Whiplash

On the one hand, some Roman Catholics have had it with political liberalism and are calling for a return to integralism or the state’s subjection to the church. That would resonate well with Pius X (but not with the Second Vatican Council):

That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him. Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order. It limits the action of the State to the pursuit of public prosperity during this life only, which is but the proximate object of political societies; and it occupies itself in no fashion (on the plea that this is foreign to it) with their ultimate object which is man’s eternal happiness after this short life shall have run its course. But as the present order of things is temporary and subordinated to the conquest of man’s supreme and absolute welfare, it follows that the civil power must not only place no obstacle in the way of this conquest, but must aid us in effecting it. The same thesis also upsets the order providentially established by God in the world, which demands a harmonious agreement between the two societies. Both of them, the civil and the religious society, although each exercises in its own sphere its authority over them. It follows necessarily that there are many things belonging to them in common in which both societies must have relations with one another. Remove the agreement between Church and State, and the result will be that from these common matters will spring the seeds of disputes which will become acute on both sides; it will become more difficult to see where the truth lies, and great confusion is certain to arise. Finally, this thesis inflicts great injury on society itself, for it cannot either prosper or last long when due place is not left for religion, which is the supreme rule and the sovereign mistress in all questions touching the rights and the duties of men. Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never ceased, as circumstances required, to refute and condemn the doctrine of the separation of Church and State.

But then, in some of the very same outlets where political liberalism has been taking it in the shorts, we see calls for the laity to stand up and be counted when the bishops appear to be so complicit and helpless in the current revelations of sex scandals and cover-ups. The problem here is that the older view of church and state also involved an idea about clergy-laity relations that was not exactly modern. Cue Piux X again:

…the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of per sons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.

Oops.

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The Dilemma

On the one hand, Roman Catholicism is nothing without the papacy:

There is nothing more distinctly Catholic than the papacy. While just about every other Catholic belief can be found in at least some other Christian denominations, our beliefs about the papacy are unique. Nobody else believes that the bishop of Rome has jurisdiction over the entire Church or that he can infallibly define dogmas; only we do. As a result, these doctrines are essentially what make us Catholic rather than Protestant or Orthodox, so they are extremely important for us.

In addition to the papacy, you need the magisterium:

There is agreement among all Christians that Holy Scripture is the Word of God. But since this Word is conveyed in human language, it does not have the evidence (quoad se—in itself) that the Protestants want to attribute to it. Rather, there is need for a human interpretation on the part of the teachers of the faith whose authority comes from the Holy Spirit. Toward those who hear the Word of God, these teachers represent God’s own authority, making use of human words and decisions (quoad nos—to us). The task of authoritative teaching and governing cannot be left solely to the individual believer who in his or her conscience comes to accept a certain truth. After all, revelation has been entrusted to the Church as a whole. Therefore, the Magisterium is an essential part of the Church’s mission. Only with the help of the living magisterium of the pope and the bishops can the Word of God be passed on in its integrity to the faithful and to all the people of all times and places.

On the other hand, you endure clericalism:

Clericalism affects the whole church. It has been accepted and even lauded by clergy as if it is an anticipation of the Kingdom yet to come. Its hold on us rests comfortably in the symbolic imagination of Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox churches of the East, at once their charm and their curse. That structure must be radically reviewed and reformed if the faith and hope and healthy life of the church are to be revived. As a Quaker colleague once put it to me: “What American adult wants to belong to a church in which he is treated as a child?” Clericalism infects the other Christian churches to a lesser degree and variously, but the Roman Church has simply collapsed under its weight.

According to some, there is nothing to be done about the crisis because the clergy-lay distinction is a matter of the divine will; in other words, “It’s Tradition, a very, very, very old Tradition!” Or could it be that there is something that can and ought to be done that is so radical and church-embracing, so chilling, that it is beyond clerical contemplation? If indeed clericalism is the problem, then the solution is the elimination of that division between clerical and lay Catholics. I am not opposed to leadership, to authority, to structure, to ministry, even to its three-tiered Roman Catholic articulation, but I am opposed to its sacrality and its sanctification. I suppose I am now advocating anti-clericalism, an instinct almost as old as clericalism itself, a historical protest against what the priesthood has done to the church (and a lot for the church, it must be said) through nearly two millennia. Can we count on the clergy to eliminate clericalism? Or the bishops? Or the pope? Not likely! They may badmouth it on occasion, much to their credit. But undo it? Never.

Protestants did not fix this, but they did localize church government. The downside for Protestants is a lack of unity. The upside is not having to act like the apostles’ successors know how to interpret the Bible better than you (as long as you know Greek and Hebrew).

