The Christian Option

Thanks to last night’s sermon, I heard why John Calvin might encourage contemporary believers living in the United States not to disparage or ridicule Justice Anthony Kennedy (you know, the guy who wrote the majority opinion for legalizing same-sex marriage) but to honor him. From Calvin’s commentary on 1 Tim. 6:1-2:

When he enjoins them to esteem worthy of all honor the masters whom they serve, he requires them not only to be faithful and diligent in performing their duties, but to regard and sincerely respect them as persons placed in a higher rank than themselves. No man renders either to a prince or to a master what he owes to them, unless, looking at the eminence to which God has raised them, he honor them, because he is subject to them; for, however unworthy of it they may often be, still that very authority which God bestows on them always entitles them to honor. Besides, no one willingly renders service or obedience to his master, unless he is convinced that he is bound to do so. Hence it follows, that subjection begins with that honor of which Paul wishes that they who rule should be accounted worthy.

We are always too ingenious in our behalf. Thus slaves, who have unbelieving masters, are ready enough with the objection, that it is unreasonable that they who serve the devil should have dominion over the children of God. But Paul throws back the argument to the opposite side, that they ought to obey unbelieving masters, in order that the name of God and the gospel may not be evil spoken of; as if God, whom we worship, incited us to rebellion, and as if the gospel rendered obstinate and disobedient those who ought to be subject to others.

Did another Timothy read that letter?

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13 thoughts on “The Christian Option

  1. D.G.Hart:
    I heard why John Calvin might encourage contemporary believers living in the United States not to disparage or ridicule Justice Anthony Kennedy …

    [Calvin quote]” he enjoins them to esteem worthy of all honor the masters whom they serve, he requires them not only to be faithful and diligent in performing their duties, but to regard and sincerely respect them as persons placed in a higher rank than themselves.”>>>>>>

    We are not Justice Kennedy’s slaves. Besides, disparaging and ridiculing are not our only options as Christians. We can freely say that he was wrong, and even wrong-headed. We can freely say that his decision has little or no basis in any law of the United States of America. We can freely protest the fact that he took it upon himself to endanger the 1st Amendment protections on freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.

    Were the 4 dissenting judges in violation of some commandment of God because they, being Christians all 4 of them, dared to call their colleague out on his inadequate majority opinion?
    Of course not!

    Sure. We can honor the office, but we can also freely say that Kennedy was very wrong. We can pray for our Supreme Court, but they really are not supreme as in being some kind of kings and masters over us. Whatever happened to the term “public servant”?

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  2. You are spot on that Christians should not join in ridiculing and disparaging civil leaders like Justice Kennedy, no matter how much we might disagree with their views, policies and rulings. We are to submit to their rulings (unless those rulings go contrary to God’s Word) and to honor their persons in view of the offices they hold, since God in His providence has raised them to their positions of authority, and since they will give account on Judgment Day for how they have conducted themselves in office.

    At the same time, what concerns me is the impression I get from some fellow 2Kers that biblical commands to submit to governing authorities and to honor those in authority means we must never, ever criticize their policies or rulings, nor publicly expose flaws in their personal characters, etc. I believe it is possible to genuinely submit to the legitimate authority of governing authorities and to honor their persons in view of the offices they hold while at the same time respectfully yet directly criticizing their policies and (where it is evident) their unethical behavior. The same Scriptures which tell us to submit to and respect the civil authorities also tell us that we are to obey God rather than man; and when situations arise where we have to choose between obeying God’s law or obeying government law (for example, Christians in the Roman Empire being required to confess Caesar as “Lord” or government compulsion to accept “gay” marriage as normal), then we must obey God’s law by peacefully disobeying civil law.

    While we are obviously not Christ, we should remember that Christ called Herod (a civil ruler) a “fox” (not a very flattering label!), and upbraided members of the Jewish Sanhedrin (who also had a certain amount of civil authority) as “vipers.” Obviously Christ was speaking in His role as the great Prophet of God’s people, but my point is that if it is inherently sinful to ever question or criticize civil authorities then the sinless Son of God would never have uttered such speech. As His disciples we are to imitate Him — in this instance being willing to speak truth prophetically to power.

