O Canada!

Colonial religion north of the border was no more decent and orderly than it was in the U.S. of A. (though hats off to the Roman Catholics for allowing Presbyterians to use their facility):

For a time after the fall of Montreal to the British in 1760, the Presbyterians were content to worship with the city’s Anglicans. With the arrival in 1786 of John Bethune, a former army chaplain and Church of Scotland minister, they formed a congregation of their own, meeting in a rented room on Notre Dame St. But when Bethune himself moved on to Upper Canada the following year, they moved back with the Anglicans. Hard feelings? None has been recorded.

Then, in 1791, the Presbyterians moved once again to a new foster home, this time to nothing less than a Catholic one. The Recollet fathers invited the Presbyterians to use their handsome chapel in Notre Dame St. for worship once their own Sunday mass was over.

And so they did, for about a year, in front of an altar most unPresbyterian in its embellishment, a hint of incense perhaps lingering in the air. Again, no one seemed to mind.

Like the Presbyterians, the Recollets were used to sharing. They had already lent their chapel to the Anglicans, and in 1809, when the Presbyterians’ church was being reroofed, they would once again welcome the Scots.

The Scotch Presbyterian Church that opened in the fall of 1792 was a plain fieldstone structure seating more than 500 people. In time, it took its name from the street where it stood, St. Gabriel. The site, which backed onto the Champ de Mars, is now occupied by part of the Old Court House on Notre Dame St.

Many Scots in the city, among them James McGill, Alexander McKenzie and William McGillivray, had grown wealthy in the fur trade, and money for the project was quickly raised to build the church. But as The Gazette noted, the speedy five months in which the work was completed also reflected “great honor on the Gentlemen of the Church of England in this City, by their having liberally contributed to the Undertaking.”At least two Catholics also contributed.

The Glasgow-born McGill was typical of the blurred lines among the various denominations here. Arriving in Montreal in 1766, he worshiped with the Anglicans and continued to rent a pew with them even after leaving with John Bethune’s new congregation. When the St. Gabriel St. Church opened, he rented a pew there as well. In 1796, he was happy to serve as the sole Protestant on a provincial commission charged with repairing and maintaining Catholic churches in Montreal.

The Presbyterians’ first minister, John Young, was an odd man. He was physically imposing – he stood six-foot-six tall, with “an eye in his head like a hawk” – but his character was flawed. Almost certainly, he was an alcoholic and what we would now call a problem gambler.

In 1788, he became pastor of a united congregation in Schenectady and Currie’s Bush, in upstate New York. But two years later, he sought to resign when his flock brought serious charges against him, probably for drunkenness. Chagrined, he made his way to Montreal and, a minister without a congregation, was doubtless pleased to find himself wooed by a congregation without a minister.

In December 1790, he was cleared of the original charge of misconduct. But when the American Presbyterians then censured him for “abruptly leaving his charge, in the sight of the slanderous accusations, and taking a journey into Canada without the knowledge of his people,” he surely concluded he had little future in Schenectady. He briefly returned, before finally throwing in his lot with the Montrealers early in 1791.

He was then about 32 years old, and was soon conducting services for the Presbyterians here. On Sept. 18, in the Recollets’ chapel, he administered the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper “in accordance with the usages of the Church of Scotland.” He took a leading part in the campaign to build a permanent home for his congregation.

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Jamie Smith’s Bait and Switch

I was afraid that neo-Calvinism’s refusal to distinguish the sacred and secular would go here — that is, to a defense of civil religion. Jamie Smith’s latest editorial does just that.

Mind you, he is aware of the defective versions of civil religion, especially the one that has sent U.S. soldiers “to die face down in the muck of Vietnam” (thank you, Walter Sobchak):

civil religion is what we get when we divinize the civitas, when devotion to “the nation” trumps other allegiances and inspires a fervor and passion that is nothing short of religious. David Gelernter names this in his 2007 book, Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion. Walter McDougall’s more recent book The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy, which Robert Joustra reviews in this issue, identifies the same problem in its subtitle: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest. In McDougall’s argument, civil religion carries the usual whiff of irrationality: the hard-nosed rationality of national interests is compromised because of vaunted values and misguided mythologies.

But Smith still thinks civil religion is salvageable.

