Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

Didn’t the Reformation start with objections to the cash nexus between grace and financial contributions? So how much did the Council of Trent reform ecclesiastical abuses in the light of recent announcements about new criteria for becoming a saint?

To approve a miracle, at least 5 out of the 7 members of the body of medical experts within the congregation must approve, or 4 out of 6, depending on the size of the group, as opposed to a simple majority.

In case a miracle report is rejected on the first go-around, it may only be reexamined a total of three times.

In order to reexamine a miracle claim, new members must be named to the consulting body.

The president of the consulting body may only be confirmed to one additional five-year term after the original mandate expires.

While in the past payments to experts could be made in person by cash or check, now the experts must be paid exclusively through a bank transfer.

I don’t know about you, but my impression of the miraculous is that if part of a group of believers thinks an unusual event was not miraculous, then it probably was not. Generally speaking, the works of God are pretty straight forward to those with eyes of faith (questions about ongoing miracles notwithstanding). And do we really need science to tell validate a miracle? Isn’t faith sufficient?

But the kicker is the financial aspect to these policy changes:

In his book “Merchants in the Temple,” Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi charged the congregation was among the most reluctant Vatican offices to cooperate with new transparency measures imposed as part of Francis’s project of Vatican reform, and asserted that the average cost of a sainthood cause was about $550,000.

U.S. Catholic officials traditionally have used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level, to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, though that cost can increase depending in part of how many people take part in the canonization ceremony and the logistics of organizing the event.

In March, Pope Francis had already approved a new set of financial procedures for the congregation, outlining procedures for handling contributions and specifying which authorities are charged with overseeing the flow of money.

Also notice that even though the path to sainthood has become more — let’s say — complicated, those already saints stay saints:

The new rules are not retroactive, and hence they do not invalidate any beatifications or canonizations performed under earlier procedures.

Fulton Sheen’s advocates are no doubt disappointed.

For any apologist out there, this is the sort of thing that makes no sense to a Protestant (and is truly audacious). We do concede that sainthood can be bought. The price that Jesus paid with his precious blood is worth more than all the silver and gold you can put in a Vatican bank safe. So yes, there is a payment for sanctity. But it is entirely beyond the economic calculations of this world.

One might think that after five hundred years, Roman Catholic bishops might have learned that lesson.

Engaged or Cohabiting

Thanks to Dustin who challenges the Old Life (okay mmmmeeeEEEE) manner of responding to The Gospel Coalition (aka Gospel Industrial Complex and related outlets) I have the opportunity to clarify this old Calvinist’s attitude to the Calvinist wannabes.

The problem with TGC is that is neither fish nor foul. It tries to do the gospel but it also adds a lot of clutter. So if I wanted to read a theological journal, TGC isn’t the place to go because it doesn’t go deep or academic (though it tries to strike a scholarly tone). And if I want to read about culture — TGC has channels from “Current Events” to “Arts and Culture” — why would I read their take before what I normally read — New Republic, New Yorker, American Conservative, and a host of blogs.

So the issue is that TGC doesn’t really investigate the nooks and crannies of theology and worship. How can it when it is a coalition of people in different communions? TGC accentuates the positive. In my mind that is overwhelmingly dull. TGC feels more like an organization interested in boundary maintenance and creating a feeling of belonging than in thinking challenging thoughts. The inspirational bits, whether from earnest piety or the fame of celebrity pastors, don’t overcome the predictability.

When it comes to arts, culture, current events, TGC seems to want to be neo-Calvinist but the New Calvinists haven’t done the intellectual heavy lifting that neo-Calvinist clearly have. As much as I take issue with the integralist aspirations of neo-Calvinists, they are smart, they know the importance of academic rigro rigor and are generally (in their intellectual demeanor) not interested in inspiring. They are especially proficient in philosophy. I don’t happen to believe that philosophy is the area of study to supply the foundation that gives coherence to all human activity — I don’t think such coherence is possible (hide human flourishing under a bushel? Yes!). But I give the neo-Calvinists credit for doing the hard intellectual labor.

I don’t see that kind of intellectual output — no offense — at TGC. Not to mention that I’m not sure what current events or the arts or food shopping on Sundays has to do with the gospel.

