Monday, August 30, 2010

Mere Christendom & The First Amendment

by Douglas Wilson

It should not be surprising that after I have urged the establishment of a mere Christendom for some time, that questions about the First Amendment might arise. It would appear that I am trespassing on the sacred precincts. It would seem that I am strolling across the manicured lawns of the Temple grounds, in order to have a better shot at kicking one of the sacred geese.

So perhaps I had better explain. My position on this can be summarized nicely and in brief compass. It is not the case that a mere Christendom would violate anything in the First Amendment, and the second point would be that, even if it did, we need Christ more than we need Madison.

But, on this point at least, we may certainly have both. The First Amendment, rightly understood, does not prohibit a civil acknowledgment of the Lordship of Jesus. It prohibits the establishment of a particular denomination of Christians at the federal level as the national church. It does not in any way prohibit, to take an example at random, the erecting of a Christmas creche on the steps of the Mugwump County Courthouse. Here's what the amendment says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Our concerns for the present have to do with the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. We may discuss what lawyers have done to mangle the rest of it some other time perhaps.

If you would be so kind, please note the first word of the First Amendment, which is Congress. Congress is the only entity which can violate the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment, and they can do so in two ways. The first would be if they were to pass legislation that created the Church of the United States, as England has a Church of England and Denmark the Church of Denmark. The Founders did not do this because they objected to national churches, but rather because they objected to the idea that the United States was a nation. We were, rather, a confederation of nations, meaning that any established religions needed to exist at the appropriate level, which was not the federal level. At that time, federal government and national government were not interchangeable synonyms. If you take the trouble to read The Federalist Papers, a collection of newspaper articles urging ratification of the Constitution, you will discover one of their points to be the fact that those urging ratification disavowed the idea that the Constitution was in any way creating a nation. And this is why, incidentally, Lincoln's phrase in the Gettysburg Address -- "four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation" -- was such a masterpiece of revisionist history.

The second way Congress could violate this part of the First Amendment would be if they interfered with the free exercise of religion, as practiced by any other entity that is not the Congress. Thus far, Congress has not violated the establishment clause, unless you want to count the IRS, but they have specialized in crude and repeated violations of the free exercise clause. Free exercise of religion is rapidly coming to mean that you can still believe whatever you want behind your eyes and between your ears, just so long as you do not try to exercise your religion freely, out in public where people can see you. This is not unlike the modern legal theory, with regard to one amendment down, that argues that the right to keep and bear arms means that you don't really have the right to keep and bear arms. It is hard to get your mind around such legal suppleness, and a minimum of three years in an accredited law school is usually required.

When the Constitution was adopted, 9 of the 13 colonies had established religions at the state level. The longest surviving of these was the Congregational Church in Connecticut, which was supported by that state down into the 1830's. But the point is not that we have such established state religions now. The point is rather a principled one, demonstrating with unarguable clarity what the original intent was. The federal government did not require the states to maintain an established church, but it most certainly permitted it, and did so expressly. Alabama could be officially Baptist, Connecticut Congregational, and Virginia Episcopal, and nothing about such an arrangement would be a violation of the First Amendment as originally conceived. At this point, compare the First Amendment and the Tenth Amendment. What Congress could not do, e.g. establish the Presbyterian Church, any one of the states most certainly could do.

All the states could pick different state flowers and the national government could pick a national flower, and no great conflict ensue. We could do the same with state birds, and adopt the bald eagle as the national bird, and it would cause no great consternation. But to have different state religions, and one national religion over them all is just asking for trouble. The founders were not stupid men, and so they decided to not go there.

In fact, this original understanding of the First Amendment provides us with a model of mere Christendom. The principle of organization between different Christian states need not take a stand on the denominational questions that divide the states from one another. That is what I am arguing for. This is the pattern for mere Christendom. But this cannot be done, let it be said in passing, if Michigan were under Islamic Sharia law and South Dakota under Lutheranism. Religiousdom does not provide a principle of unity at all. Christ does.

