Christmas as Old School Presbyterianism’s Coexist Moment

Mustafa Akyol’s column on Christmas in Turkey revealed that paleo-Calvinists share much in common with conservative Muslims and Jews during the holiday season:

Islamists in Turkey, every year, come out on the streets or in their media with the slogan, “Muslims do not do Christmas.” Of course, they have every right to not to celebrate a religious feast that is not a part of their religion. But they not only refrain from Christmas; they also protest it.

In fact, those Islamists of Turkey, and other likeminded Christmas-despisers, often “do not know what they are doing,” to quote the noble words of the very person whose birthday is at question here. They typically condemn Santa Claus costumes and Christmas trees as signs of “Western cultural imperialism.” But Christianity is not merely Western; it is also African, Asian and, in fact, global.

Hmm. Christmas as a global solvent of local Reformed Protestant teachings and practices. Go figure.

Jews — ya think? — have similar problems with Christmas.

Israel, too, seems to have a similar problem.

I read about this in an Al-Jazeera English story titled, “Israeli rabbis launch war on Christmas tree.” It reported how the Jerusalem rabbinate issued a letter warning hotels in the city that “it is ‘forbidden’ by Jewish religious law to erect a tree or stage New Year’s parties.” In Haifa, a rabbi, Elad Dokow, went even further, called the Christmas tree “idolatry,” and warned that it was a “pagan” symbol that violated the kosher status buildings.

At a time when New Calvinists heighten their sensitivity to Muslims and Jews, when will they show a little concern for Old Calvinists?

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Modernity is Biblical

I understand that many think the modern world has frustrated human flourishing, but what happens if the basic ingredients of the modern West that are supposedly the fault of the Reformation are actually medieval?

According to Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth), traditional societies are organized by a “prime divider,” a boundary between elites and commoners. He follows Ernest Gellner in called these “agro-literate” societies, since that phrase names two key technologies that mark the division. More generally, “Elites construct prime dividers along four major lines: legal privilege, stigmatization of manual labor, restricted access to the technologies of knowledge, and weaponry— all imposed by potentes who possess ‘honor’ and ‘status’” (216).

Modernity is a product of civil polities that undermines these prime dividers. Landes isolates four main elements in the formation of an alternative social order:”isonomia [equality before the law], widespread literacy, dignity of manual labor, and positive-sum attitudes that transcend honor-shame dynamics” (227). He discovers these in “the communes of eleventh-century Europe, the peasant rebellions of the late Middle Ages (e.g., England, 1381) and early modern period (e.g., Germany, 1525), the Puritan Revolution of the seventeenth, the American and French of the eighteenth, and the Socialist and Zionist movements of modern times.” Each “made appeals to equality before the law, all spoke of manual labor as a unique source of dignity, all leaned heavily for their support on the existence of a class of commoners who could read or cared about the contents of texts, and all, at least in their nascent stages, emphasized the importance of overcoming the obsession with externally defined ‘honor’” (227).

And get this, what happens if the modern world actually originated in ancient Israel?

Landes thinks that ancient Israelite civilization was more decisive in the rise of the modern world: “this culture emphasized the importance of isonomia, mass education, manual labor, and the substitution of integrity for honor, long before, and with much greater consistency and depth, than Greek or even Athenian society. And perhaps because of this consistency—unlike Athens, there were few voices of dissent on any of these matters—the culture and its traditions survived in an unbroken chain from the ancient world to the present. Moreover, since the principal (but not sole) source of these values, the Hebrew Bible, became the canon of the dominant religion of European society, these attitudes found much more accessible expression—and to a much wider audience—through religious than through classical studies” (230).

After examining each of these themes in the Bible, Landes notes the continuity between Hebrew prophecy and the aspirations of modern social and political reformers: “the goal of demotic millennialism (as imagined in the millennial song of Isaiah/Micah) is to dismantle traditional, belligerent authoritarian and socially stratified (prime-divider) societies, and replace them with a universal network of free, productive civil polities, living in mutual and voluntary peace and exchange, enforced by a discourse of judicial fairness. It is at once a modern ideal and an ancient prophetic dream” (239).

