Break Sure Sounds like Change

It feels like old times with v,dt paying a disdainful visit to Old Life at Twitter. So, here‘s one for those in denial about Vatican II and the changes it accomplished. I’m not sure I’d agree with Massimo Faggioli about the nature of Roman Catholicism (if I were in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome), but he is often a better guide to matters Roman than the cheerleaders and converts:

Some people in Europe and the United States still haven’t accepted that we now live in a world church that represents a historical development beyond medieval Christendom. The state of denial of those who still believe that a return to Christendom is possible is driven by many factors, but one in particular: the return of the myth that the whole category of the secular is a liberal invention, the myth that “once, there was no secular.”

There is, of course, nothing new in populist politicians using religion for their appel à la violence . The major problem is the legitimacy that a new generation of anti-liberal Catholics seems willing to give to this kind of populist rage, with the intention of overcoming current political challenges with a return to the past—as if the failures of liberalism automatically make Christendom possible again. The crude fact is that Christendom failed. What are usually called “liberal Catholicism” and “liberal theology” acknowledge this.

In an important book published in Italy and Germany this year, the young church historian Gianmaria Zamagni recounts the modern history of the debate on the “Constantinian age” of European Catholicism. The critique of the Constantinian model of Christendom begins at least thirty years before Vatican II. In 1932, in the first volume of the Kirchliche Dogmatik, Karl Barth identified Constantine as the reason for the decline of Christianity. In the spring of 1963, as debates about what would become Gaudium et spes were underway, the French Dominican Marie-Dominique Chenu also drew attention to the problems of Constantinianism in a paper titled “The Church and the World.” Nor were Barth and Chenu isolated cases. Friederich Heer, Erik Peterson, Ernesto Buonaiuti, Étienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Mounier, and Yves Congar all made similar arguments.

Vatican II’s attitude toward the church’s past was complex and ambivalent. It’s clear from the way the council dealt with the issue of Concordats and bishops’ appointments that there was still a desire to maintain certain features of the old relationship between the church and political power. But Vatican II’s teachings on religious liberty, ecumenism, and non-Christian religions represented a break with key aspects of the theology that had undergirded Christendom. As for ecclesiology, in paragraph 8 of Lumen gentium , Vatican II looked to the way Jesus himself dealt with the issues of freedom and coercion, especially religious coercion: “Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to men…. [the Church] ‘like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God,’ announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes.”

Protestants have an easier time around our Constantian history since no European government or Reformed church declared a specific political order to be the Christian ideal. Protestants varied and worked church-state matters out on the ground, whether as established churches (Scotland and Geneva), persecuted minorities (France), or voluntarist communions (United States).

Not so with Roman Catholics. Popes and their advisers since the eleventh century spent a lot of time defining papal supremacy in relation to Europe’s Christian social order, and then after 1789 doubling down on the state’s subordination to the church and condemning all forms of liberalism.

But then Vatican II happened. Roman Catholicism is still trying to figure out what Vatican II means and meant since it presents at least three different papal models from which Roman Catholics may choose: Pius IX (traditionalist), John Paul II (conservative) and Francis (progressive). But as Faggioli insists, Vatican II broke the mold of the papacy’s place in western politics.

And since the old, Pius IX political theology was part of the church’s infallible teaching not just on society but on salvation (a liberal society tolerated errors that led the faithful to mortal sins), Vatican II represents a problem for any Roman Catholic who says this is the church that Jesus founded (and doesn’t have his fingers crossed).

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/denial-1

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The Bahnsen Option

Is the visible church part of the temporal order? The spirituality-of-the-church answer would suggest that because the church is inherently a spiritual institution with spiritual means for spiritual ends, then it is not part of the authority in charge of temporal affairs.

But if you are John Calvin and are a civil servant by virtue of being one of Geneva’s (company) pastors, your spirituality-of-the-church conviction translates into a spiritual Constantinianism. That is, the church, though spiritual, is part of the established political order.

I guess this is what Jake Meador is trying to identify when he writes:

The reformed believe that God presently rules over a spiritual kingdom through his lordship over the hearts of his people. But there is also a second kingdom, sometimes called a visible kingdom and sometimes a temporal kingdom. To this kingdom belongs the many social institutions that define daily life—family, local economies, government, and, according to Calvin, the visible, institutional church as well. Not only that, the institutional church is not the pure, sectioned-off community only for the true believers. It is a community of wheat and tares, an institution whose chief concern is not with marking out the outer boundaries of the church but with consistently and clearly articulating its center through the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments.

