Friday, April 29, 2011

The Family and the Commonwealth

A COMMONWEALTH may be defined as the rightly ordered government of a number of families, and of those things which are their common concern, by a sovereign power...

[Here, Bodin includes three elements in his definition of a commonwealth:  1) families, 2) things of common concern, and 3) sovereign power.  See below for his development of this idea.]

A family may be defined as the right ordering of a group of persons owing obedience to a head of a household, and of those interests which are his proper concern.  The second term of our definition of the commonwealth refers to the family because it is not only the true source and origin of the commonwealth, but also its principal constituent.

Xenophon and Aristotle divorced economy or household management from police or disciplinary power, without good reason to my mind [here the abridgement leaves out Bodin's argument]...

I understand by domestic government the right ordering of family matters, together with the authority which the head of the family has over his dependants, and the obedience due from them to him, things which Aristotle and Xenophon neglect.  Thus the well-ordered family is a true image of the commonwealth, and domestic comparable with sovereign authority.  It follows that the household is the model of right order in the commonwealth.  And just as the whole body enjoys health when every particular member performs its proper function, so all will be well with the commonwealth when families are properly regulated.

The law says that the people never dies, but that after the lapse of a hundred or even a thousand years it is still the same people.  The presumption is that although all individuals alive at any one moment will be dead a century later, the people is immortal by succession of persons, as was Theseus' ship which lasted as long as pains were taken to repair it.  But a ship is no more than a load of timber unless there is a keel to hold together the ribs, the prow, the poop and the tiller.  Similarly a commonwealth without sovereign power to unite all its several members, whether families, colleges, or corporate bodies, is not a true commonwealth.

It is neither the town nor its inhabitants that makes a city state, but their union under a sovereign ruler, even if they are only three households.  Just as the mouse is as much numbered among animals as is the elephant, so the rightly ordered government of only three households, provided they are subject to a sovereign authority, is just as much a commonwealth as a great empire.  The principality of Ragusa, which is one of the smallest in Europe, is no less a commonwealth than the empires of the Turks and the Tartars, which are among the greatest in the world. ...

But besides sovereign power there must also be something enjoyed in common such as the public domain, a public treasury, the buildings used by the whole community, the roads, walls, squares, churches, and markets, as well as the usages, laws, customs, courts, penalties, and rewards which are either shared in common or of public concern.  There is no commonwealth where there is no common interest...

Jean Bodin (1530–1596) was a French jurist and political philosopher, member of the Parlement of Paris and professor of law in Toulouse.  He is best known for his theory of sovereignty.

Bodin lived during the Reformation, writing against the background of religious and civil conflict - particularly that, in his native France, between the (Calvinist) Huguenots and the state-supported Catholic Church.  He remained a Catholic throughout his life but was critical of papal authority in temporal governments and was sometimes accused of crypto-Calvinism.  Towards the end of his life he wrote a dialogue between different religions, including representatives of Judaism, Islam and natural theology, in which all agreed to coexist in concord.

An abridgement of Bodin's most famous work, The Six Books of the Commonwealth, may be downloaded here or read online here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Saying Goodbye to the Neo-Reformed

I gladly admit becoming interested in theology because of Rush Limbaugh. Through Limbaugh and his fellow "conservative" radio commentators, especially Dennis Prager, I was awakened to the threat of the left. Opposition to abortion and the normalization of sexual deviance played a role. Encountering the arguments of non-Christians and anti-Christians in informal discussion provided additional impetus.

C.S. Lewis and Gordon H. Clark (a lesser known Presbyterian thinker) equipped me with accessible tools to defend the intellectual respectability of Christianity. In time, their salutary influences led me to reject the world- withdrawing tendencies of the theology of my youth (the original dispensational premillennialism of John Nelson Darby) and to embrace a form of Christianity with better historic bona fides: Presbyterian-Reformed Protestantism. At least classical Protestants make an attempt to show they are true heirs of the Medieval and Ancient faith.

The transition from dispensationalism to covenant theology was easy to make because of perceived important continuities between what I was raised to believe and the older religion. Dispensationalists are Protestant after all.

