Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 2)

~ This is a guest post by Peter Escalante

Now let’s look at the claim that the alternative view is “Augustinian.” As was pointed out in the ensuing conversation, a great many things can be fathered on Augustine; and his own idea of the Two Cities is hardly clear. On the one hand, as Pastor Wedgeworth has mentioned, the work of John von Heyking on Augustine’s view of civic order shows that the great bishop is considerably more sane on the question of Christian civic order than he as been made out to be. Further, the Protestant doctrine of the church is largely Augustine’s, put into a form free of contradictions. As Warfield famously remarked, the Reformation was the triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church- or more precisely, over Cyprianic atavisms in Augustine’s doctrine of the church. The Reformation doctrine, not the Anabaptist, is really the one with the strongest claim to be Augustinian in its politics; because finally, the “two cities” make sense only as a) the new Adam and the old, the line between which is drawn through persons, not between commonwealth and cathedral; or b) in a more positive sense, as the visible human order on the one hand, inclusive of visible worship assemblies, and the mystical body of Christ on the other, the immediate union of believers with Christ by faith.  Both those ways of taking Augustine are wholly consonant with evangelical teaching- but not with Anabaptist.

A note about Anabaptism.  I remember meeting two friends of mine, both extremely skeptical of Christianity, not long after the murder of Marian Fisher. They had been following the news reports. Struck by her example, and by the fact that her community, upon hearing that the murderer had killed himself, went to console his family, my friends asked me whether that was what Christianity was about. I was happy to be able to say yes. At their best, Anabaptists can be very radiant examples of Christianity; at their best, I could even say that they are best Christians in Christendom. The problem is, and it’s a very big problem, that they themselves don’t think they are in Christendom. In other words, they are schismatic.

The Anabaptist view is one of two different worlds: Continue reading

Advertisements

Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 1)

~This is a guest post by Peter Escalante.

In the conversation which began with Pastor Wedgeworth’s review of VanDrunen’s book, we encountered, unsurprisingly, opposition first from a de jure divino Presbyterian, then from a traditional Roman Catholic. It seems fitting, then, that the old troika of opposition to the classical Protestant position be completed by the appearance of a spokesman of a neo-Anabaptist sort of critique1. Brad Littlejohn posted here a reply to Davey Henreckson’s summary of our recent conversation. Mr Littlejohn’s views are admittedly in development, and thus it would be unfair to deal with them as though they were a settled and fully worked out body of opinion. Nevertheless, his views as of now are neo-Anabaptist, and I think they can be fairly taken as a representative of the kind of popular neo-Anabaptism becoming fashionable especially among academic theologians.

Mr Littlejohn, unlike Dr Hart, readily and rightly grants that we hold the classical Protestant position, in developed form. But he rejects that doctrine, in favor of what he calls an “Augustinian” alternative. His critique of us, unfortunately, is so far mostly just a reiteration of that original admission: he understands that we hold the classic principles; it’s just that he thinks he doesn’t like those. I can understand why he might think that: they are often made out to be other than they really are, and he himself admitted to finding them so profoundly unfamiliar that they seemed almost unintelligible at first; this simply reveals the degree of their forgottenness in the modern Protestant world. In further conversation, a number of the original misapprehensions became clarified, and it seems we are being better understood now. Nevertheless, serious differences remain. I will examine this nebulous alternative, and in the process, will address his critique of the classical position.  Although Mr Littlejohn’s “two cities” view is still in development and isn’t very clearly worked out, we can nevertheless get some sense of what he’s getting at, and why he finds the possibility of the classic Protestant position being warmly welcomed an alarming one.

To his eyes, our position spells all kinds of trouble. The Church would be subordinated to the State, Christians would be sentenced to a schizophrenic existence of moral inner and amoral outer, the cruel cold world would roll ruthlessly on untransformed, the salt would lose its savor, the light go under a bushel, and Frodo, pathetically hacking, will die of smoke inhalation before he reaches the Crack of Doom.

