Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 3)

Our conversation has been going on for some while now, and it would probably be helpful to review what has been said and what remains to be said.  Everything began with the C/A review of David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms.  We received mostly positive feedback overall, though Darryl Hart did fire a few snipes.  We responded here, and the comments took off.  Dr. Hart argued that the “two kingdoms” are not different in quality, one spiritual in kind and the other earthly and temporal, but rather that both are temporal and physical yet having different zones, goals, and means.  He even maintained that church officers were spiritual rulers in the kingdom of God.  Church discipline is then a coercive force in the kingdom, and the church is indeed an alternative city, though it should nonetheless mind its own business.  In this case, that means that it does not have any particular voice in the common public sphere.

While this conversation was in full swing, we had our own sort of apparition of Mary.  “Mary Campion” appeared in the comments offering particularly clear articulations of both positions, yet later revealed herself to be Michael Hickman and offered the Roman Catholic counter.  Michael suggested that the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession was the necessary safeguard to allow the Church a voice in the public sector without being dominated by the State.  We have already devoted two posts to interacting with this.  The first sought to define “the Church” and thus show why it should be considered qualitatively spiritual.  Our view is that the Church is not a worldly-temporal entity and thus is in no real “competition” with the State.  The State is designed to deal with bodies, as it guides temporal matters in various ways according to prudence.  The Church, though always embodied, is designed to deal with hearts.  Once the visible and invisible distinctions are made in regard to the Church, we concluded that invisible Church is properly the spiritual kingdom of God and is always guided by the Holy Spirit, while the visible Church exists in the temporal kingdom and lives according to law.

Secondly we sought to discuss apostolic succession in particular, though there ended up being little interaction with my particular biblical observations or criticisms of the Roman doctrine.  What seemed to come out, through much coaxing, was that apostolic succession is the necessary means to identify the Church (the successor of Peter), and that this Church is itself a temporal and spatial power which must direct the political kingdoms of the world.  Not settling for a general advisory role, this view also claims that the magisterium (the Pope) is the one class of humanity able to properly interpret and use the natural law, and in the event that the civil magistrates should come to disagree with the magisterium, they would need to submit to his will or face civil as well as spiritual sanctions.

What makes apostolic succession relevant and appealing to this discussion is that it seeks to guarantee that there will be a protected interpreter of nature and reason capable of ruling those who have lost this ability.  It clearly identifies “the Church,” and it attempts to provide a true “new city” and “new humanity” in the form of the clergy.  It offers an enduring apostolic office and even a vicarious Jesus Christ for the world to see and follow.  It provides clarity and singularity of direction.

The Protestant position is that through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the role of faith, each Christian has received Jesus Christ in full, and each is a successor to the apostles, both in doctrine and in baptism.  “The Church” is quite simply “the people,” and the people are presumed competent self-governors, capable of recognizing and enacting the principles of civic order on the one hand, and the principles of Christian confession and charity on the other.  Neither the magistracy nor the ministry has the whole competence of the Christian people by delegation, but rather by representation.

Thus we come back to our original dispute about the nature of the Church and the relationship between the spiritual kingdom and the temporal kingdom. Though offering very different postures towards the civic arena on a surface level, what inevitably comes out is the fact that both Dr. Hart’s ecclesiology and the Roman Catholic ecclesiology (represented by Michael’s comments) define “the spiritual kingdom” as the visible Church and thus end up with a competing spatial-temporal power to the worldly kingdom.  Dr. Hart’s visible Church keeps to its own business and does not meddle with the public square at large, while Michael’s visible Church claims to have the only reliable means to lead the public square, yet both still leave us with kingdoms in hostility.  Both confuse law and gospel by having coercion in the spiritual kingdom, and both define the Church firstly by its clergy and secondarily by those who are in submission to them.  They subscribe to a sort of sacerdotalism, which they would positively refer to as “High Church.”  Both are at odds with the two kingdoms expressed by the magisterial Reformation, and both fail to provide a way for the two kingdoms to exist in the same place and at the same time without creating violence.

The problem of such a conception of the Church is that when the ministerium claims to have political power it makes an impostor double of real temporal power, and can only have the human ends of a ministerial corporation as its motive.  True spirituality and Word-authority requires no political power whatever for its potency.  If aggressive the impostor temporal power will seek control of the whole commonwealth.  If defeated or passive, it will simply withdraw from reality, and live in a mental-ghetto substitute for the City.

What is also interesting is that both positions have existed in both “peace” and “war” varieties over history.  Dr. Hart likes to cite Samuel Rutherford and other de jure divino (DJD) Presbyterians as his authorities, and these men were precisely “war” separatists.  They believed in the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant.  The American “Covenanters” would not even support the Constitution until quite recently.  Today of course the militant nature of the movement is almost completely gone.  It lives a peaceful life, though it would be an understatement to say that it has failed to enjoy a “catholic” outlook on other churches and the public sphere at large.  It still retains the separatist disposition.  Dr. Hart would find many supporters in this tradition, and while he would not call for a complete rejection of the world, he would nonetheless maintain that the Christian is only truly Christian when apart from the world.  The Christian spends his time in the world as a necessary holding bin, but he does not offer Christian or biblical wisdom to this world.  He waits for the appropriate time to leave the City and enter the Church before he can do this.

The Roman Catholic Church has had a similar arch of development, as it once encouraged its members to rebel against non-Roman rulers and even issued a call to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.  To this day the Roman Church retains its political claims (the Pope is the head of his own political State), though it chooses not to act upon them.  Contemporary Roman Catholicism encourages peaceful interaction with the world, and many modern Roman Catholics defend the “separation of Church and State” as staunchly as anyone.  “The Church” is pretty easily identifiable, and it has its own sort of world within the world at large.  Though typically encouraging of social activity, it is still the case that there is a separatist conception of the Church.  The “spiritual kingdom” still refers to an alternative political structure which has its own laws and rulers and exerts coercive force over the body.

This now brings us to the true alternative.  If Papalism and Separatist-ism (whether it be Anabaptist or DJD Presybterianism) both fail to provide for harmony between the kingdoms and both fail to allow Christian men to be both Christians and men (those political animals) at the same time, then what is left?  The solution is the true Protestant doctrine of the two kingdoms: a robust commonwealth and mere Christendom.

Law is a reality (both for God and creation), and all men are political animals by fact of creation.  Furthermore, man is always both body and spirit, and he always has bodily concerns and spiritual concerns.  Thus man needs to order both his body and his spirit.  Politeia, the original name for Plato’s Republic, had as much to do with the right ordering of the soul as it did actual city planning, and thus it should not be thought unusual for us to say that there are both bodily and spiritual sorts of politics.  Man is always concerned with both, and thus he fashions representative governments for both.  The magistracy rules the bodily realm, and the ministry rules the spiritual realm.  The magistracy is of law, with coercive authority, and the ministry possesses moral and doctrinal authority, though only in a persuasive fashion.  The magistracy has to do with the temporal order, knowable by reason, and the ministry has to do with the mysteries of revelation. The magistracy as such only has competence around sacred matters, not in them; and the ministry as such only has authority around temporal matters, not over or in them.

Revelation is architectonic, but Christian revelation itself establishes the distinction between temporal and spiritual, and it denies that the representatives of the believers in matters of faith have any divinely guaranteed competence beyond what all have.  Since  the Word refuses temporal power and works by Spirit and attraction alone, the ministerium, acting as “men of the Word”, has no properly political power in the worldly sense. The Church is more than the ministerium, of course, and Christians find themselves in differing vocations throughout the world.  They are always united, and thus it is proper to point out that they have one head: Jesus Christ.  He is the King of kings.  (Dr. Hart’s odd notion that the world may be called the kingdom of God, but not the kingdom of Christ is nonsensical at best and heretical at worst.)  This one Jesus Christ, the Godman, does reign in two ways, of course, delegating His temporal power to the magistracy through the people, all the while reigning directly in the spiritual kingdom through His Spirit in men’s hearts received by faith.

Since Christianity is the religion of redemption by grace through faith alone, it does not allow for the law-order to serve as a direct means of justification or sanctification.  Thus the temporal kingdom has peace, order, and justice for its end.  The conscience, with respect to transcendental ends, it leaves free, allowing it to be governed by the Word of God.  The ministerium are appointed for order’s sake within the assembly of the Word, speaking on behalf of the people and pointing to the Word, calling men to believe.  Even in the case of Church discipline, the most the ministerium does is to turn the one disciplined out of its assemblies.  It does not coerce faith or punish the body, and any experienced minister knows that in regards to the spiritual health of the individual, church discipline is only as efficient as the receiving individual’s heart.  Apart from that, the only success is the clearing of a roll and the protection of other members.

But we do in fact believe that Christians as Christians can and should have something to say to the civic arena.  Ironically, this observation is itself not uniquely Christian.  Non-Christians have historically said that religion is the heart of a city, and that, in fact, religion is good for the political project.  Calvin writes:

That it extends to both tables of the law, did Scripture not teach, we might learn from profane writers; for no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship. Thus all have confessed that no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care, and that those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations, Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make it not their care.

~Inst. 4.20.9

Thus “reason” and “nature” both teach that religion holds the first place in philosophy.  Rather than needing to learn it from positive biblical law, we can know that religion is necessary for the well-being of a society through the natural law.  The heart and the head need to be in conversation.

What Christian revelation teaches is that this religion which is needed by the State is, in fact, a spiritual matter.  It is not something that can be achieved through laws, and thus the responsible State should provide for the existence and protection of religion without coercing belief.