Putting a Point on Christian America

Would the United States possibly consider a bill comparable to the Jewish State proposal of Israel, which includes the following language:

The state of Israel is a Jewish and a democratic state. These two values are intertwined, and one does not outweigh the other. We promise equal rights for everyone, regardless of religion, race or sex. At the same time, Israel is the nation-state of the Jews only. This combination between the the rights of the nation and the rights of the individual, serves as the central thread in all of Israel’s founding documents.

Try that for a Christian America:

The state of the United States is a Christian and a democratic state. These two values are intertwined, and one does not outweigh the other. We promise equal rights for everyone, regardless of religion, race or sex. At the same time, the United States is the nation-state of Christians only. This combination between the the rights of the nation and the rights of the individual, serves as the central thread in all of the United States’ founding documents.

Would this kind of legislation make unsexy Americans happy?

Noah Millman, a Jewish-American of some variety, is not happy with Israel’s proposed legislation because it provides legal justification for a status quo that discriminates against Arabs:

It means that Arab citizens can be discriminated against in housing, including state-supported efforts to move Jewish citizens into Arab-dominated regions coupled with local discrimination to keep Arab citizens out of Jewish areas. That they can be discriminated against in education – most Arab citizens are educated in a separate school system from Jewish Israelis (actually, there are three official “streams” in Israeli education, secular state schools, Jewish religious state schools, and Arab schools, plus a large set of ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious schools that are outside state control but receive state support, plus a small smattering of independent schools, but now I’ve probably given too much information). And so forth. . . .

This, in my view, is the most tangible practical significance of the Jewish State bill: that it would provide a legal justification for upholding the legitimacy of the discriminatory aspects of the status quo when faced with legal challenge.

The point of bringing this up is not the situation in Israel (where a modified bill is pending). It is instead to wonder how far Christian advocates of a Christian America are willing to go in their national self-understanding. Should non-Christians face discrimination in housing and education? Or if America is about freedom of religion as so much of the contemporary opposition to gay marriage has it, how is it possible to insist on a Christian America?

Can Israel Save U.S.?

News that Charles Stanley is declining an award from the Jewish National Fund prompted me to wonder if U.S. support for Israel would wane if the State of Israel legalized gay marriage. First the news about Stanley:

Megachurch pastor Charles Stanley has turned down an award from a pro-Israel Jewish group, citing controversy over his views about homosexuality.

The Atlanta-based chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) had planned to honor Stanley this week with its prestigious Tree of Life Award for his long support of the state of Israel. But a number of local rabbis and other Jewish leaders had protested the decision.

At issue are Stanley’s past statements that homosexual sex is immoral and a comment he made to a newspaper in 1986 that AIDS was a sign of God’s judgment.

But on closer inspection, it doesn’t look like gay marriage is an option in Israel:

In Israel, all valid marriages conducted abroad are recognized by the state, and foreign same-sex marriages are recorded for statistical purposes. That means a gay couple that weds in, say, the Netherlands remains wed in Israel. But that doesn’t mean a gay couple in Tel Aviv can walk down to city hall and procure a marriage license. Marriage is an exclusively religious institution in Israel, with separate religious authorities for Jews and Muslims, Christians and Druze. For Israeli Jews, marriage policy is dictated by the Chief Rabbinate, which is under the exclusive control of the Orthodox—and firmly opposed to gay marriage. Since the country has no civil marriage, gay couples seeking to marry within the borders of Israel are out of luck (as are any Jewish Israelis seeking a non-Orthodox marriage ceremony).

This arrangement—whereby marriage is in the control of the Orthodox rabbinate—is part of what Israelis call the status quo: an understanding between secular and religious Jews regarding the balance between religion and state. The status quo affects not only marriage, but also the education system, family law, supervision of kosher restaurants, and the opening of shops and public transportation on shabbat.

So for now, evangelical Protestants don’t need to worry about gay marriage undermining their support for Israel, though it would be curious to see how American Protestants who support a Jewish state would sort that ethical dilemma out. But could it be that Israel has the solution to U.S. marriage debates? Make marriage exclusively a religious institution and eliminate civil marriage.

As odd as that may sound, not so long ago, in 1930 when H. L. Mencken was married to Sara Haardt, the couple needed to find an Episcopal priest because Maryland did not provide civil marriages.

