

Finding answers to these questions was complicated by the fact that sometimes the resolution to moral issues could have as much to do with where one stood politically as it did what theological principles one held. Thus, whereas regarding Sabbath observance most nineteenth-century Reformed groups could unite in supporting legislation, on the issue of slavery they were sharply divided. Moreover, opinions on the slavery issue varied strikingly with geography. In the deep South, Reformed people were adamantly opposed to any interference with the practice of black slavery and emphasized aspects of the tradition that favored confining the activities of the church to strictly "spiritual" issues. In New England, by contrast, Reformed Christians often took the lead in insisting that the churches should unrelentingly urge the state to enact immediate emancipation. In the upper South and the lower North, opinions were more varied and often more nuanced. New School Presbyterian leaders, having New England connections, were typically moderate antislavery types, while the Old School sided with the theologically conservative South in wanting to sidestep this and other social reform issues. (George Marsden in Southern Reformed Theology)

The R2-K Normative Withdrawal/Spirituality-of-the-Church position is a late innovation in the Reformed church, able to be located with great geographical specificity. It's lineage is traced back to the slave-holding South during the lead-up to the Civil War. As we argue whether this theological innovation is good or bad (and you know I think it's bad), it's essential we know whence it came.

Don't misunderstand me. I believe states had a constitutional right to secede. The compact states entered was voluntary. Further, even at this late date, I'm firmly committed to the Tenth Amendment.

I don't think Scripture outlaws slavery of every kind. I don't think the slavery of the south at the time of the Civil War was all of one fabric. It's clear the Union victory in the Civil War is the necessary context for the loss of almost any submission to the Tenth Amendment by our non-federal government today, as well as any authority or power of the states to countermand the feds. This loss of authority and power paved the way for the U.S. Supreme Court throwing out the laws of all fifty states against abortion in Roe. v. Wade. (And if I can trivialize the matter for just a second, I resent the homogenization of our nation, culturally, that's a consequence of a number of things, but most certainly the feds' relentless exercise of power. Atlanta's gone and Birmingham and Jackson are falling.)

President Lincoln is no hero of mine, and yet I feel a deep resonance with these words from his Second Inaugural Address:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

I've hesitated bringing up this context of the present debate because it's almost as difficult to discuss the Civil War and slavery as it is to discuss the Christian Palestinians, today. But Dr. Hart is right, continually pointing us back to history as we engage in this present debate. Our disagreements are substantive, and it's impossible to understand them without looking at our southern Presbyterian brothers' approach to slavery and the Civil War.

To attribute this argument solely (or even primarily) to the eighteenth century's Old School/New School division doesn't quite get to the nub of the issue.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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