Against Religious Liberty, for the Freedom of the Church

Yuval Levin, arguably the most Burkean of commentators in conservative circles these days, recognizes what many who oppose modern secularism fail to see — namely, that a defense of religious liberty for persons actually increases the power of the state. He is evoking an older case for mediating institutions, like families, schools, community organizations, and churches. These institutions should retain authority over members and government should not seek to overthrow the powers of “lesser authorities.” In the case of Christianity, faith is corporate not individual. But when government does intervene for the sake of a person’s freedom — a son against his parents, a church member against her church officers — the government gains more authority (less for the lesser authorities) by liberating the individual. In effect, libertarianism and big government go hand in hand.

Here’s how Levin describes the dangers of protecting the liberties of religious persons over against the freedoms of religious communities:

The legal arena is where the case for religious liberty seems most straightforward and securely rooted. The First Amendment to the Constitution declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These sixteen glorious words make for a sword, a shield, and a banner for today’s beleaguered believers. They seem to safeguard the right of every American to live by his convictions. But let us consider what they really demand, and on what grounds.

Our first instinct in the legal battles spawned by the progressive excesses of the last few years is to reach for the free exercise clause, which after all exists to protect religious people’s ability to live out their faiths in practice. It is easy to see why that seems like the right tool: Free exercise jurisprudence has frequently involved the crafting of prudential exemptions and accommodations—precisely the carving out of ­spaces—that could allow religious believers to act on their convictions even in the face of contrary public sentiments or (up to a point) public laws. In their present circumstances, many religious traditionalists would surely benefit from such prudence and protection.

But the logic of free exercise is, at the same time, highly individualistic, while the problems traditionalists now confront are frequently communal or (in the deepest sense) corporate problems.

What Levin proposes instead is for conservatives to defend the freedoms of association that come to communities of believers:

This means we need to see that we are defending more than religious liberty: We are defending the very idea that our government exists to protect the space in which various institutions of civil society do the work that enables Americans to thrive, and we are defending the proposition that this work involves moral formation and not just liberation from constraint. That is an entire conception of the meaning of a free society that goes well beyond toleration and freedom of religion. It is ultimately about the proper shape and structure of American life.

Making that clear—to ourselves and to others—will require an emphasis not just on the principles involved (be they religious liberty or subsidiarity or the freedom of association), but also on the actual lives of our actual, concrete communities. It will require that we turn more of our attention homeward, away from raging national controversies and toward the everyday lives of our living moral communities—toward family, school, and congregation; toward civic ­priorities and local commitments; toward neighbors in need and friends in crisis. It will require us to see that we need to build more than protective walls; we need to build strong, thriving, attractive ­communities.

The way I (mmmeeeEEEE) interpret this is to say that the baker who does not want to bake and decorate a wedding cake (why not an inferior one?) for a gay couple should not base her appeal on her own conscience but the teaching of her church. As a Free Methodist, not as Susan Eddy, she objects to being forced by civil rights legislation to bake a cake for a gay couple.

The downsides of this: first, what if the Free Methodists haven’t taken a stand on gay weddings? Second, what happens when Susan Eddy disagrees with the teachings of her church? Will she come around and submit?

Advertisements

52 thoughts on “Against Religious Liberty, for the Freedom of the Church

  1. I appreciate this Darryl and especially the reminder of the importance of mediating institutions. Radical individualism is problematic but Is one of the unintended consequences, however, for Susan or for others who come from non-confessional traditions, that it essentially uses civil authority to force them to become confessional? That seems like an unhappy consequence too. If, in order to exercise one’s liberties (the relative absence of civil coercion), the assertion of one’s religious conviction is not sufficient isn’t sufficient, if one must associate with others who confess the same conviction in order to get relief from civil coercion, isn’t liberty already jeopardized. Doesn’t the right of association under the first amendment imply a right not to associate?

    Obviously, I want everyone to be confessional and further I want everyone to confess sincerely what we confess but I don’t want to see the necessity of confession imposed by civil authorities.

    Like

  2. An example of religious liberty as libertarianism:

    I could quote multiple lines, but this one will suffice, to begin. In talking about those awful backwards bigots (that he used to hang out with), Gushee writes, “(Religious conservatives) are organizing legal defense efforts under the guise of religious liberty, and interpreting their plight as religious persecution.”

    Let’s review what is actually happening on the ground right now, since Gushee at least apparently has not noticed: Baronelle Stutzmann has faced major lawsuits from private parties and the state of Washington after she declined to provide services that would violate her conscience for a same-sex wedding. The lawsuits could drive her out of business. The same thing has happened to Aaron and Melissa Klein, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, and Jon and Elaine Huguenin. We could go on.