The envisioned good of a diverse, pluralistic, yet civil society that liberal democracies hope for is not a generic vision. It has a particular history—rooted in Christianity—and demands particular virtues. In short, the very project of a well-functioning, pluralistic, liberal society depends on the formative power of tradition-specific, “illiberal,” non-democratic communities that can inculcate virtues of hope, respect for dignity, commitment to truth, and more. Families, synagogues, churches, mosques embed their members in a Story that makes such virtues “make sense.” These non-political spheres of society cultivate people who become the sorts of citizens who know how to be patient and forgiving precisely because they believe in something beyond the state.

See what he did there? Civil society in liberal democracies owes its existence to Christianity. In those societies synagogues, churches, and mosques embed citizens in “a Story.” They become patient and forgiving.

Christianity did that? Or was it the Enlightenment (which owes its existence in part to medieval and early modern Europe). Maybe by using the indefinite article in “a Story” you can get away with blurring churches, synagogues and mosques into one happy, fuzzy, gentle, and kind civil society. But that is certainly not the experience of most western societies where Christians ran things and established their churches.

Smith really pours it on when he leads the following cheer:

But one of the by-products of a healthy church forming citizens of kingdom come is that they are then sent into the earthly city with Christlike virtues that also contribute to the common good. We might miss this because it doesn’t primarily play itself out on a national scale; rather, it is enacted at the parish level, in a thousand different neighbourhoods. There we also find Christians, Jews, and Muslims collaborating for the sake of the vulnerable, the lonely, and the marginalized while also nourishing the virtue incubators we call families.

Well, in point of fact, when Christians go into public with a comprehensive w-w they have to be especially aware that they are not like Jews or Muslims. Pot down the w-w gauge and perhaps you have less conviction about being distinct from those people who do not profess Christ. But I don’t know how Smith gets the Chamber of Commerce view of Christianity’s civil nature from Christ’s own words:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Matt 10:34-35)

That explanation of the antithesis is what makes Abraham Kuyper’s pillarization of Dutch society so intriguing. The Netherlands was not the American melting pot (or even the Canadian multicultural stew). It was a series of religious subgroups that kept to themselves the way that states’ rights advocates in the United States thought about relations between local and federal government.

But if Christians want a seat at the table of a liberal international order that preserves democracy from autocracy, Smith does a pretty good impersonation of 1950s mainline Protestantism.

Day After Perspective

One of our many southern correspondents sent Kinky Friedman’s remarks about the election. Since the Bible tells us that all is vanity, Friedman is sounding 2k (there’s a syllogism in there somewhere):

Trump is not my hero. I prefer Mr. Anonymous. I like the guy who gives a million bucks to the children’s hospital and doesn’t insist that his name has to be up there. But that’s who Trump is, that’s who he’s been. It should be pointed out that we’re not in a position to know where greatness comes from. Not only did Jesus ride in on a jackass, but Gandhi was a yuppie lawyer living in London, with no interest in helping people.

If you look at the great ones, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, FDR, they were all aristocratic freaks with very little interest in others. They’re very much like Trump. I mean, particularly Churchill. He was a polo player in India and an adult butterfly collector. They liked to hang out at the country club, Rachel. They were very privileged people.

When they got into office, Churchill and FDR, they did something that Obama was never able to do: change. The agent of change, Obama, could not change himself. He remained a fixed point in a changing world. It’s just too bad; it’s who he is. He’s not the smartest guy in the room. He may be the glibbest. He may be the most facile. I believe, if he’s concerned about a legacy, I believe he can pretty well forget that.

All I’m saying is, we don’t know who the hero is until the ship sinks. Or when the plane is crashing. You don’t know who’s going to run back and save somebody, or who’s going to dress up like a woman so he can hide in a lifeboat.

I’m not moving to Canada yet, but if Michigan wants to secede and join the great North Country, I won’t fight.

Before You Put On Any More Sackcloth and Ashes

Consider that secular judges are not always out to get Christians (even though it’s a good narrative to whoop up hysteria):

A decisive legal victory in British Columbia has put an evangelical Christian university one step closer in its bid to secure recognition for its proposed law school.

The Appeal Court of B.C. released a decision in favour of Trinity Western University on Tuesday, describing efforts by B.C.’s law society to deny accreditation to the school’s future lawyers as “unreasonable.”

The legal dispute centres around the university’s community covenant that bans its students from having sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.

In a unanimous decision, a panel of five judges said the negative impact on Trinity Western’s religious freedoms would be severe and far outweigh the minimal effect accreditation would have on gay and lesbian rights.

