Anabaptist Roman Catholics

Roman Catholic apologists are currently leaving a lot out of their presentation of Christianity. Here’s another where the author seems to imagine a Roman Catholicism that transcends the fall of Rome, the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, and Christendom. Is Roman Catholicism just simple Christians trying to follow Jesus?

Why are self-described “trad” Catholics prone to nostalgia? The typical mistake is to conflate the traditions of the Church with the traditions of the broader society. These are very different things; the Church is an ark afloat on a dangerous sea, which preserves its own internal traditions in part with walls that prevent it from being deluged by secular practices and mores. 1 Peter thus connects Catholic rootlessness and homelessness with a rejection of human political traditions, enjoining Catholics to “live out the time of your exile here in reverent awe, for you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood …” Catholicism is not Burkeanism. Because Catholics are exiled in the world, they can ultimately have no attachment to man’s places and traditions, including political traditions. They can have no final affection for the misty English landscape that always stands just behind Scruton’s prose, for Reno’s polite distinction of liberal tradition and liberal creed, for the bipartisan fedora-hatted governance of Douthat’s postwar golden age, or even for Ahmari’s era of the triumph (albeit short-lived) of liberal democratic freedom after 1989.

Ahmari acidly mocks a certain strand of Catholic integralism as “hobbit village” nostalgia. In this Ahmari is partly unfair (the rural village and the integral City are very different ideals) but partly correct. After the collapse of the postwar rapprochement with liberalism, integral Catholicism can only go forward, with the hope of translating the old principles into new settings and institutional forms, creating an altogether new order. But Ahmari, like Douthat, Reno, Scruton and the authors of the Paris Statement, ought to apply that same acid-wash to his own nostalgic views as well.

Roman Catholics in exile with all that stuff in Rome (and all those museums)?



Have those who oppose Trump ever considered Jeremiah’s instructions to the people of God, namely, to submit to the rule of a pagan king?

“‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the LORD.”’” (Jeremiah 27:8-11 ESV)

Wouldn’t that sort of Word of God prompt you to consider revising this?

Note that I didn’t say that Trump definitely is an existential threat. I don’t know that; nobody does. Hitler only rose to power because enough people believed that he wasn’t such a threat. There is no way of predicting in advance just how bad a President Trump would be. But if you’re an evangelical leader, this sets up a version of Pascal’s wager for you. If Trump turns out to be embarrassing but not all that bad, then your pride will suffer a bit, and you’ll have to say you were wrong to support Hillary. You’ll try to be wiser in the next election.

But if Trump turns out to be the “extinction-level event” that Sullivan predicts, and you fail to do everything in your power to stop him, then you will join a long line of evangelical leaders who have been on the wrong side of history – and judged harshly for it – at critical moments ranging from slavery to Jim Crow to abortion (in the early days of that debate). Your witness for Christ – our witness – will be diluted because we didn’t do everything we could to prevent this catastrophe. And there won’t be a next election to get it right.

Isn’t it possible that a politician could be God’s judgment on a nation’s churches (not that any of us has that kind of word from God)? And isn’t it possible that God’s plans go on even when his people and prophets go into exile as part of divine judgment?

That’s not a reason to support Trump the way Jeremiah endorsed Nebuchadnezzar. But it is a reason to be cautious as a minister of God’s word when talking about magistrates.


Rod Dreher continues to acquire material for his next book — the one on the Benedict Option. (Make that Benedictine Option and I’m there — like yesterday.) And he posts this from a Protestant pastor who supports the notion of some kind of cultural resistance:

I just wanted to let you know that your writings about the Benedict Option have moved me deeply. Your thoughts, plus the guidance of the Spirit, led me to propose a youth discipleship class for the teenagers in our church to our Pastor — a proposal that he quickly endorsed.

A line that you had in a recent blog post “If they’ve heard anything from the Church, it’s something like, ‘Don’t do this because the Bible says not to’ — which is not enough in this time and place.” is exactly what we are trying to combat. It is almost word for word what a youngish (~25) member of our church told me a few weeks ago. She said that when she was growing up and would ask if she could do something that was verboten, her parents would tell her, “No, you can’t do that.” “Why?” “It’s against our religion.” No further explanation was given.