    In every case, we are dealing with people who have been given a choice between a) violating their conscience or b) losing a significant source of income for themselves and their family. Is this persecution on the level of what Fr. Hamel faced in France this summer? Of course not—and conservatives who suggest otherwise need to stop being ridiculous. Part of the problem we’re dealing with today is that we have over-played the persecution card in the past, which has created a boy-who-cried-wolf problem. That said, sometimes there really are wolves. And if you tell a person “I am ordering you to choose between your conscience and your livelihood,” you are persecuting them. And that is what our government is doing right now.

    If religious liberty isn’t individual, then the state needs to turn on Free Methodist Church. Perhaps a harder sell.

    Like

  3. Scott, I hear you. But standing up for Susan turns her into her own pope. At that point I’m a tad sympathetic to government officials saying, who needs to deal with all these opinions?

    We do have guidelines in the form of conscientious objector status. Mohamed Ali claimed that as a Muslim. Court officials knew that Islam was not a pacifist religion. They had to find other grounds to restore him to the ring.

    Like

  4. Darryl,

    It’s an enormously complex issue, but what happens when you can’t become a lawyer/judge AND freely associate with groups that the California Bar disapproves of even though they are recognized religious groups. Because that’s what California is trying to do right now.

    We of course don’t know how it will play out in the courts, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Like

  5. A couple of questions to think about are” In what ways are we demonstrably citizens of the militant church?”, and, ” Can we unjoin ourselves from the militant church and act against her individually( either within or without a confessional community) or under the auspices of collective lesser authoritive entities( government, organisation), or as a group ( small or large) within a confessional community?
    If we individually hold beliefs and practice behaviors contrary to the law written on our heart, we are, that degree,outside the kingdom of heaven( now, in the not yet), just as individuals and groups in the OT transgressed, made themselves outside the church and were subsequently punished.

    So in as far as persons share Christian morality, they should, in a 2K sense, still be considered citizens of dual authority regardless if they are confessional or not, since belonging to a confessional church doesn’t make a person of the covenant. Only faith does this, unless you believe that God’s covenant is only with a particular visible church?; that is, “only confessional churches are covenental”.
    In which case, how are you not like the Catholic Church, whom you believe is not the heir of the covenant?

    But more to the point of this entry…
    Does the 2 Kingdom view of civil goverment authority allow the free excercise of polygamy, female circumcision, stoning of disobedient children, abortion, euthanasia…?

    Like

  6. Susan, belonging to a church is part of being a Christian. Some churches are more or less reformed according to the word. Ones that are reformed according to the word don’t allow church members (read Joe Biden) to perform gay marriages.

    Don’t be a swagger babe.

    Like

  7. “If it should come to the point that everyone would like to begin whatever he wanted according to his own stubborn head, and not ask the church about it, then there would be more errors than Christians.’

    But even if there is no salvation outside “the church” which to be catholic must accept Romanist water, those with a liberal two kingdom worldview believe that the church has no right to tell individuals how to vote for the next killer in chief.

    https://juicyecumenism.com/2013/03/20/hillary-clinton-methodism-and-same-sex-marriage/

    Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren—“A third thing that needed to be done was to eliminate as much as possible the “Take, eat” of the original ritual. This “Take, eat” was far too reminiscent of voluntaryism.”

    John Calvin, Institutes 4—-Whoever knows how to distinguish between this fleeting life and that future spiritual life, will without difficulty know that Christ’s spiritual kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct. It is a Jewish vanity to seek and enclose Christ’s Kingdom within the elements of this world…..

    Verduin, p 68–“Great allegorizer that he was, Augustine managed to overpower Scripture to suit his purpose. Augustine found what he needed in the family situation of Abraham where there were two wives, one a free woman and the other a slave. By this Augustine justified the presence of two kinds of Christians in the church one kind by faith and the other kind without faith….If anyone does not of his own accord have himself regenerated by baptism, he shall be coerced to it by the king.

    Paul Zahl–A “liberal catholicism rarely satisfies, because it is a construct for people to have their cake and eat it too. Liberal views of authority and Scripture and cultural rapprochement do not finally cohere with a historic, catholic view of the church. …Bible-anchored evangelicals are bound to be disappointed.”

    Zahl finds it disturbing when he witnesses evangelicals “fall for” the aesthetics and hierarchy of high-church bodies. “It seems like a reaction to something that was missing or kinked in childhood, a compensation to make up for an earlier loss.” Zahl questions why his evangelical friends who are “compulsively attracted” to high-church form do not go all the way. “Pull a Cardinal Newman. Be consistent”:

    SOLA ECCLESIA: The Lost Reformation Doctrine, by Michael Glodo
    With which of the following statements are you in greater agreement?
    1. “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”
    2. “Away from the church one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.”
    For the average evangelical Christian the first statement may lack some balance, but the second sounds downright Romish. If this describes your reaction, then your ecclesiology is closer to the author of the first, Lenny Bruce, than to the author of the second, John Calvin (Institutes 4.1.1).

