Divine power of church discipline...

(Tim) Since Christless Christianity has come in for some knocks, here, I want to post this excerpt forwarded by Pastor Andrew Dionne having to do with the Christian approach to slavery. Still, the approach commended by Dr. Horton in the second paragraph is not what developed here in these United States as the spirituality-of-the-church, nor the R2-K Normative Withdrawal the Spirituality-of-the-Church has morphed into.

* * *

Surely the abolition of the slave trade was a noble work, yet it is interesting that in Britain it was not the church as an institution that abolished it but Christians who had been shaped by the church’s ministry and held public office in the state. When William Wilberforce came to John Newton for advice on whether he should enter the ministry, Newton encouraged his friend to pursue politics instead. It was as a member of Parliament that Wilberforce loved and served his neighbor, benefiting from the ordinary means of grace that Newton ministered to him. The church preached God’s transcendent law and gospel, and her children pursued their cultural mandate in their secular vocations. Thank God that Newton was a pastor and Wilberforce was not!
I often wonder how American history might have turned out differently if the churches in the South had disciplined members who held slaves...

In other words, if the churches had simply followed their own mandate of preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, and exercising discipline and care for the well-being of their flock. Would not the institution have lost its moral credibility even outside the church? Both Northern and Southern churches had reduced slavery merely to a political issue when they should have done what only churches can do: proclaim God’s judgment upon the kidnapping and forced labor of fellow humans and excommunicate members who refused to repent of the practice. At the same time, church members could have exercised their moral conscience in deciding for themselves how best to abolish the institution in courts and legislatures. (Michael Horton, Christless Christianity; pp. 214-15)


"Both Northern and Southern churches had reduced slavery merely to a political issue when they should have done what only churches can do: proclaim God’s judgment upon the kidnapping and forced labor of fellow humans and excommunicate members who refused to repent of the practice. At the same time, church members could have exercised their moral conscience in deciding for themselves how best to abolish the institution in courts and legislatures. (Michael Horton, Christless Christianity; pp. 214-15)"

A most hilarious tit-for-tat.

Darryl Hart invokes Doug Wilson to strengthen his 2K position.

In response, you invoke Michael Horton to strengthen the 1K position.

One good turn deserves another, eh?


I don't see any indication that Horton has any idea what Wilberforce heard in church on a Sunday morning, though he assumes it was the "transcendent law and gospel" divorced from any contemporary social or civil application.

There are some relevant comments in an interview with church historian John Wolfe on Wilberforce. In light of a recent blog here on corporate responsibility:

"Second, both Shaftesbury and Wilberforce believed that Britain was accountable to God for how it treated its weaker, less-privileged members. Wilberforce once said it would be "a strange exception to all those established principles [of] Divine Providence … if national and personal prosperity were … found to arise from injustice and oppression."

And second, on how pastor Thomas Chalmers approached social reform:

"Also, take the ministry of Thomas Chalmers in the 1810s and 1820s in Glasgow, Scotland, as an example. He thought of the parish as a self-help unit. You inspire people to take their Christian social responsibility seriously and then you set up structures to help them fulfill that responsibility. Coupled with his evangelistic teachings, he advocated an intensive program of education and social help at the local level."


Russ, so I guess you favor the welfare programs of the Democrats? I see a lot of Wilberforce and Chalmers in the New Deal and Great Society, not to mention Bush's faith-based initiatives.

Is it not possible that Christian teaching makes for lousy politics?

Darryl Hart: "Is it not possible that Christian teaching makes for lousy politics?"

Is it not possible that non-Christian teaching makes for lousy politics too?

Eg., Marxism.

Or especially Marxism coopting Christian principles to advance a Marxist agenda.

Point well taken that if the church had preached God's word about manstealing, we might have avoided all kinds of trouble in this country.

Now, where are OUR blind spots?

One of the most important bishops in England, Beilby Porteus did use his position to fight slavery. If you read to the end of this excerpt from his Wikipedia entry, you'll see that he wasn't just political; he also actively fought immorality and bad doctrine.

