One of the books that kept me company on vacation was Hart’s Seeking A Better Country. On page 223 he briefly delineates what the doctrine of the spirituality of the church (what some might call the Reformed version of Lutheran two-kingdom doctrine) is according to the Old School line of thought:
“Among the most significant features of the southern version of the Old School was its emphasis on the spirituality of the church. Championed by James H. Thornwell, the doctrine would outlive his death in 1862. Southern Presbyterians saw the church’s task as preaching the gospel, trusting that the Holy Spirit would regenerate sinners by His Word and build them up in Christ. The church was not commissioned to make the world a better place in which to live. It had no business telling the government how to rule the body politic. It was not to feed the hungry, or provide houses for the homeless, or protest social injustice. These political and social temptations only distracted the church from its spiritual calling.”
If we take the SOTC seriously it would seem that the church is an equal-opportunity killjoy when it comes to one cause or another, regardless of whatever shades of blue and red they come in. But survey the circles of those would likely call themselves conservative religionists who might jump at the sound of “Old School,” and one wonders just how to reconcile that with PCA and OPC circles forging General Assembly declarations against abortion, homosexual marriage and women in the military.
Lest we become too perplexed, we seem to come by this apparent contradiction honestly enough. A few pages later Hart also briefly sketches the debate that centered around one Professor James Woodrow (1828-1907) who, despite his earlier opposition to evolution, came to embrace the theory calling it “mediate creation.” What’s more compelling here than the popular center-ring of human ancestry that questions of evolution always seem to devolve into is the meta-narrative that has implications for ecclesiastical mission:
“Throughout the course of the investigation of his views, many of the charges against Woodrow entailed ecclesiastical pronouncements about scientific theory. That those pronouncements themselves violated the spirituality of the church was an inconsistency not lost among Woodrow’s supporters. Nor for that matter did observers in the North overlook the irony of a chair of natural science at a southern Presbyterian seminary.” (Italics mine.)
It seems that being distracted by the cares of this world have afflicted even those who would readily identify themselves with “Old School.” But take heart. Referring to the cares of conservative Presbyterians who seem more conservative than Presbyterian, marked more by a particular ideology than theology as they strive to help make sure Adam and Steve remain permanently single and that Jane mayn’t fly fighter jets, Hart suggests a remnant might still abide:
“Silenced in the noise of the debate was the voice of Presbyterian restraint that opted for conscientious objection from enlistment in the culture wars.”