Now That’s A Confessional Communion Rail

Hart makes mention of Stuart Robinson in his A Secular Faith. This got me interested in reading more about Robinson.

This is the first is part of the conclusion of Preston Graham’s survey A Kingdom Not of This World. Robinson was a Kentucky Presbyterian minister in a border-state during the Civil War. As Hart notes, he actually had to find refuge in Canada because his views were not conducive to either side in trying to figure out the problem of human slavery in America; I guess he was irrelevant enough to fear for his bodily protection (another Outhouse saint, likely). I have italicized what I especially like about this quote, that is, as individuals we may very well come to very different conclusions as to how the end of justice may be realized (big government, limited government?). Also, we as individuals are not called away from any activity in the KOM so as to surface with the world-flight sentiments of the pietists. I post this for various reasons, but one is along the same lines as “Tracking with the Liturgicals”: my W2K views often get mistaken for being apathetic when it comes to the concerns of earth, as if I mean to take particular views out of folks’ hands. No, that is the world-flight pietsts you are thinking of.

Anyway, Preston Graham and Stuart Robinson will now take your questions…

“Whereas individuals are encouraged to invest themselves in ‘things civil,’ the church, as a visible and constitutional organization, ought to be exclusively concerned for ‘things spiritual.’ This apolitical church resists the marginalization of theology and its subsequent realignment around a cultural agenda. The modern apolitical church serves to proclaim a gospel that transcends social restructuring, macroeconomics and political theory…even by Robinson’s own admission and practice, the line distinguishing things sacred from things secular is not always easy to discern, especially in the messiness associated with congregational life in general, especially when her people are called to participate in the world without being of the world. And yet this didn’t eliminate the responsibility of the church to draw the line all the same as from where scripture speaks and where it is left to human wisdom…His polemic was against the church confusing a political agenda after a reading of one or another political or social theory rather than agenda that still holds to things pertaining to God and faith as important in their own right. For example, such a church might preach justice, albeit to congregates who perhaps endorse opposing theories for the accomplishment of justice as derived from the social, economic, legal, and political sciences. Such a church may foster in its people works of mercy directed toward those who are needy, as an expression of true Christian love and witness, and yet be silent as to which particular program for accomplishing mercy is necessarily preferable given one or another reading of city planning….Robinson’s Scoto-American idea of the church would be distinguished as the ‘mediatorial body of Christ’ acting as an agent of special grace for God the Redeemer, in contrast with acting as an agent of common grace along with the state for God as creator.”

And talk about “messy.” Robinson’s church contained not only those who had both non/abolitionist views but also slaves themselves. Now there is a communion rail I’d love to frequent.

This entry was posted in W2K. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Now That’s A Confessional Communion Rail

  1. RubeRad says:

    Nice quote — good enough that I don’t have anything to add. I just didn’t want you to think nobody’s reading…

  2. Rick says:

    Great post. Great quote. Like Rube I don’t think I’m able to add anything.

  3. Zrim says:

    Ok, OK, how about contemporary implications of this sort of view in a by-gone era?

    I seem to recall Rube a while back indicating that it was appropriate to preach aganst abortion in the pulpit. According to this, it would seem quite out of line. Not only that, I should be ale to come to the rail with those with whom I have stark differences on when it comes to the issue of reproductive rights. As it is, I bet my conservative views find nothing but a conservative monolith when I “go up front.”

    I wonder how “quaint” we find it that folks shared a rail with those who differed back then and easily forget that it was a highly divisive social issue, human slavery that is. A contemporary equivalent could be abortion/reproductive rights. Do we imagine our churches have those within them who are on the other side of the cultural table from us, or have we brow-beaten them enough with rhetoric of heavenly sanction that they consider it heresy to actually disagree? What would we think of sharing the rail with someone who works at Planned Parenthood? Have we alienated them enough from the Gospel with particular politics and carelessly mixed cultural values with cultic truth that the suggestion seems ridiculous?


  4. Rick says:


    I knew you’d go there, Zrim.

    Like with Robinson, some folks might send their pastors packing to Canada if they refuse to ‘take a stand’ on the issue from the pulpit.

    More on this later, I’m coming to your neck of town now Zrim – Rivertown mall.

  5. Zrim says:

    I guess I am a good Presby, being so awfully predictable.


  6. Rick says:

    I really want to talk about this – but I don’t know how to approach it yet.

    Let’s start here: Is abortion merely a socio-political issue?

    Here’s where I’m going with it: Should someone who performs abortions (a doctor) be allowed on the rail, citing that he doesn’t believe life begins until the third trimester?

    Don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t think we should ever be hearing ‘abortion sermons’

  7. Zrim says:

    I have often made the distinction this way: it is one thing when Sally comes to her pastor about what to do with this unwanted bump in her belly, and it is another for her pastor to tell her how to vote when she ponders Jill’s rights in this liberal democracy of ours.

    The Church has every right and every duty to regulate Herself as she sees fit. If She deems abortion to be an act that demands discipline, so be it, and members should be treated accordingly. But She has no duty and no right to tell, or imply, to the State how it should order itself. It is one thing to pastor the members of the Church, another to, in any wise, make or help make social policy.

