The Church Is A Missionary Society, And The Spirit Of Missions Is The Spirit Of The Gospel: The Missional Piety Of The Southern Presbyterian Tradition -- By: Caleb Cangelosi

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 05:1 (Jan 2013)
Article: The Church Is A Missionary Society, And The Spirit Of Missions Is The Spirit Of The Gospel: The Missional Piety Of The Southern Presbyterian Tradition
Author: Caleb Cangelosi


The Church Is A Missionary Society, And The Spirit Of Missions Is The Spirit Of The Gospel:
The Missional Piety Of The Southern Presbyterian Tradition

Caleb Cangelosi

When it comes to finding models for Christian theology and practice, nineteenth-century Presbyterians in the American South are often overlooked by modern Reformed Christians. Sometimes this is out of mere ignorance; many have never heard of Benjamin Morgan Palmer, James Henley Thornwell, John Lafayette Girardeau, or Robert Lewis Dabney, much less William Swan Plumer, Thomas Smyth, John Leighton Wilson, John Bailey Adger, Daniel Baker, Charles Colcock Jones, George Howe, Stuart Robinson, Thomas Ephraim Peck, Moses Drury Hoge, or any of the other Southern Presbyterian pastors and teachers.1

At other times, however, they are overlooked out of prejudice against those who were prejudiced. The Southern Presbyterians, both antebellum and postbellum, were not exemplary in every way, and they were children of their age; but the proverbial baby is thrown out with the bathwater when we neglect or dismiss a group’s total body of work due to positions many held on race, slavery, and secession. John Piper has warned us against such a facile and dismissive approach to those who have gone before us in the faith: “From a distance we can make distinctions. We can say: This was an admirable trait but not that. This we will celebrate, and that we will deplore.” He wrote these words to suggest that we treat Martin Luther King, Jr. in the way we treat America’s founding fathers. Recognizing the irony, I suggest we do the same with the Southern Presbyterians and the Southern Presbyterian Church (formally known after the Civil War as the Presbyterian

Church in the United States). Knowledge of King’s theological and ethical errors, argues Piper, “should not prevent us from reminding our people about the truth and vision he so eloquently proclaimed.”2 Likewise, the blind spots of the pastors and theologians of the nineteenth-century South ought not to hinder us from mining the rich depths of pure gold we find in their lives and writings. Specifically, as this article seeks to illustrate, the Southern Presbyterians proclaimed with eloquence a missionary vision for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we ignore or remain ignorant of it to our great loss.

The Southern Presbyterians’ devotion to missions has not been forgotten by those familiar with that storied tradition. Recently, C. N. Willborn wrote an excellent introduction to Southern Presbyterianism in general and its emphasis on missions in particular.

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