In time, I grew to appreciate more fully the less controversial and more foundational elements of the faith.
I spent five years in the Reformed fold attending a Neo-Reformed church. [For those not in the know, Neo-Reformed Protestantism is a moniker for a particularly toxic blend of solafideism, anti-Evangelicalism, anti-theonomy, and defeatist amillennialism which characterizes the theology of whiz kid Michael Horton (and associates).] I had no idea I was getting sucked into another dispensational religion in disguise—a form even worse than traditional Dispensationalism because it rejects the perpetual election of ethnic Israel.

For purposes of full disclosure, it must be said that toward the end of this time, I even spent an abortive year attending the institution best known for propagating the Neo-Reformed agenda. I am not proud of my academic performance that year, and freely admit that disillusionment with Neo-Reformed ideology played only a small part in dropping out of the seminary.

The champions of divine sovereignty always seem to have problems affirming corporate election along with personal election. 

The unregenerate mind doesn’t seem capable of grasping how even though a corporate body is elect, and all its members therefore elect while remaining in it, that God is free to grant final perseverance (as well as other spiritual blessings) to some only—if he so chooses.

Those who are vitally dedicated to denying the possibility of real corporate election deny the calling of Israel, and therefore serve a different god than the God who called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These same must also deny that the Church on earth is the same Church that will be glorified at the second coming of Christ.

These destroy by dividing, or, as they call it, by “distinguishing.” These confess two different churches: a visible church and an invisible church. These divide the sacraments. These divide Christ.

Thank God, the Neo-Reformed are not in control of the Reformed churches. Please God, may their influence be short-lived. But let the Reformed fight their own battles; I am done with them.

Marriage in the Resurrection?

Readers who are interested in this subject should be sure to visit this site and download the paper entitled, "A Positive Case for the Continuation of Familial Structures into the Eschatological Age." 

The paper is written from an evangelical and premilennial perspective, but is helpful for those of us who have other ecclesial commitments and eschatological perspectives. The paper has a fine discussion of Christ's teaching refuting the Saducees' objection to the Resurrection (Matt. 22:23-32; Mk. 12:18-27; Lk. 20:27-38).

Whether familial structures *might* persist into the eternal state is an important question that bears upon questions of continuity between the old and new creations, the supposed temporal value of marriage and family, and even--monarchy.
For instance, does Mary the mother of Jesus retain a maternal connection with her son?  Is Jesus still the son of David?  Is Jesus ethnically Jewish?  Is Jesus presently reigning as King of Israel?  
You see the point.

A Question for our Readers:

Is it possible to have a sovereign power that is not absolute?

The Convocation Book 0f 1606, i.2

TO him that shall duly read the Scriptures, it will be plain and evident that the Son of God, having created our first parents, and purposing to multiply their seed into many generations, for the replenishing of the world with their posterity, did give to Adam for his time, and to the rest of the patriarchs and chief fathers successively before the flood, authority, power, and dominion over their children and offspring, to rule and govern them ; ordaining by the law of nature, that their said children and offspring (begotten and brought up by them) should fear, reverence, honour, and obey them.  Which power and authority before the flood, resting in the patriarchs, and in the chief fathers, because it had a very large extent, not only for the education of their said children and offspring, but likewise for the ordering, ruling, and governing of them afterwards, when they came to men's estate.  And for that also it had no superior [authority, or power, over, or above] it on earth, appearing in the Scriptures, although it be called either patriarchal, regal, and imperial, and that we only term it potestas patria ; yet, being well considered how far it did reach, we may truly say that it was in a sort potestas regia ; as now, in a right and true construction, potestas regia may justly be called potestas patria.


If any man shall therefore affirm that men at the first, without all good education, or civility, ran up and down in woods, and fields, as wild creatures, resting themselves in caves, and dens, and acknowledging no superiority one over another, until they were taught by experience the necessity of government ; and that thereupon they chose some amongst themselves to order and rule the rest, giving them power and authority so to do ; and that consequently all civil power, jurisdiction, and authority, was first derived from the people, and disordered multitude ; or either is originally still in them, or else is deduced by their consents naturally from them ; and is not God's ordinance originally descending from Him, and depending upon Him, he doth greatly err.