The only necessary “Christian magistrate,” particularly in the modern context, is a Christian constitution, which is only to say founding and guiding principles which articulate the dual reign of Christ and therefore allow for maximum freedom in the spiritual kingdom.  This is not an obvious or automatic human arrangement, however, and that is where we, in defending a robust secular arena, differ sharply with the modern secularist.  The best features of our modern arrangement are themselves irreducible beyond the developments of Christendom, particular the insights of Protestant jurists.

As early as Girolamo Zanchi, the Reformed were espousing a view of principled toleration.  Zanchi states, “We doe certainly hold that a prince ought not to use one kinde of measure towards all these sorts [divergent religions]. For some of them are to be loved, cherished and honored; some to bee winked at; some not to be suffred; other to be quite cut off.”  This was further expanded by Protestant thinkers such as Locke, Thomasius, and Pufendorf.  Our “creedal test” would be quite simple: all those who acknowledge the distinct nature of jurisdiction between the two kingdoms are allowed.  This is but another way of saying, those who subscribe to our founding principles should be admitted, while those who reject our founding principles will be found to be incompatible in the civic arena and thus should go elsewhere.

Whether or not one “personally believes” in a religion is not, of course, a necessary indicator of how well he can read or even apply the teachings of that religion.  You can imagine a non-believing “biblical theologian,” just as well as you can imagine a Jewish person accurately explaining the City of God.  And you can imagine a true believer who fails to understand or articulate sound doctrine, just as well as you can imagine Augustinian monks engaging in semi-Pelagianism.  This is the real world.

And so while not reverting to the fallacy that all religions are equally reducible to the same tenets, the Reformed take on Christendom can allow for non-believers to be good and productive citizens.  It can even allow for non-Christian magistrates.  What it requires is prudent magistrates and pious (in the old sense of the term) citizens.

The dominion mandate is sponsored by common grace, and falls to all. The Christian State sponsors this cultivation architectonically, and following Biblical distinctions understands that only temporal peace and order and justice, the conditions of temporal felicity, are its aim.  Such a State welcomes the civic contributions of all, even of unbelievers, but what must be firm is the constitutional recognition of the Kingship of Christ, evangelically understood:which means, recognition of the dual mode of governance.

Much more could be said to the particular questions about the allowance of diversity in the city, as well as the consistency and coherency of past thinkers upon whom this tradition has been built.  We will leave this to the comments, as we welcome your response and input.


64 thoughts on “Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 3)

  1. Pingback: Theopolitical » Reformed politics – new developments

  2. Steven,

    I want to thank you again (and for Tim, Peter, and others in the comments) for this series. As I said to you earlier, it has been a big learning experience for me.

    I’ve been pondering how to ask you my one question, and I think the best way is to raise a hypothetical and see if you would agree with it.

    The biggest thing I wonder about in your view, which I’m highly sympathetic with, is how it would respond to a case where there was a faithful lay public but a pagan, tyrranical state. To put a real face on it, lets take Hitler’s Germany.

    In that case, would it have been right (or, taking the Confessing Church into account, sans Bonhoeffer’s assassination attempt) for the ministerium, qua ministerium, to preach from Scripture the proper role of government to Hitler? I.e., would it be right for the clergy, qua clergy, to preach that governments should not murder people, and should accept freedom of conscience? And could it excommunicate those who preach Hitler’s doctrine? I can’t imagine you saying no, but I think answering this might help some of us who are not quite clear on what it means for the church to have authority in morality and “around politics”, but not in politics, since politics is in so many ways based on morality and religion as you and Peter have so eloquently defended.

    I want to emphasize again that this is in no way a rhetorical question. I am fully sure that you have a good answer to this, I’d just like to hear it in more detail (or, if you’ve already answered it, a link would suffice 🙂 )


  3. Pingback: Modernism and Protestantism « City of God

  4. I want to also say that this has been extremely helpful to me. Despite my being often grouped with them by various commenters, honestly, Peter and Steven have gone well beyond me with the applications of Protestantism to civic order.

    I came to the Reformed Faith via the ministries of men who bought into a version of Michael Hickman’s “Modernity as unique historical fall” narrative, and consequently, I have spent the last 6 years since I became “theologically-politically aware” reacting to “Modernity” and “Secularism” in typical Evangelical fashion. It has only been through Peter and Steven’s work these past few months or so that I have begun to see why that narrative is wrong, and what the real Protestant solution to it is.

  5. Andrew,

    Yes. The clergy could preach against tyranny if done rightly.

    The key thing here is that the political change would still need to be done politically. Pastors cannot simply change law by their sermons, but rather must inspire Christian people to change their governments from within those proper systems.

    Of course in the case of extremes, we may have to come up with exceptional situations or tactics, but that would not change the principle here.

    The distinction that has to be maintained is that of the swords. The Church’s speaking out, through word and prayer, is actually a wielding of the “spiritual sword,” or perhaps the flaming sword. The State’s coercing of actions is the temporal sword. Both are good and necessary, but they each have their proper place and goals.

  6. Andrew,

    To second Steven’s reply: yes. The preachers could most certainly preach against tyranny- but this would have to be definable as tyranny by the law (regional, and law of nations) and by the best tradition of political wisdom. Hitler’s regime most certainly was definable as tyranny by those criteria, and it is a duty of conscience to resist tyranny, at least by way of noncooperation if no other line of action is available. But not only should preachers preach against tyranny (or any social malice), so should everyone, especially everyone who can get an audience: men of letters, preachers, stand up comics, whomever. The point is that the clergy have no special political trump card, nor any monopoly on conscience. Everyone has conscience, and everyone should make sure his or hers is rightly informed, and be willing to act on it. In the case of full-blown tyranny, such as the Hitler regime, conscience demands resistance, and then prudence dictates the tactics; in any case, the principle of the “lesser magistrate” prevails, namely, that the civic officeholders who are the loyal custodians of the law lead whatever action has to follow. For a brief but cogent discussion of the matter, see the short essays by Dr Hans-Joachim Iwand and Dr Ernst Wolf (pp 255-260) in “Germans Against Hitler,” ed Erich Zimmerman, Press and Information Office of the Federal German Government, 1960.


  7. Peter and Steven,

    Thanks for the further clarification. The practical outworking of the position makes a lot more sense to me now!

    I do have one further question for the moment, for Peter. I know you and Steven choose your words very carefully, so I assume there is some very specific meaning behind your term when you say that “The point is that the clergy have no … monopoly on conscience”. Could you expand on how that relates to Steven’s point (which I assume you agree with), that clergy have “moral … authority, though only in a persuasive fashion”?

    I imagine, just from the history of Protestantism as I know it, that this means something like that lay should consider clergy something like expert students of the moral law, especially since they are expert students of special revelation which contains God’s moral law. Am I somewhere in the ballpark?

    Blessings to both of you,

  8. Andrew,

    You guessed it. The clergy have no monopoly on conscience or reason, but they are, ideally, trained in the tradition of Christian moral reflection, and in that case have an authority of counsel in ethics derived from learning and insight. But this doesn’t simply happen in virtue of ordination (there are many stupid ordained persons), and it can certainly be possessed by someone who is not ordained, for instance, a prudent and learned professor of Christian ethics, or for that matter the holy old grandma in the pew who’s only read one book through in her life, her family Bible . And in the end, we must remember that the Lord told us the story of the Good Samaritan for a very good reason.

    The clergy are men set aside for purposes of order. There is nothing in the character of the ministry which is not in the body of the universal priesthood, and learning and wisdom and holiness are acquired, not given through ordination, which recognizes rather than bestows. Further, only the Word is absolutely authoritative, and the ministers are not hypostatically united to the Word. They are simply its called, trained and most definitely fallible servants. Insofar as they rightly preach that Word, they have that Word’s authority; and insofar as they say reasonable things, their words have reason’s authority, and so on.


  9. Brad,

    Coincidentally, or providentially, I have been drafting this very day a sympathetic critique of your Primer on Christian Citizenship, which will be posted shortly. probably here. I think the differences between our position and yours will become apparent, as I pay special attention to defining terms which are left undefined in your primer; but also, some apparent differences, based largely on some (temporary, I trust) misreadings of us on your part, will disappear.



  10. Heh, how providential. I look forward to it. However, the Primer on Christian Citizenship is probably not the best thing to engage with for nitty-gritty discussion of differences, because as I was speaking at a very basic level to an audience of laymen who hadn’t ever studied these issues, I intentionally avoided defining things too precisely or sorting through all the relevant distinctions.

  11. Brad,

    I was a little disappointed to see that you took me as being “dismissive” and even “pooh-pooh”-ing the alternative coercive polis. My first installment included several exegetical grounds for why I criticized the positions I did, notably Jesus’ insistence that his followers do not fight the way that the world fights and that Caesar is owed proper fear and honor.

    Also, terms like “Anabaptist Utopianism” are not slurs, but rather technical terms. I run into this same misunderstanding with RCs when I use terms like “Papal Monarchy” or “Absolutist.” If such names sound unappealing, I suppose I can agree that they do, but they are nevertheless appropriate technical terms for this discussion, and I always find that clarity is the need of the hour.

    Finally, you referenced an “Augustinian” position that I failed to interact with, but I’m afraid that poor Augustine is given credit for far too many “developments” in Western Christendom. I have a Reformed Baptist friend who insists that Covenant Theology ought to be corrected by the “Augustinian view” (which just so happens to require a rejection of infant baptism). It would be an understatement to say such nomenclature is difficult to maintain.

    Nevertheless towards the end of my first installment in this series, I did cite Augustine positively, seeking to situate him within a development anticipated by the Letter to Diognetus and Justin Martyr.