So TGC fails on two counts: they dabble at paleo-Calvinism; and they dabble at neo-Calvinism. If the allies want simply to be evangelical, fine. That is actually what they are — a repristination of the New Evangelicalism of Fuller, Christianity Today, and the National Association of Evangelicals minus the Wesleyans and Pentecostals. I’ve seen this stuff before. Not much to see and certainly nothing to take seriously.

In other words, I don’t engage TGC. I live in a world where TGC also lives. In some sense, we live together. But we don’t relate and we certainly don’t commune (or roll on Shomer Shabbos).

When It Was Unthinkable that the State Would Affirm God

Thanks to his typing skills, Mark Van Der Molen reproduces a remark that Alan Strange made in his discussion at Reformed Forum on the spirituality of the church:

The separation of church and state, the distinction of church and state is something entirely different from the separation of faith from politics, or even God from State. None of those men believed in the separation of God from State. Even in public ways, all of them believed….basically Thornwell argued and so did Robinson, that it is immoral. Any state that is atheistic is immoral. They both argued that. If you read Robinson and Thornwell, and particularly Hodge, I think you will see they have clear points of integration. They have them in any number of ways, they all believed that it was immoral and unthinkable that the State would deny God or Christ in a general way.

(Alan, if you’re reading, I’m not picking on you. I am using your remarks to clarify, in which case disagreement may be beneficial.)

First, I do wonder about the difference between an atheistic and an idolatrous state. If the false gods are no gods, isn’t then every state without the Triune God revealed in Holy Writ an atheistic state. Is Turkey any better than the Soviet Union if the former acknowledges Allah in some way but the Soviets denied God? What about a Jewish state like Israel? Or how about a Mormon state like Utah? If states become immoral by virtue of atheism, aren’t they also immoral by denying the true God?

That puts Alan and Van Der Molen, perhaps, closer to the Puritans and a confessional state than to Robinson and Hodge who seemingly welcomed a secular government like the United States but rejected an atheistic state.

But keep in mind the progression of states that include God in their operations:

Puritans — they admitted only Puritans and excluded Baptists, Quakers, and Lutherans (for starters)

1820s U.S. — was friendly primarily to Protestants though all faiths could worship, which was a decisive break from 1640 Boston and 1550 Geneva

1950s U.S. — American society recognized a tri-faith monotheism informally of Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews while also putting God on coins and in the Pledge of Allegiance, which was a break from 1820s Protestant dominated America

2010s U.S. — American society apparently has no religious standards and may even give sectarian faiths a hard time, which is a break from 1950s tri-faith America

The trend here is toward greater diversity and toleration. 2kers are trying to stop the bleeding by reconfiguring what God requires. The 2k conclusion, tentatively, is that God does not reveal a definite pattern for politics. The church is one thing, the state another. 2kers also try to learn lessons from the past and how earlier efforts to establish religious standards could not compete with the movement of peoples or the growing authority of the nation-state to regulate its citizens affairs in a way that achieved a measure of social unity.

What critics of 2k need to do is stop showing how 2k departs from the past. We get that. What critics need to do is not foment fear for disagreeing with Calvin or Winthrop — as if Protestants have post-canonical authorities whom we must follow. Critics need to propose an equation for God-and-state that is either required by God’s word (especially the part where Paul recommends submission to Nero) or that does justice to the lives that Christians now lead and somewhat enjoy.

2k is not novel in one sense. It advocates the spirituality of the church which is a part of the Western Christian tradition going back to Augustine, Paul, and Jesus. In another sense it is new — in the novos ordo seclorum way. 2k proposes a re-consideration of political theology in the light of modern social arrangements that is still true to Scripture and Reformed theology.

Is that any more scary than suggesting that the United States ban idolatry?

The Patron Saint of Calvinist 2k?

The Anabaptists may have seen the problems with Constantinianism, but they weren’t fans of religious tolerance the way Pierre Bayle was:

Bayle’s passion for religious liberty reflected his circumstances. Unlike better-known champions of tolerance such as Voltaire or John Locke, he had first-hand experience of persecution. He was the son of a poor Calvinist pastor in a small French town near the Spanish border. Protestants such as the Bayles were a harassed minority in France, where roughly 95 per cent of the population was Catholic.