    Like

  8. Since we both have dissenters in our respective churches, I think the bigger issue here is asking if the problem for our souls is being outside of the visible church or being in sin.
    If a person agrees with same sex union and is Presbyterian, there is no threat to his soul even if his denomination is against it.
    He just loses out on membership.
    If a person believes in same sex union and is Catholic, he’s also going against his community and unless he heeds the teaching of the church, his soul is in danger.
    A person like Joe Biden can believe same sex union isn’t a sin if he believes in justification by faith alone.
    Am I correct?

    Like

  9. Susan, how do you figure that visible membership isn’t tied to invisible membership?

    WCF 25.2:The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

    To lose militant membership is to jeopardize triumphant salvation. So, no, you’re not correct.

    But a political opinion is also different from personal behavior. More wrinkles.

    Like

  10. Susan,

    If a person agrees with same sex union and is Presbyterian, there is no threat to his soul even if his denomination is against it.

    On what basis can you make this conclusion?

    Like

  11. Hi Steve,

    So here’s the thing.
    I understand that by visible, you mean only a reformed confessional congregation, however there are many Christians not in a reformed church or even a protestant church. In fact, you believe that Catholics, Orthodox and eeeeevangelicals( 😀) can be saved only IF they believe in the gospel according to Luther and Calvin. A gospel that wasn’t accepted in the Catholic or Orthodox eastern church.
    So think about how scarce “your gospel “proclamation was.

    In your view, all the rest of us don’t have a visible( more purely Reformed) church and thus our invisible membership is in question.

    Btw,
    I hope you and your family are doing well. Is Michigan’s autumn beginning?
    Wish you well, friend:)

    Like

  12. Hey there Robert,

    You believe in Luther’s gospel. Can you do anything to lose justification as long as you still have faith?
    I don’t mean lose the love that God has towards man and is the reason he wants us all to come to repentence either.
    Many people try to make the truth that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” mean that we can’t do anything to lose friendship with God.
    They act as if the OT stories weren’t written as a warning to us of the New Covenant.

    Like

  13. A Presbyterian (or Methodist, for that matter) likely does not believe that his church can organizationally determine that his position on same-sex marriage cuts him off from God. The organization may believe & teach that it does but he is free to disagree and remain hopeful about his everlasting condition. Joe Biden, as a Roman Catholic, obviously believes the same thing.

    Like

  14. A Presbyterian (or Methodist, for that matter) likely does not believe that his church can organizationally determine that his position on same-sex marriage cuts him off from God. The organization may believe & teach that it does but he is free to disagree and remain hopeful about his everlasting condition.

    Hi Dan,

    What issues caused recent splintering in the Reformed and Presbyterian world?
    People here are always using Joe Biden or Pelosi as Catholic Church failures at excercising church discipline. Do you think they shouldn’t?
    You don’t think that same sex union will cut a person off from heaven?
    Doesn’t it matter if something is objectively a sin whether or not a person has a personal conviction about it?

    Like

  15. Susan, I understand that’s how you interpret it. But the Reformed belief about what constitutes a true church and the eternal significance of being found within her is also balanced with a pretty catholic sense of sheep and goats–there are sheep without and goats within. Easy peasy. It’s not as exacting and exclusivist as you’d like to portray.

    Still, I don’t really see this topic as specific as all that. The point seems to be to ask where is liberty better grounded in the public square, the individual conscience or the religious institution to which a person adheres; which one should the earthly powers that be respect? And for the sake of that discussion, I would concede that you do in fact have a visible church, and if as a public servant in a pharmacy you don’t want to dispense that birth control then you should appeal to your church’s teachings instead of your own conscience. But if you do so then you should then get out of the pharmaceutical business because that’s part of the required territory (or do better research before going in and spare yourself the trouble).

    Like

  16. Steve,

    “…and if as a public servant in a pharmacy you don’t want to dispense that birth control then you should appeal to your church’s teachings instead of your own conscience. But if you do so then you should then get out of the pharmaceutical business because that’s part of the required territory (or do better research before going in and spare yourself the trouble)”

    Does a nurse or doctor have the right to refuse to help perform a vasectomy, tubal ligation, sex change on a child?
    My conscience is bound to my religion and that is why I have qualms. If I was a nurse and protestant I would not have had a conscience against sterilization and my denomination wouldn’t have either. Still we would both have been in grevious error.
    See the problem?
    Anyways, I’m exiting this convo now.