    Now before I sign off for the weekend (in order to watch my fill of College Football), the one thing that I will pooh-pooh is your assessment of the Two Kingdoms as static and in need of a dynamic correction. To the contrary, I happen to think the classic dual regiment is…



  12. Having been reading around the area of political theology for some time now, I don’t think admitting or denying, in the abstract, that the visible church is a polis, means much. It would probably be more fruitful to discuss the various ways in which we think the church is polis-like and in which it isn’t. But that’s just my $.02.

  13. Hey Steven,
    Perhaps “dismissive” and “pooh-pooh”-ing were too strong–in part, these were based on a discussion I’d had with Peter and Tim, not your own posts. But with regard to your posts, what I meant, I suppose was that I would have liked to see you address the various arguments that might be raised by, for instance, a Leithart, an N.T. Wright, a Hauerwas, a Cavanaugh in defence of the notion of the Church as an alternative polis (not a coercive one necessarily, which has never been part of my argument), instead of just saying that because, say, Unam Sanctam was wrong, any form of church-as-polis must be wrong. However, I acknowledge that of course you were focused on certain interlocutors in this discussion and can’t take the time to address all the other possible ones. As far as the two exegetical grounds you mention here, the first, I take it, is certainly no argument against the kind of church-as-polis position I envision; in fact, I see it as a excellent text in favor of it! And I am far from denying that we ought to give Caesar “proper fear and honor”–or at least honor; I’m actually pretty sure we don’t owe him fear based on my reading of Rom. 13–the question is what “proper” is.

    Regarding “Anabaptist utopianism”–very well, I’ve never heard it as such before, but if it is a technical term, let’s use it technically, which I should think means at the least that we can only use it to refer to Anabaptists. Cavanaugh is a Catholic, not at all an Anabaptist; Leithart is Reformed, N.T. Wright is Anglican, yet both of them have made church-as-polis sorts of arguments that you seem to consider “Anabaptist utopianism.”

    Regarding Augustine, forgive me–you did reference him in your first post, but my complaint is that you simply quoted one side of his position, rather than giving the full complexity (which includes the proposition that the visible Church is a city alongside and in competition with the earthly city). I did grant the caveat in my post that “Augustinian” is a notoriously over-flexible term; however, this does not excuse us from the task of grappling carefully with the text of the City of God, which I don’t think anyone would dispute is one of the most important political theological texts in the Christian tradition.

    Regarding static v. dynamic, well, I don’t quite understand you because you say “It’s not static, it’s robust!” But this doesn’t seem to be the contrast I was drawing. My complaint is simply that you seem to treat the relationship between the two as fixed throughout time, whereas I see it as changing throughout history in light of the outworking of redemption in history.

  14. Andrew,
    Yes, I think you’re quite right. The language is very pliable. Of course, that was part of my point over against Steven’s post–he denied categorically that the church was a polis, and I want to see him spell out in just what senses it is not, because it seems to me that in several senses (I enumerated a few examples in my post) it must be. But of course, in other senses, it ain’t, and I’m suspecting that my task, after Peter Escalante gets through with me, shall be to clarify the senses in which I grant that it isn’t.

  15. My experience in literature as an undergraduate is that technical terms which are also pejoratives are positively unhelpful. (It’s also something that I never found philosophers doing, at least as an undergraduate.) The connotations are too strong to make it an accurate term. Or to take a more classical understanding of language, it does not signify accurately. Just because we declare the proper significance to lack all pejorative, does not make it not signify anything pejorative. We can’t assign meanings to words arbitrarily, like Humpty-Dumpty. If we want to use technical terms, they should be simply technical, and neither honorific, or pejorative.

  16. Brad is right about Augustine’s City of God in that Augustine leaves a number of threads hanging unresolved – hence it is actually possible to construct different trajectories from different parts of the City of God.

    Early in the book, for example, he says that it makes no difference under what kind of government a man who is going to die anyway lives, so long as that government does not require him to do anything immoral or prejudicial to Christ. However, in his discussion of the utility / desirability of a Christian Empire in Book V, he does not resolve the question, apparently because his thought is preoccupied with the inscrutability of Divine providence – which has overturned godly kingdoms as well as ungodly ones.

    In Book XIX, his famous discussion of justice, he outright says that true justice cannot be found in any political order that does not worship the true God. That looks pretty bad, but in the same Book he claims that the City of God ought to work with the City of Man in terms of temporal politics so as to provide the external conditions needed for the spread of the Gospel.

    So he’s ambiguous. The question for us interpreters, then, is whether / how to resolve his ambiguities.

  17. Regarding Augustine, I would definitely *not* want to call any one position “Augustinian.” That’s an old sort of trump card that once persuaded me, but now underwhelms me. Both RCs and Protestants can rightfully appeal to Augustine at various points in his thought; Warfield most famously pointed this out.

    However, I do think that von Heyking has done as good a job as anyone in constructing a consistent Augustine, and I am in basic sympathy with his work.

    Of course, the really important thing for this discussion is that Augustine first and foremost defines “the Church” as the mystical body. Thus “the City of God” would also be primarily mystical. Given that, it makes no difference whether you call it “city” or “kingdom.”

    My use of “alternative polis” is simply for ease and consistency within the contemporary political theology discussion, which clearly applies it to the visible church in an effort to make an alternative commonwealth in competition with the civic.

  18. As to pejorative technical terms, I’m reminded of this old Gary North paper where two men are arguing. The first man says to the second, “You sound like a Baptist!” The second replies, “Why, that’s a terrible thing to call someone…. unless, of course, they are a Baptist.”

    The fact that people think the term is by itself a critique betrays a few other prejudices.

    For just one recent writer who has used the “Anabaptist” label to describe the whole bunch of Yoder, Barth, Hauerwas, Mibank, Cavanaugh, etc., you can check out James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. He has a whole chapter dedicated to the “neo-Anabaptists,” and you’ll see many familiar names in that chapter, very few of whom are actually members of anabaptist churches. This is langauge aimed at the underlying principles, and it is limited to the socio-political field. No one is accusing these folks of holding to anabaptist sacramental views.

  19. According to that book’s description, such a reading of Augustine can help us work out a *more robust* political life. Yes, but is it *personal* and *dynamic*? I rather doubt it – for that, one needs to read more Hegel and Heidegger…

  20. I’ll check out the von Heyking book…though I’ll be surprised if he has a leg up on O’Donovan in reconstructing a consistent Augustine.

    Regarding “Anabaptist utopian,” my point is not that you can’t accurately label non-Anabaptists “Anabaptist” insofar as they share certain socio-political orientations that you consider Anabaptist. My point is that, unless they do in fact self-identify as Anabaptist (like the Baptist in the Gary North example), then they will probably see this as a pejorative term, not a “technical term”–it is not technical, inasmuch as it is not technically accurate, rather, it is what I would call an unfair lumping term.

    But, we could get sidetracked bickering over semantics. My point is that such a term is only going to be helpful if you’re going to carefully show just how it applies, rather than just slapping it on as a label and moving on to the next opponent.

  21. A quick note on “Anabaptist”. We had been presuming that most could connect the dots, but should have spelled things out more clearly. Following Hunter’s usage and his rationale for it, henceforth I’ll go with “neo-Anabaptist”, and, with that qualifier added, not worry much hereafter about hurting feelings. Brad asked for definitions and application, which I always insist on myself. So I’ll give that briefly, in case the connections weren’t already clear.

    The Anabaptist doctrine of the church basically identified the visible assembly with the mystical body of Christ. But Protestants distinguished them. Protestants said that visible assemblies are mixed gatherings around the Word, whereas the mystical body, the direct union of believers by faith with Christ in heaven, is perfectly one and pure. The visible assemblies on earth are many, and necessarily mixed (both in the sense that even believers are simul justus et peccator, and also in the sense that the congregations contain hypocrites), but are organically connected to the one mystical body through the Word which is their principle, and through the saints who are at once in both the inner mystical body, and the visible assemblies which reflect it. However, what is true of the Sunday assembly in relation to the mystical body, is also true of all other legitimate social formations in relation to the mystical body, for the same Christians are in all of them, and the orthodox hold that legitimate social formations are of God and under the reign of Christ.

    Thus, for Protestants, the general corpus christianum is base to both visible worship assembly, and also the State, which is representative of common civic life. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, with their realized eschatology and false overidentification of the visible worship congregation with the mystical body itself, denied the principle of corpus christianum, and substituted for it a sectarian church necessarily at odds with the orders of civic life (and hence with the orders of creation; unsurprisingly, old Anabaptism had a strong docetic-gnostic tendency). The resulting Anabaptist opposition between “Church” and “State” was working with divisions and definitions the Protestants didn’t accept. The Anabaptist kind of Church/State opposition is not Augustinian, nor Protestant, it is rather founded on the idea of “two worlds” which are worlds apart, the Kingdom of God on the one hand (the pure, visible church) and the Kingdom of the Devil on the other (the civic world, and the Christian “compromise” with it: Christendom). This is a commonplace understanding of Anabaptist thought, and shouldn’t be controversial. There were and are intermediate forms, such as the doctrine and practice of Pilgram Marpeck; but the basic pattern holds throughout.

    But for Protestants, there is no sacred and profane anymore in the world: all the world is Christ’s. The battlefield between God and the devil is in the human heart, not externally between some one, holy, visible and apostolic Lone Church of the Apocalypse vs. the National Park System, or the movie theaters, or men who shave their beards (though I do think the last is a bad idea). Thus, the whole setup of “Church” vs “Civic order” makes no sense to us, or rather, it makes no orthodox sense. But that was what Anabaptism was about, and what neo-Anabaptism is also still about, in its sophisticatedly confused way.