If It Could Happen to Jerusalem . . .

Why not to Rome (thoughts after a sermon this past Sunday on Rom 11:27-32)?

Lots of those who — come the nuns (hell) or extraordinary synods (high water) — claim that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Roman Catholic Church never seem to account for what happened to Israel. After all, didn’t God make promise after promise to the Israelites that their chosenness would last forever? Remember what God said to David:

Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:8-16 ESV)

The apostle Paul spent a lot of time trying to account for the inclusion of Gentiles into the promises to Abraham, Moses, and David and one way he wound up doing so was by taking the promises to OT Israel in a spiritual sense. If you were looking for the persistence of outward Israel with the Temple, palace, and king, then you were in for serious disappointment. But if you thought of the promises as guaranteeing a spiritual kingdom and pilgrim people, then you could have an Israel that descended from Abraham and that included those not related by blood as Abraham’s offspring through faith (Gal 3:28-29).

So why would it be wrong to think about Protestantism’s relationship to Western Christianity in a fashion similar to what Paul wrote in Rom 11?

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.(Romans 11:17-24 ESV)

It is a bit of a stretch, but one could say that Protestants were grafted on to the olive tree of Western Christianity in ways comparable to the inclusion of Gentiles within a faith dominated by Jewish people. And just as the Israelites doubled-down on the formal aspects of their faith, so Roman Catholics insisted (and still do) on papal supremacy and apostolic succession and Vatican Bank Institute for the Works of Religion in ways that compromised a clear articulation of the gospel in the hands of Luther and Bucer. As if God’s people never go wrong, even when the Christian religion wouldn’t exist unless something went wrong in the Old Testament expression of salvation.

So when Paul adds,

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:28-32 ESV)

meaning that Christians and Jews were enemies because of the message of the gospel (embraced by the former and reject by the latter), he also suggests a way that Protestants should recognize the debt we owe to Roman Catholicism, the only game in town when it came to Western Christianity for at least a millennium. Protestants should — gulp — love Roman Catholics because they are forefathers in the faith. No Roman Catholicism, no Protestantism.

But with that love comes the recognition that Rome, like Jerusalem, failed.

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.

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.

A Trend?

Some Roman Catholics are scratching their heads about David Brat, the economics professor who defeated Eric Cantor in Virginia Congressional primaries. Brat describes himself as a Calvinist Catholic Libertarian. For some, Roman Catholicism is as incompatible with Calvinism as it is with libertarianism, though you don’t hear as much about Calvinist theology as you do about economics (except among Jason and the Callers but they are so far off the Roman Catholic reservation that they don’t count). Whether Calvinism and libertarianism are compatible is something more often assumed than proved.

Be all that as it may, one Roman Catholic writer has no trouble with Brat at Calvinist, Catholic, and Libertarian:

It’s doubtful that Brat is Catholic in the way readers of this column are likely to be Catholic. He states that he “attends” a Catholic church, St. Michael’s, but also lists other churches as “affiliations” — Christ Church Episcopal, Third Presbyterian, and Shady Grove Methodist. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Hope College, a Christian liberal arts college in Holland, Mich., which is historically affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, a Protestant denomination that sprouted during the 17th century. He earned a master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian school. Perhaps Brat will clear up what these “affiliations” signify in the coming weeks.

Until then, I suggest we not get overwrought about what he means when he calls himself a “Catholic Calvinist libertarian,” even though many have been reacting with alarm.. . . I don’t know Brat. I hold no brief for him, but I am convinced that his description of himself as a Catholic Calvinist libertarian is one that most Catholics who identify themselves as “conservatives” or “on the right politically” would feel comfortable with. I include myself in that category.

I submit that Brat’s point is that he is not a doctrinaire Calvinist or economic libertarian. That is why the word “Catholic” is part of his self-designation. He is saying that he is attracted to certain positions that are taken by Calvinists and libertarians that do not clash with Catholic teaching. There are such things.

