Thursday, July 27, 2006

Quote of the Day

"I don't think we can rely on elected politicians to protect the sovereignty of this country."

--Doug McIntyre, weekday morning talk show host
790 KABC Los Angeles
July 27, 2006, 8:15 AM

Friday, July 21, 2006

Response to Darryl Hart: The Complexity of Human Activity Means There Can Be No Sovereign Spheres

This post is slightly modified from a comment I made over at De Regno Christi. The added material is italicized.


Because Dr. Hart’s arguments reflect standard objections against establishment of Christianity to be found in Reformed circles today, he deserves a worthy response. I hope the comments below are helpful.

I have made the point that the “sphere” of the family is overseen by both church and state. As an example, I cited the solemnization of marriage performed by Church ministers. I also meant by this the on-going oversight that the church provides such as marriage counseling, arbitration and discipline. Until the sphere sovereignty people grapple with this messy reality, I think their views are more suitable for classroom theorizing than the real world.

The partitioning off of authority to various spheres can get pretty complex, especially on the Dooyeweerdian scheme. Ought decisions having widespread ramification be solely determined by the sphere authority of the “most characteristic modality”? According to Dooyeweerd, there are fifteen different modalities! Who is going to practically arbitrate all this? The only authority capable of making such complex decisions would be an absolute monarch possessing the wisdom of Solomon. Yes, Jesus Christ reigns from above, but I am talking about the practical working out of the system.

Dr. Chellis’ theses 56 & 57 say there are matters entirely secular and entirely holy. However, people are not permitted to assemble anywhere they please. Churches require property for buildings. Cities and surrounding neighborhoods have a say as to what kind of activities may take place in their vicinities. Churches need tax identification numbers to account for revenues. All kinds of laws apply, limiting churches’ activities in real ways.

Whether one favors the complicated Dooyeweerdian system or Kuyper’s three spheres or Kline’s cult/culture distinction, their logical compartmentalization of human life slams against the brick wall of our interconnected social reality.

Dr. Hart points to present practice to argue that ministers act as “agents of the state” in their “civil capacities” when officiating at marriage ceremonies. So, ministers of the Gospel have civil capacities? Or, more likely for Hart, are the ministers acting as private citizens? When doing so, are they wearing their robes of office and conducting ceremonies in sacred houses of worship? Oh, I forgot… there are no sacred places since the Reformation... Perhaps couples may opt to have marriage ceremonies that only appear to be religiously sanctioned.

Some states require religious ceremonies to be separate from civil. In the State of California, the ceremonies are combined. Marriage may not be sacraments per se, but do we want to cede all oversight of marriage to the civil realm? I agree that states have a legal interest in ensuring that marriages are lawfully entered into, but the Church has an interest as well. It’s hard for me to accept Dr. Hart’s qualification that he promotes secular government and not secularism, when he yields all juridical authority over marriage to the state, a purely secular realm in his view.

Dr. Hart made the remark that he has found from his own experience that work environments are more congenial when they are governed by “professional standards” rather than “assumed religious convictions.” However, it should be recognized that modern day professional standards mask utilitarian and scientistic ethical approaches to life. We should also recognize that these standards arose in a particular historical and cultural environment (inherited Christian morality, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution). Professional standards are evolving at a rapid pace under the strong influences of our therapeutic culture and multiculturalism, and already hardly resemble their original shape. Unless counteracting measures are taken now, with ethics and institutions that are vigorously informed by biblical morality, the future condition of a thoroughly secular, technologically advanced society will be nightmarish beyond comprehension. (Just a little hyperbole here) Prudence dictates that the Church ought to take some collective measure in the interest of preserving even what we enjoy today.

To set the matter straight, I do not contend that the only legitimate kingdom is the Messianic Kingdom of Christ. Even nations that do not formally recognize the rule of Jesus are “legitimate.” The Roman Church, which views marriage between baptized persons as a sacrament, views other marriages as legitimate in some sense. My brief response is that particular social institutions may be legitimate but irregular. And there are and have been illegitimate states, quite apart from the fact that God is sovereign.

God’s sovereignty does not justify or endorse all particular states that have ever existed. To argue this way appears to smack not a little of hypercalvinism, a sort of fatalistic reliance on God’s sovereignty to justify inaction. God wills to accomplish his purposes through the free actions of men.