    “Neo-Anabaptist” works nicely as an accurate description of the legacy of Anabaptist ecclesiological thought among various modern writers, and there’s no reason not to use it.

    My extended reply is on the way soon.


  22. Me. E,

    Perhaps these questions are better suited for your forthcoming reply. But in any case, they can at least be pre-emptive.

    You write, “However, what is true of the Sunday assembly in relation to the mystical body, is also true of all other legitimate social formations in relation to the mystical body, for the same Christians are in all of them, and the orthodox hold that legitimate social formations are of God and under the reign of Christ.”

    (1) What would that mean in the modern world where the baptized and unbaptized alike have a voice in the civic sphere? I am assuming that the baptized reprobate present at the liturgy have a connection to the visible church that the unbaptized reprobate of the civic sphere do not. It is difficult for me, then, to see these as equivalents (at least in the modern West).

    (2) Is there not a way in which the liturgical assembly is the “church” in a way that the commonwealth is not? Even if you define the church as “the people” united to Christ immediately by faith, there are only certain institutions that directly signify this (i.e. the ones that preach the Word and distribute sacraments). Even if the commonwealth were composed entirely of the baptized, we are part of the commonwealth necessarily by nature…but the church only by faith/profession/baptism. Even as Christian participants, it is a creational institution (given that we are political animals). The “word and sacrament” community, on the other hand, is a new creation institution (a testimony to the final order)…even as not fully instantiated in history. In sum, can’t we say that the commonwealth is not the church qua church…and that the liturgical assembly is?

    (3) Finally, as implied in my second question…it would seem to me that it is important not to see the church as just one institution among others (a la Kuyper’s “spheres”). The church is an eschatological good while the church is a creational good. They are not in “conflict,” but I’m not sure that the way you are proposing their relation is the only way to keep them from being “in tension.” Perhaps there is a neo-Reformed (rather than a Neo-Anabaptist) way to construe this. =)


  23. I am suspicious (since I have followed these threads) that I might be asked to “define my terms.”

    When I say that the church is an “eschatological institution” as opposed the “creational institution” of the commonwealth, I am arguing that the church directly testifies to the final order of things in a way that the commonwealth does not. Its visible word and sacrament ministry, diaconate and buddy-back-slapping testify “as such” to the eschatological divine fellowship, economics and community. It does this “as such” because each visible member has an objective identity which looks forward to that order…and which is instantiated in these activities. It is a community that proclaims a future and lives out of it.

    While aspects of the visible church will perish with the pen-ultimate order, our identities remain the same. And the church is the only institution in the pen-ultimate order where that eschatological identity is revealed in visible form.

    The commonwealth is like marriage. It is a creational good. It has an eschatological analogue…but neither are (in themselves) eschatological. There is not just discontinuity of outward form in marriage and in the commonwealth (i.e. I won’t be married to my wife or a member of the State of Maryland anymore). There is also discontinuity of identity. These institutions don’t brand me with anything that will carry on. They are entirely future-looking and bound to perish. The liturgical assembly, by contrast, brands me with the “not-yet” in the “now.” Said differently, one could argue that the liturgical assembly is the present visible manifestation of that to which the institutions of commonwealth and marriage look forward. But what is made present is not total…but anticipatory, nor in any essential (only accidental) conflict with commonwealth.

  24. Mr Minich,

    These are excellent questions, and I almost answered them in advance last night, but decided not to for reasons of brevity. Let me take them in order.

    1. On the first point: what makes for the relative equivalence is the structure, not the fact that all in a given visible assembly are professors, whereas all citizens in a modern commonwealth are not. The structures are all in Christ’s jurisdiction, and the presence of unbelieving people in the civic sphere doesn’t make those structures any less so.

    2. I would say yes, in a way; but with some careful qualifications being made. The visible worship assembly is a gathering of the Christian people, who are already, in their daily lives, united to Christ by faith. The assembly is the place of remembrance and renewal; but it is not more “church” than its constituents already are. One is not “more” in the mystical body on Sunday than on Monday. But it is true that the visible assembly as such signifies the reality with a greater iconic clarity or focus than the other civic institutions do, since there we are gathered around Word.

    On creation and new creation: we must take care not to make of these two things. The new creation is renewed original creation, not a metamorphosis beyond the original divine design of the world- the latter view is the legacy of the old gnosticism which crept into the ancient church and survives yet, especially among the unreformed communions and among academic theologians. Christ is heir of all the civic orders, the glorification of nature by art; to make of creation and new creation new things, and to assign the civic to the first and the Sunday assembly to the second, is to come very close to denying the unity of the reign of Christ. The classical “two kingdoms” doctrine does not do this, it simply insists that in His Christ rules unitarily in a dual manner.

    3. I am with Hooker and Kuyper on this one, and here’s why. To make of the Sunday assembly a “distinct corporation and body of men” shrinks the zone of the reign of Christ. The corpus christianum isn’t an institution, so it can’t be made “one institution among others”; and the Sunday assembly, though it is institutionalized for order’s sake, is really more a living event, which also therefore can’t be reduced to “one among others”, so I think your concern is answered there. As far as the external institutionalizing of the Sunday arrangements, it is very much for the best to follow the American arrangement, or something like it (such as Kuyper’s program) which lets the temples have the status in law of private associations; they certainly can’t be imperium in imperio (the old RCC or Disciplinarian pattern), nor do we want them to be departments of State. The American or Kuyperian setup isn’t at all a marginalization or reduction of anything essential, and in fact, is by far the best arrangement to let the corpus christianum-which is just plain folks- to do their blessed thing.


  25. Peter,
    Thanks for the attempt at clarification; as in our former interactions, however, I find that the clearer I find your terms, the more opaque I find the thought that lies behind them. That is to say, I seem to be able connect the logical dots of what you are saying quite well, but the presuppositions are so foreign that I can’t make sense of why you would want to say it that way, if you know what I mean. Perhaps you have the same problem with me, and if so, perhaps we are simply at an impasse.

    However, I appreciated Joseph Minich’s questions, and agreed with many of the thoughts he carefully stated in them, and perhaps those questions and your responses to them may provide a couple ways to continue to push the discussion forward beyond the apparent impasse.

    So, four objections/questions:
    1) I’ve told you this before, but I think your constant reference to what “the Protestants” always said is unjustifiable and another example of linguistic imperialism. Protestant thought has been extraordinarily diverse, and was so at the time of the Reformation as well. On relationship of church and state, role of the sacraments, nature of the visible Church, etc., differences have been particularly pronounced and irresolvably complex. So I simply cannot settle for your schema, “Here’s what the Anabaptists believed, here’s what Catholics believed, and here’s what all the Protestants said–and I’m with the Protestants.” Plus, there seems to be a violation of the principle of semper reformanda…even where we can recognize standard Reformational teachings, this does not mean that we simply accept their paradigm as the perfect one.

    2) There seems to be a radical nominalism at work in your concept of the individual believer, the Church, and the corpus Christianum–the fullness of the Church, in your conception, dwells in each believer by virtue of his individual immediate union to Christ; the union of believers together in the institution we call the Church is logically subsequent and ultimately accidental, not essential. Is this an accurate statement of your view? If so, then we are perhaps at an irresolvable impasse, because I could never buy into that paradigm, for reasons perhaps best summed up by John Williamson Nevin in his attack on ecclesiastical nominalism.

    3) On what basis do we make the civic order a mediation of the rule of Christ? I can see, on the basis of certain readings of Romans 13, an argument for making it a mediation of the rule of God the Father, but I’m not quite sure, exegetically at least, how it gets enlisted as an instrument of the reign of Christ the Son.

    4) Regarding creational/new creational orders… I agree that the purpose of new creation is to bring creation to fulfillment, not overturn it. However, we must also emphasize that new creation does so in surprising and radical ways, as an interruption and dramatic transformation in history, rather than merely an unfolding of the potentialities already in creation by itself. Moreover, new creation brings to fulfillment the structures of the original creation, not of the fallen creation. I take it that you are with Thomas in rooting civil authority in creation, rather than with Augustine, in the fall? I have no problem with rooting civic order in a certain sense in creation, so long as it is understood as non-coercive…. the coercive element, as Augustine thought, must be a result of the Fall. And if this be so, then what is being restored as part of new creation, of the reign of Christ, is non-coercive civil order. But that, I think, you would call Anabaptist utopianism.

  26. Mr. Escalante,

    Thanks for your reply.

    It seems to me that your original statement was in the context of arguing that the visible ecclesia and the visible commonwealth both have the same relation to the mystical body. And so clarify that there is an analogy in structure seems beside the point to me. There is…but my point is that there is a discontinuity in their respective institutional relations to the mystical body. The visible church is visibly related to the mystical body as such, whereas the commonwealth is not. The identity one has as an objective member of the church in her pilgrimage will go on into eternity…whereas our civic and marital identities will cease.

    I will reflect more on your other two replies. For what it is worth, I appreciate your statement that we need to keep creation and redemption together. As an avid fan of Herman Bavinck, I am absolutely committed to maintaining the relationship between nature and grace. But as my second post clarified…and as Brad’s post alludes to…there is some discontinuity between creation and new creation. Marriage is a creation institution but the only marriage in the new creation will be that of the Lamb and His bride. I would argue (along with many of the Reformed) that there is an eschatology imminent within creation as such. Glorification (even without the fall) would have included a transition from Adam-life to resurrection-life. The continuity is that it isn’t different “stuff” that is on the other side of the transition.