So we are putting together this class and starting it with hard questions. Why do you go to church? Would you go to church if your parents didn’t make you? Is God important to you? Why?

From there, it will lead into discussions about our doctrines, the importance of prayer, how to pray, how to read/study/meditate on the Bible, holiness, how to handle failures, etc. When we start discussing the things that the Lord hates, we aren’t just going to point at the Bible and say, “God says no, so don’t.” One of the questions we will keep bringing up is, “God said don’t do X or that he hates X. Why would God say that?” We want them to be able to put those admonitions into a larger framework.

Why did God say that? Wasn’t that the Serpent’s question to Eve (of course, in a figurative way, vd,t)? Why isn’t a thus saith the Lord sufficient for not doing something? Does this pastor really think he can go behind the curtain of God’s prescriptive will and come back alive?

Speaking from my own experience, parental instruction not to do something, backed up by serious consequences for the backside at younger stages and coping with parental disapproval at later ones, was an effective moral code. Did I observe it? Of course, not. Now that the parents are in the grave (and not eavesdropping on everything I say or think), I can admit that the first movie I saw in a theater was Straw Dogs. How did a 14-year old get pass the ticket taker? I looked old for my age. What did I tell my parents, who specified that their boys were not allowed to go to movies? I told them I went to the Mall, which was sort of true. But on the whole I broke at least 2 commandments that night — the fifth and the ninth — and if you’re keeping score at home with Greg the Terrible, watching this movie likely broke the seventh as well.

But the lesson here is not how to fool fundamentalist parents. It is that a firm set of moral guidelines, even without elaborate moral reasoning apart from the appeal to authority, was as remarkably good way to grow up. I obtained a clear sense of living inside or outside that moral code and I couldn’t blame anyone but myself if I got caught and had to face the music.

It seems to me in a just sayin’ way that if you want a real Benedict option, it is not to turn adolescents into people who can compete with Benedict XVI or Alasdair MacIntyre on virtue ethics. It is rather to create a moral universe akin to Benedict’s monastery where those who belong to the community have a clear sense of what’s right and wrong on the inside and how that differs from the world outside. In other words, respecting authority is more important than explaining why authority is important.

Postscript: this was NOT my experience:

Sadly, in spite of my Christian upbringing, no one ever told me what was wrong with the hook up culture. In fact, sex before marriage was encouraged by much of my Christian family and by the unanimous agreement of my Christian friends, who both mentioned preventing unwanted pregnancies, but never voiced the option of abstinence. What is worse, I never heard about the topic of sex in church. It was not until my involvement with a Christian campus ministry that I heard someone speak against premarital sex using biblical teaching.

This being my experience, I urge the Church, particularly parents raising children in the Church, to speak out on this issue and embrace the God’s intention for sex. Parents, do not make your child wait until he is a legal adult to hear about it from someone else. Talking about it may be awkward, but it could save your child from making a huge mistake and dealing with a lifetime of baggage for it.

Jay and Ellen Hart didn’t talk about the mechanics but Don and Darryl knew full well that sex outside marriage was verboten (inside marriage, well, okay, if you must).

If You Invoke Israel, Can You Deny Exile?

Over at Unam Sanctam, Boniface faces up to the difficulties that now confront the bishops in Rome. Will God let the true church go? He says, of course not and invokes the parable of Isaiah 5:1-7:

This is what God means when He says that He gave the vineyard over to grazing. A landowner cannot ever “destroy” his property, in the sense that land as such is indestructible – but he can certainly alter its use, sometimes in radical ways. When the vines did not yield grapes, God plucked them up, had the walls trampled down, and gave the vineyard over to the wild animals (the nations) for grazing. And because of the reckless, presumptuous overconfidence of the Israelites – whom the prophet Jeremiah says were led astray by false prophets who only spoke what the people wanted to hear – they were caught unaware and led to destruction.