So what went wrong? As a result of the War Between the States, and subsequent interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment, the position and role of the Bill of Rights was entirely reversed. It was decided that what the federal government previously could not do, as prevented by jealous state governments, the state governments now could not do, as prevented by the overweening and ravenous federal government. We used to be protected from the federal government by the states, and now we are "protected" from the states by the feds. And thus it came about that the function of the Bill of Rights, which was to guard us against an out-of-control central government, went by the wayside.

This reversal tells you everything you need to know about how it came about that our government no longer requires the consent of the governed in order to function. This reversal tells you everything you need to know about how the list of grievances that the Government needs to be willing to redress, as described later in the First Amendment, is a list that is getting longer by the minute.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dorothy Sayers...

... “there are three kinds of people we have to deal with.”

There are the frank and open heathen, whose notions of Christianity are a dreadful jumble of rags and tags of Bible anecdotes and clotted mythological nonsense. There are the ignorant Christians, who combine a mild, gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics – most of these are Arian heretics. Finally, there are the more-or-less instructed churchgoers, who know all the arguments about divorce and auricular confession and communion in two kinds, but are about as well equipped to do battle on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic as a boy with a peashooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns.

Theologically, this country is at present in a state of utter chaos, established in the name of religious toleration, and rapidly degenerating into the flight from reason and the death of hope. We are not happy in this condition, and there are signs of a very great eagerness, especially among the younger people, to find a creed to which they can give wholehearted adherence.

This is the Church’s opportunity, if she chooses to take it. So far as the people’s readiness to listen goes, she has not been in so strong a position for at least two centuries. The rival philosophies of humanism, enlightened self-interest, and mechanical progress have broken down badly; the antagonism of science has proved to be far more apparent than real; and the happy-go-lucky doctrine of laissez-faire is completely discredited. But no good whatever will be done by retreat into personal piety or by mere exhortation to a recall to prayer. The thing that is in danger is the whole structure of society, and it is necessary to persuade thinking men and women of the vital and intimate connection between the structure of society and the theological doctrines of Christianity.

The task is not made easier by the obstinate refusal of a great body of nominal Christians, both lay and clerical, to face the theological question. “Take away theology and give us some nice religion” has been the popular slogan for so long that we are likely to accept it, without inquiring whether religion without theology has any meaning. And however unpopular I may make myself, I shall and will affirm that the reason why the churches are discredited today is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Pastor's Kids, Again

By Douglas Wilson

Several issues ago I wrote on the subject of a pastor's domestic qualifications for office. I argued that the spiritual condition of a pastor's children was directly relevant to his qualifications for continuing in the pastoral office. I granted for the sake of the discussion that the phrase in Titus 1:6 should be translated "faithful children" as opposed to "believing children," but asked in what Pauline sense faithful can mean externally obedient and internally rebellious.

Since the appearance of that column, I have received (some) thoughtful responses from readers which require me to pursue the subject a little further. In order to do this, it is necessary to begin with a few background qualifiers.

First, I trust that we can have a truce of sorts between all those who believe that the passages in question (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9) mean something. The great problem of our time is that Paul teaches that an elder's qualification for office is established in the home, but as far as the general leadership of the Christian church in our nation today is concerned, this text is a dead letter. General agreement should be possible among those who exhibit submission to this text through an observable discipline of pastors and elders. Too often Reformed pastors want others to submit to them, but they themselves submit to nothing or no one.

Second, I have written regarding another pastoral qualification (an elder should be a one-woman man) that we are evaluating character, not counting rocks. The world is a messy place, and this is frequently hard on perfectionists. Thus, all questions flowing from weird circumstances not addressed in the text should be acknowledged to be anomalous, and dealt with on a case-by-case basis. What about an elder who adopts his fifteen-year-old nephew whose parents just died, and that nephew never comes to faith? What about a child fathered out of wedlock ten years before the father was converted and married? The man's six legitimate children are all faithful Christians. My point is not that we should apply Paul's requirements in a wooden manner, with our eyes shut tight, but rather that if we are careful to obey him in those areas which are clearly addressed in the text, we will have the wisdom necessary when we come to the difficult cases.