Thankfully, none of this is true Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 2)

As our conversation continues, we have witnessed a transformation in the accidents of Mary Campion.  Though her substance is still the same, she is now Michael, and so it seems that I should shift the names accordingly.  We have now, in my opinion, gotten to the bottom of the disagreements in defining the church.  The Protestant view is that the essence of the Church is the Word, found in the preaching and sacraments, as well as embodied in the people of God by the immediate action of the Holy Spirit.  This allows for a distinction in terms, with “the visible Church” typically referring to the Church as institution, complete with polity and laws, and the “invisible Church” referring to all believers wherever they may be.  For Protestants, the “Church” and the “State” (better termed the “Commonwealth”) can inhabit the same space and time without displacing or doing violence to one another.  There is no need for a hierarchical arrangement because the two entities are different in quality, jurisdiction, and telos.

Our second question then was, “What is apostolic succession, and is it a valid theory?”  Michael suggests that Apostolic Succession (hereafter AS) is the key to a harmonious society, and he also points (rightly) to Unam Sanctam’s claim that the civic arena must be subordinate to the Church.  Unam Sanctam, however, goes further and says that princes must be in submission to the clergy:

Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered  for  the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

Unam Sanctam goes on to say that the spiritual powers may not be judged by the temporal powers.  When you combine this with the particular view of “spirituality of the Church” that Thomas Becket posthumously won over King Henry and the Investiture Contest’s Dictatus Papae (which states that the Pope alone can call general councils, that the Pope cannot be judged by anyone, and that the Pope can remove the magistrate’s authority over his subjects), you get a clear picture of the Roman position.

AS then enters into the picture as a proof of who the “spiritual rulers” are and from where they get their commission.  AS is also a sort of lynch-pin argument for Roman Catholic apologists in defining the Church.  It often serves the function for Roman Catholics what sola fide does for traditional Protestants.  I also know from personal experience that AS can be the single decisive issue in Protestant conversions to Roman Catholicism.  I’ve seen it on more than one occasion.  But I have a few concerns about AS, some of which seem to be significant enough to warrant its dismissal from consideration.

1) What exactly is meant by “Apostolic Succession”? Continue reading

Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 1)

In our previous discussion, our Roman Catholic friend Mary Campion raised a new question regarding the theory of Apostolic Succession.  Fearful that much of the modern political settlement is a byproduct of non-Christian philosophy (it is a product of the Enlightenment after all) she suggests that apostolic succession would be a more desirable safeguard to the notion of Christian citizenship.  Mary writes:

Apostolic succession avoids the flaws of the modern “separation of church and state” approach, as held by Darryl Hart, as I read him, in that the church is divinely instituted as a historical presence. God has, through his church instituted by Christ (“and I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”) been given, in the words of the Bard, “a local habitation and a name.” An address if you will. As a result, the state must be subordinate to the church. However, as formulated in Unam Sanctum, the “Two Swords” are not to be conflated. Rather, “it belongs to the spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and pass judgment if it has not been good.” This means that the Spiritual power only rules the Temporal power mediately, as opposed to immediately, as it does within the church. What this usually means in practice is subordination on questions of “faith and morals.” This makes the church/state relationship complimentary rather than either 1) merged, such as in Islam or a theocracy or 2) alienated, as in modern liberal “wall of separation” thinking.

Apostolic succession also avoids what I believe are the weaknesses in the approach of reformer’s view. For because of the two radically different loves of the heavenly and earthly cities, the two cities seem destined to be always at war to some degree. Jesus seems to accept this state of affairs when he advises to “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s,” and speaks of his Kingdom as “not of this world.” History certainly bears this out as well. As such, while the invisible church, which will be the bride of Christ at the Great Wedding, is not simply to be identified with the visible church in this world, there is however an inseparable link through apostolic succession. This gives God’s church an anchor and sticking point, if you will, which no totalitarian regime, or soft despotism of consumer degradation- indeed, not even the gates of hell- can prevail against. In short, it seems to me that the idea of making the Magistrate a Christian, while admirable, and perhaps possible and hoped for, is not to be relied on or expected.

