Charles Hodge on Church Boards: A Case Study in Ecclesiology -- By: A. Craig Troxel

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 58:2 (Fall 1996)
Article: Charles Hodge on Church Boards: A Case Study in Ecclesiology
Author: A. Craig Troxel

Charles Hodge on Church Boards: A Case Study in Ecclesiology

A. Craig Troxel

I. Introduction

W. G. T. Shedd once said that Charles Hodge “has done more for Calvinism than any other man in this country.”1 This kind of admiration was matched by Hodge’s life-long mentor Archibald Alexander, who on his death-bed addressed Hodge as “son” and said of him that, “he is a noble man.”2 Hodge won the respect of many of his contemporaries, whether they were his advocates or adversaries, and he continued to receive high praise generations after his death.3 This high esteem for Hodge was due in large part to his consistent, unswerving defense of Biblical Christianity as expressed in the Reformed Faith. His articulation of theology was unequivocal, vigorous and considered without equal.4 But since Hodge was not only of the Reformed stripe but also Presbyterian, surely when the theological acumen of such a venerable individual turned upon ecclesiological issues one would anticipate the same clear thinking and consistent presentation that marks so much of his thought. One would almost expect that Hodge would be regarded as one who has, “done more for Presbyterianism than any other man in this country.” However, some of Hodge’s contemporaries would have protested such a claim and actually accused him of quite the contrary. This was in fact the case with respect to Hodge’s participation in the “Church Board controversy,” a debate which serves as a good case study in so far as it reveals Hodge’s thinking on the church. What was Hodge’s ecclesiological foundation in this historical debate? Was he consistent with these ecclesiological presuppositions in their

practical implications? An historical-theological analysis of Hodge’s views and meth odology during this debate promises to provide some answers to these questions and holds forth some helpful lessons for strikingly similar contemporary issues.5

II. Church Boards and Voluntary Societies

The “Plan of Union” (1801) was the cooperative attempt between the Presbyterians and Congregationalists to establish churches on the frontier which would help stem the rising tide of Arminianism. Amidst the various influences that the Congregational wing had on the Presbyterians through this union, was the rise of “benevolent societies” or “voluntary associations,” which came to be largely associated with the New School section of the Presbyterian Church.

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