    Like

  17. @Susan
    ” What issues caused recent splintering in the Reformed and Presbyterian world?” I would say that it is the same thing that is causing the ongoing splintering of christianity more generally:

    1) nationalism. Anglicans, lutherans, Hussites, Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Brazilian Catholic Church, Philippine Catholic church, etc…

    2) religious tolerance/political weakness: When there is no one with the power to quash deviance you get groups that break away like quakers, anabaptists, and the various syncretc movements in the new world (vodou, santeria, etc…). Of course perhaps the largest breakaway sect from Christianity predates the 1054 schism – Islam.

    3) entrepreneurialism: the innovation and dynamism in the USA has led to the explosion of religions of varying ties to traditional religious belief: mormonism, scientology, Nation of Islam, etc…

    4) individualism: the fastest growing religious self identification in the US is “recovering catholic”. More generally the “spiritual-but-not-religious” types are essentially denominations of order unity (nanodenominations). A key characteristic is the belief that one’s religious views are a private affair, belief in God, prayer, and Jesus but a rejection of institutions. It is hard not to connect the demise of fraternal organizations (Elks, KoC, Shriners, bowling leagues, etc…) to the decline of adherence to denominations. The shattering of denominations into millions of spiritual-but-not-religious individuals is something that all Christian denominations should be concerned with. If the OPC and PCA only held onto their kids, we would grow by about 50% every 2 decades. That is not happening obviously. If not for immigration, the rcc would be tanking at a rate comparable to the ucc (it has been faster in Ireland).

    5) scandals: it is hard to overstate the role 20th century scandals have played. From crooked televangelists to bishops throwing the children of their parishioners to the wolves, our institutions have played in to the hands of modernity swimmingly.

    I doubt that esoteric doctrines that most pew sitters are clueless about make any difference.

    Like

  18. Susan, that’s the question and one answer it seems to me is that it’s a misguided one–is the state obligated to intervene between a person and her employer and protect her from her employer obligating her to do something she finds religiously objectionable. A better one might be, Does my church obligate me to refrain from having a hand in this? If nothing else, it sure would go some distance in keeping Christians from becoming useful cogs in unbecoming culture warring.

    But I only see the problem if I assume what you do, namely that RC morality is always true for everyone everywhere at all times. You see my problem?

    But bye-bye. Again.

    Like

  19. Susan, “If a person agrees with same sex union and is Presbyterian, there is no threat to his soul even if his denomination is against it. He just loses out on membership. If a person believes in same sex union and is Catholic, he’s also going against his community and unless he heeds the teaching of the church, his soul is in danger.”

    Huh?

    So your church is God?

    Did you not learn anything as a Protestant? Churches err. A sinner still needs to answer to God.

    But now you’re worried about sinning against your church? So you very well may wind up in hell because you don’t know if you will die in sin. You don’t.

    So how is that superior to biblical religion?

    Like

  20. Susan, “You don’t think that same sex union will cut a person off from heaven?”

    Again, I’ve been trying to get you to think about mortal sins cutting you off from heaven. Didn’t get much of an acknowledgement. Just a little, “yes, well. . .”

    Now you try to use dying in mortal sin as an indication of Rome’s superiority? So why don’t the bishops and priests warn Joe Biden about his ways? And what sense are you to make of the church’s pastoral care. If Joe Biden can do this, so can Susan. He’s going to purgatory. So can Susan. (Notice, didn’t say they’re going to heaven.)

    Like

  21. sdb – sorry that this is off-topic from the article, but how in the deuce is Islam a breakaway sect from Christianity?! That implies that Muhammed was a “Christian” before creating Islam, and there is no historical evidence that would suggest that. Islam comes out of the pagan tradition of the Arabic peoples of Saudi Arabia – they worshipped many gods, and Allah was merely the moon god (not just a general term for “God”). So, I don’t understand how you can refer to Islam as a breakaway sect of Christianity. Muhammed merely claimed he was in the Judeo-Christian tradition since he claimed Arabs are the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael, which is probably true. There is no spiritual connection between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

    Like

  22. Dear Steve,

    I leave the conversations because 1) Some of you aren’t as gracious as Jeff:). 2) I find I spend too long addressing more than one person and. I get overwhelmed.3) I get discouraged that we can’t ever come together. Here we are both professing Jesus but without the unity that is required so that ” the world may believe”.

    You said: ‘But I only see the problem if I assume what you do, namely that RC morality is always true for everyone everywhere at all times. You see my problem?”

    If RC morality is true it is true for everyone everywhere at all times. If it’s not true, it’s not true. We can’t be relativists or absolutists as the occasion requires so as to benefit us.
    But that doesn’t mean there aren’t circumstances that have to be dealt with in special ways while still respecting that absolute morality.

    I don’t understand why it’s better to appeal to one’s religion rather than conscience when dealing with the state. If they feel they have the power to force you to violate your moral conscience they aren’t going to appeal to your religion for religion is usually presupposed if someone is said to be obeying their conscience.

