Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

In Praise of Mayberry

Stephen Wolfe has an excellent article up today at Mere Orthodoxy in defense of what is called (usually derisively) “cultural Christianity.” The article’s principles should be examined and thought through before unleashing a series of BUT WHAT ABOUTs. The piece has the additional salutary benefit of honoring our fathers and mothers in the faith who operated on the principles Mr. Wolfe sets forth.

Speaking of the Fifth Commandment, I’d like quickly to expand on one point that Mr. Wolfe makes. Russell Moore, with whose own principles Mr. Wolfe interacts in his post, wrote the following a couple of years ago:

We don’t have Mayberry anymore, if we ever did. Good. Mayberry leads to hell just as surely as Gomorrah does.

I’m afraid that it must be said in more or less unequivocal terms that the perspective represented in those sentences is not one that is available to Reformed Christians. Why? Because it proves too much. By parity of reasoning, parents should likewise avoid expecting the outward conformity of their children to the rules of the house. If conformity to authority–regardless of motivation in any particular act–is inimical to true faith in the gospel, then parents are going to find themselves in a tight spot, and that right quick. For if the worry about conformity is correct, one should avoid requiring not only family worship, catechesis, or church attendance, but any kind of obedience at all because such obedience will teach “works righteousness” and therefore produce “fake Christians.”

For Christian parents–and particularly for those who believe in paedobaptism, Christian nurture, and so on–the simple act of writing what I just wrote is sufficient to show that it is absurd. But the reasoning is no less (or more) cogent when applied to civil society, because they function analogously in the relevant way: both are spheres of authority attended by rules and expectations. Telling your son not to hit his sister doesn’t produce faith, nor does telling him to go to church. But neither is, I daresay, incompatible with such faith.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.