  27. I’m sure it is obvious, but “And so clarify” should have been “And so to clarify.”

  28. Brad,

    It is certainly true that we differ on first principles: mine are classical Protestant and yours, I suspect you will yourself admit, are not. I am quite certain, however, that this need not mean an impasse. I in fact welcome the conversation, and believe that a great deal will be clarified by it. But a thought on terms: you can’t very well complain and plead about pejorative tags, and then toss out tags like “linguistic imperialism” and “nominalism”. Neither of which you define, so I’ll have to guess at what you might mean.

    “Linguistic imperialism”, I take it, is postmodernese for “truth claim” and/or “synthetic historical judgment.” I am quite comfortable doing both, so I’ll just move on.

    On Protestantism: your method here of dissolving historic consensus into (endless) historical differences is exactly that of academic skeptics who deny that there was an ancient Christian orthodoxy, and say there was rather only a plurality of diverse “voices” being suppressed and marginalized by orthodox linguistic imperialism. Only special pleading would allow you to apply this skeptical method to the Reformation, and not to the ancient church.

    On nominalism: I’m afraid your use of this term is somewhat uninformed. If anything, the Protestant doctrine of the mystical body is closer to Wyclif’s ultrarealism. In any case, nominalism only applies to denial of natural substantial essences, *not* to what the medievals called “moral personae”, a term comprehending social bodies. To give those a real formal-substantial essence is reification, and to critique that is not “nominalism”, it is just traditional philosophy. Nevin’s reaction to the problems of his time was understandable, but his philosophy was murky muddled German Idealism, which *did* like to reify and mystify moral personae. I can sympathize with Nevin’s spirit, but not with his errors. The unity of the Church is Christ, not an abstract “church-form”. It is Christ. There is no nominalism in the Protestant position, there is simply a critique of reification of moral personae. The traditional Protestant position does not involve a low view of the liturgical and doctrinal gathering; it rather has a “high” one, but not because it reifies it, rather, because it has a sober grasp of human nature and its needs.

    On the reign of Christ and the civil orders: I’d suggest that you go to Hooker for the answers. But if you’re not disposed to be persuaded by traditional masters, I can give the exegetical basis in my extended reply.

    On creation and new creation: “new and surprising ways” and similar expressions, with no further specification, leave me and I think everyone unsure of what exactly you mean to say. I have no idea what you mean by “dramatic transformation” adding qualities not present in the original design: it sounds like the old Roman “donum superadditum” to me, but I’ll not presume that. Of course, it is true that the renewal develops the original creation and not its fallen aspects, but only ecclesiastical gnosticism wants to posit that the original creation was substantially unlike our own, which hypothesis only serves the purpose of calling into question ordinary civil and domestic life- not just selfishness or idolatry of them, but the things themselves, and then measuring them by an unknown and unknowable standard of original creation construed as radically other than our present reality, and which justifies “transcending” creation as we know it, for the sake of wonders about to happen. Sounds like a formula for Lysenko wheat to me.

    We could have a distinct conversation about Augustine and Aquinas. Civil order is grounded in the original creation, and the difference between Augustine and Thomas on this point is not as great as many think. Coercion is involved accidentally, as a result of the Fall. The inward renewal of creation does not undo that, and will not until the Lord returns, for reasons which I will make clear in my extended reply.

    We do, as we both recognize, differ profoundly in first principles. This doesn’t have to involve an impasse: dialectically, I think you could come to understand the Protestant position. You might not agree with it, of course, but that’s a different matter.


  29. Joseph,

    You write:

    The visible church is visibly related to the mystical body as such, whereas the commonwealth is not. The identity one has as an objective member of the church in her pilgrimage will go on into eternity…whereas our civic and marital identities will cease.

    I think this is too hasty. My identity in the visible church will not simply “go on into eternity.” As things are now, I am a) male, b) married, c) American (Southern to be precise), and d) a pastor in the visible church, and this identity gives me a certain status (and even certain privileges not given to other members) within my congregation. All of these things constitute my current visible-church-identity. And they will all be transformed in the eschaton. In fact, a major plank of the complimentarian view of church eldership depends upon the fact that the visible church retains old-world gender identities. I would argue that the concept of adiaphora also depends upon this principle.

    The identity that carries on is actually the invisible church identity, and that’s the “in Christ” to which Paul says there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek.

    And that’s really the big confusion here. “The Church” to which we all agree is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, must either apply to specific congregations or to the invisible church (and thus require the appropriate qualifications respectively). To come up with a tertium quid would be appealing on the surface level, but cannot ultimately hold up.

  30. Stephen,

    Being male, married, American and a pastor are not essential to ecclesial identity. There are also female, unmarried, Latino laypersons in the church (and some of my guy friends are very happy about this!) who have the exact same standing in the visible church that you do (clarified below). Furthermore, none of these qualities (save the pastorate…which probably has its secular analogue) are distinctively ecclesial…and so their perishing does not touch upon my point. What constitutes your identity in the church is your placement in terms of the Word. You have responded in confession and been marked by baptism. That identity is objective and it takes up all those creational identities with it. The community that is established around that word is not just an aggregate of people, but a place (hence the title of Horton’s recent book People and Place)…a communion where all of those attributes are taken up and oriented toward your brothers (and by extension to foreigners). My point is that this communion is visible (even if fractured)…and even you would agree that it WILL be visible in the future. But that is the difference between us. It seems to me that you have a spiritual communion that only later becomes visible. I would argue for a version of Luther’s simul justus et peccator here. We have an imperfect communion that testifies to the perfect union to come. It is the same with our obedience. It is a visible intrusion of resurrection life (it can be seen!)…but it only anticipates the final resurrection of the body.
    To be clear, I think it is important to say (as you have been clear to in these posts) that the church is the people…not just the clergy. But people are bodies and commune with one another as bodies. Every club has secret hand-shakes and rituals. They do silly little ceremonies and speak a funky language (incarnation? Trinity? Hypostatic union?). The visible community (the “third thing”) that is established around those things will go on into eternity precisely as that community. My marriage, gifts, gender, etc…are all taken up and used in the visible church…but they do not constitute it. However, the community which is visibly instantiated in the rituals, back-slappings, neighbor-loving, funny-talking, etc…and which is visibly constituted by those things…is a visible testimony to the final order. The commonwealth is a mixed assembly by nature (after the fall). The church is only a mixed assembly accidentally…because we cannot see the invisible (in contrast to the essential mixed quality of the commonwealth). But the point is that the visible now testifies to the visible THEN and has continuity with the visible THEN in a way that the visible NOW in the commonwealth does not and of which the latter is not an instance.
    Finally, it is not the specific things by which we make contact with the visible church that carry over (sacraments, alms, etc). Indeed, all of these things have a secular analogue. But a community is established around these things which is visible and which has political structure and which properly anticipates the final order in its liturgy and life. Yes…the structure and order change. But that does not make it invisible any more than Jesus’ resurrection means that His earthly body was invisible. The point is that the visible then is testified in the visible now only in the visible members of the community centered around Word and sacrament….which takes up our creation identities but which is not constituted by them. The commonwealth, by contrast, is entirely dross. Whatever constitutes the visible church in the commonwealth is only so constituted because its members are centered (elsewhere!) around Word and Sacrament….and so normal creation identities and vocations become Christian calling, eschatological charged neighbor-loving (testimony). Some of the things that the commonwealth represents go on (government, order, etc)…but that which defines their communities and which constitutes their visible historical existence is essentially dross (nationality, social contract, specific religious affiliations, etc).

  31. Joseph,

    I want to say more, but just to make sure I’m not misreading you, are you saying that the “visible community” established around the rituals, etc. is something different than the “specific congregations” that I mentioned? That’s all I can make sense of in light of you applying the “third thing” to it.

  32. Stephen, yes. But I also saying that the “visible community” isn’t just an aggregate of those churches. They are the instantiations of a larger visibility and of a larger community. I love my Baptist brethren and would break bread with them at their church if they would let me. My baptism and breaking bread is just part of the “one baptism” of which all particular baptisms are an instance. But that unity is visible…even if fragmented. From a word and sacrament angle, you can usually tell the difference between a member of the visible church and not. As well, a Martian could easily tell precisely which clubs are constituted by those relations as opposed to those which are not. And that Martial could call them all something singular…Christians.

  33. Joseph,

    Again, more can be said, but I’ll let it wait until Peter’s post lays out some clear definitions and boundaries. For now, what you are describing is actually the corpus Christianum, and that is just the people of God as they go out and do their vocations (even liturgical rites vary, and baptism is in fact not restricted by institutional lines nor even the gathered assembly, as the book of Acts shows). In a community whose majority makeup is Christian, then this body would also be embodied in the civic arena, and so you will not get some sort of “the Church” that remains ever distinct from all else. It’s just Christian people who are united to Jesus.

    And they do not actually “commune as bodies” in the corporate institutional sense. They are always embodied as people (their own flesh), to be sure, but the communicants often move in all sorts of odd ways.

    There is “dross” in every “sphere,” though, and that’s what trips up so much of the “ecclesiocentric” talk (though there are plenty of ways in which we could say we were rightly ecclesiocentric). The sacraments themselves will be transformed in the eschaton (ye shew the Lord’s death until He comes). Several of my “distinctives” are not at all separable from the present liturgical experience (my gender is a prime example), but they will be separated in the world to come.

    The things that truly remain are people and the Christian virtues, namely faith, hope, and love.

    If you stick with your point that the thing which most uniquely constitutes the Church is the Word (a proposition which I affirm!), then you’ll have to admit that even all those ceremonies and back-slaps are dross as well. The Word, which is the real presence of Jesus Christ apprehended by faith, is the true res, and “the Church” is really just a name for the *relation* of that singular person to all believing individuals. This is Luther. The sacraments are not so much things in themselves as they are trysting places. And though there are visible marks, the Church is always boundless to a certain extent.

