Why Celebrate Reformation Day?

In addition to being Halloween, today marks the 497th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther chose the date intentionally. He was challenging the medieval teaching on indulgences, purgatory, and what it is that constitutes a saint. Thus there was a symbolic value in doing this on the eve of All Saints Day. Before he completed his theological project, however, Luther came to see that the central issue at debate was not a single errant practice, but an overarching theological and salvific confession: justification by faith alone, the article of the standing or falling church and, ultimately, the difference between salvation and despair. All Protestants, but especially Lutherans, Anglicans, and Reformed Christians look back to the Reformation as a definitive establishment of their confession of faith and as a mighty act of God through His Spirit. Traditionally, they have taken the occasion to celebrate.

But why celebrate the Reformation now? There are various reasons to ask this question and various ways to answer it, but instead of trying to say everything (my typical flaw), I want to get right to the bottom line because the Reformation is all about the bottom line. We celebrate Reformation Day because we believe in and celebrate justification by faith alone and the immediate work of God in the act of saving sinners. This means that God does the saving, He does it for free, and He does it on His terms. (See here if you want an extended discussion of mediation and all its ins and outs.)

This doctrine relativizes everything else in life. Continue reading

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Political Talk as Totalitarian Distraction

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is the kind of book that should be read several times throughout one’s life and for a variety of reasons. Most people who read it do so as assigned reading in High School or College. They then apply it to history and politics, respectively, seeing the themes and connections that Huxley is presenting throughout the story. What I would propose, however, is applying it not simply to politics, but to society itself and indeed ourselves, to human nature. While a much better book, Brave New World is less iconic than Orwell’s 1984 and so it does not contribute to our common parlance in quite the same way. Everyone knows what “Big Brother” is, but hardly anyone in the general population would know what I meant if I referred to soma, Fordianism, or “the feelies.” This is too bad, because Huxley much more accurately foresaw the condition of the middle-to-late 20th century, and what he saw continues today. In fact, I think it is a book with immense pastoral value. (Pastors: read it next to Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos and for the same reason.)

The difference between Huxley’s vision and Orwell’s lies in the nature of coercion and repression. Orwell’s presentation is of the classically totalitarian sort: traditional-style propaganda, the military-industrial complex, and top-down control. Huxley sees things from the opposite direction. True, there is still a “program” which is enforced on society, but in Brave New World, the powers that be have figured out how to make the people impose this program on themselves, voluntarily and without ever feeling discomfort. This is achieved through a strict class stratification, the disestablishment of the family, free sex, ubiquitous prescription drugs, and an entertainment industry which keeps everyone constantly distracted. Where Orwell depicts the old-style statism of Nazis and Soviets, Huxley captures liberal-progressivism of the sort that the modern West, including the US, embodies today. We have largely entertained and distracted ourselves to death. Continue reading

Christ the King and Our Heavenly Citizenship

Text: Philippians 3:17-4:1

This Sunday is sometimes called “Christ the King Sunday.” It commemorates especially the kingdom of God and the kingship of Christ. Originally it was meant to emphasize the unique nature of Christ’s kingdom. That kingdom is not of this world, and thus it transcends racial, ethnic, and national boundaries. All Christians have a shared citizenship, the citizenship which is in heaven. But this can be and has been misunderstood over the years. What does it mean for Christ to be our king? Does it mean that we cannot have any other earthly kings? What does it mean for our citizenship to be in heaven? We will turn our attention to this question with our text this morning, and we will see that the apostle Paul connects our heavenly citizenship with the future resurrection of the body and glorification of all things.

Our Citizenship is in Heaven

The Apostle Paul says that the Christian has an alternative citizenship to that of this world. This alternative citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. “For our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). Earlier in Philippians he had also said, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). The English expression “let your conduct be” is a translation of a Greek variation of the term πολιτευμα which means citizenship. He is thus telling us to live like a citizen of the gospel, like a citizen of heaven. Continue reading

Can Women Be Heads of Households?

After I posted my essay on head of household voting, Pastor Douglas Wilson was kind enough to link to it and add his thoughts. In the comments, however, RC Sproul Jr added his opinion that women should not be allowed to vote at all, even if they are heads of households, because this would be an example of women having “authority” or “rule” over a man. It is not my intention to “go after” Dr. Sproul on this point, but I do think it’s a good opportunity for me to further clarify my own position and show that it is distinct from “male only” voting. I think that Dr. Sproul’s concerns are founded on faulty reasoning, and as such, I think that women can be heads of households in certain conditions and that, in those conditions, they can and should vote, if the congregation chooses to have such a style of voting. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Head of Household Voting

So I haven’t written much on this blog in a while, and I thought the best way back would be a nice, juicy, controversial topic. Well, ok, it doesn’t have to be that opportunistic, but I’ve had the issue of church organization, specifically the practice of “head of household” grouping and voting, on my mind for some time. It is a common practice in my denomination (the Communion of Reformed and Evangelical Churches), and we even practice it at my church. It’s also very controversial, within my own church (though we are all well behaved about it) and among other churches that I’ve known. There are some people who are very unhappy with it, and the concern often raised is what a church’s means of representation says about its larger theology. There also people who think it’s really great. So let’s talk.

1) First let’s define our terms. It might surprise you, but people almost always equivocate on “the church.” Baptists have a different definition of the word than do Presbyterians, and Presbyterians have a different definition than do Lutherans, and Lutherans have a different definition than do Episcopalians, and they all have a different definition from Roman Catholicism, so let’s say what exactly we are talking about.