My friends, just because God has promised that this vineyard – the Church – will always endure and that He will always look after it does not mean that the situation of the Church in this world could not be radically altered. In the case of the vineyard, God is still “maintaining” the land when He breaks down the wall and gives it over to grazing. He is maintaining the way any husbandman does: by putting the land to its highest and best use. If the vineyard consistently refuses to bear fruit for the Master, there is no reason to think He will not break down our walls and give us over to grazing. This has already happened to a large extent over the past fifty years.

Boniface concludes that God will not abandon his church:

Will God ever abandon this little piece of property which He has claimed for Himself and bought with His blood? Of course not. Such a thing cannot be. Could He choose to give it over to grazing? Could He break down its walls? – that is, many of the visible structures that have provided security in the past? Could He command His clouds not to rain on it? – that is, withhold many of the gifts that He had showered upon the Church in ages past? Could He pluck up much of the vines by the roots and cast them away to be burned, and could He give over the land to the grazing of animals, who will trample it down with their hooves, grind the vegetation between their teeth and foul the earth with their dung? Of course He could do all this. In fact, unless we bear fruits befitting repentance, He will most certainly do all things.

Perhaps then – and only then – will our little, beloved piece of ground be disposed to again produce good fruit. But until then, let it be given over to grazing.

Is that what happened to Israel or Judah? Is this not an ominous precedent? God did make promises to Abraham but then sent Abraham’s descendants into exile. Was that an example of the gates of hell prevailing against the OT church? Or was it part of a plan to bring all the nations into a spiritual Israel, the church? So if you think of Israel as a type, the Mosaic Covenant as a kind of republication of the Covenant of Works, and of the Israelites as a kind of second Adam (who makes obvious the need for the final Adam), you might also view the Holy See as a type, Protestantism being a better rendering God of the church’s place in redemptive history. But if you think of Israel as the substance and you’re drawing parallels with the church, you might need a few nips to get to sleep at night.

Will the Real Exilic Christians Stand Up?

With all the discussion of Christians having the best chance to endure in the coming winter of dislocation, I was shocked SHOCKED to see no mention of the Amish. Say what you will about Anabaptists, but I don’t know how any respectable Christian — Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox — can think he is all that prepared for exilic conditions without at least contemplating the way the Amish have lived in exile.

If you are going to talk about Christian community, I don’t know how a set of people who gathers for one service on Sunday (okay, good Presbyterians gather twice), coming from sometimes as far away as a one-hour drive, and maybe for a mid-week Bible study or prayer meeting qualifies as anything more than the membership you experience at the local Moose Lodge. And if you’re going to talk about transformationalism, the Amish have a record of forming real culture according to a religious w-w that goes back farther than Kuyper or Edwards. (Of course, Benedict goes back farther, but given the matter of celibacy and procreation, the Benedictine model is hardly going to survive as a community-building practice.)

Sure, Anabaptist theology has problems. But when Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox can form communities with the kind of coherence that the Amish have, then we should all stop talking about exile and community. Instead, lets consider the benefits of spiritual disciplines that provide a welcome add-on to lives already well defined by economic, political, communication, education (the list goes on) systems well beyond the control of the faithful.

With that in mind, consider this excerpt from the New Republic:

Smucker then launched into a brief history of the Amish, explaining that what began three centuries ago as a handful of families escaping persecution in Europe by sailing for the nascent Pennsylvania colony is today 273,700 adults and children spread across 30 states and the Canadian province of Ontario. (Though two-thirds of them have remained in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.)

Amish belief then as now is completely grounded in the New Testament, which they hold to be the sole and final authority on all things. From it, they take their impetus to remain separate (“and be not conformed to this world”—Romans 12:2), as well as their orders to renounce violence in all spheres of human life, to refuse to swear oaths, and to obey literally the teachings of Jesus Christ. Still, they shun their undisciplined and wayward, to make it a little easier to keep the community of faith intact.

And the Amish are a true community, in every sense of the word. They believe that what we call “individualism” is actually pride, or, more bluntly, selfishness, which opposes God’s will, which should be yielded to with a dedicated heart. This communal spirit is regulated by an unwritten code of conduct, the Ordnung, which prescribes clothing and grooming and language, and prohibits things like divorce, military service, owning or operating automobiles, taking electricity from public power lines, and installing wall-to-wall carpet.