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  3. Geoff, agreed. Disagreement may be called for, though we shouldn’t question someone’s faith or masculinity if they choose not to disagree as publicly as others. But I don’t see a lot of honor among those who disagree the most vigorously. I do see a lot of outrage (though not from Christ and the apostles who lived in outrageous conditions compared to ours).

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  4. Christians are insufficiently respectful of Justice Kennedy and excessively respectful of David Daleiden – Gentle Readers, I think we have reached Peak Troll Life.

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  5. Should priests honor archbishops?

    Dolan who is also not known for his humility and mercy will likely never apologize, but he should.

    If Dolan were to say something sensible about politics to Catholics he should perhaps state the obvious: no Catholic in good conscience can vote for the Democratic party, a party that supports funding Planned Parenthood, opposes marriage, and is seen to be devastating the social fabric of this nation while bringing economic ruin to a once prosperous country.

    Truth be told, Dolan who has been busy closing numerous Catholic parishes in New York and selling valuable Catholic real estate, could frankly use Trump’s business acumen advice.

    I apologize as a Catholic priest to Mr. Trump and wish to let him know that many of us desire to publicly disassociate ourselves from any perception that what Cardinal Dolan wrote is any way consistent with Catholic doctrine or the basic decency required of all people of good will.

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  6. D.G. Hart: “Geoff, agreed. Disagreement may be called for, though we shouldn’t question someone’s faith or masculinity if they choose not to disagree as publicly as others. But I don’t see a lot of honor among those who disagree the most vigorously. I do see a lot of outrage (though not from Christ and the apostles who lived in outrageous conditions compared to ours).”

    GW: We’re on the same page. Both extremes — either caving and compromising the faith by wimpishly conforming to sinful trends in the culture, or exploding with fleshly outrage over the loss of Christian “influence” and over being marginalized in the public square — I would judge to be expressions of a lack of trust in the sovereignty of God over the affairs of man. As one who has at times felt like he was on the receiving end of judgmentalism from fellow believers due to my being insufficiently “culture warrior-ish” (and thus weak and insufficiently masculine) in their estimation, I know whereof you speak.

    Seems that some fellow Christians think that if you don’t growl loud enough and bare your teeth with sufficient ferocity in protest against the sins of our present age, you must therefore be a wimp and a wussy.

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  7. Mrs. Webfoot
    Posted August 4, 2015 at 2:37 am | Permalink
    D.G.Hart:
    I heard why John Calvin might encourage contemporary believers living in the United States not to disparage or ridicule Justice Anthony Kennedy …

    [Calvin quote]” he enjoins them to esteem worthy of all honor the masters whom they serve, he requires them not only to be faithful and diligent in performing their duties, but to regard and sincerely respect them as persons placed in a higher rank than themselves.”>>>>>>

    We are not Justice Kennedy’s slaves. Besides, disparaging and ridiculing are not our only options as Christians. We can freely say that he was wrong, and even wrong-headed. We can freely say that his decision has little or no basis in any law of the United States of America. We can freely protest the fact that he took it upon himself to endanger the 1st Amendment protections on freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.

    Were the 4 dissenting judges in violation of some commandment of God because they, being Christians all 4 of them, dared to call their colleague out on his inadequate majority opinion?
    Of course not!

    Sure. We can honor the office, but we can also freely say that Kennedy was very wrong. We can pray for our Supreme Court, but they really are not supreme as in being some kind of kings and masters over us. Whatever happened to the term “public servant”?

    D. G. Hart
    Posted August 4, 2015 at 7:04 am | Permalink
    Mermaid, Honor the emperor.

    Boo!

    She straightened you out, Dr. Hart. Anthony Kennedy is not the emperor, not our ruler. Further, Dr. Calvinism: A History:

    ”For earthly princes lay aside their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy to be reckoned among the number of mankind. We ought, rather, to spit upon their heads than to obey them.”