    But let me ask this: Do we allow the guy who pulls the lever on a convict at the rail? We may answer in the affirmative, but I suspect only because the conservatism that influences us thinks capital punishment has God’s approval, so the question can seem moot at worst, obvious at best. It is legal for Dr. Jim to do what the legitimate state says he may (remember, the state is God’s left hand). Why are the questions surrounding abortion so much more high-fever than other issues?

    Sally having an abortion seems different from Dr. Jim performing one. The former is a pastoral issue, the latter not-so-much. I can hear the feminist howls now that my view seems to make undue favor for men and not women. But perhaps if I say Dr. Sally can perform one and Jill should be subject to discipline might help quell that? I tend to think of it this way, that we need to make these sorts of distinctions between what is a pastoral issue and what is not.

    (Warning: Political rant coming. And for my part, even with my very conservative politics on the issue, I don’t get frothy at the mouth over it. Abortion/reproductive rights are no more important and deserving of froth than any other issue. I think we conservatives have been led around by the nose on this issue: George Will had a syndicated column this weekend in which he made the argument I do that this issue is a non-issue anymore. I say this as a “particular, moral-federalist conservative” to our side of the table: get over it. The whole Roe problem is not a moral one but a states’ rights one. This is another example of a micro conversation happening at a micro level. It is not about whether women should have reproductive rights but who gets to decide, the state or the federal government. Yet another conversation in which I find no seat at the table and that lands me in the Outhouse.)


  8. RubeRad says:

    I seem to recall Rube a while back indicating that it was appropriate to preach aganst abortion in the pulpit. According to this, it would seem quite out of line.

    So if a pastor is expositionally preaching through the psalms, and gets to Ps 139, is he supposed to not mention that abortion is wrong?

    I interpreted your quote to imply that a church may preach justice [anti-abortion], without mandating a particular socio-political approach to solve the issue. Which would mean there exists a way to properly address abortion from the pulpit, and I think my pastor did a pretty good job of it; he didn’t tell us how to vote, he didn’t tell us to picket abortion clinics or abortion doctors’ houses; the closest he got was suggesting that it might be a good idea to attend an open-house for a local women’s shelter. Frankly, my bigger disappointment was that he interrupted his expositional preaching schedule to jump on the “Sanctity of Life Sunday” bandwagon. (FYI, my post was here. )

  9. Zrim says:


    Psalm 139 has nothing to do with abortion, so why mention it?

    “I interpreted your quote to imply that a church may preach justice [anti-abortion], without mandating a particular socio-political approach to solve the issue.”

    I didn’t interpret it that wat at all. Why can’t preaching justice be interpreted as working for women’s reproductive rights (I am giving you activists some rope here, even though is scrapes me to no end)? “Mandating a particular socio-political approach” would mean suggesting an anti-abortion message or a reproductive rights message, and both are inappropriate. Why do you assume “justice” to mean a certain conclusion on the issue?

    Then I would say your pastor was winking at you and suggesting some politics. I know, that is too much and you won’t like it being said. Think I am making too much of it? A little birdy just told me he jumped on the Sanactity of Life bandwagon and revealed his politics, which pretty well confirms that you received a wink-wink-nudge-nudge from the good pastor. Those are the most powerful messages, you know, the suggestive over against the more direct ones.

    Nevertheless, if we actually have to endure the call to volunteerism in the first place as if that is the go-to measure of good works, why didn’t he suggest volunteering at Planned Parenthood?


  10. RubeRad says:

    Psalm 139 has nothing to do with abortion, so why mention it?

    It has a lot to do with a biblical answer to the philosophical/ethical question of whether life begins before birth. I take “abortion is murder” as a propositionally true (and biblical) statement.

    Why can’t preaching justice be interpreted as working for women’s reproductive rights

    Whatever “women’s reproductive rights” are, they don’t include abortion. I don’t know how it would come up in expositional preaching, but I’d say one example of a “woman’s reproductive right” would be birth control (contra Rome’s theonomic view)

  11. Zrim says:

    Psalm 139 has those things, Rube, if that is what you are looking for. But I would say you are importing into the text. It has to do with God’s sovereignty over creation; it is not a proof-text against R v W, much as we might want it to be. Are you sure you are not using an Evangelical grid to make these arguments? Sure sounds like a cultural agenda is demanding your approach…is it so important that we actually mis-read Psalm 139? Remember, many on the other side of this issue will concede that life begins before birth, so you don’t corner them with this logic. Pointing to Psalm 139 proves nothing. They will tell you that some lives may be taken, an argument I concede.

    You seem dead set against the possibility that the other side of the table has any merit to it. I absolutely disagree with them and am wholly peruaded of the correctness of my own views, but I stop well short of denying their existence and saying they are hopelessly wrong.

    None of it should ever come up in expositional preaching! So I would tell you to relax and not try to figure out how it would.

    Now that you bring up Rome, they are more consistent with all the “pro-life” language. I think “pro-life” is a bad term and “anti-abortion” is better. Were I “pro-life” I’d have something against capital punishment or contraception, like Rome, but I don’t. Rome is much better at “pro-life” than anything you will find in Protestantism.

    But, I am no culture warrior; I have much more interest in Trent.


  12. Pingback: The Function of the Church « The Confessional Outhouse

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s