Basically, the Amish way of living argues implicitly that tradition is sacred, that preservation is as important or perhaps more important than progress, that obeying and yielding are virtuous, that the personal reality might not be the supreme. And in this way, above all else, they take the integrity of individual choice really, really seriously.

Or, as Smucker summed it up: “The Amish are very intentional. Whereas we just take on everything we’re offered without even thinking about it.” . . .

Baseball, he went on, was forbidden by church elders around 1995. Baptized men had been wearing uniforms, and traveling to play league matches, and neglecting their duties at home. So, now, the game is strictly for the unbaptized. What I saw in the schoolyard was the noncompetitive stuff all kids play until the eighth grade, when their formal education ends. (“Knowledge puffeth up”—1 Corinthians). The only ones who can ball for real are the boys who have entered Rumspringa, the few free years of “running around” in the secular world that the Amish allow their youth (and about which we make feature-length documentaries and National Geographic Channel reality shows).

Rumspringa—ostensibly a time for finding a mate—is a kind of inoculation. A manageable dosage of culture is introduced to unbaptized Amish, the hope being that this exposure will keep them from succumbing to the whole pathology later on. From their sixteenth birthday ’til their mid-twenties, they sample what they’ve been missing—cars, hip-hop, food courts, double plays. Then they make the biggest decision of their lives: get baptized and get married, or forsake their world for ours.

“The unbaptized, if they play competitively in uniforms, that means they’re from a faster, more liberal district,” Smucker told me. “But you can still tell they’re Amish by how they carry themselves.”

Christian Homeland

Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, a book that I once started but could not finish even after visiting the Wolfe home in Asheville, NC. If Christians could go home again, where would it be? The Garden of Eden? The sword-wielding angels guarding the place would make that difficult. Judah? Adding Protestant Christian claims to the difficulties in Palestine sure seems unwise. Plus, Protestants never had much of a presence in Jerusalem or Israel (except vicariously if Christendom and the Crusades do anything for you). The Netherlands? Scotland? England? Massachusetts Bay? The U.S.? Protestants have lots of vested interests in certain national identities. But most of us, no matter how Kuyperian, neo-Puritian, Covenanter, or exceptionalist would concede that none of these so-called Protestant nations are really the center of God’s redemptive plans (the way that Eden and Israel were).

In other words, we’re all in exile because Jesus has gone to prepare a home for his people.

But some Protestants still regard Israel as a “holy” land in the way they understand Israeli-Palestinian relations. I certainly understand why Western powers would have wanted to secure a homeland for Jews, especially after World War II. But why place the nation of Israel, established with some kind of Zionist sentiments, smack dab in the middle of an ethnically and religiously hostile territory? Might a better place have been Newfoundland or Montana? Just create a Jewish state somewhere in North America. (And by the way, if American diplomats these days find a 2-state solution attractive, why not a 2-state option in 1861? If you look at maps of Israel, the Confederate States of America’s borders looked a whole lot more secure than the situation that John Kerry faces.)

And then, what happens if the only biblical holy land is heaven? Bill Smith points the way:

Does the Israeli state have a right to the territory allotted to the tribes of Israel by Joshua? If you are a dispensationalist, you do think that, because you believe that the Jews are God’s people, that there is a future for Israel distinct from the church, and that the Old Testament land belongs to Israel by divine right. You believe that the human race is divided both as believers and unbelievers and as Jews and Gentiles. We live in a parenthesis (the Church Age) which will be followed by God’s implementation of his original plan for Israel and the fulfillment of his ancient promises to Israel.

My question to those who are not dispensationalists is, Why do you respond to the actions of the Israelis on dispensationalist assumptions? That is, Why do you respond to the conflicts in Palestine as though you believe a geographical land belongs to ethnic Jews and the modern Jewish state? Or, Why do you instinctively support what the Israeli state does as though it has a special status that trumps every other consideration?

In other words, it seems to me that the right way to view the national claims and geographical aspirations of ethnic Jews is to view them the same as we would any other group of people in the world. It is to view these claims and aspirations as we would if (as is the case) ethnic Jews do not have a Biblical claim to land in the Middle East. The modern state of Israel is no different from any other nation as to its rights and obligations.