2K as Rodney Dangerfield

I have to give credit to Jamie Smith for rattling the neo-Calvinist cage with a review of James Skillen’s recent book on Christians and politics. I agree with Jamie when he wonders out loud, can you believe we have another book about Christianity in the public square? Jamie’s liturgical side might also welcome a book on the sacraments, but he and I would likely diverge when he would want (I suppose) to talk about the sacraments in broad as opposed to my narrow (and vinegary) terms. Even so, I was glad to see Jamie mix it up with neo-Calvinists who need to get out more:

. . . what follows from all of this [Skillen’s book] feels either truistic or simply a theological rationale for a particular form of American constitutionalism—as if a “biblical” understanding of justice naturally entails the American project. “The question for Christians,” Skillen summarizes, “is this: How should we engage politically, guided by the vision of Christ’s kingdom that has not yet been revealed in its fullness?” That’s a pretty big, vague question. The answer seems at once predictable, tired, and hollow: “In the political arena, therefore, we should work for the kind of political communities in which those who fill offices of government act as public servants to uphold public justice for the common good, willingly accepting their equality with all citizens under the law.” Fair enough: but is anybody really going to disagree with that? If not, then we’re on the terrain of truism. The Good of Politics tends to do this: offer theological rationales for things you had already assumed were a good idea.

Jonathan Chaplin was someone whom Smith woke from his principled-pluralism slumbers:

Smith quotes Skillen’s summary of the political pay-off from such a vision of justice as that “we should work for the kind of political communities in which those who fill offices of government act as public servants to uphold public justice for the common good, willingly accepting their equality with all citizens under the law.” Yet he casually dismisses this vision as “predictable, tired, and hollow.” In doing so, however, he reveals less about the limits of Skillen’s accounts and more about his own failure to grasp just how globally distinctive this conception of politics really is, what an enormous achievement it has proven to be historically, and how radical and transformative it would be if American Christians actually took it seriously in their political thinking and acting. It is lazily dismissive to suggest that what Skillen’s vision amounts to is a “pretty standard liberal democratic game”—little more than “liberal proceduralism.”

I myself am fairly comfortable with a procedural republic — unfortunately, we are now a procedural empire (and we all know what empires yield — the not so good tyrant). But it seems to me that Smith has a point. If we want something a little more high octane at the Christian political theology pump, basically rolling out Christian arguments for liberal democracy isn’t going to rev the engine of anyone who walks on the antithesis wild side.

What is curious about both Chaplin and Smith’s pieces is that 2 kingdom theology isn’t even a serious option (as one way of making peace with a procedural republic or divine-right monarch or demented emperor). The working assumption of neo-Calvinists is that the spirituality of the church is not even worthy of attention. According to Smith:

On Skillen’s account, all of our political errors stem from “believing that Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, or not of this world, or only ecclesiastical, or only future.” In other words, the demons to be exorcised are dualism and clericalism: an anti-creational, a-cultural piety that cares only about heaven and/or a misguided desire to have the church rule the state. He sees this growing out of misguided beliefs. Specifically: “It is the combination of the belief that government was given because of sin and the belief that life on earth exists in negative tension with heaven that has lead to the development of almost every approach Christians have taken to government and politics.” Every approach except—you guessed it—Skillen’s (who, it should be noted, conveniently avoids the fact that John Calvin and Abraham Kuyper also saw government as a postlapsarian institution, necessary only because of the Fall).

If you identify dualism and clericalism as the threats, then your solution is going to be engagement and sphere sovereignty. In other words, if you think the problem is that Christians either don’t care about politics or want the church to run the state, then your “introduction” is going to emphasize the good of politics (and creaturely, cultural life more generally) in a way that is distinctly anti-clerical, persistently downplaying the church. And Skillen delivers, once again exhibiting the problem with the Kuyperian fixations on sphere-boundary policing. Bent on what he calls “de-ecclesiasticization,” the significance of the sacramental body of Christ is once again effectively marginalized. This standard Kuyperian trope de-politicizes the church (hence his rejection of Hauerwas’s emphasis on the church as polis) in a way that is not only wrong-headed but also mis-directed. This emphasis might be correct if there were hordes of people around looking to “establish” a particular religion or denomination as the official state religion. But is that really our problem now? Hardly.

Well, if you’re worried about the kind of generic prayer before townhall meetings that sounds Laodecian, you may actually be worried about the establishment of religion-and-I-don’t-care-what-kind-it-is.

