What we have in common with neo-Anabaptism at its best is love for the Kingdom of God, and love for the world. And neo-Anabaptist critiques of Christian compromise and complacency are very often apt. These should be heeded so far as they hit home.
But heeding these rebukes cannot mean accepting the schismatic and perfectionist principles of neo-Anabaptism, its rejection of ordinary domestic and life. For it is within ordinary life, within this very world, that the Kingdom of God grows by the Spirit.
The orthodox evangelical doctrine of the two kingdoms is a way of describing the dual reality of the Christian in the world, whose works will not save him but who works because he is saved by grace. And the work the Christian does is glorifying God, through praise above all, but also by service of neighbor and cultivation of the world.
Part of that work is political. Christianity does not leave the political untouched- it insists on the true natural law, the universal image of God in man, and the impossibility of human self-justification. Having the science of man’s origin and end, Christianity necessarily has political principles which perfect the wisdom of prechristian polities while rejecting the idolatries and confusions of them. All men are sinners, and the work of developing Christian civic order has been long and troubled; but the order the evangelicals worked to build was in the end a remarkable accomplishment, for the glory of God and the love of neighbor.
And we live in it still. Our problem is that we have come to think otherwise, like the Saxon settlers of Britain who thought the ruins of Roman architecture surrounding them were the work of trolls, rather than of the Roman men whose political and religious dependents the Saxons were. We are not nearly that far gone in fact, but we are very close to it in principle.
Our present situation is one of amnesia, not of antithesis. The origins of the civic order of the old Christian nations has been suppressed. Now, that civic order was never anything close to perfect; it was and is a world of sinners. But it was and is the best thing going, and to agree with secularism that the Christian civic order was never Christian, as neo-Anabaptism does, and as several other supposedly radical Christian schools of thought do, is simply to be complicit with the project of suppression. Only secularism gains by that.
Neo-Anabaptist exaltation of the saving visible “Church,” is in fact denigration of the actual Christian people, and of the actual legacy of reformed Christendom which was the creation of the Christian people. Worse, such rhetorical exaltation is an idolatry. Only Jesus saves us from sin and death, not the Church- the Church is the community of the saved, it is not itself the savior. And neither does the visible Church save us from politics, or save the polis from its problems; the problems of the polis will show up in the visible Church, for they are made up of the same constituents.1 We are not to be saved from the polis, nor to save the polis; we are rather to serve in it. And the traditions of our fathers, for all their imperfections, are a school of service, and themselves a work of service.
It is in those traditions of evangelical political and philosophic wisdom that we should school ourselves, if we aim to be of service today.
There is a saying attributed to Luther, probably apocryphal2 but expressing the man’s spirit exactly: “even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Like Luther, we know that the end had already happened, Christ has won, and now we, thanks to Him and in order to give thanks to his Father, are in the business of planting trees.
1This is true even now.
2It is not attested, so far as I know, before the middle of the 20th century.