Concluding, Dr. Hart claims that a desire to see the rule of Christ more evident is prematurely immanentizing the eschaton, and incompatible with a theology of the cross. I am undisturbed by these objections. The Messianic Kingdom has been fully consummated, but is only veiled to our sight. The resurrection of Christ was a victory in which he was publicly vindicated, accompanied by legally compelling miraculous testimony here on earth. The ministry of the Church is to carry on Christ’s reconciliatory work. The generation that saw the conversion of Constantine had just passed through years of persecution and did not shirk their public responsibility when a Christian order was established (presumably under God’s sovereign control). The Church continues to suffer in all parts of the world, except, notably, where Christians have reached a comfortable accommodation with post-Christendom secularity.

Jesus himself confronted the powers, and Paul was sent to kings (Acts 9:15). The church that retreats to a sacred realm of the spirit is not the Church of the Bible or of history, not to mention that such a retreat is entirely impracticable for life in an embodied world.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Unpopular Eschatology: Covenantal Realism

Dr. Darryl Hart, a notable scholar of American Reformed Christianity, has taken the time to explain his concerns about what he perceives as an erroneous view of Christ’s kingship. He is concerned that construing Messiah’s Kingdom in such a way that obliges nations to formally recognize the rule of Jesus is a way of prematurely “immanentizing the eschaton.” Thus, Dr. Hart thinks either the eschaton is not immanent (present) or, he thinks it is not immanentizing (progressively dawning) during the present stage of redemptive history.

Please consider the following text, which shall serve as the theme of this post:

The path of the just is as the shining light that shines more and more unto the perfect day.
Prov. 4:18

This verse means much more than that believers experience sanctification in their lives. When considered in light of Rom. 8:18ff., we see that Solomon speaks prophetically of the veiled glory in the saints that will someday be revealed at the regeneration of all creation.

We are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). All the angels and saints surround us in God’s light, the Shekinah glory, which fills heaven and earth (Isa. 6:3). Someday the elements will melt with fervent heat as God's glory shines through the fabric of the old creation, purifying and renewing, as the old gives way to the new (2 Pet. 3:10-12).

At the still point of destruction
At the center of the fury
All the angels, all the devils
All around us, can't you see?
-Gordon Sumner

“The kingdom is among you,” said our Lord to the Pharisees (Lk. 17:21), speaking of the reality of the present kingdom. By this, Jesus did not mean that the kingdom is a moral suasion, or mere faith (which existed in the world prior to the Gospel, and therefore cannot exhaust the content of Jesus’ new proclamation). Jesus was speaking of a spiritual reality that had become inherent, immanent, in the world. And because he was addressing the unbelieving Pharisees, he was not merely referring to a private sanctification process relevant only to his followers.

If Dr. Hart rejects the immanence of the Kingdom, he has rejected a significant aspect of Jesus’ Gospel. This is what I mean by the term “Covenantal Realism” in the title of this post. The Bible everywhere militates against a nominalizing theology that recoils from the objective Reality of the Kingdom. The Kingdom may be hidden, but it is as real as anything that can be apprehended by the senses. Nominalism is nominal religion, “a form of godliness that denies the power thereof.”

If Dr. Hart does not in fact reject the immanent Kingdom, I would challenge him to explain why he feels nations ought not to walk in the light of the New Jerusalem but only according to some stark rule of “eye for an eye” justice, and how an attempt to do so is contrary to the spirit of the New Testament.

Perhaps Dr. Hart does accept an immanent kingdom of sorts, but contends that its reality is strictly limited to the corporate worship of the Church and the subjective sanctification of the elect. Perhaps it is more correct to say he opposes the encroachment of the Kingdom in all non-ecclesiastical spheres of life, the so-called realm of common grace. This is the very definition of secularism, which he says he is not in favor of, but which I cannot avoid thinking his position entails.

All that has been said so far is to prepare you, dear reader, to understand what is at stake when I advocate for a hermeneutic of covenantal realism, as opposed to one that spiritualizes away the content of prophetic expectation.

The rest of the posts in this series entitled "Unpopular Eschatology" will progress along a chain of questioning: What covenant did Jesus claim to inaugurate? What was the prophetic expectation of this covenant as recorded in the pages of the Old and New Testaments? Which events did the New Testament writers attribute as the fulfillment of these prophecies?