Thousands of Bayle’s co-religionists had been massacred in the late 16th century, and even though Protestants won some freedoms at the end of the French wars of religion in 1598, their position worsened during Bayle’s lifetime. He fled to the Netherlands in 1681, when he was in his early thirties. A few years later, one of his brothers was arrested and died in a French prison. If he had converted to Catholicism, he would have been released. Bayle never got over his brother’s death.

Bayle had the misfortune to be not only a heretic in Catholic eyes, but also an apostate, for which the punishments were still worse. In his youth, he had briefly been convinced by the intellectual case for Catholicism and had converted. After about a year and a half as a Catholic, however, he decided that he had been mistaken and switched back. He followed his conscience, and this became the linchpin of his case against persecution. Why would God have given us a conscience if He did not mean us to use it?

Even if an alleged heretic, such as Bayle, was in error and was worshipping the wrong God, or worshipping Him in the wrong way, might this not be an honest mistake? He used a well-known example of mistaken identity to make his point. The wife of the peasant Martin Guerre sincerely believed an impostor to be her long-lost husband. When the real Martin Guerre returned to his village, the impostor confessed and was executed for adultery and fraud. But Guerre’s wife went unpunished, because her error had been made in good faith. Bayle reasoned that “heretics” should be treated in the same way. If they had searched diligently for the truth and acted conscientiously, they were guilty of no sin. Nobody should punish them or try to compel them to act against their honest beliefs.

Do we need religion to prop up morality? Bayle didn’t think so (and he hadn’t even listened to Angelo Cataldi):

Nor was Bayle much troubled by the notion of atheism, either, which is perhaps the most modern thing about him. Locke maintained that unbelief cannot be tolerated, because it is bound to lead to the moral collapse of any society foolish enough to allow it. Voltaire thought the same. Bayle seems to have been the first person in the Christian world to deny this conventional opinion. Morality, he reasoned, can exist perfectly well without religion.

Bayle was also unimpressed by contemporary apologists:

When an exceptionally bright comet was spotted by a German astronomer in late 1680, it caused a panic. Comets had presaged countless disasters, from the fall of Carthage to the Norman invasion of Britain, or so it was widely believed. Hundreds of alarmist pamphlets were published across Europe and in North America, announcing that the new comet was a dire warning from God to repent immediately.

Bayle set out to show that it would be against God’s nature to use celestial phenomena to send messages to mankind. With typical thoroughness, he offered eight main arguments for this conclusion, supported them with several hundred texts, ancient, medieval and modern, and made sideswipes at dozens of other superstitions along the way.

The argument of which he was most proud was original, effective and simple. It was that any such divine warnings would be bound to backfire and achieve the opposite of what God supposedly intended.

It was easy to show from scripture that God abhorred the worship of false gods. ­According to the prophets, idolatry seemed to rile Him even more than murder, theft or adultery. Yet most people on the planet are not Christians. As Bayle put it, the majority of human beings “remain idolators or have become Mohammedans”. So, if God put awe-inspiring warnings in the sky, most people would just embrace their false religions even more fervently. Why would He send harbingers of doom that could only “reanimate false and sacrilegious devotion almost everywhere on Earth” and “increase the number of pilgrims to Mecca”?

Bayle didn’t try to play God (which should be obvious to Reformed Protestants):

Why is there so much wickedness and suffering in the world? Bayle went through the standard theological answers to this question and knocked down each one, often with a vivid analogy. Is God absolved of man’s evil by His gift of free will – which makes everything man’s fault? No, Bayle answered: that would be like giving a knife to a man when you know he will use it to commit murder. The gift does not absolve the giver. Did God permit man to rebel so that He could send Jesus as a redeemer? That, Bayle replied, would make God “like a father who allows his children to break their legs so that he can show everyone his great skill in mending their broken bones”.

The real answer, he insisted, is that we cannot comprehend why God allows evil. A true Christian must simply accept that He does.

I can’t vouch for Bayle’s personal devotion, but he may be one of those many bridges between Protestantism and Enlightenment.

Calvinism as an Upgrade

Once baptized, always a Roman Catholic:

Pope Benedict affirmed that Catholicism comes without an escape clause: Once a person is baptized or received into the Church, there is no getting out.

Of course rejecting ecclesiastical communion or the Church’s doctrine has consequences, among them the penalty of excommunication. But excommunication is a punishment, not a shunning. Disobedient or dishonest Catholics might face damnation for their choices, but they will go their deathbeds as members of our Church. One can be a Catholic and be pro-choice, but having rejected the truth and the Church’s communion, he had better be prepared to face his judgment.