    Thus in the new creation, all is Christ. In the in-between-time, the visible church and the commonwealth are both places where those united to Christ move about, and both can be and have been more or less mixed. “The Church” in the proper sense is not a place, but rather those people wherever they go. You can use “more” or “less” visible, to be sure, and you can designate the value and duty of sacred assembly, but you have to admit that my wife and I can conduct the daily office of prayer at home around the breakfast table, and we will truly be “the Church”- even visible to some extent, though not in the typical v.c.=assembly sense of that name.

    So again, the point of continuity between worlds is not the liturgy per se, nor the denomination, nor even some reification of what it means to be Christian, but rather the heart (sursam corda).

  34. Steven,

    All right, all right, you got me there…I’m on the verge of being persuaded. Besides, I *live* as though all of that were true, so, you know, that has to give me pause.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to work. Later, I plan to get all incarnational with ribs and sweet tea.

    Peace out.

  35. Thomas,

    When making that sweet tea, remember that Splenda is significantly less hypostatic than sugar, and of course, the most Chalcedonian of all is organic raw sugar.

    And do take care to avoid all dithelite sweeteners.

  36. Steven,

    A quick question of clarification for my sake. When you say:

    “And they do not actually “commune as bodies” in the corporate institutional sense. They are always embodied as people (their own flesh), to be sure, but the communicants often move in all sorts of odd ways. ”

    I assume you mean that all Christians do not ever, in this life, visibly commune together in one place/ritual, and not that there are no institutions that all Christians have in common. It seems that the first meaning I just gave is obviously true, while the second is obviously false. Am I reading you right?

  37. Andrew,

    Correct, though we have to be careful with that word “institution.” For instance, we all have assemblies, but we do not necessarily go to the same assembly. Furthermore, the differing assemblies can differ by a good bit.

    If you compare the best sort of reconstructions of 1st cent. Jewish- Christianity against both medieval Catholicism or modern day Evangelicalism, you’ll see that it is about as foreign to both as can be. The things in common would be the presence of Word, Sacrament, and Prayer, though even these can look very very different.

    The point is that identity, vocation, and office exist regardless of any specific or technical institutionalization.

  38. Steven,

    OK, thanks. That clarifies for me.

    For everyone here who is an O’Donovan fan, I think he may actually be closer to Steven and Peter in this regard that might be expected. He is very careful to deny that the church is a visible polis, since the ruler of the church is invisible. So, while semantically he may differ in some ways from Peter and Steven, practically he is for a Christendom in which there is religious freedom, etc., and so might be able to make a convergence here through engagement with his position. Or it might be a digression.

    Also, I think it would helpful to remember that (assuming Peter and Steven are right about his theology, which I trust that they are), Calvin would have both affirmed P & S’s doctrine of the church while at the same time having a higher sacramentology than Zwingli. So we should be careful not to attribute “nominalism” too quickly to people, I think.

  39. Stephen,

    The difference, however, is that the group “embodied” in the civil arena is there embodied not as the church qua church but as the church qua being-political-animals. A Martian would only be able to identify the visible church for things that are distinctively ecclesial (Word, prayer, sacraments). What is done in the commonwealth is often done by members who are not part of the visible church in any sense. It is not “essentially” the visibility of the church. But the liturgical assembly gathered around the Word is.

    As far as your comment about communing “as bodies,” again, a Martian could easily tell those who were part of the communion of the Christian tribe even when they were not directly communing with that tribe. They’d be the ones who talk to those funny people called “elders” about stuff. They’d be the ones who eat with one another and gather around God’s word privately and as families. And they’d be the ones interested in folks across the world who are not institutionally united…but who are visibly united in Word and sacrament. They would be able to tell that, for all the variety, certain visible things were the same. And those visible things just ARE the visibility of the church as such. Perhaps not an “institution” in every sense, but a family nonetheless…a body instantiated distinctively in these things. Activity in the commonwealth can be baptized…but it does not constitute the visibility of the church since it is common to all men. Again, the church is only accidentally mixed but the commonwealth is essentially so.

    As for your final comments, I don’t object. You and your wife represent the visible church as you gather around the Word. But I want to make sure you get what I’m arguing. Most things which mark out the visible church are “dross” and will perish with use. Sacraments will be changed, etc…as I said above. Contrary to what is assumed at the end of your reply, however, I am not arguing that the continuity between the worlds is the liturgy per se…but the “identity” visibly instantiated in the liturgy and in various Christian practices/community-life. This “identity” and the community it represents are not constituted by the commonwealth (an inherently mixed assembly). Whatever identity binds people together into a commonwealth and whatever practices are distinctive to that commonwealth are not distinctively visible markers of the church. Again, a Martian looking at a district supervisor in a commonwealth would only be able to tell (a) that he was whatever made one a member of that commonwealth (Russian, lives in America, etc)…and he would be able to tell that (b) this person performed a vocation distinctly related to the good of that commonwealth. Nothing here is distinctively Christian and no identity here is not dross. By contrast, if that same Martian saw that mean leave his job to attend a Wednesday night worship service, he would note that this man was bound to another overlapping community around a different identity than that which binds the commonwealth together. This would be indicated in various practices and funky language. And that Martian would even be able to tell that the bond that this fella had with those at his church also binds him to people who share that same objective identity at other churches. The visible bond with those churches does not imply an uber-institution…but it is visible nonetheless. The point in all this is to say that the “identity” made visible in the distinctive practices of the church carries over into eternity in a way that the “identity” made DISTINCT in the commonwealth does not.

  40. Peter,

    I have thought about your other two points. It seems we are closed to agreed on my second point. On my third point, you write, “To make of the Sunday assembly a ‘distinct corporation and body of men’ shrinks the zone of the reign of Christ.” I’m not sure how this is true, unless you are implying that Jesus only reigns over His body? Have I misunderstood you here?

    You continue by noting that the body of Christ isn’t an institution per se. I’m not sure how this can be true. It is at least a heavenly institution…and while this spiritually one institution is not manifest with one earthly analogue, it is visible in a variegated fashion in individual churches and in their life together, functioning as a real family. Miroslav Volf, if I am not mistaken, would add that each church’s visible “openness to all other churches” also constitutes the visible church. Furthermore, as I have noted to Stephen, it is only in these visible assemblies and in their life together that the one body of Christ is manifest visibly “as such.” While Jesus reigns over the commonwealth, He rules according to the order of creation by law. His rule in the church is redemptive. One might argue that Jesus would justly require the execution of a repentant murderer by the hands of the commonwealth…but (until that date) speak graciously to the same person in the family of the Christian assembly. This is not to shrink the reign of Jesus…but to say that He reigns differently in each and that only in the liturgical communion is His body visible qua His body.

  41. Joseph,

    What would your Martian think if he were asked to widen the scope of “the Church”? What if he had to compare 3rd cent. North African Christians, present day African Pentecostals, 13th cent. Italian Christians, and then to add on top of that mix variants of Islam and Judaism?

    Furthermore, if the Christian sacraments were developments and transformations from within Judaism, how “like” do the rituals and languages need to be for our Martian to confuse them?

    So too, might it not also be the case that a fully Christianized commonwealth would take on distinctive “identity markers” which could allow our Martian to confuse the spheres? How far can you separate “Eastern” from “Orthodoxy”?

    I wouldn’t say that there is nothing at all to your comments. I think we all want community. But as Augustine said, the thing about our tribe that makes it so odd is that is often un-tribelike. It can take on the local customs, languages, ceremonies, laws of its lands. Even our tribal language is built upon loan-words.

    Also, Bible stuff. When Paul attempts to describe the resurrection body, he says that he really doesn’t know. He does know that the kingdom is not eating and drinking, though. Rather it is spiritual virtues.

    And when Jesus gives a singular “mark” of the Church, he goes straight to love (John 13:35). But, for various reasons, that doesn’t quite satisfy us. I know the feeling, as I’ve been there.

    Another recurring problem is what Peter E. mentioned about creation and recreation. To say that the entirety of the civil sphere is dross sounds a lot like saying that Jesus’ kingship should also be dross. Won’t certain civic customs or identities “continue” into the eschaton? And if the complaint is that they are just not distinct enough from non-Christians, then we might need to question some of the assumptions behind that desire.

  42. Steven (sorry for the above misspelling!),

    Uber-great questions. I’ll try to get back to you within a day. I need to think about them.


  43. Found a moment. This Martian is really useful. =)


    Your questions are really good and certainly force me to clarify a few things (perhaps rethink them). Certainly we want to say that there are no hard and fast boundaries to the visible church. Once the Martian became more educated about the various instantiations of this “Christian thing,” I’d wager that he could still identify various aspects of the church’s universal visibility (prayer, sacraments, Word, etc). But I’m sure you could still find exceptions. I’m happy with fuzzy borders.

    Likewise with the comparison to Judaism. Certainly the Martian would have to educate himself a bit to be able to distinguish, but that is not too hard to imagine. The one’s who say “Father, Son and Spirit” when they do their funky rituals are Christians. The one’s who don’t are not.

    Certainly the spheres can be confused and consequently confusing for our Martian friend. But we’re arguing that they need not be…and I am further arguing that even if they are not…some thing apply to one sphere that do not apply to another.

    I think it is precisely our “un-tribe-like-ness” that is distinctive about our tribe. =) But it is a tribe, nonetheless. It can be identified (not totally…but approximately). And it exists for the sake of others.