    ― John Calvin (Commentary on Daniel, Lecture XXX Daniel 6:22)

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  8. Commentaries on Daniel are often acknowledged as the most embarrassing work in the life of a great theologian.

    We can be grateful that some didn’t get around to an embarrassment with Revelation.

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  9. kent
    Posted August 4, 2015 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
    Commentaries on Daniel are often acknowledged as the most embarrassing work in the life of a great theologian.

    No doubt. Whose Calvinism is it, anyway?

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  10. ― John Calvin (Commentary on Daniel, Lecture XXX Daniel 6:22)
    He adds, “And even before thee, O king, I have committed nothing wrong” It is clear that the Prophet had violated the king’s edict. Why, then, does he not ingenuously confess this? Nay, why does he contend that he has not transgressed against the king? Because he conducted himself with fidelity in all his duties, he could free himself from every calumny by which he knew himself oppressed, as if he had despised the king’s sovereignty. But Daniel was not so bound to the king of the Persians when he claimed for himself as a god what ought not to be offered to him. We know how earthly empires are constituted by God, only on the condition that he deprives himself of nothing, but shines forth alone, and all magistrates must be set in regular order, and every authority in existence must be subject to his glory. Since, therefore, Daniel could not obey the king’s edict without denying God, as we have previously seen, he did not transgress against the king by constantly persevering in that exercise of piety to which he had been accustomed, and by calling on his God three times a-day. To make this the more evident, we must remember that passage of Peter,

    “Fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17.)

    The two commands are connected together, and cannot be separated from one another. The fear of God ought to precede, that kings may obtain their authority. For if any one begins his reverence of an earthly prince by rejecting that of God, he will act preposterously, since this is a complete perversion of the order of nature. Then let God be feared in the first place, and earthly princes will obtain their authority, if only God shines forth, as I have already said. Daniel, therefore, here defends himself with justice, since he had not committed any crime against the king; for he was compelled to obey the command of God, and he neglected what the king had ordered in opposition to it. For earthly princes lay aside all their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy of being reckoned in the number of mankind. We ought rather utterly to defy than to obey them whenever they are so restive and wish to spoil God of his rights, and, as it were, to seize upon his throne and draw him down from heaven.

    And for good measure
    ― John Calvin (Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, First Peter 2:13-17)
    13 “Submit yourselves” He now comes to particular exhortations: and as obedience with regard to magistrates is a part of honest or good conversation, he draws this inference as to their duty, “Submit yourselves,” or, Be ye subject; for by refusing the yoke of government, they would have given to the Gentiles no small occasion for reproaching them. And, indeed, the Jews were especially hated and counted infamous for this reason, because they were regarded on account of their perverseness as ungovernable. And as the commotions which they raised up in the provinces, were causes of great calamities, so that every one of a quiet and peaceable disposition dreaded them as the plague, — this was the reason that induced Peter to speak so strongly on subjection. Besides, many thought the gospel was a proclamation of such liberty, that every one might deem himself as free from servitude. It seemed an unworthy thing that God’s children should be servants, and that the heirs of the world should not have a free possession, no, not even of their own bodies. Then there was another trial, — All the magistrates were Christ’s adversaries; and they used their own authority, so that no representation of God, which secures the chief reverence, appeared in them. We now perceive the design of Peter: he exhorted the Jews, especially for these reasons, to shew respect to the civil power.

    “To every ordinance of man” Some render the words, “to every creature;” and from a rendering so obscure and ambiguous, much labor has been taken to elicit some meaning. But I have no doubt but that Peter meant to point out the distinct manner in which God governs mankind: for the verb κτίζειν in Greek, from which κτίσις comes, means to form and to construct a building. Suitable, then, is the word “ordination;” by which Peter reminds us, that God the maker of the world has not left the human race in a state of confusion, that they might live after the manner of beasts, but as it were in a building regularly formed, and divided into several compartments. And it is called a human ordination, not because it has been invented by man, but because a mode of living, well arranged and duly ordered, is peculiar to men.