    But bye-bye. Again

    Like

  23. Darryl,

    “Again, I’ve been trying to get you to think about mortal sins cutting you off from heaven. Didn’t get much of an acknowledgement. Just a little, “yes, well. . .””

    Okay, a big solid ” yes” there is such a thing as mortal sin. Paul taught it and the other scriptures, that protestants threw out because it didn’t support their soteriology, support it.
    It’s not hard to believe ,if you keep the two things I just mentioned in mind, along with it being taught before the reformation and also taught in the eastern church.
    Whoever has the truth of this doctrine is the same authority who watches out for souls. If there is no such thing as mortal sin there is no threat to immortal souls, in which case Hebrews 13:17 is senseless.

    “Now you try to use dying in mortal sin as an indication of Rome’s superiority? So why don’t the bishops and priests warn Joe Biden about his ways? And what sense are you to make of the church’s pastoral care. If Joe Biden can do this, so can Susan. He’s going to purgatory. So can Susan. (Notice, didn’t say they’re going to heaven.)””

    I don’t know where he’s going. I pray he’s going to heaven, just like I pray that all people including myself won’t resist grace.
    I can’t make hell disappear just because I don’t like it. This earthly life is our testing ground, after this one life cokes the judgment. Store up for yourself treasure in heaven.

    Do you really think that the nonconfessional Christian who commits adultry or abortion, and the drunk who used to be Presbyterian or Catholic, and the nominal American kind of Christian who has heard of Jesus, understands that hell is a threat but persists in his pagan ways is going to hell, while confessing Presbyterians do the exact same thing as their neighbors and get a free pass?
    There’s no justice in that. And it’s not true. (Ezekiel 18:24, Hebrews 10:26)

    Like

  24. Susan, but you have yet to see your problem in your church. You can avoid all those sins for most of your life, or confess them, and then suddenly die after committing a mortal sin. And you wind up in hell.

    Or you can trust Jesus’ active obedience and death on the cross.

    But don’t forget, even cardinals say that Roman Catholics don’t hear much about heaven or hell:

    Today we seem to give a thundering “yes” to those questions. For instance:
    We go to funerals and hear that the deceased is certainly already in heaven;
    Rarely do we hear about hell or purgatory. (My dad always claimed he’d be thrilled if he woke up in purgatory!);

    That doesn’t make Roman Catholicism superior. It makes the church you adopted liberal.

    Like

  25. Susan, my fundamentalists think substance use is not only wrong for them but also wrong for everyone everywhere at all times and have a very hard time grasping how not everyone shares their own particular convictions. You talk about RC morality the way they do beer. I hope that’s not too un-Jeff-like (but I do think you could use some thicker skin), but what I’m asking for is some cognizance of the possibility that RC morality is most relevant to…RCs. But perhaps because the working premise is that RCism doesn’t err because it’s inherently unable to err makes that impossible.

    And you may have missed my point about appealing to institution rather than conscience. The state’s power to coerce is actually a good thing. Try thinking of being refused a cake by a Protestant baker for your niece’s first communion because he believes the Mass to be idolatrous. Lame. Maybe he should get out of the cake making business if he can’t learn to hold his nose sometimes. So appealing to conscience gives us potentially a nation of (frankly) whiners who want to be accommodated in the public square instead of learning what it means to set aside personal convictions for the sake of the whole.

    Like

  26. Darryl,

    Yes and you can avoid all those sins for most of your life, or confess them, and then suddenly die after committing grievous sin for a certain period of time (is there a threshold in the OPC for how long one is allowed to “backslide” for until they’ve crossed the point of no return) or apostasy. And you wind up in hell, demonstrating you had been self-deceived and weren’t really regenerated in the first place, but just a recipient of God’s evanescent grace and inferior operations of the Holy Spirit that hoodwinked you and your congregation.

    “It makes the church you adopted liberal.”

    A priest not talking about hell at a funeral does not entail the church does not teach hell or is liberal, any more than Swanson talking about killing homosexuals entails the OPC is theonomist and reconstructionist.

    Like

  27. @Bryan

    sdb – sorry that this is off-topic from the article, but how in the deuce is Islam a breakaway sect from Christianity?! That implies that Muhammed was a “Christian” before creating Islam, and there is no historical evidence that would suggest that. Islam comes out of the pagan tradition of the Arabic peoples of Saudi Arabia – they worshipped many gods, and Allah was merely the moon god (not just a general term for “God”). So, I don’t understand how you can refer to Islam as a breakaway sect of Christianity. Muhammed merely claimed he was in the Judeo-Christian tradition since he claimed Arabs are the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael, which is probably true. There is no spiritual connection between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

    I’m not sure I buy your origin story for Islam. To be sure, Muhammed was born to a pagan family, and paganism was common in that area. I’m certainly no expert on the origin of islam, and my limited understanding is that the scholarship on that origin is a bit thin. That being said, there seems to be pretty strong evidence that Muhammed was heavily influenced by monophysite (or possibly Arian) Christians and possibly members of the Collyridianist sect. Most likely, living on a trade route, he came across diverse groups of Christians (and Jews) who influenced his religious perspective that eventually gave rise to Islam. I don’t see why Muhammed would need to have been a Christian himself for his movement to have emerged from Christian beliefs. St. John of Damascus refers to Islam as a Christian heresy. Perhaps its relationship to Christianity is akin to that of Mormonism….