Porteus used the opportunity afforded by the invitation to preach the 1783 Anniversary Sermon of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to criticise the Church’s role in ignoring the plight of the 350 slaves on its Codrington Estates in Barbados, and to recommend means by which the lot of slaves there could be improved.

It was a well-reasoned and much-reprinted plea for The Civilisation, Improvement and Conversion of the Negroe Slaves in the British West-India Islands Recommended, and was preached before forty members of the society, including eleven bishops of the Church of England. When this largely fell upon deaf ears, Porteus next began work on his Plan for the Effectual Conversion of the Slaves of the Codrington Estate, which he presented to the SPG committee in 1784 and, when it was turned down, again in 1789. His dismay at the rejection of his Plan by the other bishops is palpable. His Diary entry for the day reveals his moral outrage at the decision and at what he saw as the apparent complacency of the bishops and the committee of the Society at its responsibility for the welfare of its own slaves.

...Deeply concerned about the lot of the slaves as a result of the reports he received, Porteus became a committed and passionate abolitionist, the most senior churchman of his day to take an active part in the campaign against slavery. ...

As Wilberforce’s bill for the abolition of the slave trade was brought before the British parliament time and time again over eighteen years from 1789, Porteus campaigned vigorously and energetically supported the campaign from within the Church of England and the bench of bishops in the House of Lords.

In 1787, Porteus was translated to the bishopric of London[8] on the advice of Prime Minister William Pitt, a position he held until his death in 1809. As is customary, he was also appointed to the Privy Council, and Dean of the Chapel Royal.[9] In 1788, he supported Sir William Dolben’s Slave Trade Bill from the bench of bishops, and over the next quarter century he became the leading advocate within the Church of England for the abolition of slavery, lending support to such men as Wilberforce, Granville Sharp, Henry Thornton and Zachary Macaulay to secure the eventual passage of the Slave Trade Bill in 1807....

A man of strong moral principle, Porteus was also passionately concerned about what he saw as the moral decay in the nation during the eighteenth century, and campaigned against trends which he saw as contributory factors, such as pleasure gardens, theatres and the non-observance of the Lord’s Day. He enlisted the support of his friend Hannah More, former dramatist and bluestocking, to write tracts against the wickedness of the immorality and licentious behaviour which were common at these events. He vigorously opposed the spread of the principles of the French Revolution as well as what he regarded as the ungodly and dangerous doctrines of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason.

Jonathan Edwards had slaves.

In 1800, the newly ordained Alexander McLeod was called to pastor the churches of Coldenham and New York City, but he declined because there were slave-holders among those who signed the call. The Reformed Presbytery subsequently ruled that "No slave-holder should be allowed the communion of the Church". In obedience, one small RP congregation in SC freed their slaves at an estimated loss of $500,000 in today's gold value. McLeod's treatise on the matter, "Negro Slavery Unjustifiable," is online here:


While I don't necessarily agree with the 2K position, Horton makes something of a point here. There are practically no churches in the PCA, OPC, or RPCNA that today exercise any measure of church discipline. That's what you get, I guess, when sessions generally consist of the 5-6 highest salaried men in the church.

After all, when was the last time that Calvary OP in Glenside excommunicated someone...for something besides admitting that he read Norm Shepherd's book and liked it.

Well, Rob, it truth be told, the session at Calvary did excommunicate a member for violating the 7th commandment two years ago. So far, the readers and likers of Shepherd are all still members in good standing.

Nice diversion though from James M.'s point about Edwards and slavery.


That is quite untrue. In fact, our church is very faithful to exercise discipline.

Darryl: LBJ was fond of reading the Scottish Divines? I was unaware of this. But still, I'm puzzled where you see a lot Chalmers, the one who opposed a mandatory pauper taxes collected by the government in favor of voluntary help administered on the local level, in the federal programs of the Great Society. Perhaps Chalmers can be found anywhere.

And I would certainly affirm that Christian teaching about the nature of the created order, the reality of sin, and their result in political life makes for good politics. To affirm otherwise would make us radical Averroists. Of course, even those most committed to it do often fail in the apprehension and application of this teaching.

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