Third, we should distinguish the loci of decision-making on this issue, which vary according to the circumstance. In short, we should be fully convinced in our own minds concerning those conditions in our own families which would cause us voluntarily to step down, and those conditions in the life and household of another that would justify a fight at presbytery. Whatever we understand Paul to be saying, our standards of application should be tighter for ourselves, and more charitable for others. For example, a man might decide (and, I think, should decide) to step down if one of his six children denies the faith. But if another pastor in his presbytery in the same situation does not decide to do so, and his other five children are saintly, only a crank would express his disagreement through a big church fight. But say another pastor has six hellions, and how all this happened is a grand mystery to him, questions about his fitness for office should be raised and pursued.

With those qualifiers, we can turn to some of the more formidable objections. One objection is that this whole discussion distracts attention from the issue Paul raises in this passage, namely, the character traits of the man who would be an elder. In other words, why are we talking about his kids' character instead of his? The answer is that children frequently make excellent mirrors; they reflect more than we usually want to have reflected. We commonly turn away from gaining a knowledge of a pastor's character because we refuse to follow the trail of clues. They would lead us directly to that man's arrogant and harsh demeanor around the dinner table. Finally, when one of the kids has had his fill of the hypocrisy, he leaves the faith, but we don't ask any questions because the pastor is so saintly in the pulpit. But many men find it far easier to act saintly there than they do in conversation with their wife and children.

A second objection is that this standard runs contrary to the words of warning Christ gave His apostles in Matthew 10. "And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death" (Matt. 10:21). Two responses can be made to this. The first is that Christ is telling his apostles what will happen to them, as indicated by the pronoun you used throughout the discourse. In verse 21, He shifts to the third person, and then goes back to you in v. 22. The apostles were not going to be doing the work of ministry all by themselves; they were going to be working with congregations, and many of the families in those congregations were going to be divided, as we know was the case at Corinth. The second response is that this situation could contribute to the occasional anomalous situation referred to earlier. Suppose a father brings his children up in a false religion, but when they are grown, he is then converted. His family turns on him, but he remains faithful. The point of division is the gospel here, and not twenty years of ladling reformational arrogance and conceit over the tops of the childrens' heads.

A final caution. Children learn far more unspoken theology than we tend to think. Suppose parents have operated with the doctrinal assumption that the kids might or might not turn out, who knows? Why should the children have any confidence about it? Unbelief is the constant, unspoken option. And one day, the option is spoken out loud. But it was always there, hidden away in the hearts of the parents, who always hoped for their childrens' faith, but never believed for it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

View of the Future

by David Chilton
from his book Paradise Restored

No Christian believes in ultimate defeat. All Christians know that God will be victorious over the devil at the end of history. As a young Christian, I remember my Bible teachers informing me that they had "peeked at the last chapter (of the Bible), and the Christians win!"

But that is just my point: according to certain popular brands of eschatology, victory takes place only in "the last chapter." In time, in history, on earth, the Christians lose. The world is getting worse and worse. Antichrist is coming. The devil is running the world, and getting more and more powerful all the time. Your work for God in this world will have no lasting effect, except to save a few individuals from hell. But you’d better do it quickly, before the Tribulation hits, so that you can escape in time. Ironically, the unintentional message of this gospel is: Antichrist is coming! There is something terribly lopsided about that. The eschatology of defeat is wrong. Instead of a message of defeat, the Bible gives us Hope, both in this world and the next. The Bible gives us an eschatology of dominion, an eschatology of victory. This is not some blind, "everything-willwork- out-somehow" kind of optimism. It is a solid, confident, Bible-based assurance that, before the Second Coming of Christ, the gospel will be victorious through-out the entire world.

For many, that will seem incredible. It goes against the whole spirit of the modern age; for years, Christians have been taught to expect defeat. However until fairly recently, most Christians held an eschatology of dominion. Most Christians throughout the history of the Church regarded the eschatology of defeat as a doctrine of crackpots.