    “Whether it be to the king” So he calls Caesar, as I think, whose empire extended over all those countries mentioned at the beginning of the Epistle. For though “king” was a name extremely hated by the Romans, yet it was in use among the Greeks. They, indeed, often called him autocrat, (αὐτοκράτορα) but sometimes he was also called by them king, (βασιλεὺς.) But as he subjoins a reason, that he ought to be obeyed because he excelled, or was eminent or supreme, there is no comparison made between Caesar and other magistrates. He held, indeed, the supreme power; but that eminence which Peter extols, is common to all who exercise public authority. And so Paul, in Romans 13:1, extends it to all magistrates. Now the meaning is, that obedience is due to all who rule, because they have been raised to that honor not by chance, but by God’s providence. For many are wont to inquire too scrupulously by what right power has been attained; but we ought to be satisfied with this alone, that power is possessed and exercised. And so Paul cuts off the handle of useless objections when he declares that there is no power but from God. And for this reason it is that Scripture so often says, that it is God who girds kings with a sword, who raises them on high, who transfers kingdoms as he pleases.

    As Peter referred especially to the Roman Emperor, it was necessary to add this admonition; for it is certain that the Romans through unjust means rather than in a legitimate way penetrated into Asia and subdued these countries. Besides, the Caesars, who then reigned, had possessed themselves of the monarchy by tyrannical force. Hence Peter as it were forbids these things to be controverted, for he shews that subjects ought to obey their rulers without hesitation, because they are not made eminent, unless elevated by God’s hand.

    14 “Or unto governors,” or, “Whether to presidents.” He designates every kind of magistrates, as though he had said, that there is no kind of government to which we ought not to submit. He confirms this by saying that they are God’s ministers; for they who apply him to the king, are greatly mistaken. There is then a common reason, which extols the authority of all magistrates, that they rule by the command of God, and are sent by him. It hence follows (as Paul also teaches us) that they resist God, who do not obediently submit to a power ordained by him.

    “For the punishment” This is the second reason why it behoves us reverently to regard and to respect civil authority, and that is, because it has been appointed by the Lord for the common good of mankind; for we must be extremely barbarous and brutal, if the public good is not regarded by us. This, then, in short, is what Peter means, that since God keeps the world in order by the ministry of magistrates, all they who despise their authority are enemies to mankind.

    Now he assumes these two things, which belong, as Plato says, to a commonwealth, that is, reward to the good and punishment to the wicked; for, in ancient times, not only punishment was allotted to evil-doers, but also rewards to the doers of good. But though it often happens that honors are not rightly distributed, nor rewards given to the deserving, yet it is an honor, not to be despised, that the good are at the least under the care and protection of magistrates, that they are not exposed to the violence and injuries of the ungodly, that they live more quietly under laws and better retain their reputation, than if every one, unrestrained, lived as he pleased. In short, it is a singular blessing of God, that the wicked are not allowed to do what they like.

    It may, however, be objected here and said, that kings and magistrates often abuse their power, and exercise tyrannical cruelty rather than justice. Such were almost all the magistrates, when this Epistle was written. To this I answer, that tyrants and those like them, do not produce such effects by their abuse, but that the ordinance of God ever remains in force, as the institution of marriage is not subverted though the wife and the husband were to act in a way not becoming them. However, therefore, men may go astray, yet the end fixed by God cannot be changed.

    Were any one again to object and say, that we ought not to obey princes who, as far as they can, pervert the holy ordinance of God, and thus become savage wild beasts, while magistrates ought to bear the image of God. My reply is this, that government established by God ought to be so highly valued by us, as to honor even tyrants when in power. There is yet another reply still more evident, — that there has never been a tyranny, (nor can one be imagined,) however cruel and unbridled, in which some portion of equity has not appeared; and further, some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy.

    15 “For so is the will of God” He returns to his former doctrine, lest an occasion should be given to the unbelieving to speak evil, though he expresses less than what he had said before; for he says only that the mouths of the foolish ought to be stopped. The phrase which he adopts, “to stop up ignorance,” though it may seem harsh on account of its novelty, does not yet obscure the sense. For he not only calls the unbelieving foolish, but also points out the reason why they slandered, even because they were ignorant of God. But inasmuch as he makes the unbelieving to be without understanding and reason, we hence conclude, that a right understanding cannot exist without the knowledge of God. How much soever, then, the unbelieving may boast of their own acuteness, and may seem to themselves to be wise and prudent, yet the Spirit of God charges them with folly, in order that we may know that, apart from God, we cannot be really wise, as without him there is nothing perfect.

