I’ll See Your Year and Raise You an Age

Bill Smith makes a weak (sorry) case for the church calendar:

There is small minority of Presbyterians who observe no Church Year as a matter of principle. They believe it would be sin so to do. Then there is the broader evangelicalism in the U.S. which has no scruples against the Church Year, but flies by the seat of its pants, guided by no more than preferences, feelings, and whims. These evangelicals in matters of the church year, as in so many matters, do what they please.

Then there is catholic Christianity which from ancient times spends the time from Advent to Trinity rehearsing, reliving, learning about, and celebrating who Jesus Christ is, what he has done for our salvation, and the fulness of the revelation of God that is found in him.

Most of Christianity in the world follows such such an annual and orderly calendar. Roman Catholicism. Orthodoxy. Anglicanism. Lutheranism. Methodism. Many of the continental Reformed. Not a few Presbyterians with British roots. Then there are the evangelicals of the sort Mr. Wax experienced in Romania who sort of follow such a calendar.

The most strict of the Presbyterians who roll out the canons and lay down a barrage of warning and condemnation at Christmas and Easter and most especially at the beginning of Lent can only conclude that the overwhelming majority of Christians are at best disobedient and unfaithful and at worst apostate and no Christians at all.

For my part I increasingly had the sense that Christianity must be more historically grounded and more connected with worldwide Christianity than I previously thought.

Forget the regulative principle. Say hello to Geerhardus Vos.

What does the Bible teach about time? Well, the six days of creation point to the importance of the week, a bedrock of the lunar calendar (that ladies know only too well).

Then you have the church calendar of the Israelites with all the holy days and sacrifices that took place year after year.

And then came Jesus by whom the apostles understood the difference between this age and the age to come. For that reason, when Peter writes about time to New Testament Christians, he doesn’t recommend a church calendar. He explains that we live in the end times:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV)

I for one cannot fathom how thinking of myself at different points in the life of Christ or in the time before the first advent helps me think about the last days. I also don’t see how a year-round system encourages Christians to think about this saeculum as the one between Christ’s advents. It’s also striking that Peter thinks eschatological (as opposed to annual) thinking nurtures holiness and godliness. (Can I get an “amen” from the obedience boys?)

So the objection to Bill isn’t that he’s no longer a good regulative principle Presbyterian. It’s that he’s substituted an inferior way of thinking about our place in history with the cosmic one taught by Peter and Paul.

The liturgical calendar is your mind on the solar year. The interadvental age is your mind on Christ.


Religious Tests for Having an Opinion

This piece reminded me of a thought I have had for a long time. It first came to me when studying neo-Calvinism and the demands of w-w thinking. But it continued to haunt me when dealing with the logician-paradigmatists over at Deduced Into Church. The thought is that Christian “conservatives” insist that philosophy precedes religion, which of course is remarkably ironic since these believers (both Reformed and Roman Catholic) are arguing for the ultimacy of faith. But to do so they use philosophical arguments about incoherence, epistemological foundations, and moral consistency that wind up making human reason, not faith or Scripture or tradition or Christ, the answer to life’s most difficult questions. Mind you, the question, “how am I right with God?” is hardly the same level of difficulty as “how do I know?” or “how do I become virtuous?”

In the post over at Imaginative Conservative, we see once again the effects of philosophical supremacy applied to fellow citizens, in this case libertarians:

Many secular libertarians hold that if there is a divine arbiter who will judge our actions, then one can’t fully enjoy the freedom, say, to consume pornography and illegal drugs, and engage in promiscuous sex. Philosopher Thomas Nagel made the point well when he admitted, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

But the impression that atheism or materialism is an accomplished host for libertarian values is mistaken. Individual rights, freedom and individual responsibility, reason, and moral realism: none of these make much sense if reality is ultimately blind matter in motion, if, as Carl Sagan said, “the cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” Libertarians may be surprised to learn that these core values—if not the entire repertoire of libertarian ideas—makes far more sense in a theistic milieu. But they need not take my word for it. The history of the West supports this view, as do the arguments of leading materialist intellectuals.

Historically, the very idea of human rights and the related idea of equality emerged over many centuries in a theistic and specifically Christian culture. In the West, major milestones include the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (1791). A specific anthropology emerges from these documents with greater and greater clarity. Human beings are made in the image of God, and as such, should be accorded special rights and dignity manifested in law.

I don’t reject this argument, though I do wonder how conducive it is to Christian orthodoxy (Protestant or Roman Catholic) if the heterodox Christians who primarily conceived of the United States become evidence in support of belief in God. Doesn’t this wind up with a standard of minimal Christian belief rather than one of full-blown orthodoxy? And doesn’t such minimal Christianity wind up turning on fuller expressions of Christianity when they move past belief in God to the Eucharist or limited atonement as sectarian or parochial? In which case, theistic thinking can be just as hostile to serious Christianity as libertarian secularists may be?

But my objection concerns the way this argument may sound to unbelievers, the people with whom we share planet earth this side of the eschaton. If Christians insist that you cannot have ideas about political rights, or civil freedoms, or limited government without prior claims to belief in God, are they not questioning the status of non-believers in the public square? The U.S. Constitution makes no religious test for holding pubic office. State constitutions also now refuse to use religious tests for office holders. So why would Christians want to privilege theistic citizens in public debates while discrediting agnostic or atheistic citizens? Perhaps the better way of expressing that question, since I can see also sorts of ulterior motives for excluding non-Christian citizens from public debate, is why don’t the philosophically inclined Christians sense that their philosophical rigor comes across as another effort to exclude unbelief from the public life?

That’s one side of this recurring thought. The other is the great affinity that neo-Calvinism and pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism have in privileging philosophy. Both of those traditions grew up spooked by the French Revolution and carved up the universe between theism and atheism, both fought the Enlightenment with Christian philosophy or w-w, and both left a legacy of antithesis — intellectual, cultural, political. If a gateway drug for Protestant converts to Rome (the anti-revolutionary anti-modern one) exists, it could be neo-Calvinism with its bending the knee to philosophy.