Brat is not the only so-called Calvinist on the political “right” to be worshiping on both sides of the Tiber as it were. Hugh Hewitt has also recently admitted to double-dipping liturgically. In a piece that suggests Hewitt will be leaving the PCUSA for its vote to divest of companies that do business with Israel, he also admits to going to mass on Saturdays before worshiping with Presbyterians on Sunday:

Now the PCUSA, as its members call it, has taken an official position against Israel and so I, as an elder in the PCUSA — no longer a “ruling” elder in my congregation, having wrapped up my second such stint last year — have to take a position for or against the PCUSA based on it.

Many PCUSA congregations across the country are already engaged in the process of “discerning” whether to remain within the splintering denomination, and this new assault on Israel and the virulent language employed — “occupation” — will no doubt make that process much easier for hundreds of thousands of us. If their congregations don’t leave, they will. They will not be part of the American intifada against Israel.

The PCUSA has raised its hand against Israel. So now either my congregation must depart the PCUSA or I must depart my congregation. I will not be a part, however small, in any campaign against Israel. No Christian who knows how the Church largely stood silent during the Holocaust should be. No thinking person who reads beyond the fringes of the Left would reason as this letter does. If a denomination insists on being ruled by a majority of ill-educated posers, it deserves the withering that has already set in and will now accelerate.

Strong language that, and I have never used it in any of the theological debates to date. Jesus was angry only with the Pharisees and the money-changers. . . .

It seems likely that most of the PCUSA’s General Assembly voters are wholly ignorant of most of this, being anti-intellectual as well as anti-Israel.

This is not a theological dispute. As a guy who goes to Mass on Saturday afternoon and to the PCUSA on Sunday morning, I am not easily riled over theological disputes.

One could well quibble with Hewitt about the theological dimensions of the PCUSA’s decision, especially if he had ever encountered the doctrine of the spirituality of the church during his stint as a PCUSA elder. Some, like me, would argue that for the church to take a political position — which, ahem, the PCUSA has been doing for a long time now — the church is pretending to speak for God (read minister the word) on matters about which God has remained silent. The irony, in addition, is that Israel is both a theological (think Old Testament) and (since 1948 a) political topic. So Hewitt’s attempt to separate theology (where he’s easy going) from politics (where he’s adamant) is not as easy as he might think. But why would he consider leaving a church for the wrong politics? Is the Church of the Latter Day Saints now attractive for its conservative politics or does the deity of Christ matter for church membership?

So where’s the trend? In the long run, it is the social gospel momentum of churches speaking about matters over which they have no authority. (And please note the historical coincidence of Protestants getting in the Progressive politics business at roughly the same time that Leo XIII was cultivating Roman Catholicism’s taste for social teaching.) We continue to see this trend played out 125 years later.

The short-term trend is for this social gospel mindset to blur lines that used to keep Calvinists and Roman Catholics apart. Granted, Evangelicals and Catholics together is almost two decades old now, but Calvinists were a pretty small piece of that effort unless you want to count Chuck Colson’s Kuyperianism. But now with Calvinism’s popularity, it’s possible for political candidates and pundits to have it all.

Is this a pretty good country or what!

Great Nations

A trip overseas usually means a turn to the Prayer Book. In Turkey for the past two years, we conducted Christian services in various Turkish hotels by relying upon either the morning or evening prayer service. For elders who are licensed to preach looking for a place to worship in a known tongue within a society where mosques were more frequent than whiskey bottles, the Book of Common Prayer came in handy.

And so it continues to do in places where they do (mostly) speak English — like Dublin. I went to evensong yesterday at the Church of Ireland’s cathedral in Dublin and once again was impressed that if the Anglicans keep to the Bible and the prayer book, they come out okay.

One of yesterday’s readings was God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.”