“A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society — one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal,” says the 66-page judgment.

Warning: stay on your meds. No reason to return to the mania of postmillennial optimism.

Oh, Canada

We don’t stand on guard for thee because we in the United States fear Mexico and its people more (think Trump).

I sometimes ask students to think what the United States would look like if we had not fought a war for independence from Great Britain. We would look like Canada, where a sign of national greatness is to be part of the United Nation’s Security Council. U.S. Americans (Canadians are American too) prone to revel in national greatness might sniff at such low aspirations. But Canada’s modesty as a nation should appeal to any real American conservative.

So does the way it appoints its Supreme Court justices — regionally rather than the political hot potato that U.S. Americans prefer:

The nine “supremes” are distributed geographically throughout the country. A limiting factor for appointments is the constitutional restriction that three must come from Quebec. Trudeau would like to appoint the first aboriginal justice, but is caught in the numbers game. The sole Atlantic Provinces justice has just retired, and Trudeau floated a trial balloon implying that it was not automatic that a justice from the region would be selected. The trial balloon turned to lead as Atlantic Province lawyers and politicians (and the region is a Liberal bastion) responded furiously. The idea seems to be set aside—for the moment. Also hiding in the wings is Trudeau’s intimation that new justices should be effective in both English and French upon appointment—a requirement that would highly restrict the pool of available legal talent.

For a peek at a country that U.S. Americans generally disregard, go here.

Serious Politics

Why does Tim Challies find this wise or insightful?

10 Guidelines for Christian Voters
APRIL 22, 2016

1) Make God’s Word your primary voting guide. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 110:105).

2) Pray before casting your vote. Ask the Lord, first, for guidance as you vote. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him…” (Prov. 3:5-6). Pray also for the candidates even the ones whom you do not like. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

3) Vote for a candidate who upholds Christian principles. Are his/her views on important social and moral issues biblical? Religious freedom. Will the candidate hinder you from exercising your faith in Jesus Christ, or will he/she protect your liberty as a Christian? Sanctity of human life. Will the candidate promote abortion, or will he/she fight for the sacredness of life in the womb? Marriage. Will the candidate endorse (so-called) “same-sex marriage,” or will he/she uphold the biblical definition of marriage—a union between one man and one woman only? Each candidate should be evaluated in light of these and other moral questions. As followers of Christ, we must not “give approval to those who practice” what God has declared to be morally evil (Rom. 1:32). . . .

Mass incarceration of African-Americans?

Policing and victims of urban crime?

Free trade?

Immigration?

Middle-eastern foreign policy?

National sovereignty?

This “Christian” counsel does nothing for the common good. But it is the perfect identity-politics for Christians to push back against gay or transgender or adultery advocates. Booyah!

Sanctification: The Hollywood Version

I don’t mean to make light of a believer’s battle with sin, O wretched man and all that. But does anyone else find this account of holiness too much of a story-book ending?

As we grow in the Christian life we are challenged to fight such sin. The person who struggles with anger hears a sermon that teaches and applies “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). He sees his sin with new clarity, he calls out to God for help, and he goes toe-to-toe with the devil to put this sin to death. The person who skims a little off the top or takes it easy at work encounters these words in his personal devotions: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (4:28). He is cut to the heart, asks God for forgiveness, and searches God’s Word for what it says about a life of righteous honesty. The person who loves to gossip suddenly has these words come to mind during a time of corporate confession: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (4:29). She understands that God himself is challenging her and she repents and commits herself to speaking only what edifies and heals.

Over time these people find that the battle grows easier. A day comes when she realizes it has been weeks since she has gossiped, a day comes when he realizes it has been months since he has had an angry outburst. But it gets even better than that. One day she is faced with the temptation to gossip and her first instinct is to reject the opportunity and instead to speak words that give grace to those who hear. One day he is presented with a golden opportunity to enrich himself at someone else’s expense, and without even thinking about it, he turns away, choosing instead to do his work well and to give with generosity. Both understand that this is a profound evidence of God’s grace—he has given them entirely new instincts toward sin. Where their old instinct was to indulge, their new instinct is to refrain. Where their old instinct was toward sin, their new instinct is toward holiness. They now delight to do what is right in an area that was once the source of so much sin and so much temptation.