As with many of my posts, this is hopefully an elaborate ploy to entice Peter Escalante to write in public, but I will take the first opportunity to offer a response.

Mary here offers the classic Roman Catholic position.  This is most welcome in the face of too many modern RCs who wish to evade the teaching of their own church through various “developments.”  Mary lays it out for us: “the state must be subordinate to the church.”  The Reformers all rejected this position out of hand, and I continue to do so today.

1) What precisely constitutes “the church”?  Mary begins with what seems to be the inescapable concept of the institutional church, the one with an address.  She also says that the invisible church is linked to the visible church through apostolic succession.  Thus we’ve got an additional question to field as well.  2) What is apostolic succession, and is it a valid theory?  3) Mary also concludes with the question, “[Do] you think that modern democratic liberalism is inherently the regime most compatible with Christianity?”

We’ll handle these one at a time in individual posts.  To the first question:

1) a) Since the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20-21) and the true mother church is the Jerusalem that is above (Gal. 4:26), Continue reading

A Season for War

The primary ascension text from the psalms comes from Psalm 110:1.  “The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The Psalm continues with the restoration of the Melchizedekian priesthood, and the worship of the people of God.  Melchizedek was, you will recall, a priest and a king.  But the Psalm concludes with a statement about the Lord shattering kings and judging the nations.  Indeed, he fills up the land with corpses, according to David.

It doesn’t get any better when Pentecost comes around.  Sure, the Spirit gives us good miracles like prophecy and visions.  But He also turns the sun to darkness and the moon to blood.  If you cry out you will be saved, it is true, but don’t forget that this is in the context of bloodshed.  Joel 3 continues the same line of thought as chapter 2, and it is all about war.

Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men.  Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up.

Joel 3:9

It doesn’t look good.  The prophet has critiqued the Gentiles for selling God’s people and the treasures of the temple.  That payment is about to returned upon their own head.  But then something surprising happens:

Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears;
let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”Hasten and come,
all you surrounding nations,
and gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O LORD. 12Let the nations stir themselves up
and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
all the surrounding nations.

Put in the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
for their evil is great.

Multitudes, multitudes,
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near
in the valley of decision.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.

The LORD roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the LORD is a refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel.

There’s a strange mix of fear and gladness.  The warriors show up for a fight, but they end up turning their weapons into farming tools.  But the LORD is still roaring.  We’re taking refuge, though there’s still a storm coming.

Joel ends his prophecy with good news for Israel, but there’s also warfare all the way.  “Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness.”  We could allegorize this and ask, “What’s the Edom in your life?” but the original is pretty clear.  The enemies of Israel are vanquished.  God takes vengeance.

When Peter says that Joel’s prophecy is fulfilled in Acts 2, you have to bring in all of this with it.  The end of the world is here.  The Book of Revelation unfolds throughout the Acts of the Apostles.

And I suppose it is still doing so in the life of the Church now.  Paul says that we fight the very powers of the air.  Angel war, or something.  Thankfully, Paul also tells us that this means we can’t use sticks, clubs, swords, guns, machetes, or voting booths.  We’ve to to get out our other weapons.

So Pentecost is about war.  Get out your flaming swords and get to it.  Oh, but by the by, you will most likely get killed in the process.  A few times, actually.  But that’s the way it goes.

Empire and the Early Church

Peter Heather, in his The Fall of the Roman Empire, describes the way in which the Christian Church came to enjoy its role as a public institution. He notes, “After Constantine’s public adoption of Christianity, the long-standing claims about the relation of the state to the deity were quickly, and surprisingly easily, reworked” (123).  Heather is going to refute many of the claims of Edward Gibbon, those that assert Christianity had a violent effect upon the empire.  This will also contradict the lesser known claims, though important to my ecclesiastical community, of Rushdoony in his The Foundations of Social Order. (It really is a terrible book.  Perhaps one day I will take the time to refute some of its claims myself, but for now I will simply say that it could hardly be farther from the actual way history unfolded.)

