The 600 Pound Modern Gorilla in the Church

This review of Jamie Smith’s new book, Awaiting the King, got me thinking about Smith’s understanding of cultural liturgies. Here are some quotes from the book in the review:

There is something political at stake in our worship and something religious at stake in our politics. (3)

Implicit in the practices of Christian worship is an economics, a sociology, a politics. (54)

The church’s worship does not “become” political when it is translated into policy or hooked to partisan agendas. The politics of worship is tied to the renewal of moral agency of the people of God, who are formed to be sent. (59–60)

[I]t is equally important that we see Christian worship as political in nature—not in the sense of being “partisan” or tied to “earthly city” special interest groups, but insofar as it is the enactment of a public ritual centered on an ascended King. (53)

Jonathan Leeman rephrases Smith this way:

Your trip to the mall, your Monday Night Football party, your standing for the national anthem both express your worship, identity, and morality and also shape them, for better or worse. You’re not just a “thinking thing,” you’re a desiring and a loving thing, and these various cultural practices shape your desiring and your loving, like the liturgies at church.

What Smith wants us to take away from the book, then, is more awareness concerning how the world’s liturgies affect and shape our worship and politics, and then to center our political life around the church’s liturgies. Doing so will cause us to take a more ambivalent posture toward public engagement.

What I don’t understand is how women’s ordination escapes Smith’s close reading of cultural liturgies. Is the ordination of women a way of resisting modernity or a capitulation to it? If watching football on Sunday afternoons is part of a liturgical tradition that undermines the sanctification of the Lord’s Day, why isn’t the ordination of women a sign of the church’s capitulation to individualism and egalitarianism? In terms of cultural tropes, after all, women’s ordination closer to shopping at Walmart than it is to supporting the mom and pop shop on Main St.

You don’t need to interpret women’s ordination in terms of orthodoxy or heterodoxy as Smith argued:

Now, no one for a second can deny that such views of sexual morality and marriage have been the historic teaching of the church. The weight of Scripture, tradition, and perhaps even “natural law” have sustained these views and beliefs for millennia. And one could argue that the silence on such matters in, say, Machen or The Fundamentals only reflects what was taken for granted, not what was unimportant. Certainly. And just because they are not matters of creedal definition doesn’t mean they are matters of indifference. The creeds don’t say anything about Christian nonviolence, for example, but that hardly means Christians are therefore free to adopt any posture or position they want if they follow the Prince of Peace.

But it is surely also worth pointing out that conciliar standards of orthodoxy do not articulate such standards. If the adjective “orthodox” is untethered from such ecumenical standards, it quickly becomes a cheap epithet we idiosyncratically attach to views and positions in order to write off those we disagree with as “heretics” and unbelievers. If “orthodox” becomes an adjective that is unhooked from these conciliar canons, then it becomes a word we use to make sacrosanct the things that matter to “us” in order to exclude “them.”

Precisely so. So if you depart from the historic position of the church on ordination, how are you sufficiently worried about cultural liturgies that promote ideas and expectations that make God’s people like the larger society? And if you believe that part of Protestant orthodoxy involves the sufficiency of Scripture, how do you go against clear biblical teaching on ordination and say you are committed to conciliar orthodoxy? How for that matter, are you going to be a reliable ally in disputes about matters of conciliar orthodoxy? The CRC may still confess the Canons of Dort, but will it refuse membership in ecumenical organizations that include Arminians?

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What Hath W-w Wrought?

One of our southern correspondents sent us this, which must be causing some embarrassment to Grand Rapidian neo-Calvinists:

After graduating from high school in 1975, Betsy [DeVos] enrolled at Calvin College, her mother’s alma mater. Calvin’s mission, as stated in the 1975–1976 course catalog, was “to prepare students to live productive lives of faith to the glory of God in contemporary society—not merely lives that have a place for religion … but lives which in every part, in every manifestation, in their very essence, are Christian.”