The questions above flesh out how we are to understand the person and work of the Lord Jesus: Jesus offered a real sacrifice and has been endowed with an actual high priestly office, of a real sacerdotal order, exemplified in the royal priest Melchizedek. He ascended in a real resurrected body to a real place, the heavenly Mount Zion. He sits on a real throne in the midst of all the angels and saints. He actually rules the world authoritatively, providentially, spiritually, morally, and politically as Lord and Christ.

Covenantal realism expresses the conviction that what happens in heaven has cosmic metaphysical ramifications for the life of the world. Nothing would ever be the same once Jesus came bringing a new covenant, a new commandment, and a new life. There can be no return to the pre-Incarnation phase of history.

Now someone may object that I am being unfair. Don’t all Christians who take the veracity of Scripture seriously believe in these supernatural realities? Well, certainly we believe that miracles did happen a long time ago, that Jesus will come “some day,” and we have belief in the “principalities and powers.” But, dear reader, when was the last time you heard of an exorcism being performed? Isn’t our belief in the supernatural realities largely theoretical? When was the last time, if ever, you thought of the Church's mission to the world (Jn. 20:21) as redemptive, rather than a limited rescue operation to save a chosen few? Hasn't the salt lost its savor?

Again, we talk, talk, talk about faith, how it is the alone instrument of justification. However, faith is much more than knowledge, assent and trust. “Faith has come” (Gal. 3:25), i.e., it is an objective reality. How about hope and love? Do we really understand that Faith, Hope and Love are literal realities in which we “live and move and have our being?”

And then, there’s the New Covenant. What does Scripture say it is? What is its purpose? What does Scripture say it is supposed to accomplish? What are its characteristics?

Finally, there is the present habitation of the Lord Jesus. It’s called the “Jerusalem that is above, our mother.” It’s called New Jerusalem and the Heavenly Mount Zion. Why is it identified by these terms? What is its relation to the earthly Jerusalem and this world in which we live? Why does Scripture describe it as descending out of Heaven?

I am raising all these questions because preoccupation with the "millennium" is a red herring. Whether one thinks Jesus is coming before or after a glorious 1000-year period, or whether one disbelieves in it, the important questions remain unanswered, because unasked: What is the covenantal basis of this so-called millennium? What is the expected covenant God has or is expected to implement? What promises did God make that he has promised to fulfill? Has Scripture indicated that the age of fulfillment has arrived or not?

In this post I have made a brief case for the immanence (presence) of the eschaton, the goal toward which all history is tending. In subsequent posts, I am going to make a case for the progressive nature of the Kingdom’s development in the world.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Response to W.H. Chellis on the Sacred/Secular Distinction

The debate over at De Regno Christi (DRC) is clipping along rather nicely right now. I am very interested in the discussion, and would like to offer cheers and criticism from the sidelines here at UO.

It appears that all involved are committed to the notion of distinguishible spheres of sacred and secular, where matters may simply be assigned to either category. Thus, there are discrete matters that belong to secular concern, and others of sacred jurisdiction.

I disagree with this antithesis, and view it as the primary source of confusion over the nature of Christ's authority and what it means for the ordering of civil society.

Dr. Chellis, one of the main contributors at DRC, a ministerial candidate in the RPCNA and trained political scientist, was very kind to leave a comment regarding my initial thoughts about his debate. He has also just written a most excellent summary of his views here. I am honored to hear from Dr. Chellis and look forward to learning much from his participation at DRC.

I'm going to take this opportunity to respond to Dr. Chellis because he raises some important concerns. He writes:

The distinction between secular and sacred is necessary. By using these terms, I am not capitulating to modernism and suggesting a realm in which Christ is not King. Quite to the contrary. Rather, I am simply defending the unique place of the Church in relationship to all other institutions.

It is historically verifiable that the secular/sacred distinction was originally posed by Christians to protect church order from state politics. This arose from the concern that the Church’s freedom to be the Church ought not be compromised by the machinations of temporal powers (i.e., that church polity not become a plaything of the state). This is a real danger, as history attests, and I don’t want to minimize it. But, I think that the solution of apportioning some matters for temporal purposes and others for spiritual ends gives rise to other problems that are characteristic of our era.