The fact is that among the People of God are those who have rejected the grace God has given them. That our Church includes the reprobate, and the dogmatically impure, and that we ourselves sometimes fill out those categories. The unpleasant truth is that one can be Catholic, and still be damned.

The grace of baptism is no assurance against going to hell.

But the elect don’t go to hell.

So election and baptism do not vary in this life. In the life to come, election and baptism’s consequences vary considerably.

The Obedience Boy W-w

Tim Challies leaves out a crucial piece of Reformed Protestantism when he describes The Utter Devastation of Sin:

But is even a tornado a significant enough picture of sin? A tornado is one big system that devastates and destroys, but quickly moves on. As much damage as that F4 tornado did to Ringgold, it lasted for just a few minutes and was gone. Sin is different in that a big sin seems to spawn a thousand little sins. So maybe we need to push the metaphor to near the breaking point to say that sin is like a big tornado that tears through town while spawning off hundreds of smaller tornados, each of which goes in its own direction, causes its own trauma, and leaves behind its own trail of destruction. One big sin is so awful, so evil, so sinful, that it generates a thousand little opportunities to compound the sin, setting off all those other whirlwinds. People can sin in their response—perhaps they try to cover it up or they try to downplay it. People can sin as they process it—perhaps they gossip about the people involved or they make prideful assertions. People can sin in their actions—perhaps they over-react or under-react, displaying either needless panic or thoughtless apathy. The possibilities are endless.

The fact is that sin is awful, unbearably awful. Sin is evil, horrifyingly evil. And sin begets sin. There are endless ways that sin invites sin, that sin promotes further sin, that sin invites the opportunity to sin more, to sin deeper, to spawn off into a massive all-consuming storm. Let this be just one more reason to put sin to death—to search it out, pray it out, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to root it out.

O, wretched man that he is, to borrow a phrase. Wasn’t this understanding of the pervasiveness of sin what drove Luther to the alien righteousness of Christ imputed by faith alone as his only hope? And wasn’t the pervasiveness of sin in his regenerate self what drove Paul to the freedom from the law that he found only in Christ? So why bring up the Holy Spirit and the quest for holiness apart from Christ?

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 7:21-8:4 ESV)

Without Christ, doesn’t putting sin to death place you on the same treadmill as your average Roman Catholic (not really given the soteriological security we see at Old Life from the ex-Protestant Roman Catholics)?

Faith in Christ doesn’t give us a clean slate to be holy now that past sins are forgiven. The active obedience of Christ is also imputed to us in faith. It lets us looking indwelling sin in the eye before turning to look in trust at Christ. Shouldn’t someone who identifies with Calvinism (even of a recent sort) know better?

Reformed Protestants Who Pick Nits

John Piper posted for the recent anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday about the origin of Calvinism. He went right to John Calvin and his conversion:

He was born in July 1509, in Noyon, France, and was educated at the best universities in law, theology, and classics. At the age of twenty-one, he was dramatically converted from tradition-centered medieval Catholicism to radical, biblical, evangelical faith in Christ and His Word.

Radical? At least it wasn’t earnest.

This is the sort of understanding of Reformed Protestantism that drives folks in Zurich nuts. At least a decade before John Calvin arrived in Geneva, Ulrich Zwingli was already reforming the churches of Zurich. Calvin was only twelve when Zwingli started on his way to Protestantism.

Nor should Martin Bucer be forgotten. He initiated reforms in the city of Strasbourg a year or so after Zwingli’s activities. Bucer also put his stamp indelibly on Calvin when in 1538 Geneva’s city authorities told Calvin to leave. Calvin ministered in Strasbourg for two years to a French speaking congregation and taught at Strasbourg’s academy, an institution that was a model for the Geneva Academy.

The point is that Reformed Protestants acknowledge the importance of Calvin but don’t put all their hero-worship eggs in one basket.

Piper to his credit quotes Benjamin Warfield who wrote:

The Calvinist is the [person] who sees God behind all phenomena, and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God…

Is it too much to ask the New Calvinists to see the hand of God in the old Calvinism that emerged in places like Zurich and Strasbourg well before John Calvin was even a Protestant?