Once w-w is out of the bottle, gate keepers can’t control the gate. W-w can go Left or Right. The neo-Calvinist with the most money decides seemingly:

The DeVos family is Dutch, thoroughly so. All four of Richard DeVos’ grandparents emigrated from the Netherlands, and today, the family continues to observe the tenets of the Christian Reformed Church, a Calvinist denomination. Calvinism believes in predestination—that God has decided whether our souls are saved before we are born—and emphasizes an “inner worldly asceticism” in its practitioners. Historically, in avoiding ostentatious displays of wealth, Calvinist Protestants have instead turned their economic gains into savings and investments. One of the bedrock texts of sociology, Max Weber’s 1905 Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, is expressly about the links between Calvinism and economic success. (“In the place of the humble sinners to whom Luther promises grace if they trust themselves to God in penitent faith,” Weber wrote, “are bred those self-confident saints whom we can rediscover in the hard Puritan merchants of the heroic age of capitalism.”)

In this, Dick and Betsy DeVos’ familial roots serve as an object example. Dick is the eldest son of Richard DeVos, who co-founded Amway in 1959, and grew it from a meager soap factory into a multinational colossus with $9.5 billion in annual sales, enlisting his children to manage and expand the company. Betsy hails from a dynasty of her own. In 1965, her father, Edgar Prince, founded a small manufacturing company that came to be worth more than $1 billion on the strength of Prince’s automotive innovations, which include the pull-down sun visor with a built-in light-up vanity mirror.

Not to mention, that Christian day schools become a threat to public schools (the CRC beats the RCA):

In the 1960s and ’70s, Ed and Elsa Prince advanced God’s Kingdom from the end of a cul-de-sac just a few miles from Lake Michigan. There, they taught their four children—Elisabeth (Betsy), Eileen, Emilie and Erik—a deeply religious, conservative, free-market view of the world, emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and sending them to private schools that would reinforce the values they celebrated at home, small-government conservatism chief among them. . . .

In 2001, Betsy DeVos spoke at “The Gathering,” an annual meeting of some of America’s wealthiest Christians. There, she told her fellow believers about the animating force behind her education-reform campaigning, referencing the biblical battlefield where the Israelites fought the Philistines: “It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture—to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding-the-Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things—in this case, the system of education in the country.”

Dick DeVos, on stage with his wife, echoed her sentiments with a lament of his own. “The church—which ought to be, in our view, far more central to the life of the community—has been displaced by the public school,” Dick DeVos said. “We just can think of no better way to rebuild our families and our communities than to have that circle of church and school and family much more tightly focused and built on a consistent worldview.”

I understand that Right neo-Calvinists find private schools reassuring, the antithesis and all. But Left neo-Calvinists don’t have the stomach for such partisanship.

Will the real neo-Calvinism stand up? Calvin and the CRC or their daughter, Betsy DeVos? Faced with that choice, the spirituality of the church looks pretty appealing.

Inside the Bubble, All White Christians Look the Same

President-elect Trump’s pick for Department of Education, Betsy Devos, has deep ties to the Christian Reformed Church:

She is daughter of Edgar Prince, the founder of Prince Corp., an automobile parts supplier based in Holland, Mich. While her mother, Elsa, and her husband’s parents have supported anti-gay marriage efforts in the past, Betsy Devos has focused primarily on education.

DeVos has been member and an elder at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, which was formerly led by popular author Rob Bell. Former president of Fuller Seminary Rich Mouw said he served on a committee with her to replace Bell, and he said DeVos is heavily influenced by Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch writer and Calvinist theologian.

“I wouldn’t consider her to be right wing,” Mouw said. “She’s a classic free-enterprise conservative. She takes public life, art and politics very seriously.”

Middle-class work ethic – check

Anti-gay marriage – check

Abraham Kuyper – check

Rob Bell – what the bleep?

The Limits of W-w

Like I say, transformationalism is good on inspiration but not so good on transformation. Jim Bratt gave a peak behind the curtain of neo-Calvinist culture in the U.S. in his last post before heading to China on a Fulbright (happy trails, Jim):

Boy, do we need that now. I’m thinking of the death this past week of Tim LaHaye. The span of tomfoolery he pumped out in the name of Christianity has created lasting disrepute for the faith. The creation “science.” The “end-times” irresponsibility, compounded of self-pity, blaming others, and a certain cultural idolatry. All of it redolent of the John Birch Society swamp from which he first slithered. Still, it’s the sort of religious fantasy you can expect to hit the American best-seller list. The death that really strikes home for me is the moral nadir of Mr. Family Values, “Dr.” James Dobson. His endorsement of Donald Trump puts paid to any pretense that the ethics and politics he pushed, lo, these many years have come to anything but authoritarian nationalism with a particular macho strut. For that is Trump. Dobson’s worse for covering it with smarmy God-talk.

