Somebody at Real Life Prebyterians posted this from my old blog, which got some guys mad at Covenanter Theonomists group. So if I am going to get all that traffic, might as well get it here.
The Covenanter Theonomist group on Facebook actually had a lot going for it. Unlike Reconstructionists groups, they cared for the church (so to speak) and had a modicum of self-reflection. I did notice a number of unhealthy habits, though.
- Inventing Kinism: One of the most overblown debates in the Reformed world is kinism. I don’t want to get into defining it. The troubling phenomenon, though, is that groups associated with theonomy often attract kinists. I wonder why that is. These guys look for Kinists to create so they can talk about how evil slavery and the South is. Their definition of kinism also happens to include every human society until 1789. I am not endorsing kinism, mind you, but I am equally wary of over-reacting to such an extent that you are a Jacobin from the French Revolution.
- Speaking of which, the Covenanters, which were usually a Northern Christian denomination in the United States, love to praise Lincoln and John Brown and attack the South (see here for the most devastating deconstruction of American Covenanter thought). It’s sort of myopic and disturbing. They brag about how they opposed man-stealing while never reflecting on how Roman Christian slave-owners in the New Testament might have acquired slaves (hint: it had to do with empire and conquest). They even boast about denying communion to Southern Slave owners (though this was probably a moot point, since the RCNA really wasn’t operative in the South, and the Scottish ecclesial tradition probably didn’t have Communion that often, anyway). This is going beyond Scripture is is “getting holier than Jesus.”
- Will a Covenanter movement ever “get off the ground?” No. With a few exceptions, Covenanter denominations are almost always the results of schisms from the larger Reformed world. They are intellectually isolated (this isn’t a value judgment; it’s a historical observation) and really haven’t contributed much to Reformed theology in the last 300 years beyond some monographs on the Mediatorial Reign of Christ, which is staple Reformed thought, anyway.
- One of the reasons they won’t get off the ground is that they are self-legally obligated to support a magistrate who upholds the Solemn League and Covenant. I’ll let you reflect on that possibility for a while. (although they didn’t have a problem joining with Lincoln to attack their fellow Celtic brothers in the South; evidently the Constitution wasn’t that bad then).
Athenagoras, defending the church against the pagan charge of cannibalism said, “moreover, we have slaves: some of us more, some fewer. We cannot hide anything from them; yet not one of them has made up such tall stories against us.” (Early Church Fathers, ed. C.C. Richardson, p. 338). But Alexander McLeod says to the slaveholder, “you cannot be in the church,” (p. 25) and this posture was eventually ratified by the entire covenanter church. On this point, their righteousness exceeded even that of our Lord and the apostles. And that is heady stuff.
“Most of its members were enthusiastically for the war and anxious to participate in it as far as they could without violating their principle of dissent from the government.” (p. 58) This despite the fact that Lincoln himself constantly said the war was not about slavery. We now know Lincoln was a pathological liar; the covenanters must have known this in their bones as well, and gave vent to their approval of the “real reason,” concealed by Lincoln. At any rate, it is hard to imagine them getting so excited about a war that was about enforced union. In view of their history, that would be ironic indeed.
However, they exhibited a certain naiveté in two ways which may go part way to explain the madness. At one point, they concocted an oath to propose to the US as a basis for enlisting in the army, an oath that would be consistent with continued resistance to full submission. “I do swear by the living God, that I will be faithful to the United States, and will aid and defend them against the armies of the Confederate States, yielding all due obedience to military orders.” (p. 58) The charming bit here is the notion of defendingagainst the armies of the CSA — armies which were purely defensive, and which would have been glad to disperse and go home, if it weren’t for the invading and marauding union armies. Somehow, they had built up a mythic view of an aggressive South, gobbling up adjacent lands by force of arms.