Does this mean, though, that Meador believes (or advocates) an established church? Or is he trying to say that churches are simply part of associational life in civil society — that broad range of institutions that lives and moves and has its being between citizens and government?

If he wants to avoid the Bahnsen Option (read theonomy), he should try to be more precise about institutions — involuntary (federal, state, local), voluntary, educational, economic, familial — and clearer about the differences between Calvin’s Geneva and modern Calvinists’ political liberalism (read separation of church and state). Otherwise, simply waving the wand of the temporal kingdom over such diverse spheres as business, families, churches, and city councils could land you in some sort of theocratic arrangement where the Lordship of Christ implies Christians “running everything.”

I suspect that Meador is only reflecting the imprecision that generally afflicts neo-Calvinists and transformationalists. After all, he insists that to avoid the Benedict Option we need an ecclesiology that produces a rationale for Christians to serve the common good:

A reformed ecclesiology provides a basis for that way of thinking. It helps the individual Christian understand how they are both a child of the church and a member of the broader commonwealth—and that those two things do not exist in competition with one another. Other ecclesiologies, which see the visible church as some sort of special institution existing in some cordoned off reality removed from all other institutions, have a far harder time providing a rationale for that sort of work in the broader commonwealth.

Well, sometimes they are at odds. Ask Jesus or the apostles when faced with either obeying God or (the) man.

What Meador and other expansive Reformed types may want to consider is that a narrow view of the church and its activities is precisely the best rationale for Christians to engage in all walks of life. The spirituality of the church was the Benedict Option before the Benedict Option. If the church’s footprint is big, then the church has to do everything — like the ministry of dog catching and garbage collecting. But if the church’s scope is spiritual — word, sacraments, prayer, discipline — then Christians have six days of the week for all sorts of legitimate work, and lots of freedom to form any number of organizations for pursuing such activity. None of which, by the way, advances the kingdom of grace (WSC 102).

Congregationalism as Constantinianism

Peter Leithart wants to add to my work as clerk of session. First, he’s reading a lot of sociologists of religion (would John Milbank approve?) on the capacity of congregations to function like families and provide for members in similar ways:

This social capital is not merely intangible. Congregations offer material support to needy members: “When people in congregations talk about building relationships and creating community, they are talking about more than warm, fuzzy feelings. These relationships often take on a depth of mutual obligation that involves pain and sacrifice, as well as joy and celebration. Once having entered these communities, participants are challenged to care for each other, in good times and in bad, and most of this caring takes place informally, rather than through organized programs” (65). Tangible support is particularly beneficial to immigrants: “In Chicago we encountered a congregation whose religious roots are in Nigeria—the Holy Order of Cherubim and Seraphim. There we heard, ‘Our church has a lot of immigrants that are coming to this country. Some of them are very young families. . . . So, you have the church trying to be like a family structure. To be able to mend all of this together so they can have a life.’ Mending together a life often requires informal assistance, rituals of healing and mourning, and the timely visit of a pastor”

Next, he thinks congregations can contribute to a number of the policy questions before the nation:

The US faces policy challenges of gargantuan proportions. Immigration, social security, drugs, race, crime and prison reform, health care, Islamicism and other international challenges. I’d put same-sex marriage, the ethical issues surrounding biotechnology, and abortion high on that list, and some would add environmental issues to the short list.

For ordinary Americans, that list poses two challenges. First, each is a hugely complex, apparently insoluble problem. A health care reform bill has been passed, but many doubt whether it will improve health care or lower costs. The difficulty of formulating a policy on immigration that answers to all American interests and values is evident in the fact that no such policy has been formulated and legislated. There are limits on what a war-weary America can do about ISIS.

Second, ordinary citizens don’t have the capacity to do much about any of them. We can vote, but few have the ability or opportunity to do much else. At best, we respond by bitching about the state of the world or engaging in Facebook polemics; at worst, we throw up our hands and find some way to avoid thinking about it.

For Christians, there is an alternative approach that disaggregates the problems and opens the possibility of constructive action. Instead of treating these issues as questions of national or state policy, we can examine them as ecclesial questions, questions about the ministry and mission of the church.

I don’t mean that we stop debating the merits of policy proposals. Institutional and legal patterns are critical, and there are definitely healthy and unhealthy, good and bad ways to organize our life together. But public policy isn’t the only way to address social needs, and for the church, legislated policy isn’t the primary way to address social needs.