For matters of church polity and voting, we are talking about congregations. Continue reading

Is Christ for the City?

It’s funny how trends change, and it’s even funnier how church trends change.  There was once a time when Presbyterian intellectuals made the argument that agrarian living was better than city-living.  John Murray said this went back to the city’s founding-father, Cain, and the Southern Presbyterians often argued that agrarian living allowed one to be most human, in touch with the soil and protecting a certain “slow” pace that left time for community, literature, and family.  If you can believe it, there was even a time when GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc argued that the suburbs were closest to the Christian ideal, allowing modern man to retain his economic freedom while yet also giving him his own space for land and a family.  Now of course, the city is all the rage.

We are told that the church is itself a city, a “polis,” that the Biblical vision of the future is urban, that Paul’s missionary strategy was urban, and that the city is more receptive to the gospel.  All of this is true, in a way, but it is also a bit over-hyped. Continue reading

Two Kingdoms and Political Theology

I thought it would be helpful to have a sort of index to the political theology discussions we had on this blog last Fall.

1. Darryl Hart’s Response to My 2 Kingdoms Essay

2. Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 1)

3. Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 2)

4. Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 3)

5. Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 1)

6. Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 2)

7. Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 3)

Machen on Transformationalism

A solid building cannot be constructed when all the materials are faulty; a blessed society cannot be formed out of men who are still under the curse of sin.  Human institutions are really to be molded, not by Christian principles accepted by the unsaved, but by Christian men; the true transformation of society will come by the influence of those who have themselves been redeemed.

Thus Christianity differs from liberalism in the way in which the transformation of society is conceived.  But according to Christian belief, as well as according to liberalism, there is really to be a transformation of society; it is not true that the Christian evangelist is interested in the salvation of individuals without being interested in the salvation of the race.  And even before the salvation of all society has been achieved, there is already a society of those who have been saved.  That society is the Church.  The Church is the highest Christian answer to the social needs of man.

Christianity and Liberalism pgs. 158-159 (Eerdmans printing of the 1923 edition)

“Sacramentalizing” and “r2k” are Two Sides to the Same Coin

I’ve managed to come to this odd position where I could be construed as critiquing both certain strands of neo-Calvinism and Radical Orthodoxy (a more left-wing variant of the same concepts) on the one hand and the so-called “two kingdoms” school (called “radical 2k” by their critics) on the other hand.  A surface approach would think that one should line up with one of these groups to attack the other.  This is not the case, however, because both share the same basic problem of not being able to allow nature and grace to dwell together happily. Continue reading

Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (Part 3)

~ This is a guest post by Peter Escalante.  The first two installments can be found here and here.

 

What we have in common with neo-Anabaptism at its best is love for the Kingdom of God, and love for the world. And neo-Anabaptist critiques of Christian compromise and complacency are very often apt. These should be heeded so far as they hit home.

But heeding these rebukes cannot mean accepting the schismatic and perfectionist principles of neo-Anabaptism, its rejection of ordinary domestic and life. For it is within ordinary life, within this very world, that the Kingdom of God grows by the Spirit.

The orthodox evangelical doctrine of the two kingdoms is a way of describing the dual reality of the Christian in the world, whose works will not save him but who works because he is saved by grace. And the work the Christian does is glorifying God, through praise above all, but also by service of neighbor and cultivation of the world.

Part of that work is political. Christianity does not leave the political untouched- it insists on the true natural law, the universal image of God in man, and the impossibility of human self-justification. Having the science of man’s origin and end, Christianity necessarily has political principles which perfect the wisdom of prechristian polities while rejecting the idolatries and confusions of them. All men are sinners, and the work of developing Christian civic order has been long and troubled; but the order the evangelicals worked to build was in the end a remarkable accomplishment, for the glory of God and the love of neighbor.

And we live in it still. Our problem is that we have come to think otherwise, like the Saxon settlers of Britain who thought the ruins of Roman architecture surrounding them were the work of trolls, rather than of the Roman men whose political and religious dependents the Saxons were. We are not nearly that far gone in fact, but we are very close to it in principle.

Our present situation is one of amnesia, not of antithesis. The origins of the civic order of the old Christian nations has been suppressed. Now, that civic order was never anything close to perfect; it was and is a world of sinners. But it was and is the best thing going, and to agree with secularism that the Christian civic order was never Christian, as neo-Anabaptism does, and as several other supposedly radical Christian schools of thought do, is simply to be complicit with the project of suppression. Only secularism gains by that.

Neo-Anabaptist exaltation of the saving visible “Church,” is in fact denigration of the actual Christian people, and of the actual legacy of reformed Christendom which was the creation of the Christian people. Worse, such rhetorical exaltation is an idolatry. Only Jesus saves us from sin and death, not the Church- the Church is the community of the saved, it is not itself the savior. And neither does the visible Church save us from politics, or save the polis from its problems; the problems of the polis will show up in the visible Church, for they are made up of the same constituents.1 We are not to be saved from the polis, nor to save the polis; we are rather to serve in it. And the traditions of our fathers, for all their imperfections, are a school of service, and themselves a work of service.

It is in those traditions of evangelical political and philosophic wisdom that we should school ourselves, if we aim to be of service today.

There is a saying attributed to Luther, probably apocryphal2 but expressing the man’s spirit exactly: “even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Like Luther, we know that the end had already happened, Christ has won, and now we, thanks to Him and in order to give thanks to his Father, are in the business of planting trees.

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1This is true even now.

2It is not attested, so far as I know, before the middle of the 20th century.