The secular/sacred sphere distinction that I am criticizing should not be confused with political dualism like that of the Middle Ages. For instance, in Pope Gelasius I's famous letter to Emperor Anastasius, Duo sunt, the Pontiff articulated a doctrine of different authorities: priest and king. This precept did not divorce the two into separate spheres of jurisdiction, but rather supported the idea that the emperor was answerable to the Church in the person of Peter's successor.

Pope Gelasius may or may not have held St. Augustine's views on the origin and purpose of the state. In his City of God, the great doctor argued that the state belongs to the fallen teleological order of the city of man. I argue that Augustine's view has led to the Lutheran total secularization of the state, and consequently, of society.

I can appreciate that the Church's unique place must be asserted over and against all other institutions. However, I think the secular/sacred distinction as a defense strategy has outlived its usefulness. A better way to keep church and state distinct is to simply define them as different institutions with different functions. What's wrong with that?

May not two institutions have complementary functions for the achievement of the same purpose? (i.e., the conversion, nurture, and discipleship of mankind)

The state is limited ethnically and geographically while the Church transcends such boundaries. The state is concerned with the coordination of resources and human activity to defend and maintain the commonwealth, while the Church is always acting prophetically/sacramentally to orient human society to the eternal reign of Christ. One of the state's functions is to enforce law and execute justice, while the Church brings Redempton to bear, sanctifying human society to the Kingdom of God.

If you prefer a holy/common distinction rather than a secular/sacred this will work as well.

I like this even less, because everything should be holy to the Lord. There is no part of life that should not be blessed and sanctified to serve holy purposes.

As the Prophet Zechariah says,

In that day “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” shall be engraved on the bells of the horses. The pots in the LORD’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holiness to the LORD of hosts. Everyone who sacrifices shall come and take them and cook in them. In that day there shall no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts. (14:20,21)

If we consider Zechariah's prophecy in light of St. Paul's teaching on the sanctification of marriage and households (1 Cor. 7:14), we will see that Zechariah was prophesying about the present Church Age, the New Covenant order. Jews and Gentiles are made one in Christ, unbeliving family members are sanctified, and animals once unclean are now clean (Acts 10:15). The world has been redeemed! There is nothing in principle that does not already belong to Christ and nothing now that may not be claimed as his.

Now I do agree, that the distinction of these things must not be a divorced. Cult gives rise to culture. A very important point.

This is an essential point, and it is ignorance of it that vitiates Meredith Kline's contributions. The living water that nourishes all things flows out of the throne of God.

Yet, to reject the distinction will lead in one of two possible directions. First, the direction of the Papacy in which the Church rules over the civil authority (and all other "common" institutions) or Erastianism in which the state rules over the church.

The goal at the end of time is for the state to disappear & the Church to encompass all things. There will come a time when marriage as well as "dominion, authority, and power" will be abolished (see Matt. 22:30; 1 Cor. 15:24). The Church is Christ’s fullness which is to fill all in all. I don’t see how something like medieval Catholicism can be avoided if the New Covenant has been established. I am not advocating abolishing the family or the state in the present, but sanctifying them by bringing them into the Kingdom, and transforming them.

My theory is that the New Covenant is a universal order, world-wide in scope. This is because the whole world has been purchased by the redemptive work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:19). Even the unclean creation has been purified (Acts 10:14-16). I realize these are controversial claims to make in Reformed circles, but I think we need to distinguish between the redemption of the world (an accomplished and progressive reality) and persons (not all individuals will be saved). Any Reformed thinker who fails to make this distinction has misunderstood the doctrines of grace, in my estimation, misusing predestination to put limits on what God is capable of doing.

If the New Covenant is the present universal administration of God’s Kingdom, then it encompasses Church, nation, and family. In this order of things, all things are holy to the Lord, the Church acting as the legitimizing institution. All particular institutions not blessed by the Church have not achieved the perfection of their purpose, which is to glorify God to the greatest degree possible. When something has been appropriated for holy use, it has been re-oriented to its original created purpose. This is a crucial point Schmemann makes that I'd like to unpack at a later time.

I wish that those Reformed who currently agitate for secularism in non-ecclesiastical matters would also agitate to liberate the family from church oversight. Since the family is a common institution, how is it that ministers of the Gospel lawfully solemnize the marriage covenant? I am unaware of any New Testament license for this practice. Is this not a hold-over from medieval sacerdotalism? Why should the Church be any more involved in family than, say, business matters?