    On “Bible stuff,” I’m not sure what you’re responding to here. Interestingly, however, John 13 (as well as 17) seems to suggest that the church can be identified by the world by its love and unity respectively. Apparently, these are definable communities with definable marks (even if approximately so). And it can be such without being a majority in the commonwealth. The unity Jesus prays for for His disciples is something so that “the world may know.”

    As for creation and recreation, I probably shouldn’t have said it that way. Certainly the entirety of the civil sphere is not dross. Gold and government survive. The “wealth of the nations” is brought in. But this is why I focus on identity. My single point has been to say that the things that bind us together into a commonwealth (i.e. whatever constitutes our identity as members of that commonwealth) is dross. The idea of commonwealth does not go away…but the bond that constitutes any commonwealth in history goes away. This is not true with the church. The bond that constitutes us together (as manifest in our visible “pass with use” forms) will continue on for eternity. Said differently, the distinctive visible marks may perish, but the bond and the community that they mark out in various locations will not. In the commonwealth, the visible marks may remain (!)…but the community-bonds constituted by these markers will be changed. The idea of a “community going on into eternity” should not be too hard. We can easily identify a family. Even if we can do so only approximately (i.e. it is possible that an extended family could have some posers), we can still speak objectively about community-identity.

  44. Hey gents,
    This may be my last substantive interaction simply because the school year is now starting up again in full force and I am, as usual, woefully overcommitted. I recognize that it is downright rotten of me to engage in a dialogue of this importance without having enough time to properly see it through (though, to be honest, there is usually no such thing as seeing it all the way through with these sorts of discussions, which tend to be endless), but I pray you to forgive such rottenness.

    First, I should register again my sympathy with several of Joseph Minich’s remarks, though I cannot engage them and Steven’s responses now. I will restrict myself to replying to Peter’s remarks to me.

    So first, Peter, you are quite right to say that I happily admit that my first principles are not necessarily classical Protestant, but, granting the very Protestant principle of semper reformanda, I do not take this as a matter of shame. I am skeptical that yours are as fully “classical Protestant” as you claim, since, on my reading, the “classical Protestant” view–inasmuch as it can be specified, was shot through with certain tensions and attempts to do justice to several different theological inclinations that, it seems to me, you have tended to resolve in one direction only, thus giving us a much more simple, systematic, and one-sided Protestantism. But, you are far more learned than I, so it is quite possible I am wrong on that score.

    With the term “linguistic imperialism”–forgive me for the ambiguity, but what I meant was the attempt to, without sufficient justification, define and use terms in such a way that your own position ipso facto gets the high ground and your opponents are marginalized from the start. Of course, you will retort that this is just what I tried to do with “nominalism,” and I will plead guilty as charged. But more on that in a moment.

    Regarding historical differences in Protestantism, well, we’ve discussed this before, and I think you are unnecessarily polarizing the options here. I am not trying to “dissolve historic consensus into (endless) historical differences. I am quite happy to admit the important points of historical consensus so long as we give an appropriately complex account that is sufficiently attentive to the differences as well, and make sure that we are listening to all the relevant voices, and not just to our favorites. With the early Church, we have the benefit of the fact that subsequent centuries of Church history took up various patristic positions as normative and tended to harmonize the diversity around credal norms. With the Reformation, however, subsequent centuries tended to dramatically increase the diversity present in the original Reformation and push it in various directions, often rejecting creeds and confessions. So it is, it seems to me, more difficult to point in the latter case than in the former to pin down the basic consensus testimony. Not impossible, of course, just complex and difficult. I am not trying to say that there is no use in speaking of “the Protestant position” on anything, only that in your constant use of the term, you seem to allow no room for the historical reality of very significant tensions and debates on political and ecclesiological doctrines…you seem to have “reified” the tradition, to transition to the next point.

    Regarding nominalism, forgive me for being unclear. The problem was not primarily that I was “uninformed” (though I am certainly better-informed now thanks to your careful distinctions), but that I was using the term analogously–similar, I would suggest, to how you have been using “Anabaptist” (though you will probably dispute the comparison). I am aware that the particular set of issues at stake in late medieval debates about nominalism do not include the ecclesiological questions we are looking at–philosophically, there are some important chasms between the issues. But I was using “nominalism” as a umbrella term (again, in defiance of my own warnings about linguistic imperialism) for the impulse to prioritize the individual over the general, to make any corporate or universal reality simply an aggregate of individual realities, on which it is dependent, rather than seeing the individual realities as dependent on the corporate or universal reality for their being. (Gosh, what a deplorably abstract sentence that was!) In concrete terms, you may remember that my question was to ask whether “the fullness of the Church, in your conception, dwells in each believer by virtue of his individual immediate union to Christ; the union of believers together in the institution we call the Church is logically subsequent and ultimately accidental, not essential.” I take it that your answer is yes, based on Steven’s recent comment: “The Word, which is the real presence of Jesus Christ apprehended by faith, is the true res, and “the Church” is really just a name for the *relation* of that singular person to all believing individuals.”
    My point in referencing Nevin was not to endorse his constructive proposal (none of us, I expect, wants to become a Hegelian), but rather to endorse his critique of this “nominalistic” impulse in ecclesiology as extraordinarily perceptive and often quite theologically acute.
    But, while “reification” is certainly something to be on guard against, I am hesitant to be too guarded here, given that Scripture itself seems to do an awful lot of “reifying” when it gives metaphors for the Church. For instance, the metaphor of the Church as a body of which we are all body parts, united to the Head only as a complete body, not individually as the parts thereof. I can’t find any way to think of this metaphor that seems to square with your conception of the Church. (Part of what’s going on here, of course, is a sharp dichotomy between visible and invisible churches in your conception, which seems to me unsustainable–which is not to deny that there is no distinction, I should add.)

    Regarding the reign of Christ, I will be studying Hooker soon for my Ph.D work, so, given that I said above I will not be able to take much more part in this discussion, I won’t ask you to explain it yourself, and I’ll see if Hooker has a satisfactory explanation.

    Regarding creation and new creation–of course speaking of a “transformative” and “new and surprising” element is very general, and there’s a lot of work to be done in saying exactly how this cashes out. To do so fully is I think too immense a task to undertake here, but just so you know, the “donum superadditum” was not at all where I was coming from. But my point was that I want to hear a bit of how you’d begin to cash this out, because in what I was hearing from you thus far, I didn’t feel like there was much if any account of the dimensions of change, of transformation, of “making all things new” in social and civil structures, and that makes me suspicious. We are not, I think, left to measure creation as we see it “by an unknown and unknowable standard of original creation construed as radically other than our present reality”–the measuring stick is Christ himself and his work, which takes up the whole of the original creation, unveils its purpose and nature, and transforms it, disclosing to us its final goal. That too, of course, needs a lot of cashing out–“Christ” is not a perfectly clear or simple measuring stick; but nor is he wholly “unknown and unknowable.”

    All of this, of course, just scratches the surface, and it is evident to me that we should certainly stay in touch and try to revisit these matters as time allows (do forgive me by the way, Peter, for falling out of email correspondence…I will try to remedy that as soon as possible).

  45. Joseph,

    I think we aren’t actually far apart. You seem to be understanding me pretty well, and your questions are very pertinent.

    What I meant when I said that making the Sunday assembly what Hooker calls a “distinct (political) corporation” shrinks the realm of the Lord’s rule, is that such a move means that the corpus christianum is only such on Sunday and only in the building, and denies that they are just as much Christians, just as much the universal priesthood, when being butchers, bakers, or candlestickmakers. Whereas we say that all order is Christ’s. Darryl Hart, for example, is quite explicit about this: he says that only the church in the sense of visible assembly is the Kingdom of Christ, and that the civic orders are not. He denies the ancient doctrine of the corpus christianum as much as Littlejohn does.

    On the Body: I was addressing only your concern about reducing the visible assemblies to being one civic institution among others, and my point about the mystical body, the vera ecclesia, was that it quite obviously is at no risk of that. You are right to say it has no exact analogue on earth, though the liturgical assemblies each testify to it, and actually embody it insofar as they are gathered around Word and are real schools of charity.

    To get straight to it: the corpus christianum on earth is a multitude, not a single political unity. This is why it can be genuinely transnational without being a multinational corporation or empire, and why it can be the principle of many commonwealths. The visible worship assemblies are actions of the corpus christianum, whereby the heavenly reality of that earthly corpus christianum becomes more iconically focused, so to speak. But as I said, a believer is not “more” in the mystical body on Sunday than on Friday.

    As Steven has said, I think the idea you’re getting at is actually the corpus christianum. The important thing to note is that the c.c. as such is temporally a multitude, not a politically or para-politically incorporated institution. It underlies household, State, ministerium and worship assembly, and other civic and social forms.

    Thanks for all your helpful questions, Joseph. I’ve really enjoyed the discussion.


  46. Peter,

    On the reign of Christ: I think we are in substantial agreement.

    On the body: If we could argue that the community gathered around the Word most clearly signifies the eschatological commonwealth (in terms of the identity that constitutes this community and approximately in terms of the membership that make it up), could we then talk about any way in which local church communities function as…perhaps not a polis in any full sense…but as a polis in an anticipatory sense? As they live out of their identity as a heavenly and eschatological commonwealth, might not various practices in the church be a good measure or instance of certain political practices (at least by analogy)? Would it be legitimate, for instance, to call the economic practices of the church a prophetic example to the good earthly commonwealth about how to love our neighbors economically? These are, by the way, questions I’m thinking through…not “kernel” assertions hidden behind the “husk” of questions. I recognize, for instance, that it is often the other way around in history. The earthly commonwealth has to tell the local congregation how to behave.