    I’m not sure what a spiritual connection is in this context. I don’t think there is one, but I don’t see why that is relevant. My larger point is that the proliferation of religious sects (Christian and otherwise) is largely driven by conditions other than esoteric ideology. Put more bluntly, if Susan wants to blame Luther for Mormons, Scientologists, and Branch Davidians, she has to take ownership of Islam, Vodou, and Santeria.

    Like

  28. “We can’t be relativists or absolutists as the occasion requires so as to benefit us.”
    Why not? Paul was. There are certain classes of behavior where if it violates your conscience, it is sin. If it doesn’t, your conscience it isn’t sin. The fact that moral absolutes exist does not entail that all moral questions have absolute answers.

    Like

  29. Lol, this is what the 17th century debate over religious liberty was about. They had religious freedom as long as they agreed with the approved church. Schismatics had no religous liberty. That’s “pretended liberty of conscience.” Despite all your ranting and raving against 17th century Presbyterians, sounds like you haven’t come very far.

    the baker who does not want to bake and decorate a wedding cake (why not an inferior one?) for a gay couple should not base her appeal on her own conscience but the teaching of her church.

    And how, exactly, does that church – among all the plethora of churches – become her church except by appeal to conscience?

    Note Dabney

    1. Magistrate has no Spiritual Jurisdiction… 2. Nor Right to Arrest my Private Judgment.
    By the same general fact, it appears that when intolerance commands me to surrender my private judgment in religion, it is to the Magistrate I surrender it, in other words, a man not sacred, nor even clerical, an officer purely secular, and even upon Roman Catholic teachings, no more entitled than me to judge in religion. But, it is said, “the Magistrate persecutes not for himself, but on behalf of a Church infallible and divinely authorized, to which he has dutifully bowed, and lent his secular power, as he ought; so that it is to this infallible Church we are compelled by the Magistrate’s sword to surrender our private judgment.” No; how did the Magistrate find out that this Church is infallible? Suppose I, the subject, choose to dispute it? Who shall decide between us? Not the Church in question; because the very question in debate between us is, whether the Church ought to be allowed a supreme authority over my, or his conscience. It is to the civil Magistrate’s judgment, after all, that I am compelled to yield my private judgment, and that, in a thing purely religious…

    4. Which Religion Shall Coerce?… Among competing religious communions, which shall have the right to coerce the other? Of course, the orthodox one. This is ever the ground of the claim. “I am right and you are wrong; therefore, I must compel you to think as I do.” But each communion is orthodox in its own eyes… There is no umpire under God; shall the magistrate decide? He has no right. He is not religious. There is no umpire. Each one’s claim to persecute is equally good. The strongest rules. Might makes right.

    Like

  30. The obedience boys would remind us of their situation ethic—nowadays we live in a day when there is too much “individualism”, so there’s no need to regard “conscience” when it has not been instructed by (or submitted to) the confession of the Roman Catholic church (or its apostolic successor) . John Van Til explained all this in Liberty of Conscience: The History of a Puritan Idea,

    John Cotton on baptism, 1647 (Church History of New England, Isaac Backus)—they do not deny magistrates, nor predestination, nor original, sin, nor maintain free-will in conversion, nor apostacy from grace ; but only deny the lawful use of the baptism of children, because it wanteth a word of commandment and example, from the Scripture. And I am bound in christian love to believe, that they who yield so far, do it out of conscience, as following the example of the apostle, who professed of himself and his followers, We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. But yet I believe withal, that it is not out of love to the truth that Satan yieldeth so much, but rather out of another ground, and for a worse end. He knoweth that now, by the good hand of God, they are set upon purity and reformation; and now to plead against the baptism of children upon any of those Arminian and Popish grounds, as those above named, Satan knoweth they would be rejected. He now pleadeth no other arguments in these times of reformation, than may be urged from a main principle of reformation, to wit, That no duty of God’s worship, nor any ordinance of religion, is to be administered in his church, but such as hath a just warrant from the word of God. And by urging this argument against the baptism of children, Satan transformeth himself into an angel of light.”*

