Every Member Ministry Means No Christian Soldiers

Only a few neo-Confederates and Covenanters may disagree, but most Reformed Protestants assume that men ordained to the ministry of the word may not serve in capacities that involve the use of the physical sword (police, military, and even civil magistrate). The logic goes something like this:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. (Confession of Faith, 23.3)

One could well suppose that if magistrates (who hold the civil sword) can’t have the keys of the kingdom, those who do have the power of the keys shall not assume the power of the civil magistrate. That fits with what the Form of Government says about ecclesiastical power:

All church power is wholly moral or spiritual. No church officers or judicatories possess any civil jurisdiction; they may not inflict any civil penalties nor may they seek the aid of the civil power in the exercise of their jurisdiction further than may be necessary for civil protection and security.(3.4)

So imagine what happens to this delicate balance between civil and ecclesiastical power when all of a sudden every Christian is a minister. How could we ever allow a minister to fight in a war, to operate under the authority of the Department of Defense, to bring criminals to justice?

Pope Francis may have the solution — to turn Christianity into a pacifist religion by opposing capital punishment and abandoning just war theory.

If Christians may not serve as soldiers or as executioners, then we need to revise assertions like this:

Public life is not just about politics but all the areas of human activity — thefamily, the workplace, shops and restaurants, leisure and the arts. It is the specific role of lay people to sanctify each and every environment of the world.

Sometimes “every” and “all” make you wish for dualism.

I Did Not Know that Idaho Was In Canada

Over the weekend I was doing a little internet searching for churches that still confess the 16th and 17th century Reformed teachings on the civil magistrate’s role. Practically all of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, both mainline and conservative, have modified the creeds of the Reformation and scholastic eras, even to the point, in the case of the Christian Reformed Church (circa 1958), of calling the original Belgic Confession’s construction “unbiblical.”

One set of churches, I thought, might actually still hold to the original Westminster Assembly’s teaching — that church being the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, which emanates from Doug Wilson’s Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. So I went to Christ Church’s website and was not surprised to see the original Westminster Confession in force “for use in doctrinal accountability for officers of the church.” What was surprising was to see a set of creeds, almost like a Book of Confessions, adopted by Christ Church, including the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

The Thirty-Nine Articles are noteworthy in their teaching on the civil magistrate because they specify the magistrate in view. This makes a lot of sense since the monarch of the United Kingdom is also the supreme head of the Church of England. But this is different from the other Reformed confessions which provide a general description of the magistrate’s responsibilities that can then be applied in various lands and political orders. Here is the bulk of Article XXXVII (see how the NFL unwittingly helps in the ecclesiastical realm?):

The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this realm of England and other her dominions, unto whom the chief government of all estates of this realm, whether they be ecclesiastical or civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not nor ought to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended, we give not to our princes the ministering either of God’s word or of sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify: but that only prerogative which we see to have been given always to all godly princes in Holy Scriptures by God himself, that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be ecclesiastical or temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers. The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.

It is indeed odd for Christians to confess allegiance to a particular civil authority as part of their profession, as if Christ died specifically for the subjects of the English crown. It is also odd for citizens of the United States to confess the supreme authority of the English monarch over the Church of England. And to keep the oddity going, it is indeed strange for members of a church outside the Church of England to confess anything about the Church of England. The introductory statement at Christ Church leaves me all the more perplexed: “we therefore commend the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as an faithful and historic testimony of the martyr church. . .” What kind of martyrdom is it that professes the sovereignty of a monarchy that did its fair share in producing martyrs and non-conformists? Can martyrs really identify with the establishment?

This is one of those examples of what happens when you try to add to your confessional play book. You think you are affirming the catholicity of the church and situating yourself in that breadth of voices. Meanwhile, you have so many documents to confess that you lose track of the disagreements among those voices.

Do Kuyperians Ever Listen to Kuyper?