But who says that dualism and clericalism are the threats that need to be subdued? I understand that Kuyper did. But did Jesus? Did Augustine? Was Kuyper the third Adam? Which is not to say that dualism and clericalism are the best ways of describing either the spirituality of the church or an Augustinian political theology (which says basically that because of the fall all of this talk of human flourishing is pagan). But have Skillen, Chaplin, or Smith considered the upside of dualism and clericalism? Which is to ask, have they not ever noticed that history is littered with instances that suggest Christian engagement or transformationalism is the real danger. (Sphere sovereignty seems to me a keeper, but one that actually constrains neo-Calvinists since they keep blurring the lines and taking every square inch captive.)

Just consider the religious voices that supported World War I. Here I will repeat quotations from a previous post:

The Bishop of London in 1915 said:

kill Germans — do kill them; not for the sake of killing, but to save the world, to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young as well as the old, to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded as well as those fiends. . . . As I have said a thousand times, I look upon it as a war for purity, I look upon everyone who died in it as a martyr.

The Bishop of Carlisle added:

But in this war there move and work spirits deeper, stronger, more revolutionary than any or all of these — spirits of good and evil, powers of heaven and principalities of hell, invisible spirits of goodness and wickedness of which men are the instruments and the world the visible prize. . . . This present war is essentially a spiritual war; a war waged on earth but sustained on either side by invisible powers.

Not to be outdone, Protestant clergy from Harry Emerson Fosdick to Billy Sunday signed a statement that urged the U.S. in 1916 to enter the war. Here is how their faith-based argument went:

The just God, who withheld not his own Son from the cross, would not look with favor upon a people who put their fear of pain and death, their dread of suffering and loss, their concern for comfort and ease above the holy claims of righteousness and justice, and freedom and mercy and truth. Much as we mourn the bloodshed [of war], we lament even more than supineness of spirit, that indifference to spiritual values which would let mere physical safety take precedence of loyalty to truth and duty. The memory of all the saints and martyrs cries out against such backsliding of mankind. Sad is our lot if we have forgotten how to die for a holy cause.

. . . the question of all questions for our immediate consideration is this: shall the ancient Christian inheritance of loyalty to great and divine ideals be replaced by considerations of mere expediency?

Or how about the religious rationale that informed the Cold War, at least if William Inboden’s book, Religion and American Foreign Policy, is reliable. He describes the “Truman Doctrine” this way:

In a 1951 address at Washington’s famed New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Truman preached a virtual sermon on America’s role in the world. He elaborated on the vexing relationship between the divine will, armed strength, American goodness, and communist evil. “We are under divine orders — not only to refrain from doing evil, but also to do good and to make this world a better place in which to live. . . . At the present time our nation is engaged in a great effort to maintain justice and peace in the world. An essential feature of this effort is our program to build up the defenses of our country. There has never been a greater cause. . . . We are defending the religious principles upon which our Nation and our whole way of life are founded. . . . The international Communist movement is based on a fierce and terrible fanaticism. It denies the existence of God and, wherever it can, it stamps out the worship of God . . . Our faith shows us the way to create a society where man can find his greatest happiness under God. Surely we can follow that faith with the same devotion and determination that Communists give to their godless creed.” The Cold War, in other words, had erupted not merely between two nations with contrary economic and political systems, but between two different religions. . . . Two ideologies and two systems asserted their rival claims to reality, neither one willing — or even able, if they would be true to themselves — to shrink from their confessions of truth. (114)

When you start entering the public square with religion, it becomes hard not to divide the world in antithetical ways. Truman was no Calvinist but weren’t neo-Calvinists, ever since 1789, habitually dividing the political world between the forces of good and those of — in the Church Lady’s voice — Say-TEN!

Do we really want a Christian political theology if it is going to keep baptizing the particular interests of nation-states as if those interests are those of Christ and his kingdom? Neo-Calvinists seem so intent on fixing today’s problems that they don’t seem to be capable of being sobered by the historical record of fixers who also rejected clericalism and dualism all the while collapsing the kingdom of God into the U.S.A., Germany, the UK — you name the pretty good nation.

But without 2k as an interlocutor, Smith may driven to look for sterner Christian engagement:

I wonder if. . . we don’t actually need a more robust embrace of “ideology” in this respect—a more forthright and unapologetic Christian politics that, in the name of the common Good and the good of politics, reconsiders Christendom for the missional project it was. That is the sort of question that reading Oliver O’Donovan and Peter Leithart has left me with. But it is a question that a reader of Skillen’s book could never understand.

Will Smith take the theonomic plunge and confirm what 2kers have always suspected about neo-Calvinism — it’s just one step from theonomy but marching lock step with the Federal Visionaries who pine for Christendom and Christian emperors.

Bible-Thumping Clericalism

Reading Steven Wedgeworth’s comments about the clericalism of Reformed confessionalists reminded me of an important point about ministerial authority that seems worthy of comment. Buried within the Confession of Faith’s first chapter, arguably one of the best presentations of the Protestant doctrine of Scripture, is a point about the necessity of knowing the Bible’s original languages:

8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.