    Brandon Adams — “Historic Presbyterianism was very different than modern Presbyterianism. Modern Presbyterianism will consider a non-communicant member who has reached the “age of discretion” and does not profess saving faith in Christ to be a covenant breaker and thus excommunicated. That was not the historic position. Instead, non-communicant members could remain members of the church without making any credible profession of saving faith. That was only required for communicant membership (access to the Lord’s table). Thus everyone in a nation was required by law to profess the true religion (known as “historic faith”) but they were not required by law to profess saving faith. Therefore the covenanters did not see themselves as judging “the world” with these laws. They were judging the church.”
    http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/the-half-way-covenant/

    Theodore D. Bozeman, “Inductive and Deductive Polities”, Journal of American History, December 1977—“The Old School leadership had incentive enough for worry about social instability…The General Assembly found it necessary to lament the practice of individuals who ‘question and unsettle practice which have received the enlightened sanction of centuries’…

    Like

  31. Zrim,

    But if you do so then you should then get out of the pharmaceutical business because that’s part of the required territory (or do better research before going in and spare yourself the trouble).

    This is far, far, far, far too simplistic. For countless pharmacists, it wasn’t part of the required territory to dispense abortifacients when they went into practice because there weren’t any legalized abortifacients decades ago.

    When what’s her name was elected to be the county clerk, there was no law demanding the issuance of gay marriage licenses.

    When John Jones took the bar exam thirty years ago, there was no push in California to say that if you freely associate with certain disapproved organizations, you can’t practice law in California.

    When Dr. Smith took the hippocratic oath twenty years ago, there was no code of medical ethics demanding transgender surgery upon request. And on and on and on.

    Your position is quite easy to accept when it’s not your ability to feed your family on the line.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Yeah, Zrim, there’s a weird side-effect of the position you’re taking. On the one hand you hold that Christians are free to have all manner of secular positions, having liberty within the secular kingdom.

    On the other, you seem to argue that if Caesar makes participation illegal, the Christian should just fold his hand and withdraw from that occupation.

    It’s logically consistent, but the side-effect is that Caesar gets to regulate the conscience (by economic coercion) in ways that the church can’t.

    Like

  33. Robert, instead over “far too simplistic,” how about imperfect? I get your point but how yours doesn’t have the potential to further atomize our already individualistic culture I don’t know. I’d rather err on the side of limited government. Isn’t that what much of this need to have government intervene seems to be, a form of big government solving the problems private citizens and their respective institutional commitments should be hashing out?

    You mean Kim Davis? Most serious religionists didn’t line up behind her cause and for reasons I think I’m advocating here. In her corner tended to be the tacky ones and culture warriors, but if you want to join Huckabee it’s a free country.

    Like

  34. Jeff, not quite. I’m seeing the wisdom in a person heeding his religious authorities over against pleading for Caesar to protect him. The off-putting side-effects of the latter to my mind seem to be opening things up to myriad of citizens closing themselves off from one another over one thing or another, rather than learning to live with one another Sure seems like the older virtues were about that.

    Like

  35. Zrim,

    You aren’t addressing the problem. I actually sympathize with Levan’s argument. But the powers that be don’t give a you know what about what the institutions think either. In case you haven’t noticed, the Obama administration has been quite happy to go after nuns who appeal to the teaching of their communion for why they don’t want to hand out condoms to their employees. Better to put those bigoted elderly nuns who are helping out old people out of business than to impede progress as defined by one of the two kingdoms.

    So we’re back to the point: It’s really easy to say “just get out of the pharmaceutical business” when it isn’t your family that will go hungry because you don’t have any other training, when it isn’t you who owe 100,000 in student loans for a degree that when you earned it was perfectly compatible with any conscience commitments you had.

    But because one unattractive and inconsistent supporter of conscience freedom (Kim Davis) is adopted by cynical members of the religious right for grandstanding purposes, that obviously means that everyone should sit down and shut up when one side doesn’t want to get along. Remember, it is the state of Washington and not the pharmacist couple in question OR the national pharmaceutical board that wants to force them to sell abortifacients.

    Meanwhile, the most pertinent example for what to do when one’s apparent citizens rights are being trampled is Paul who appealed to his Roman citizenship. But somehow that doesn’t factor into the equation ever.

    Not to be too snarky, but your flippant “just get out of the pharmaceutical business” isn’t helpful to people who have invested their lives and have spent decades in careers that all of sudden are off limits because of progress. Just wait till they come after you.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Zrim,

    The off-putting side-effects of the latter to my mind seem to be opening things up to myriad of citizens closing themselves off from one another over one thing or another, rather than learning to live with one another Sure seems like the older virtues were about that.

    Well, at the risk of invoking the dread w-w, at least in this country people could learn to live with one another because of some generalized commitments to the goodness of religion and other things that we just don’t share as a culture anymore.

    Like

  37. Robert, take a breath. I already conceded your point about the travails of persons and their occupations. I get it, but now you’re letting that point swallow up every other consideration. Talk about things not “factor[ing] into the equation ever.”