I say this hits home for me because back when I was on a denominational committee studying the future of the CRC’s magazine, The Banner, we were given some research stats of readership habits and opinion. James Dobson turned out to be the CRC’s #1 rated authority on current events. Charles Colson was its #1 theologian. The Fraud and the Felon atop the Calvinist hit parade. Two minor sins in that revelation somehow stuck out for me. Dobson, a member of the Church of the Nazarene. Read rank Armininian. Colson, invoking the name of Kuyper as he bullied along.

All this, I mused, was the price of that “Americanization” to which the CRC, as an immigrant church, had been long pushed to accede. Well, nationalist mush compounded by militancy turns out to be the bitter fruit of that process. And so it is today.

I don’t pretend that Kuyper ever represented more than a small fraction of Dutch people claiming a Reformed commitment. Ditto, in Dutch-American Reformed circles, for The Forum, The Journal, or Perspectives. But these magazines have fought hard and punched way above their weight because of that magic formula that Kuyper caught, and taught. And it’s worth carrying on their mission, worth trying to maintain cultural, political, and theological integrity above the open sewer into which white-American Christianism has descended.

I bring this up not to delight in the sufferings of neo-Calvinists, nor to take a shot at Jim on his way out of the blogosphere. Bratt, it must be said, is honest about the state of neo-Calvinism and properly annoyed at its abuses.

I do refer to this to remind those would-be Kuyperians that the neo-Calvinist project is a lot harder than it sounds. Take every thought captive. Christ is Lord of every square inch. Television (and plumbing) redeemed. Integration of faith and learning. New York City as a tipping point for global revival. Bratt’s own account of the CRC is a ready warning that even with all the infrastructure of neo-Calvinist culture — church, school, catechesis, denominational magazine, world-and-life bleep, you are a poor match for mass culture in a liberal capitalist democracy.

Take every though captive? More like, kid yourself that you are large and in charge.

I truly admire the grit and determination of Dutch-American Calvinists. They are one of the true success stories of transplanting a distinct form of Old World Calvinism to the New World. They were BenOp Calvinists before the Benedict Option became hip.

But as all immigrant groups know, leaving the ghetto for the suburbs is part of the American dream. So for w-w to happen you may need to hunker down in the ghetto (or if Amish on the farm or if Benedictine in the monastery). But if you are going to live and move and have your being as a citizen of a modern nation state, chances are many of your square inches will be taken captive.

And if you want a theological rationale or explanation for that, for being part of the mainstream society but not, learn, live, and love 2k. The water’s warm.

Can Sexism Be Far Behind?

In the run-up to the PCA’s debates about repenting corporately for racism, I wonder if the opponents of racism have left room for excluding women from church office. Consider the following definition of racism (with assertions of gender hierarchicalism for the r-word):

Racism Excluding women from special office is the denial of the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and its implications to someone of another ethnicity sex. Racism Male-only elders and deacons in the church is a contradiction of the visible unity of all believers in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22, Revelation 5:9, 7:9). Racism inside and outside the church Male privilege inside the church and the family is a contradiction of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31, Luke 10:25-37, esp. 29, 37), and of God’s creation of all people in his image (Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:26). So theologically, racism preference for men in church office entails a denial of the biblical doctrines of creation, man, the communion of saints and is disobedience to the moral law. We will not mince words. Racism Male dominance in church office and marriage is not only sin, serious sin, it is heresy.

To be clear, racism is arguably different from excluding women from church office. Furthermore, the consequences of racism have been far more consequential than barring women from special ecclesiastical office (though I know some feminists disagree). But the question is whether the PCA’s condemnation of racism leaves wiggle room for distinguishing racial equality from equality of the sexes. (Have we all forgotten the CRC‘s arguments for ordaining women?)