I mean, once you think you’ve “got the victory” aren’t you all the more vulnerable to sin (at least the sin of pride)? And on the flip side, if I continue to struggle with sin and other believers don’t, doesn’t that suggest I’m not a believer?

What might Tim Challies’ account of sanctification look like if he watched a movie of a fellow Canadian, Atom Egoyan, whose film Ararat (skin alert), a movie about the legacy of the Armenian genocide for Canadian-Armenians living in twenty-first century Toronto, is all about the multiplicity of motives that fuel human beings? Of course, if you look at people as two-dimensional — serve God or serve Satan — then the diversity of loyalties and ambitions that people have are inconsequential. But if what people tell about the significance of the incarnation is true, that Christ assumed real bodily form and was subject to the political, cultural, and economic arrangements that went with being a first-century Jew, then shouldn’t a realistic account of sanctification look more like Egoyan’s characters than a children’s story book? In other words, isn’t it docetic (that Christ’s body was only an appearance) to deny the nooks and crannies of sanctification in a real-life human being?

I Thought Canadians Were Smarter than This

But w-w seems to obscure the clarity that comes with distinguishing between the heavenly and the earthly.

Over at the Cardus Blog, Doug Sikkema employs Wendell Berry with a view toward a higher estimate of the environment. He goes as far as to liken the earth to a sacrament:

Religion is an elusive term. Bron Taylor, author of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, has traced the term’s origins to Roman rituals (religio) and sacrifices (sacra), and to the Latin leig, meaning “to bind fast”—definitions which place religion in opposition to mystical beliefs (superstitio). If religion, then, is concerned with unifying actions as well as unifying beliefs, it coincides nicely with Berry’s notion of caritas, a love that extends to creatures and the land. Also, this love is not meant to be abstract, but particularly applied to actual places and creatures within our purview.

. . . [Berry believes that] the Bible, read deeply and sympathetically, gives powerful support to appreciating the world’s sanctity. One of Berry’s strengths in this regard is to go beyond the conventional discussions of stewardship towards a sacramental vision of the environment. In “The Gift of Good Land” he writes: “[T]o live we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully reverently, it is a sacrament.” Berry is not asking us to run from use, but to exercise discretion and self-restraint and to recognize the necessary limitations we face as creatures in a fallen world.

I don’t object to Berry‘s critique of the industrial economy nor to Sikkema’s effort to prompt Christians to think of their responsibilities to planet earth as stewards. What does concern me is a blurring of the spiritual and temporal that apparently elevates creation care to the Lord’s Supper (remember the quote from Belgic 35).

I would argue that Abraham Kuyper turned neo-Calvinists down that path when he likened every vocation to a sacred obligation:

Thus domestic life regained its independence, trade and commerce realized their strength in liberty, art and science were set free from every ecclesiastical bond and restored to their own inspirations, and man began to understand the subjection of all nature with its hidden forces and treasures to himself as a holy duty, imposed upon him by the original ordinances of Paradise : “Have dominion over them.” Henceforth the curse
should no longer rest upon the world itself, but upon that which is sinful in it, and instead of monastic flight from the world the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life. (Lectures on Calvinism, 30)

Which makes the frequent charge that folks who distinguish the temporal from the spiritual are fundamentalists. Kuyperianism strikes me as a form of fundamentalism that instead of drawing the line between the movies and worship, draws the line between all legitimate activities and sin (such as prostitution, theft, card-playing, theater, and dance). Neither fundamentalists nor Kuyperians make room for those earthly activities that are common, basic, and ordinary, neither holy nor profane, the things that sustain pilgrims on earth who await a heavenly home.

Postscript: Here is Kuyper’s brief against cards, theater, and dance (in case you think I was taking a cheap shot):

. . . scarcely had Calvinism been firmly established in the Netherlands for a quarter of a century when there was a rustling of life in all directions, and an indomitable energy was fermenting in every department of human activity, and their commerce and trade, their handicrafts and industry, their agriculture and horticulture, their art and science, flourished with a brilliancy previously unknown, and imparted a new impulse for an entirely new development of life, to the whole of Western Europe.

This admits of only one exception, and this exception I wish both to maintain and to place in its proper light. What I mean is this. Not every intimate intercourse with the unconverted world is deemed lawful, by Calvinism, for it placed a barrier against the too unhallowed influence of this world by putting a distinct “veto” upon three things, card playing, theatres, and dancing — three forms amusement. . . (74-75)