Hearing Kuyper TodayThe reviewer of Westminster California’s Evangelium has repeatedly in different online exchanges accused the two-kingdoms proponents of denying Article 36 of the Belgic Confession where it teaches that the magistrate has the God-ordained duty to promote the true religion and punish idolaters and blasphemers. It says: “And the government’s task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word.” (Often not mentioned by such appeals to Article 36 are the revisions that Dutch Reformed communions in the United States made to this part of the Confession. See postscript below.)

What is striking for all good Kuyperians is that Abraham Kuyper himself rejected the original language of Article 36 and refused to let anyone claim he was less of a Reformed Protestant for doing so. In the early 1880s Kuyper wrote a pamphlet on the reformation of the church that the editors of the Standard Bearer, the denominational magazine of the Protestant Reformed Church, translated and published over many issues during the 1980s. (Thanks to John Halsey Wood for reminding me of this resource.) Under the heading of “Concerning Reformation and the Magistrate,” Kuyper wrote the following:

We oppose this Confession out of complete conviction, prepared to bear the consequences of our convictions, even when we will be denounced and mocked on that account as unReformed.

We would rather be considered not Reformed and insist that men ought not to kill heretics, than that we are left with the Reformed name as the prize for assisting in the shedding of the blood of heretics.

It is our conviction: 1) that the examples which are found in the Old Testament are of no force for us because the infallible indication of what was or was not heretical which was present at that time is now lacking.

2) That the Lord and the Apostles never called upon the help of the magistrate to kill with the sword the one who deviated from the truth. Even in connection with such horrible heretics as defiled the congregation in Corinth, Paul mentions nothing of this idea. And it cannot be concluded from any particular word in the New Testament, that in the days when particular revelation should cease, that the rooting out of heretics with the sword is the obligation of magistrates.

3) That our fathers have not developed this monstrous proposition out of principle, but have taken it over from Romish practice.

4) That the acceptance and carrying out of this principle almost always has returned upon the heads of non-heretics and not the truth but heresy has been honored by the magistrate.

5) That this proposition opposes the Spirit and the Christian faith.

6) That this proposition supposed that the magistrate is in a position to judge the difference between truth and heresy, an office of grace which, as appears from the history of eighteen centuries, is not granted by the Holy Spirit, but is withheld.

We do not at all hide the fact that we disagree with Calvin, our Confessions, and our Reformed theologians.

Granted, the appeal to Kuyper here may look a tad inconsistent because of regular objections to the idea of transformationalism that Kuyper himself apparently launched. At the same time, this quotation does show that even in the efforts to claim Christ’s lordship over every square inch, Kuyper recognized limits to the logic of that sovereignty, limits that many modern-day Kuyperians seem incapable of making in order to avoid the shoals of theonomy.

Postscript: Latter day Kuyperians also recognized the limits of Christ’s lordship when they attached notations to the Belgic Confession like this one found in both the Christian Reformed Church and the United Reformed Churches of North America (it follows the assertion that the magistrate is not only responsible for the “welfare of the civil state, but also to protect the sacred ministry”:

The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1910, recognizing the unbiblical teaching, contained in this sentence, concerning the freedom of religion and concerning the duty of the state to suppress false religion, saw fit to add an explanatory footnote. The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1938, agreeing with the Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1910 as to the unbiblical character of the teaching referred to, but recognizing a conflict between the objectionable clauses in the Article and its footnote, decided to eliminate the footnote and to make the change in the text of the Article which appears above, corresponding to the change adopted in 1905 by the General Synod of the “Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland.” (See Christian Reformed Church Acts of Synod, 1910, pp.9,104-105; also Christian Reformed Church Acts of Synod, 1938, p. 17.). The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1958 approved the following substitute statement which has been referred to other Reformed Churches accepting the Belgic Confession as their creed for evaluation and reaction: “And being called in this manner to contribute to the advancement of a society that is pleasing to God, the civil rulers have the task, in subjection to the law of God, while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them and with the means belonging to them, to remove every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship, in order that the Word of God may have free course, the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress, and every anti-christian power may be resisted.”