In fact, the power of egalitarianism is so strong you have to wonder if the PCA will have the wits in a decade to avoid repenting not merely for tolerating financial inequality among its members but even advocating it. After all, once you start down the road of equality, doesn’t history suggest your brake fluid runs dry? Consider the logic of social justice warfare among Roman Catholics:

We have an economy of exclusion, and a polity that refuses to challenge the ideology of the market that has generated the economy of exclusion. We do not start with the most basic human quality, work. We start with an alien and hateful ideology rooted in supposed “economic laws” that are, in fact, human creations, not natural ones, but which are so prevalent, no one dares to question them. This is why, if you go to a conference on Laudato Si’ and they do not speak about both human ecology and multinational corporations, they don’t get it.

Not New But Laodecian Calvinism

Trevin Wax argues for yet another third-way that keeps Calvinists and Arminians together in the big tent also known as the Southern Baptist Convention. As the second largest communion (if a convention qualifies) in the United States only behind Roman Catholics, forgive me if I seem to yield to the temptation of membership envy.

What if such girth comes precisely because ministers and congregations are free to follow their own theological convictions? In other words, how big would the SBC be if it had to choose between Calvinism and Arminianism?

But Wax doesn’t think that decision is necessary. He even thinks that kind of variety will make the SBC stronger (as in iron-sharpening-iron, I guess):

In the past, I’ve surmised that God may be using our Southern Baptist diversity on this issue for our overall health. I know many disagree with the idea that our diversity may be a good thing. Some Calvinists believe the SBC would be stronger if everyone shared their soteriological views and other Southern Baptists believe the SBC would be stronger if there were no Calvinists at all. I understand these perspectives, but my strong belief in God’s sovereignty gives me confidence that God will use our differing conclusions for the good of His people.

Not to sound patronizing, but Wax clearly ignores Calvinist history. Calvinists and Arminians don’t coexist. Think Canons of Dort. Think Dutch-American Calvinist disdain for “methodism.” Think Orthodox Presbyterian and Christian Reformed Church rejection of invitations to join the National Association of Evangelicals.

Of course, someone could argue that Calvinists and Arminians should put aside their differences and work together within the same commvenion. If I were Wax, I would not want to be in that land of doctrinal goo because the precedents for doctrinal toleration (or indifferentism) are not good. Contrary to Tom Nettles, it’s not departures from Calvinism that lead to liberalism (though positive estimates of human agency generally undermine Christianity). It’s actually calls for people who disagree so fundamentally to “get along” that produce the flabbiness that is Protestant liberalism.

Family Trumps School (so says Bavinck)

(Thanks to our Grand Rapids correspondent) James K. A. Smith offers that latest case (in a popular form) for Christian schools and bangs all the percussion instruments that neo-Calvinists have assembled up front in their churches for worship (see what I did there?):

Christian Reformed communities have long understood a commitment to Christian schools as an expression of the promises we make at baptism—to be the “village” that supports the formation and education of our children. In a tangible expression of “kingdom economics” (see Acts 4:32-36), the entire community shares the burden of Christian schooling. Older generations support younger generations through giving to the Christian education fund, grateful for the generations before them that did the same. Only such a gift-giving economy can make it possible for Christian education to be a blessing for all in the community.

Let’s be honest: Christian schooling is a high-investment, labor-intensive venture. It requires sacrifices and hard choices. And it’s increasingly countercultural to pursue such a vision.

But when it’s carried out in the best spirit of the Reformed tradition—when Christian education is an intentional, intensive, formative curriculum bent on shaping young people as agents and ambassadors of God’s coming kingdom—the investment proves to be wise stewardship.

So it turns out that Christian education is not just a 19th-century hangover. It bubbles up from the very nature of the church as a covenant community. It’s an expression of the core convictions of the Reformed tradition. And we might need it now more than ever.

For the Bible thumpers among us, this case still falls short of explaining why throughout most of redemptive history narrated in Scripture schools — a modern invention — were not part of the prophets’ and apostles’ instructions. Yes, I understand the implications of covenant theology and yes I admire the solidarity that Dutch Calvinists have exhibited in both the Old and New Worlds — really. But Smith, along with those who preceded, do not address the priority (even audacity?) of the family in the nurture of children.