About this Calvin has little to say on the topic of national greatness (or what some call exceptionalism, nationalism, or patriotism):

Hitherto Moses has related what Abram had been commanded to do; now he annexes the promise of God to the command; and that for no light cause. For as we are slothful to obey, the Lord would command in vain, unless we are animated by a superadded confidence in his grace and benediction. Although I have before alluded to this, in the history of Noah, it will not be useless to inculcate it again, for the passage itself requires something to be said; and the repetition of a doctrine of such great moment ought not to seem superfluous. For it is certain that faith cannot stand, unless it be founded on the promises of God. But faith alone produces obedience. Therefore in order that our minds may be disposed to follow God, it is not sufficient for him simply to command what he pleases, unless he also promises his blessing. We must mark the promise, that Abram, whose wife was still barren, should become a great nation. This promise might have been very efficacious, if God, by the actual state of things, had afforded ground of hope respecting its fulfillment; but now, seeing thatthe barrenness of his wife threatened him with perpetual privation of offspring, the bare promise itself would have been cold, if Abram had not wholly depended upon the word of God; wherefore, though he perceives the sterility of his wife, he yet apprehends, by hope, that great nation which is promised by the word of God. And Isaiah greatly extols this act of favor, that God, by his blessing, increased his servant Abram whom he found alone and solitary to so great a nations (Isaiah 2:2.)

No political theology there. And why should there be since the greatness of that promise lay not in the prospects of Israel or Judah as political or social entities, both of whom would decline after Solomon, self-destruct, and become doormats for either the Babylonians or the Persians? Surely the Israelites aspired to national greatness; they wanted a king, got one good and hard, and even had a brief run with Solomon and all his wisdom. But that didn’t work out so well. And God’s promise to Abraham of national greatness was still in play, no matter what came of the nation that took the name of Abraham’s offspring. It’s all spiritual, all the time.

Let My People Go

If the Israelis can distinguish between an Arab Christian and an Arab Muslim, why can’t Americans tell the difference between an evangelical and a Reformed Protestant? (Supply your own punchline.)

This thought experiment came to mind when reading this:

An Israeli bill will grant legal distinction between Israel’s Muslim and Christian Arabs for the first time, recognizing Christians as a separate minority. But many Arab Christians don’t want such distinctions.

The controversial bill was approved by a 31-6 vote in its third and final reading in the Knesset Monday. The legislation will also increase employment representation for Christian Arabs in Israel’s government by adding an Israeli Christian Arab to the panel of the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity.

This will give the primarily Arab 160,000-person Christian population in Israel its own representative alongside representatives for ultra-orthodox Jews, new immigrants, women, and other religious and social groups, according to the Jerusalem Post.

What’s the problem with such a distinction? Looks like it’s the same problem in the U.S.:

“I believe most Arabs will refuse this decision,” Munther Na’um told CT of the controversial bill passed earlier this week. It distinguishes between Israel’s Muslim and Christian Arab communities for the first time and recognizes Christians as a separate minority.

“It’s meant to separate the whole family [Israeli Arabs] in political decisions,” Na’um said, speaking from his base in the northern Israeli town of Shafr Amr. Palestinians living in Israel are referred to as Israeli Arabs.

“It’s not good for Arabs, whether Christians or Muslims, or the Jews,” he said. Na’um believes that some Israeli politicians are “trying to separate us by religious status and create a political situation from that.”

“It will not be effective,” he added.

The bill was approved by a 31-6 vote in its third and final reading in the Knesset Monday. The legislation will also increase employment representation for Christian Arabs in Israel’s government by adding an Israeli Christian Arab to the panel of the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity.

The evangelical leader downplayed the move by Israeli politicians in the Knesset which has angered fellow Arab lawmakers.

“I don’t think this will make much impact because the relations between Christians and Muslims are very close. We have the same traditions, the same culture. It will be difficult to separate us just because we are Christians and they are Muslims,” Na’um said.

In other words, the reason for rejecting differences between Muslims and Christians is political. They are more effective as an ethnic political bloc than they are as separate religious groups.

And that is about as far as this analogy goes because what Christians face in the U.S. in no way compares to the circumstances that Palestinians confront in Israel. But the point is that the aspect of American Protestantism that keeps throwing Reformed Protestants into the same evangelical goo as every other Protestant who is either outside the mainline or ambivalent about the mainline churches’ policies and programs is politics is similar to the one that unifies Arab Christians and Muslims in Israel — not what they believe but a common political foe. Ever since the Religious Right emerged as an electoral force, Reformed Protestants have been more inclined to carve up the national scene according to culture-war categories than confessional teaching. W-w my foot!

That is true except for 2kers, who know that the kingdom of Christ claims higher and different allegiances than the Republic or Tea Party.