Heather describes the instillation of Christianity quite succinctly, and I will be happy to simply quote some of his best lines.  Heather writes:

At the top end of Roman society, the adoption of Christianity thus made no difference to the age-old contention that the Empire was God’s vehicle in the world…

This ideological vision implied, of course, that the emperor, as God’s chosen representative on earth, should wield great religious authority within Christianity.  As early as the 310s, within a year of the declaration of his new Christian allegiance, bishops from North Africa appealed to Constantine to settle a dispute that was raging among them.  This established a pattern for the rest of the century: emperors were now intimately involved in both the settlement of Church disputes and the much more mundane business of the new religion’s administration.  To settle disputes, emperors called councils,  giving bishops the right to use the privileged travel system, the cursus publicus, in order to attend.  Even more impressively, emperors helped set the agendas to be discussed, their officials orchestrated the proceedings, and state machinery was used to enforce the decisions reached.  More generally, they made religious law for the Church– Book 16 of the Theodosian Code is entirely concerned with such matters– and influenced appointments to top ecclesiastical positions.

The Christian Church hierarchy also came to mirror the Empire’s administrative and social structures.  Episcopal dioceses reflected the boundaries of city territories (some even preserve them to this day, long after they have lost all other meaning).  Further up the sale, the bishops of provincial capitals were turned into metropolitan archbishops, enjoying powers of intervention in the new, subordinate sees.  Under Constantine’s Christian successors, the previously obscure Bishop of Constantinople was elevated into a Patriarch on a par with the Bishop of Rome– because Constantinople was the ‘new Rome.’  Very quickly, too, local Christian communities lost the power to elect their own bishops.  From the 370s onwards, bishops were increasingly drawn from the landowning classes, and controlled episcopal successions by discussions among themselves.  With the Church now so much a part of the state– bishops had even been given administrative roles within it, such as running small-claims courts– to become a Christian bishop was not to drop out of public life but to find a new avenue into it.  If the Christianization of Roman society is a massively important topic, an equally important, and somewhat less studied one, is the Romanization of Christianity.  The adoption of the new religion was no one-way street, but a process of mutual adaptation that reinforced the ideological claims of emperor and state.

(125-126)

This imperial character of the early church cannot be overestimated.  This is how we came to have “ecumenical councils.”  This is why some councils won out over others.  This would be why there developed “Eastern” and “Western” branches of the Church, and this civil character of ecclesiastical organization is also why there could come to be “Byzantine” Christianity or “Frankish” catholicism.

This is also why the Protestant Reformation could happen.  Different in so many ways, Martin Luther and Henry VIII both understood the role of princes in church polity.

Walter Lowrie on Early Church Bishops

In Walter Lowrie’s “interpretation” of Rudolph Sohm, a very convincing case is made that the “bishop” in the early church was a local church, a congregational, minister whose primary job was to preside over the Eucharist, which was a communal feast.  He writes:

Both Gentile and Jewish usage required a president at the feast, and this was particularly the case with regard to Passover, from which the Eucharistic feast was derived.  In the Eucharist there were two functions especially that fell to the part of the president: namely, the breaking of the bread, and the thanksgiving prayer.

~The Church and Its Organization in Primitive and Catholic Times, p 268

He adds that this bishop was selected on the basis of a personal leadership charismata.  The office was necessary for order, and there was naturally a leader who best fulfilled the office.  In the absence of such a person, however, a layman could step up and fulfill the role.  Lowrie quotes Tertullian, saying:

Are not also we laity priests?  …When there are no clergy thou makest the offering and baptizest and art priest for thyself alone.  When three are present, there is the Church, although they be laymen.

~De exhort. cast. c. 7.

To dismiss ideas that this is simply an aspect of Tertullian’s sectarianism, Lowrie adds:

Tertullian does not contend for this principle, he merely assumes it as a premise for his argument: therein lies the proof that it was not an individual opinion of his own, nor a distinctive tenet of Montanism, but a commonly accepted position, a primitive tradition which had not yet been successfully impugned.