And so I wonder what Smith would do with Herman Bavinck, a not-so-shabby neo-Calvinist, and what he says about how basic the family is to God’s providential care for his people:

The family is and remains the nurturing institution par excellence. Beyond every other institution it has this advantage, namely, that it was not constructed and artificially assembled by man. A man chooses a woman to be his wife, and a woman chooses a man to be here husband, but if things go well, they don’t so much choose one another as they are chosen by each other; by means of a secret bond, in a manner ineffable, they are brought to each other. Children are then born from their intimate fellowship, but those children are granted to them, having a different sexuality, a different nature, a different disposition — perhaps different than what the parents would have wished and, had it been up to them, would have given their children. The family is no fabrication of human hands; it is a gift of God, bestowed according to his good pleasure. Even though the family has existed for centuries, we cannot create a likeness; it was, it is, and it will continue to be a gift, an institution that God alone sustains. (The Christian Family, 105-106)

Behind the family and its very existence is the providential control of God. And Bavinck is clear that such divine sovereignty is responsible for the diversity of families — perhaps even to the point of allowing some families to opt for and others to opt out of Christian schools:

The community of the family brings with it a treasury of relationships and qualities. The relation of husband and wife, or parents and children, brothers and sisters, hardly exhausts this treasury, for the relationship that a husband enjoys with his wife is altogether different than the relations a wife enjoys with her husband, and the relations of parents with children differs from those between father and mother and the children together, and between each parent with each child, and in this way the same family life proceeds in even greater specialization, as the number of members expands.

This is the case not only with the relationship but also with the qualities belonging to each family member. Masculine and feminine qualities, physical and spiritual strengths, intellectual, volitional, and emotional gifts, age and youth, strength and weakness, authority and obedience, affection and love, unity and diversity of interests, all of these come together in one family, unified and distinguished and blended together. (92)

So would Smith and other proponents of Christians schools have us ignore such diversity and force it all into conformity to the teachers (members of their own families with each of the diverse strengths and weaknesses of those backgrounds) at the local Christian school?

At least one side of Bavinck said, “no”!

Therefore the nurture that takes place within the family possesses a very special character. Even as the family itself cannot be imitated, so too one cannot make a copy of family nurture. No school, no boarding school, no day-care center, no government institution can replace or improve upon the family. The children come from the family, grow up in the family, without themselves knowing how. They are formed and raised without themselves being able to account for that. The nurture provided by the family is entirely different than that provided by the school; it is not bound to a schedule of tasks and does not apportion its benefits in terms of minutes and hours. It consists not only in instruction, but also in advice and warning, leading and admonition, encouragement and comfort, solicitude and sharing. Everything in the home contributes to nurture—the hand of the father, the voice of the mother, the older brother, the younger sister, the infant in the bassinet, the sickly sibling, grandmother and grandchildren, uncles and aunts, guests and friends, prosperity and adversity, celebrations and mourning, Sundays and workdays, prayers and thanksgiving at mealtime and the reading of God’s Word, morning devotions and evening devotions. (106-107)

So why can’t we leave the decision of education up to the institution divinely appointed for nurturing children?

Speak diversity to conformity!

Back in the Day with the CRC

James Bratt describes worship and preaching at Eastern Avenue CRC (Grand Rapids, for the uninitiated in Dutch-American Calvinism) during the 1940s:

Worship services themselves made modest accommodations to the American world. English services were introduced alongside the Dutch only at the end of World War I, and against the will of even the progressive Johannes Groen. The singing of hymns, as opposed to exclusive psalmody, had been a major grievance of the 1834 Secession in the Netherlands, but the practice tended to come along with English services. The CRC’s 1914 Psalter Hymnal limited hymns to an obscure, heavily didactic Presbyterian collection calibrated to the fifty-two Lord’s Days of the Heidelberg Catechism. In 1934 the denomination published a more extensive Psalter, including 141 hymns next to 327 Psalm settings, the former selected according to “doctrinal soundness, New Testament character, dignity, and depth of devotional spirit, and clearness and beauty of expression.” None had the slightest odor of Arminianism. At the same time, leaders tried to impose a uniform order of worship across the denomination, a movement that Eastern Avenue resisted because of the “formalism” of some of the new order’s prescriptions: recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, reading of the Decalogue, and a service of confession and absolution. The same reform allowed choirs to take part in worship, another “American” gesture that Eastern had long suspected. They did encourage vocal and instrumental ensembles but had these perform after services. The church year was not organized by liturgical seasons but by preaching through the Catechism. Baptisms (once a month) far outnumbered celebrations of the Lord’s Supper (once a quarter), but profession of faith — normatively in one’s late teens — overshadowed them both. Groen’s pastorate averaged two a week.