No group of citizens can build a wall along the Mexican border, and few contribute in any meaningful way to formulating immigration policy. But nearly everyone lives in a town with a Hispanic minority. In addition to (or before) asking, “How can America control immigration?” Christians should ask, “What obligations do churches have toward immigrants? What can we do to proclaim the gospel to them in word and deed?” We shouldn’t merely ask how Federal or State governments can make health insurance available, but how churches can provide affordable basic medical care to the poor in a local area. We may not have the policy answers to the drug trade, but many churches support or provide help for addicts and some have effectively intervened to reduce gang violence. We can’t stop ISIS, but churches can send and support missionaries in Islamic countries, and churches can mount targeted evangelistic campaigns to Muslims in our neighborhoods. We can think of Muslim immigration to the US as a threat to our Christian heritage; we can also recognize it as one of the greatest opportunities for Muslim evangelism since the sixth century.

Well, one relief is that the economy is so bad in this part of Michigan that we don’t have that many Hispanics, so that round of meetings is not needed (even if it means finding a good Mexican-restaurant is a challenge). But how in the world if congregations barely agree on the order of service are we now supposed to find consensus on drug treatment procedures?

Plus, I’m not going near Islam (except when having drinks with our Muslim neighbor). Hasn’t Peter seen any of those ISIL videos?

Just this morning I was reading an almost twenty-year old verdict on the effects of modernity on Dutch Reformed churches:

Whereas once (and still in some isolationist communities) there was considerable homogeneity of perspective on virtually all matters of faith — that is, the Reformed message was uniformly accepted throughout the Reformed community — that is no longer the case. Among respondents in each of the countries under consideration, there is immense variation in matters of belief. Whether considering new understandings of Scripture or new formulations of divinity or new attitudes about the fate of nonbelievers, consensus is rare. On matters of political and moral concern, Christians of the Reformed churches have significant differences of opinion. (Rethinking Secularization: Reformed Reactions to Modernity, 281)

So do members of most communions (Roman Catholics included where they put the “it” in unity). But now Peter wants us to take on social policy? How much free time does he have in his new position?

Proto-Protestant On A Roll

And Constantinians (all kinds) should be very afraid:

Leithart’s Christ is not the Christ of Scripture. I say that not as a theological liberal who views Christ as a type of Gandhi and finds the idea of a coming Judgment to be abhorrent. I say this as a follower of Christ who understands the nature of the Spiritual Kingdom and our call to suffer as martyr-witnesses in This Age. The Triumphalism of Leithart is only to be understood in light of the Second Coming and in a context in which sin has been eradicated. A Postmillennialist like Leithart looks for the Church to bring in a millennial golden age, a Church through the force of cultural transformation to all but eradicate sin. Through culture and legislation (and presumably the Spirit) the reign of Christ will be brought to bear on This Age. Christ returns after the world has been Christianized… again a term and concept I would argue is the result of abstract philosophical commitment and speculation, not the fruit of New Testament exegesis.

I’ve always found it ironic that Calvinists, believers in Total Depravity would embrace such a vision of Christianization. I too embrace Total Depravity and believe there’s no Scriptural warrant for this view. They would argue the Spirit will effect this change. The same Spirit inspired the New Testament and provides a very different interpretation of the Old Testament than they will grant or receive and nowhere is there any suggestion that sin will in any way be diminished before Christ’s return or through the cultural efforts and/or political expressions of the Church.

Like the Dispensationalists they prioritize the Old Testament and its prophetic visions over and against the New Testament and its interpretation of them. In their systems The Old Testament interprets the New rather than vice versa. Rejecting the Apostolic hermeneutic they insist (like the Dispensationalists) that a future chiliastic kingdom is the destiny of the Church. The Dispensationalists believe this promise to be centered on Israel of the Old Covenant. The Postmillennialists rightly believe The Church is the New Israel and the inheritor of its promises but it wrongly believes that not only will the Church conquer Palestine, it will politically and culturally conquer the whole world. One camp believes the political millennium will be based on the Jews, the other on the Church but their basic assumptions are the same. They both embrace a politico-cultural doctrine of the Kingdom.

Both schools seek prophetic fulfillment apart from the Christocentric teachings of the New Testament. Both reject the New Testament’s teaching that all the Old Testament promises, types and symbols point to and find their fulfillment in Christ (2 Cor 1.20).