~Lowrie, p 269

Lowrie gives extensive treatment to Ignatius, showing that this view of the bishop, that of congregational Eucharistic president, is precisely what is meant and that this is something qualitatively different from the later metropolitan system of bishops as heads of a larger jurisdiction.  Lowrie writes:

We have seen, however, that the single bishop and the whole organization of which he was the head is explained by the nature of the Eucharistic assembly… For Ignatius, the single bishop is the correlative of a single Eucharistic assembly, and he avails himself of the unity of organization which actually existed to press the plea for unity of worship.  This is his great remedy for schism.  He urges this point in all his epistles– except in that to the Romans.  In Ephs. c. 20 he says: “Assemble yourselves together in common, … to the end that ye may obey the bishop and the presbytery without distraction of mind; breaking one bread,” etc. Ib. c. 5: “If any one be not within the precinct of the altar, he lacketh the bread of God.  For if the prayer of one and another hath so great force, how much more that of the bishop and of the whole Church…

…Let that be held a valid Eucharist which is under the bishop or one to whom he shall have committed it.  Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be; even as wherever Jesus is, there is the catholic Church.  It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold an agape.

~ p 295

That last quote of Ignatius presses the point home: the bishop was a congregational minister.  The activities of the church were to be done in his presence, just as the Church acts in the presence of Jesus, because the bishop was regularly present at the local church.  He was to be there for every baptism or agape, except in those cases when he appoints a representative.

When the episcopacy shifted to a metropolitan administrative office, the exception became the norm, and the bishop had to appoint permanent “representatives.”  But in so doing, the presbyters effectively became Ignatian bishops, though without the name and, in a fateful shift in doctrine, without the authority.

The Church and the early church: Sweet Messiness

There seems to be an assumption that “the Church” is equivalent to a particular institution, and thus “the early church” must be a singular institution to which all of “the fathers” belonged.  Since Ignatius talks about “the bishop,” which he does, then the institution must be one of a sort of apostolic succession, or so the saying goes.

There are lots of problems with this.  Ignatius’ bishop is a local eucharistic president (see Lowrie and Sohm on this) and not a jure divino bureaucratic institution.  “The early church” consisted of several institutional churches, mainly divided along national lines, which then became theological lines: Antioch vs. Alexandria, Rome, Byzantium, Persia, Copts, etc.  “The fathers” is a variegated collection, limited to those authors (by no means a basic representation of pastors) whose works we still have.  Many of the church historians (Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret) belonged to groups considered heretical or partially heretical by today’s “Catholic” Christian.  Origen has become a heretic, but was loved by most of the fathers (Ambrose, Nyssa, Augustine).  Cyril of Alexandria probably should be held with more suspicion, and Nestorius should probably be held with less.  In fact, the Alexandrian bishops all tended to be bad dudes.

And of course, what we usually call “the fathers” tends to be limited to 3rd-6th centuries, with the Second Council of Nicaea coming in quite late in 787.  The truly “early church” are the Jewish Christians (Petrine and Jacobean Christianity) who are almost wholly lost now; there are a few exceptions to be found among the apostolic fathers and the Syriacs.

The Reformers dealt with this problem of “the Church” by appealing to the visible/invisible distinction.  This didn’t mean elect and reprobate, as it later came to mean, but rather the Holy Spirit and polity, with the goal that the two would work together, but the understanding that they did not always do so.  Thus, “the early church” and “the Church” are two very different things.

In fact, sometimes “the Church” can be best seen through actions of “the State” restricting those of the clergy.  I would put Theodosius II in this category when he arrested both parties at the Council of Ephesus and forced them into concord.  Charlemagne is also an example of this, when he rejects Nicaea II and calls the Council of Frankfurt.  This was also how the Papal Schism was settled at the imperial-powered Council of Constance.

We are still moderns though, not ready for the medieval Christendom of kings (the true Christendom), and thus we turn to hierocracy, since it still promises to subvert the state through the church (which again is not actually “the Church” at all).