As for theology, a glimpse at Pastor Christian Huissen’s deliverances during World War II reveals the most resolute Calvinism in force, at great odds with the more liberal confidences in play at Park Church (the Congregationalist cross-town rival). The calls that Vandenberg heard for immediate planning to institute a postwar regime of peace Huissen decried as arrogant folly: unless everyone started to “reckon with the risen Christ . . . the coming peace treaty will be the beginning of the next war.” Upon news that one of the eighty-eight youth that Eastern had sent into the armed forces had died in action, Huissen responded: “The world would say you have given your life so that the world may be a better place to live in. We do not believe that. The world will not be a better place to live in.” Rather, the young man had done his duty before earthly powers, enjoining those left behind to exceed mere duty and perform joyful service unto the power that really counted, the eternal Lord. That God exercised as specific and absolute a control over events as any Calvinist could imagine: “Every bullet and every bomb goes exactly where he has predestined that it should go,” Huissen declared, so that of Eastern’s fallen son it could be said, “The Time, manner of death, and all the circumstances are exactly as he deemed best.” In so anxious a world, Christian Reformed people whether at war or at home were simply to keep their minds daily on God and keep themselves weekly at worship. (James Bratt, “Rites of the Tribes: Two Protestant Congregations in a Twentieth-Century City,” 149-150)

Do Supreme Court justices, homosexuality, or Planned Parenthood videos generate more anxiety than world war?

Politics of Inclusion

Matt Tuininga calls for the gospel politics of inclusion even while excluding some — ahem — from the Reformed camp. But let’s not go there.

Let’s go instead to an apparent confusion of categories that invariably happens when you make the gospel (Jesus Christ died for sinners, there’s not one square inch, man’s chief end is to glorify God — which is it?) the basis for society. (And if the gospel is the basis for society, where are non-Christians supposed to go? Theonomy with a smile and a hug is still a state that makes little room for non-Christians.)

A few excerpts:

Embracing the call to be conformed to the image of Christ means not that we parade around trumpeting the lordship of Christ, but that, like Christ, we take up the form of a servant, humbling ourselves if necessary even to the cross. Thus we fulfill the law not by enforcing its every jot and tittle at the point of the sword, excluding from the political community those who refuse to tow the cultural, moral or religious line, but by loving and serving those with whom God has placed us in community, paying particular attention to the needs of the poor and the weak, the marginalized and the oppressed.

So what does this say about immigration policy and undocumented aliens? Is the gospel thing to do, the inclusive policy, to include immigrants? Or might a recognition of national sovereignty, strains on certain communities, the good of the economy, cause politicians to take factors other than the gospel into account?

Another excerpt:

It is true that the Gospel does not immediately erase all distinctions of nation, gender, or economic status, but it is equally true that the unity of all things in Christ does call for the rejection of their unjust abuses. It is true that we must be realistic about what can be achieved through politics, but our realism should lead us to champion the weak rather than the strong who oppress them under the cover of law. It is true that we may not be silent about what God’s Word teaches, even when it comes to such controversial matters as human sexuality, but it is equally true that our judgment regarding how God’s will should take expression in politics is fallible, that we must learn to love, serve and work with fellow citizens who disagree with us, and that our public rhetoric is only Christian if it is infused with the grace of Christ. Finally, it is true that salvation only comes to those who place their faith in Christ, and about that we must always be clear, but it is equally true that as believers we are called to embody that salvation socially by bearing one another’s burdens, forgiving one another’s transgressions, and caring for one another’s needs.

Unjust abuses? Did Christ reject the cross, which was unjust? Did he tell Christians to turn the other cheek? Does that mean an end to capital punishment? But what about prisons? Don’t they receive persons we “exclude” from civil society?

Learn to work with fellow citizens with whom we disagree? Is bi-partisanship really a gospel imperative when practically every oped writer for the Times and the Post promotes crossing the aisle in Congress? Do we need to gussy up bi-partisanship with the gospel? Is that why Christ died?

Bearing one another’s burdens? So a Christian politician should have banks forgive all debts?

