This decision appeared to be another instance of the prideful quest for purity that so often characterized fundamentalism. Orthodox Presbyterian narrowness, however, looked back to Old School Presbyterian practice rather than fundamentalist belligerence. A self-conscious Calvinism no doubt was one barrier between orthodox Presbyterians and most other evangelicals and fundamentalists…Thus, just as the Old School Presbyterian Church had refused to support the interdenominational voluntary organizations founded by revivalists during the Second Great Awakening, so too the Orthodox Presbyterian Church remained separate from the cooperative endeavors of 1940s whether evangelical or fundamentalist.
Nevertheless, as Machen had demonstrated, Presbyterian particularism, while narrow in religious affairs, could be tolerant in cultural and social matters. By tightly prescribing the nature and function of the institutional church, Old School Presbyterianism leaned toward a strict separation of church and state and, as a result, was more tolerant of religious and cultural diversity than the revivalist tradition…A large theme in the post-World War II resurgence of evangelicalism as well as the revivalist crusades of the antebellum era was the belief that evangelism would correct social ills and reconstruct Christian civilization in America…Thus, while evangelical leaders set their sights on winning the nation’s soul, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church established links with other ethnic confessional communions in America, most notably the Dutch Calvinists in the Christian Reformed Church, and with Reformed churches in other countries.
D.G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America
Mention to the distant cousin at the family reunion one’s Reformed affiliation and one might get a knit brow. “You don’t seem like the type who was ever in need of reforming.” It may be quickly cleared up by delineating that by Reformed one may also mean Presbyterian.
But if one has a penchant for further mystifying one’s friends one might also then suggest that a proper Presbyterian outlook is one that holds to a radical intolerance for things cultic and a radical tolerance for things cultural. It isn’t easy to convince folks that “conservative Presbyterians” took a dim view of Prohibition or weren’t all abolitionists. This is made more complicated when otherwise Old School Presbyterians defend the prudence of Welch’s being the content of the cup, or make shouty parallels between yesteryear’s issue of slavery and the contemporary moralized politics of abortion, thereby aiding and abetting today’s revivalist crusade. Isn’t to be a traditional Calvinist also to be in league with pushing theoretically “conservative” moral agendas?
Still, the doctrine of the spirituality of the church is actually designed to rightly order just where we should be intolerant and where we are to be tolerant. There is at once a fine line and wide gap in knowing where those bright lines should be drawn. While it seems a matter of enduring its relative absence, it would be refreshing if Old Schoolers were known for taking our freedom in Christ just as seriously as we take our binding in him. After all, it’s one thing to either affirm or deny the Virgin Birth, another to chart various courses through the politics of sex.