    But he prescribes the way in which the evil-speaking of the unbelieving is to be restrained, even by well-doing, or, by doing good. In this expression he includes all the duties of humanity and kindness which we ought to perform towards our neighbors. And in these is included obedience to magistrates, without which concord among men cannot be cultivated. Were any one to object and say, that the faithful can never be so careful to do good, but that they will be evil-spoken of by the unbelieving: to this the obvious answer is, that the Apostle here does not in any degree exempt them from calumnies and reproaches; but he means that no occasion of slandering ought to be given to the unbelieving, however much they may desire it. And lest any one should further object and say, that the unbelieving are by no means worthy of so much regard that God’s children should form their life to please them, Peter expressly reminds us that we are bound by God’s command to shut up their mouths.

    16 “As free” This is said by way of anticipation, that he might obviate those things which are usually objected to with regard to the liberty of God’s children. For as men are naturally ingenious in laying hold on what may be for their advantage, many, at the commencement of the Gospel, thought themselves free to live only for themselves. This doting opinion, then, is what Peter corrects; and he briefly shews how much the liberty of Christians differed from unbridled licentiousness. And, in the first place, he denies that there is any veil or pretext for wickedness, by which he intimates, that there is no liberty given us to hurt our neighbors, or to do any harm to others. True liberty, then, is that which harms or injures no one. To confirm this, he declares that those are free who serve God. It is obvious, hence, to conclude, that we obtain liberty, in order that we may more promptly and more readily render obedience to God; for it is no other than a freedom from sin; and dominion is taken away from sin, that men may become obedient to righteousness.

    In short, it is a free servitude, and a serving freedom. For as we ought to be the servants of God, that we may enjoy this benefit, so moderation is required in the use of it. In this way, indeed, our consciences become free; but this prevents us not to serve God, who requires us also to be subject to men.

    17 This is a summary of what is gone before; for he intimates that God is not feared, nor their just right rendered to men, except civil order prevails among us, and magistrates retain their authority. That he bids honor to be rendered to all, I explain thus, that none are to be neglected; for it is a general precept, which refers to the social intercourse of men. The word honor has a wide meaning in Hebrew, and we know that the apostles, though they wrote in Greek, followed the meaning of words in the former language. Therefore, this word conveys no other idea to me, than that a regard ought to be had for all, since we ought to cultivate, as far as we can, peace and friendship with all; there is, indeed, nothing more adverse to concord than contempt.

    What he adds respecting the love of brethren is special, as contrasted with the first clause; for he speaks of that particular love which we are bidden to have towards the household of faith, because we are connected with them by a closer relationship. And so Peter did not omit this connection; but yet he reminds us, that though brethren are to be specially regarded, yet this ought not to prevent our love from being extended to the whole human race. The word fraternity, or brotherhood, I take collectively for brethren.

    “Fear God” I have already said that all these clauses are applied by Peter to the subject he was treating. For he means, that honor paid to kings proceeds from the fear of God and the love of man; and that, therefore, it ought to be connected with them, as though he had said, “Whosoever fears God, loves his brethren and the whole human race as he ought, and will also give honor to kings.” But, at the same time, he expressly mentions the king, because that form of government was more than any other disliked; and under it other forms are included.

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  11. Kings, rulers, emperors…err democratically elected officials? Drawing analogies between the Old world and the New one, then applying bible commentary from an epoch of imperialism seems a stretch. Just remember, Calvin had his detractors walk through the city with their buttocks hanging out as punishment (looking for some Bible justification for that one…hmmm).

    The Word speaks, but it may take a bit of hard mining to get at something that suits this age. What I’m reading here just sounds like bluster, on both ends, 2k or not.

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