That paragraph has all sorts of implications for distinguishing Protestants from Roman Catholics: 1) Protestants were generally humanists who valued and benefited from the discovery of the most reliable manuscripts of the Bible as opposed to Rome’s doubling down on the Vulgate; 2) Protestants advocated the translation of Scripture into the vernacular for the laity to read but Roman Catholics opposed such access to Scripture (which was by the way a literary boon to national languages such as German and English); 3) (In the category of Duh!) Protestants put the authority of Scripture above the Pope and/or magisterium.

But Protestants did not advocate a Bible-study free for all where any reading of the Bible was as good as any other. That’s where the business about needing to know Greek and Hebrew provides ammunition for Presbyterian and Reformed clericalism. In all controversies of theology and church life, believers are to rely upon the Word of God as opposed to tradition. But the version to be consulted is not the NIV, KJV, or ASV. The church is supposed to consult the Bible in the original languages in the hope of deriving the most authentic understanding of God’s revelation. This means that laity and even your average Presbyterian elder bishop can only stand by and watch as assemblies of commissioners appeal to the Greek and Hebrew either in committee work or on the floor of presbytery or General Assembly. After all, to be a member of the church, you don’t even have to be able to read — though it helps with singing and other parts of worship. And you certainly don’t need to read Greek or Hebrew to be a member or even an elder bishop. But to be a minister in a Reformed church, you need to know Greek and Hebrew. For instance:

The Recommended Curriculum for Ministerial Preparation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

This Recommended Curriculum was approved by the Fifty-fourth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to serve as a guideline to ministerial candidates, presbyteries, and seminaries (Form of Government, Chapter XXIII, Section 3). The elements in the Curriculum are not to be understood as additions to the constitutional requirements stated in the Form of Government (XXI, 3, 4; XXIII, 3, 6) regarding the preparation and evaluation of qualifications of candidates for the ministry of the Word. Seminary course work by itself may not ensure fulfillment of the Recommended Curriculum for candidates whose presbyteries use the Curriculum as a guideline; therefore presbyteries may expect supplementation of a candidate’s seminary course work through individual guided study, supervised ministry experience, or other means.

SCRIPTURE

I. Bible Content
Study of the English Bible
The candidate should be required to read through the Bible in English.
Course work should include areas such as archaeology, history and geography, emphasizing the significance of these disciplines for the grammatico-historical interpretation of Scripture.
Required comprehensive examination on Bible content

Goal: The candidate should have a thorough knowledge of the content of the English Bible and an ability to communicate it.

II. Biblical Languages
Hebrew
Grammatical forms
Syntactical principles
Exegetical procedures
Required readings in the Hebrew Scriptures
Greek
Grammatical forms
Syntactical principles
Exegetical procedures
Required readings in the Greek New Testament

Goal: The candidate should be able to exegete the Scriptures from the original languages in the preparation of sermons and Bible lessons, using lexical and grammatical tools.

III. Hermeneutics (or, Principles and Methods of Interpretation)
Principles of Interpretation
Biblical Theology
History of and Issues in Biblical Criticism (Higher and Textual)
Special Hermeneutical Issues
Old Testament
New Testament

Goal: The candidate should understand the principles, procedures and problems involved in the interpretation of God’s Word, and should demonstrate a growing proficiency in the faithful exposition of Scripture. He shall be able to read the Bible as God intended it, in its organic unity and its historical diversity. The centrality of Christ, the covenant and the kingdom in the Scriptures determines our understanding of the Scriptures as a whole and as individual texts. The Bible is the progressively unfolding history of the redemptive acts and words of God, climaxing in the coming of Christ and his kingdom, ushering in the new age, the last days.

Christ has accomplished this through his death and resurrection, and the sending of his Spirit to the church on the day of Pentecost. The Bible also holds out the blessed hope to Christ’s church that this new covenant kingdom, which is not yet consummated, will appear in the fullness of God’s glory with Christ’s return on the last day.

IV. Use of the Bible in Ministry
The candidate should be required to prepare advanced exegetical papers on assigned Old Testament and New Testament passages.
The candidate should be required to use his interpretive skills and tools in the preparation of sermons and Bible lessons/courses.

Goal: The candidate should be able to faithfully explain Scripture for the building up of God’s people, moving from a careful study in the original languages through the interpretive process, and arriving at a clear exposition of the text’s meaning and application for the church today.

So while Roman Catholics appeal to apostolic succession as the basis for episcopal authority, Reformed Protestants appeal to ministers who can actually read and make sense of what the apostles wrote.