The Church’s eschatology of dominion radically shaped the history of Western civilization. For example, think about the great cathedrals of Europe, and compare them to the church buildings of today. Those old cathedrals, magnificent works of art constructed over decades and sometimes generations, were built to last for centuries—and they have. But modern evangelical churches are usually built to last a generation at most. We don’t expect to be around long enough to get much use out of them, and we certainly don’t expect our great-grandchildren to worship in them. We don’t even expect to have great- grandchildren. It is safe to say that the thought of descendants living five hundred years from now has never even entered the minds of most evangelical today. Yet, for many Christians of previous generations, the idea of future generations benefiting from their labors was not strange in the slightest degree. They built for the ages.

The eschatological issue centers on one fundamental point: Will the gospel succeed in its mission, or not? Regardless of their numerous individual differences, the various defeatist schools of thought are solidly lined up together on one major point: The gospel of Jesus Christ will fail. Christianity will not be successful in its worldwide task. Christ’s Great Commission to disciple the nations will not be carried out. Satan and the forces of Antichrist will prevail in history, overcoming the Church and virtually wiping it out—until Christ returns at the last moment, like the cavalry in B-grade westerns, to rescue the ragged little band of survivors.

Does it make a difference? Does your view of prophecy really affect your life? The basic issue has to do with your attitude toward the future. I recall a "Jesus People" newspaper of the early 1970s which carried an interview with the most popular "prophecy expert" of those days. On the basis of the "fact" that Jesus was going to rapture His Church "at any moment," this man actually counseled his young followers not to marry and raise families. After all, there was no time for that sort of thing. The Rapture was coming, so any work for dominion would be useless. (If you were the devil, could you devise a better, more "spiritual-sounding" excuse for Christians to abandon God’s plan for victory?) The "Rapture Ethic" of those years led many to leave school, jobs, families, and responsibility in general; flocks of Jesus People wandered aimlessly around the country, with no clear goal beyond the next Christian rock concert. It was years before many of them woke up, and it sometimes took years more to put their lives together again.

The fact is that you will not work for the transformation of society if you don’t believe society can be transformed. You will not try to build a Christian civilization if you do not believe that a Christian civilization is possible. It was the utter confidence in the victory of the Christian faith that gave courage to the early missionaries, who fearlessly strode into the farthest reaches of pagan Europe as if they were at the head of an army, preaching the gospel, driving out demons, smashing idols, converting whole kingdoms, bringing vast multitudes to their knees at the feet of Christ. They knew they would win. They could give up their lives in the struggle, certain that history was on their side, that Satan’s domains were being shattered daily, his illegitimate hold weakening and slipping with every advance of the Christian forces. They were not in the least bit pessimistic about the power of the gospel. God honored their faith in His promises, and enabled them to lay the groundwork for a Christendom which will someday embrace the entire world.

Monday, August 9, 2010

“What Can Miserable Christians Sing?”

by Carl Trueman,
from The Wages of Spin (pp. 159-160).

Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmists’ cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament—but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps—and this is more likely—it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one—and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this. A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party—a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is—or at least should be—all about health, wealth, and happiness corrupted the content of our worship?

. . . In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship. Does our contemporary language of worship reflect the horizon of the expectation regarding the believer’s experience which the psalter proposes as normative? If not, why not? Is it because the comfortable values of Western middle-class consumerism have silently infiltrated the church and made us consider such cries irrelevant, embarrassing, and signs of abject failure?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The biggest shift in thinking when it comes to worship services

Do we take the thing people need and treat it like medicine that must be administered with a spoonful of sugar? 'Cause that's what the "dirt-bike on the stage" approach essentially means: we take something lost people find cool or appealing or attractive and use that to lure them in for the thing we know they don't find cool or appealing or attractive, thereby communicating that "Yes, we know this is the not so cool part" and then try to convince them it's really the important thing. But we've already demonstrated even we don't believe that. Or else we wouldn't feel compelled to dress it up with a dirt-bike. --Jared Wilson

Read the rest