Between Abraham and Jeremiah

Carl Trueman thinks that we live in a time of exile (I generally agree but I think the conditions for it extend well beyond the sexual revolution — back to Peter’s first epistle):

The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

Trueman also thinks that Reformed Protestantism has the spiritual resources for Christians facing exilic conditions, among them Psalm singing:

This recognition of exile and the hope we find in the Psalms permeate historical Reformed worship and theology in a way that is not so obvious in other Christian traditions, even Protestant ones. For example, the worship of the American Evangelical Church of the last few decades has been marked by what one might call an aesthetic of power and triumph. Praise bands perform in churches often built to look more like concert venues than traditional places of worship. Rock riffs and power chords set the musical tone. Songs speak of tearing down enemy ­strongholds. Christianity does, of course, point to triumph, but it is the triumph of resurrection, and resurrection presupposes prior suffering and death. An emphasis on triumph, often to the exclusion of lament, will not prepare people for life this side of resurrection glory. It will not prepare us for a life of exile. I fear we are laying the foundations for disillusionment and despair.

So much of this piece makes sense and I risk getting bloody (because no one wins an e-knife fight with Carl) only because of the way he handles the Puritans and Dutch. He glosses something that does not work out so well for Reformed Protestants who would live in exile:

It is this consciousness of civic responsibility—and of a firm place to stand in Christ—that frames Calvin’s Institutes and has served to make Reformed Christianity such a powerful force for change in history, from the Puritans to Abraham Kuyper. There have certainly been excesses in the history of the Reformed Church’s engagement with the civic sphere, but Reformed theology at its best is no clarion call for a religious war or a theocratic state. It is rather a call for responsible, godly citizenship.

The thing is, if you wanted examples of Calvinists in exile I wouldn’t turn to the Puritans of the Dutch who were actually part of colonizing efforts and did not live like exiles with native populations in North America or Africa. The Calvinists who did live like refugees were the Huguenots and the German Reformed. They dispersed to places like North America and persisted in their enclaves or assimilated. But the English (and Ulstermen and Scots) and Dutch were engaged in a form of conquest and it is that transformational part of the English Puritan, Scottish Presbyterian, and Dutch Calvinist enterprises that inspires modern-day U.S. Calvinists to think about either taking every square inch captive (for Christ, of course — no self-serving here) or reaffirming America’s Christian origins. (If you want to see one of the odder parts of German Reformed history in the U.S., think about the exilic experience of these folks in Iowa.)

Instead of the Abraham option (transformationalism) or the Benedict option (withdrawal), Samuel Goldman (American Conservative, July/Aug 2014) recommends the Jeremiah option (sorry, it’s behind a paywall):

First, internal exiles should resist the temptation to categorically resist the mainstream. That does not mean avoiding criticism. But it does mean criticism in the spirit of common peace rather than condemnation. . . .

Second, Jeremiah offers lessons about the organization of space. Even though they were settled as self-governing towns outside Babylon itself, God encourages the captives to conduct themselves as residents of that city, which implies physical integration. . . .

Finally, Jewish tradition provides a counterpoint to the dream of restoring sacred authority. At least in the diaspora, Jews have demanded the right to live as Jews — but not the imposition of Jewish laws or practices on others. MacIntyre [read Benedict option] evokes historical memories of Christendom that are deeply provocative to many good people, including Jews. The Jeremiah option, on the other hand, represents a commitment to pluralism: the only serious possibility in a secular age like ours.

We might even call this the Petrine option, were it not for the last millennium of popes who fought infidels, patronized artists, ruled Christendom, and lost power only to speak on every single issue known to political economy and foreign affairs. After all, it was Peter who called Christians strangers and aliens. Were the French and German Calvinists more an inspiration to contemporary Reformed Protestants, Carl’s call to living as exiles would find a receptive audience. As it is, the lure of domination, even though gussied up with the mantra of Christ’s Lordship, that is far more the norm than it should be because it is a whole lot more inspiring to be on the winning side of history. (Who roots for the Cubs?) And for that reason, Carl’s call will likely go unheeded.

Update: Here‘s additional support for considering the French Reformed instead of the English or Dutch.