One more except from another piece on “gospel” politics:

. . . the gospel should affect social structures of nation, race, gender and class. It should call us to organize these structures, as much as possible given the constraints of the present evil age, in light of what the gospel teaches us about human dignity, about justice, and about love. That requires wrestling with the nature of each type of human relationship that involves some sort of inequality or hierarchy. . . .

There are several types of social relationships. Some of them, such as marriage and the relationship between parents and their children, are grounded in creation and ought to be protected and promoted by human beings. The key questions here revolve around how to preserve these relationships in ways that acknowledge the fundamental spiritual and moral equality between men and women, between adults and children. Obviously parents must be in authority over their children, but that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to treat their children like slaves or property. Men and women will typically perform different gender roles by virtue of their different embodied nature, but that doesn’t mean men should domineer over women.

There are other types of relationships that are not rooted in creation but that have emerged, at least in the form that we know them, due to the fall into sin. They are not evil, but their very form demonstrates that evil does exist in the world. Here I am thinking about the coercive state. Christians should support this sort of hierarchy because it is absolutely necessary for a modicum of order in this life, let alone for human flourishing. But questions remain. How do we set up political authority such that it is not tyrannically abused? How do we ensure that those who rule are held accountable to those who are ruled? How do we ensure that even where there is political inequality, all recognize a more fundamental level of moral and spiritual equality?

I’m not sure that Calvin or any of the Reformers were fans of equality. Again, a Reformed source like the Larger Catechism (but maybe the Dutch don’t consider the British Reformed) makes quite a lot of hierarchy and inequality in social stations:

Q. 127. What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors?
A. The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.

Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.

In fact, I wonder if Matt knows how much his logic about the future reality of the new heavens and new earth breaking in to present social arrangements was one of the most used theological rationales for ordaining women in the CRC. That’s not a scare tactic. It’s only an instance of where an egalitarian stance can lead, especially one that doesn’t recognize differences among church, society, and family (sphere sovereignty anyone).

But when the gospel becomes the modifier, out goes all the differentiation that makes modern society run (and makes it secular). Matt asks, “How do we set up political authority such that it is not tyrannically abused?” Studying the framers of the U.S. Constitution might be a better place to start than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Still not sure what gospel Matt is proclaiming in his social gospel mode.

Postscript: apologies for the image to those with weaker consciences, but sometimes it’s good to be remembered of what happens to women in combat — their dresses fall off.

How Far Is the Sidestream from the Main One?

Travels to Hungary earlier this week and a pleasant conversation with a young woman training to be a pastor in the Hungarian Reformed Church got me thinking about women, gender, and how important male clergy is to “the gospel.” This woman could not quite wrap her mind around the idea that a church still places restrictions on ordination. The argument that Paul taught that elders and pastors should be male, since they should be married to only one wife (and Paul wasn’t thinking of Ellen DeGeneres), didn’t seem to be sufficient.

So I started to think, thoughts that took me back to CRC days, what is such a big deal about ordaining women? It is an error and violates God’s word, which is synonymous with sin (“any want of conformity unto or transgression of”). But Covenanters can fellowship with hymn singers which for some exclusive psalm folks is a violation of God’s word. Which means we all look the other way at least ecumenically when it comes to interpreting God’s word.

The experience of conservative Reformed boomers, however, was that the hermeneutic that allowed the ordination of women was one that would lead to cutting and pasting the rest of God’s word and church order. As a boomer this argument — the slippery slope one that almost sent me to Vietnam — makes some sense. But what if a communion decided simply to draw the line at women’s ordination? We will go this far, the women’s ordinationists might say, but no farther. Isn’t that what some communions have done with hymns? We will sing them but not P&W Praise Songs? In which case, what is the threshold that women’s ordination crosses by itself? Or is it simply a case of knowing what history teaches — when women ascend the pulpit doctrine slips.

Along with this set of thoughts went the one about women and head coverings. Should a communion like the OPC be consistent and encourage (maybe discipline) women to cover their heads in worship, with some preference given to those with long hair? Is this another one of those hermeneutical instances where we look the other way? At the same time, doesn’t the reality of women not wearing scarves in OPC churches, along with our hip and up-to-date revision of the Confession of Faith on the civil magistrate — doesn’t this make the OPC mainstream?

Oh yeah. What Christian women today would wear a head scarf? That’s Islam.