  47. Oh, and thanks for your replies. I am enjoying the conversation and learning a lot in the process.

  48. Brad,

    I understand your constraints. So I’ll briefly address your clarifications here, and will go ahead and finish the extended reply, knowing that you won’t be able to engage in public conversation about it. Hopefully, you will find it helpful as you develop your thought about these matters; much of what I have to say to you, though, I’ve already said above in my comments explaining Anabaptist thought, and explaining the classic doctrine of the corpus christianum.

    Protestantism: of course there many movements in the 16th century, but most historians of the time have little trouble in clearly identifying a Magisterial Reformation, and can do so because it enjoyed a remarkable consensus on the crucial points. “Semper reformanda” does not primarily refer to doctrinal revision- the phrase isn’t doctrina semper reformanda- but rather, means that the Christians can always do more to get their act together. It cannot serve as warrant for ever more speculative theology, or for rejection of classic truths. It’s one thing to say that evangelical doctrine is wrong, but quite another to appeal to the Reformation example as warrant for departing from its principles. If I had to guess, I’d say your view is close to that of Marpeck, mutatis mutandis. It might be better were you just to say right out that you find yourself tracking with the Radical reformation.

    On nominalism: as I said, I do sympathize with Nevin’s reaction. But although you say we shouldn’t all become Hegelians, your expressions still sound very much like that. You might find the thought of Thomas himself uncomfortably “nominalistic”, because he thinks God creates things directly, and says that universals aren’t real meta-entities in creation prior to the actual things, but are rather simply the form of the particulars, and back of that, templates in the mind of God. Thus, classical Christian philosophy most certainly does not, as some German Idealism most certainly did, prioritize the general over the particular. Nevin’s view owes much, much more to semi-pagan German Idealism than to the classical tradition. Nevin talks about the visible Church a lot like 19th c Germans talked about “The State”- and for much the same reasons. To use Nevin’s metaphysics as a principle to critique Protestant ecclesiology is not a good idea (which might be why Nevin’s thought left so little legacy-besides rash denominational unions- while Kuyper’s thought on the other hand is still in many ways productive and applicable). It is true, though, that the mystical body is not an aggregate, but rather, a real union and incorporation of many persons into one Person, Christ. But this has nothing to do with nominalism, since Christ is not an abstract universal or class concept, He is a real Person.

    I took it that my answer to your question about the Church would be obvious; and you have guessed rightly, except that you fail to distinguish. You say “the institution which we call the Church”. Well, with the Reformers, I would say the Church is primarily the union of believers with Christ, a name for the relation of the Person to the many persons (and as Steven noted, this is straight Luther). The visible assemblies are indispensable, but derivative. The visible worship assembly is not an interposed mediator between a believer and the true Mediator. It is rather birds of a feather flocking together, fixed on the Sun of the Word, and winging on the air of the Spirit. You say you can’t square the Protestant conception with the Biblical metaphors; but you then admit that it probably does square with the evangelical doctrine of the mystical body. What you object to is the evangelical distinction between that one Body, and the many visible assemblies, because, it seems, you wish to entirely conflate them. Such a conflation leads of necessity, by the way, to ecclesiologies such as those of Rome, or Witness Lee. And missing in all your explanations of your position is the classic idea of the corpus christianum.

    Thanks for clarifying somewhat your thoughts on transformation. I trust you take my point: if original creation is posited as radically different from what we see, the boundaries of nature itself are subject to a kind of alchemical violence. On the other hand, you pose a more than fair question, and it’s an important one. I would say that transformation certainly does occur. But the agent of that transformation is always some real person or persons, not a reified class-abstraction of visible assemblies. There has most certainly been a slow transformation of custom and law and thought; but the agents were always Christian persons (quite often working at odds with the preponderant views of the visible “public corporate identity” you put so much stock in!). Beyond the transformative Christian person in any given case, the Church which should get the credit for that person’s heroic work is the mystical Body of Christ, which is to say, Christ should get the credit. Not a reified abstraction set, Anabaptist-style, over against the civic order.

    Do keep in touch, and I wish every blessing on you and yours, and on your studies.


  49. A note to acknowledge the useful indication of some context- Andrew is quite right, above, to say that O’Donovan is much, much closer to us than to the neo-Anabaptist paradigm.


  50. Hey Peter,
    Thanks (and sorry for possibly confusing things by posting while logged in under a different name).

    Very briefly, then (the Pope is visiting Edinburgh today, and horror of horrors, I’m going to catch a glimpse of him passing by in is Popemobile):

    Regarding O’Donovan, I think you are rather over-hasty in identifying him as an ally for your own position (may I call this “linguistic imperialism”? :-p), since, although there are many important areas of convergence (as I acknowledged in my original post), there are also many important differences. O’Donovan leans much more heavily on some of the Augustinian distinctives I have highlighted, emphasizes very clearly the fact that the nature of the state has been dramatically changed in light of redemption through Christ, and is not simply static through history, and seems to offer a much more robust account of the visible Church as Church (not corpus Christianum) than anything I have seen from y’all. Thus, I find myself in great sympathy with his project.

    Which ought to be enough to tell you that I do not align myself with Marpeck or the Radical Reformation, as you seem determined to align me. One can have some sympathy with certain Anabaptist distinctives over against some magisterial Reformation distinctives without accepting the whole, or even most of their paradigm. What drives me crazy about you in these discussions (but I still like you, clearly–it’s love-hate, I suppose) is that you seem intent on reducing Church history to several black-and-white logical alternatives, so that one either has to be Anabaptist, “classic Protestant” or ultra-montane Catholic–there are no other alternatives. And so you must squeeze any opponents such as me into one of these molds…or perhaps two of them–you seem to think I am perhaps both the Catholic and the Anabaptist, which ignores not only historical grey areas, but the vast amount of constructive work that has been done in this century to bridge some of those divides and forge new paradigms which combine the strengths of multiple traditions.

    Finally, I do not “entirely conflate” the visible and invisible Churches–I believe I made a point of stating that we had to maintain a distinction. Yet “maintaining a distinction” lies somewhere between entirely conflating them and entirely separating them, as you seem to do. Any relationship between the visible and invisible Churches seems to be very tenuous on your account, and if you want a criticism of this from the classic Christian tradition, rather than German idealism, I will cite Henri de Lubac.

    There, with that mention at the end and my mention of the Pope at the beginning, I am sure to shift the bulk of criticism against me from my Anabaptistness to my Catholicness. 🙂

  51. Oh by the way, I should add–
    I recognize that to say something like, “We need to maintain a distinction between visible and invisible Church without entirely conflating or entirely separating” is quite vague, as are several of the other ecclesiological claims I have made. Part of this is of course due to limits of time and space, but I will freely admit that part of it is due to the fact that I haven’t studied these issues in depth in a couple years. Back during my college days, I did focus a great deal on these sorts of questions, resolved them to my satisfaction (and to the satisfaction, I thought, of any interlocutors I had at the time) and since then have moved on to what seemed other more pressing issues. Needless to say, thanks to some of the arguments you have made, I will try to find time to return and refresh myself on several of these key points, so that we can debate them with more precision.

  52. Brad,

    On O’Donovan, I simply said that, given that Andrew’s description of him above is correct, that he is closer to us by far than to the neo-Anabaptist. He does have some Barthian oddities which put him at a distance, however.

    To clarify about transformation: as I said just above, I quite definitely do think that the reign of Christ transforms things, through Christians. The whole line of argument we’ve been making presumes that, though the ways in which that is so haven’t all been addressed specifically. But think about it: we have been arguing that civic recognition of the Kingship of Christ entails a demystification of the civic, a practical political application of the distinction between law and gospel which is a very big transformation. Part of our point is that modern secularity (not secular*ism*, which is rather the attempt to suppress the evangelical origins of secularity, and in the name of its hardwon freedoms, erase those very freedoms) at its best is precisely the creation of evangelical magistrates and jurists, and, as historians of the matter recognize, this was such a feat that it can almost be called a miracle. It’s worth noting, to go back to my earlier point that the agents of change are persons and not abstractions, that the architects of the ordered civic freedom to which are heirs were not only particular people, they were often in fact what you might call “Erastians”.

    On alternatives: I think that there really aren’t that many alternatives, and the clearer one is about principles and the more coherent one’s thought becomes, the more one will find himself tracking with one of the handful of possibilities. I am not speaking of airtight systems; I am speaking of basic configurations of first principle, and there really is a phenomenological typology of these. Anabaptism and Rome really do both conflate the visible assemblies and the mystical body, and thus both, predictably, destroy the corpus christianum; and so on. There is a sort of science of these things.

    On conflation: I do know you want to make a distinction. It would be helpful were you to recognize that we do not at all radically separate the visible earthly assemblies and the mystical Body of Christ: they share an identical center, the Word, and they are connected in living persons. The crucial difference, I think, is that we think that the way in the which the mystical Body most basically presents itself in the world is as the corpus christianum, which is a multitude; and that c.c. staffs, as it were, the household, the visible assemblies, and the civic orders and offices. It is not itself a polis; it is rather the principle of many commonwealths.

    So it seems to me that we’ve said what can be said in the comments thread for this post, and whatever further conversation might be had can be had when I post the longer reply- the basic elements of which, at this point, I’ve already given, albeit in fragments, during this conversation!


  53. Thanks Peter,
    This is the most lucid statement of your position that I’ve yet seen, and I think I have a better handle on your paradigm now.

    Looking forward (sorta) to the longer reply.


  54. Pingback: The varieties of Christian politics « City of God

  55. Pingback: John Calvin and the Two Kingdoms- Part 1 | The Calvinist International

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