    And it’s worth noting that for Davis herself it had very little if anything at all to do with losing her livelihood and everything to do with Kulturkampf. If the examples you cite can speak for themselves, they don’t seem to be getting behind your livelihood point even when given the opportunity.

    So give in to the social deconstruction and get a lawyer? How cynical though.

    Like

  38. Machen—“Historic Christianity does emphasize, against the claims of society, the worth of the individual. It provides for the individual a refuge from all the fluctuating currents of human opinion, a secret place of meditation where a man can come alone into the presence of God. It does give a man courage to stand, if need be, against the world; it resolutely refuses to make of the individual a mere means to an end, a mere element in the composition of society. It rejects altogether any means of salvation which deals with men in a mass. Historic Chriatianity brings the individual face to face with his God.”

    James Rogers— Anticipating Nevin, Calvin sought a model of civil society that was built upon mutual dependence, cooperation, and intercommunion. Earthly citizenship, he believed, should be patterned after heavenly citizenship. For Calvin and Nevin, the social body constitutes a whole from which each part of member finds significance.
    This is an ironic misstep by Nevin. In seeking to magnify the significance of the Church’, he diminishes that identity by applying to civil society the unique unity that belongs, and can belong, to the Church alone.

    If the twentieth century taught us anything, on both the left and the right, it is the fearsome toll paid when political movements picture themselves as instruments or reflections of organic union. It’s an idolatrous itch. That the idol is fashioned in an attempt to serve American republicanism rather than Marxism or fascism does not change the idolatry.

    https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/05/mercersburg-theology-eucharistic-union-and-civil-society

    Like

  39. It looks like another argument for the freedom to religiously segregate. The right to association seems to me to revolve around having to associate with preferred groups rather than the right segregate from them. For when we deal with commerce, unless we want to return to one of the many ugly parts of Jim Crow, we do not have the right to separate ourselves from any protected group in a business setting. Considering that our goods and services are primarily provided by those in the private sector, then we should not seek separation from those from protected groups.

    Those who wish to live in segregation have It’s A Small World as their theme song. And what they want is a small world of their own creation. And to follow their position consistently, what we would end up with is a nation full of government guarded ghettos. Those who are interested in the Great Commission should have serious problems with this thinking. In addition, those who understand the complexities and interdependencies of modern life rightfully scoff at this notion.

    Like

  40. Curt, the church lives in segregation. It excludes people who don’t trust Christ and repent of their sins. Integration is a problem for the church — hello.

    Like

  41. But if you are afraid of individuals, who gets to decide what are “true churches”. If you let baptists stay around, then the quakers won’t be far behind.

    Scott Clark–Of course there are great difficulties in applying the Reformed critique of the Anabaptists to modern Baptistic evangelicals. However, they do have that one thing in common and it is one of the things that the Reformed mentioned consistently in their treatises against the Anabaptists. ..The question is whether the modern Baptist repentance of the other Anabaptist errors is enough to rescue them from the category of “sect.” Another way to put it is ask whether the administration of the holy sacraments may be so marginalized that they are not a mark of the church any longer.

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/roger-williams-on-israel-as-a-type-of-the-church

    Acts 3: 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you (the true visible church?) denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you. 15 You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this.

    Acts 5: 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name.

    Conservatives want to hold on to what they have, but they will include more people, if the extra people conform to conservative control.

    Luke 4–there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them—only to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time, there were many in Israel who had serious skin diseases, yet NOT ONE OF THEM WAS HEALED—only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. 29 They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff

    Like

  42. Mormons are mediating institutions which save us all from individuals. So does this mean that the “liberal” nation-state can reject polygamy but still come to peace (at least about the economic stuff) with Mormons by means of what to Mormons is currently their “true church”?

    http://religiondispatches.org/why-build-a-mormon-complex-in-philly/
    “Still, just in case it doesn’t work out, the LDS church is including the residential and commercial development with the Philadelphia temple as an investment opportunity, a similar approach it used in Salt Lake City a few years back. ”

    Calvin’s preface to the King of France (The Institutes)– “Our controversy turns on these hinges: first, they contend that the form of the church is always apparent and observable. Secondly, they set this form in the see of the Roman Church and its hierarchy. We, on the contrary, affirm that the church can exist without any visible appearance, and that its appearance is not contained within that outward magnificence which they foolishly admire.”

    Like

  43. Isaiah 41:13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
    or who gave the Lord His counsel?
    14 Who did the Lord consult with?
    Who gave the Lord understanding
    and taught the Lord the paths of justice?
    Who taught the Lord knowledge
    and showed the Lord the way of understanding?
    15 Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
    they are considered as a speck of dust in the scales;
    The Lord lifts and drops them like fine dust.

    http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=105

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s