Presbyterian Sociology, Part II

[HT inscrutable Being]

I know everybody’s first thought upon seeing a blog post titled Presbyterian Sociology, Part I was, “wait, you mean there’s gonna be another one?” Well, the unbearable wait is finally over.

In case you don’t have $159.97 in spare change knocking around to buy the 2003 book, I offer you for free the 2000 article that it must have grown from, Rediscovering Mother Kirk: Is High-Church Presbyterianism an Oxymoron?, by OHS DGH.

I’ll just quote the first seven paragraphs here, and then leave you to follow the link and read on your own.


The words “high church” and “Presbyterian” are seldom found together, and for good reason. Anglo-American Presbyterians and their Reformed siblings on the European continent have not distinguished themselves for possessing either overly refined liturgical sensibilities or highly effective mechanisms for protecting the prerogatives of clergy.

Of course, for the descendants of Calvin, theology is a breeze. But on the Protestant ecclesiastical spectrum from low to high, the best Presbyterians can do is position themselves about where Congregationalists do, toward the middle, with Lutherans and Episcopalians above, and Methodists and Baptists below. This may explain the old line about Baptists being Methodists with shoes, and Presbyterians being Baptists who can read.

Still, as decent and orderly as it may be for Presbyterians to inhabit the moderate middle of Protestant notions about liturgy and the ministry of the Church, if left to their own devices they invariably descend to the nether regions of churchly sensibilities. So for Baptists on the way up, the Presbyterian option is a happy one since it rarely demands a significant adjustment beyond coming to terms with infant baptism.

My wife and I both were reared in fundamentalist Baptist congregations and now belong to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), a largely low-church communion. Five out of our six brothers and sisters have been members of the southern equivalent of the OPC, the Presbyterian Church in America. Though anecdotal, such evidence confirms the point that Presbyterianism is not a stretch for Baptists. In fact, it may be the denominational preference for Baptists experiencing upward social mobility.

But while Presbyterianism offers a more high-brow form of Protestant Christianity for Baptists, its low-church impulses are legion to believers who desire a more sober and formal expression of devotion. We may be too far from the publication of Robert Webber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail to claim that Presbyterians in search of serious worship are becoming Episcopalians. That may have been true in the 1970s, but today Presbyterians seeking ecclesiastical upward mobility have broadened their horizons and can now be found among the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics.

Rare is the Presbyterian congregation that offers such liturgically minded souls a comfortable home. Other Presbyterian seekers, trying to extract liturgical graciousness out of a tradition that appears to have none, turn to a high-brow form of blended worship. Instead of introducing praise songs and choruses into the average Presbyterian order of worship—the low-brow version—those wanting greater formality import into Presbyterian services liturgical elements from other high-church traditions.

Can Presbyterians Be High-Church?

But perhaps either turning to other traditions wholesale or supplementing Presbyterian devotion with Anglican and Orthodox forms is unnecessary. Maybe there is buried within the historical mass of low-church Presbyterianism a high-church tradition every bit as divinely appointed and liturgically well conceived as the best of the other traditions higher up the scale. If so, then low-church Presbyterianism is the real oxymoron.


So this is just the introduction to a fantastic discussion of Reformed liturgical tradition (really, go read it all!), but my intention here is to highlight the insightful perspective on the Baptist-Espiscopal (Low-High) liturgical spectrum.

for Baptists on the way up, the Presbyterian option is a happy one since it rarely demands a significant adjustment beyond coming to terms with infant baptism.

There’s so much going on in just that one statement. For one thing, it explains why FV views itself as reacting against essentially Baptistic elements within Presbyterianism. For another, it explains why the Baptiterian view (or maybe it’s Undercover Presbyterian) is so prevalent (or at least pragmatic).

Although we already know that 5 points is not enough, maybe we could add a sixth petal of Paedobaptism (and rename the flower TULIPP) and start talking about how 6 is not enough?

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This entry was posted in Calvinism, Compare and Confess, DG Hart, Ecclesiology, High church calvinism, Quotes, Reformed piety, Review, Southern Baptist Convention, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Presbyterian Sociology, Part II

  1. RubeRad says:

    In case you don’t have $159.97 in spare change knocking around to buy the 2003 book

    Or maybe DGH has a case in his garage he could offer to Outhouse visitors for an even Franklin apiece?

  2. Zrim says:

    If the FV wants to bill itself as reacting against Baptistic elements within Presbyterianism it seems like it needs to deal with its paedocommunionism, which seems like the mirror error of credo-baptism.

    But it may be that the Reformed and Presbyterian have something to learn from their closest theological relatives, the Lutherans, who don’t seem to have this problem of abiding bapterianism. Have you ever heard of a Lutheran Baptist church? Maybe more jealousy for our tradition and less desire to hitch wagons to celebrity addled traditions would help make Reformed Baptist sound more oxymoronic. And instead of adding petals to flowers I am inclined to think there’s room for a fourth mark of a true church, as in worship (isn’t PB already covered in the second mark?). It has always struck me as odd that the one tradition that has something like the RPW doesn’t also mark itself doxologically. Meanwhile, those like the Lutherans who have a more descriptive notion of worship and those like the Pentecostals with spontaneous notions are more predictable.

  3. RubeRad says:

    …seems like the mirror error of credo-baptism

    Hey, you won’t catch me saying that the FV reaction is not an overreaction.

    And instead of adding petals to flowers I am inclined to think there’s room for a fourth mark of a true church

    Better make it five (which is a good reformed number anyways!)

    the one tradition that has something like the RPW doesn’t also mark itself doxologically

    What does that mean?

  4. Zrim says:

    It means the first mark (soteriology), the second (sacramentology), and the third (ecclesiology) are great marks. Buy why not a fourth (doxology)? Doesn’t that sort of make sesne for those who think as prescriptively about worship as they do narrowly about justification?

    That’s sort of the premise of the book “Recovering Mother Kirk,” where in the introduction it is proposed to add the fourth category of “liturgicalists” to the “doctrinalists,” “culturalists,” and “pietists.” And on page 12 Calvin is invoked to make the point that “…the Protestant Reformation would not amount to much without the reform of worship. In fact, Calvin placed worship ahead of justification in his list of things that, as he put it, encompassed ‘the whole substance of Christianity’: ‘first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and second of the source from which salvation is to be obtained'” (Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, 4).

  5. David R. says:

    “And instead of adding petals to flowers I am inclined to think there’s room for a fourth mark of a true church, as in worship …”

    I agree. But it seems that the WCF makes it a mark:

    “This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them” (WCF 25:4).

    In light of this, it seems odd that we don’t generally speak of worship as a “mark.”

  6. Echo_ohcE says:

    Sounds like an over-interpretation of the order in which things are presented.

  7. Zrim says:

    David, I suppose being a TFUer I presume the language of Belgic 29:

    The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults.

    But, yeah, sure seems odd. It’s almost as if Pentecostal churches are more predictable than P&R, which is weird for such a spontaneous tradition.

  8. RubeRad says:

    “doctrinalists,” “culturalists,” and “pietists.”

    I went to look up this old post, and I see you’ve already connected the dots to Hart.

  9. Aron says:

    I just found RMK a few weeks back – for $15 – on bookfinder.com. Now even more eager to read it…

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