Contrary to such a slippery slope (we have fallen so far), it must be asserted that the New Covenant is a meta-covenant that includes all lesser covenants (like marriage covenants & national covenants) within its scope. Because of Christ’s work, all things are holy and it is the work of the Church of God to work to progressively sanctify the world. As God, in Christ, reconciled the world to himself and entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to the Church (2 Cor. 5:18-21), so it is no contradiction to say that something may be holy and also increasing in holiness. The secularist predestinarians say that nations are already under the dominion of Christ and so somehow kings are not now responsible to “kiss the Son.” But to argue this way, that there needn’t be further dedication of governmental authority to Christ, is to disallow any degrees to sanctification-legitimacy.

A genuine already/not yet eschatology will recognize the total redemption that has taken place. Christ’s redemption does not stop at some arbitrary line we’ve drawn between sacred and secular. There is nothing in principle that does not already belong to Christ and nothing now that may not be claimed as his. It is the Church’s glorious travail to bring the Kingdom to fruition, reconciling the world to God.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Why There Must be Establishment of Religion

The latest issue of Touchstone has an editorial on the the current controversy regarding the military chaplaincy. Back in February, the U.S. Air Force issued policy guidelines that discouraged "sectarian" prayer at public official functions and called for the chaplaincy to be sensitive to the diverse faiths of those in uniform. This action was sparked by complaints of anti-Semitism and the high involvement of evangelicals at the Air Force Academy.

The National Association of Evangelicals has weighed in on the matter with a statement on Religious Freedom for Soldiers and Military Chaplains. The Touchstone editorial is highly critical of the NAE's statement because it advocates the use of "inclusive language of civic faith when praying at memorials or convocations with religiously diverse audiences."

The Touchstone editors cut right to the chase when they retort:

Civic faith? Is this a different religion from the private faith of the voluntary assemblies?

Clearly, the Air Force Command is not seeking to tell anyone how to pray in divine service. The issue is whether religiously specific prayers should be offered in public assembly, especially mandatory functions for military personnel. And the Air Force Command has made its preference known: the name of Jesus Christ should not be mentioned in such assemblies.

This poses a problem for Christians. As the editorial puts it, "For millions of Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Fundamentalists, and Catholics, there's not a way to 'Get God in the room' except through the mediation of Jesus... It is the only prayer that they believe God receives. The one praying is recognizing that he can come before God only through the mediation of a priest, the high priest Jesus." How can a Christian chaplain, committed to the exclusive claims of the Gospel, pray a "non-sectarian" prayer in good conscience?

The answer is, he can't. This leaves Christians with one option in the current political climate. They ought to voluntarily refrain from praying in public assemblies. There is no shame in this, because the Air Force has indicated that only unitarian prayers are welcome anyway.

It's preferable to exercise our faith in private services than to compromise it for the sake of retaining some--any--public influence. The sooner American Christians recognize this reality, the better. And, I thank rabid secularists like Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State for bringing us to this juncture.

Every institution or organization, whether it be a family, a business corporation, or a state, has the need to have certain official functions solemnized, by either the offering of a prayer, the swearing of an oath, or something being blessed (christened). Such solemnizing actions presuppose religion. And for the Christian, this religion cannot ever be some kind of vague theism.

America is in the absurd situation of having a beautiful National Cathedral that is explicitly Christian in architecture and furnishing (despite the presence of Darth Vader on the northwest tower) that hosts all sorts of interfaith ceremonies. Many other examples can be brought forward. Every session of Congress is opened with prayer and the President-elect places his hand on an open Bible while being sworn into office. From the inscription "In God We Trust" on our currency to the crosses at Arlington, could anything be more plain than that the United States has pretended to be Christian without explicitly confessing Christ?

Basically, Americans have wanted to have their cake and eat it too, by claiming on one hand to be founded on Judeo-Christian principles and on the other hand to have a secular government that has no intention of serving the King of kings. This confusion is the direct cause of the culture war we are now engaged in.

The bottom line is, in order to be true to its reason for being, a nation must not dissociate itself from its rootedness in the transcendent. In order for governmental authority to be legitimate it must be formally based in divine Authority. For Christians, this Authority is identified as the redemptive-mediatorial rule of the Lord Jesus Christ.