Luxury Denominations

Paul Helm took time to review/respond to On Being Reformed, the public debate between some Baptists (and others who aspire to be Reformed) Reformed Protestants who still hold either to the Three Forms of Unity or the Westminster Standards (yes, with revisions about the magistrate ALREADY!). Along the way, Helm makes an observation that has something to do with differences between the US and the UK.

This debate has smothered a different approach, that of verstehen, of ‘smelling the coffee’. It is one thing to argue the (false) claim that our confessions of faith have remained unchanged since the Reformation, another wonderful thing to live by their gracious doctrines. With others, to rejoice in the privilege of being ‘in Christ’. As already stated, it is a singular, remarkable providence that three of our English confessions are word for word almost identical in Reformed soteriology, including the classic catholic trinitarian and incarnational positions. We could therefore unite here, and encourage each other thereby, even strengthening our grasp of our respective confessions, like ironing sharpening iron. Is that not a distinctive form of Reformed religion, whether or not we are credobaptist or paedobaptist, even if different in our ecclesiology and in the administration of baptism. At a time when the faith is increasingly under threat, and our family life as Christians is being undermined, and as there are various popular distortions as well as ancient heresies freely peddled, to have the strengthening of distinctive Christian fellowship is a traditional activity that should outweigh our marginal confessional differences. Perhaps fostering such fellowship requires a little more social ostracism, and perhaps that will come.

As I understand it, in the UK, Calvinistic Protestants don’t have the luxury of forming separate denominations the way American Protestants do. Whether it stems from laws having to do with the established church and dissenting groups, or the small number of serious minded Protestants who regard John Calvin, John Knox, and John Owen highly, British Protestantism has fewer possibilities and resources than Protestants in the land of the free and home of the brave. Here, despite the OPC’s tiny size (don’t snicker), the United States has made Christians (and other believers) wealthier and has provided structures (or lack of them) that makes easier the challenge of establishing new institutions (congregations, denominations, schools, colleges, seminaries).

That may not make America great, but it does indicate that the US is different from the UK and the old world.

The difference that the United States makes for religion is even evident among American Jews. The Pew Research Forum conducted a survey of Jews in the US and Israel that indicates some of the differences that place and nation make for religion. Consider the following:

American Jews are a highly educated and, on the whole, warmly regarded religious minority in a very large, Christian-majority country. Jews represent about 2% of the U.S. adult population of roughly 300 million people. Only about one-third of American Jews say that either “all” (5%) or “most” (27%) of their close friends are Jewish. A substantial proportion (44%) of U.S. Jews who are married say their spouse is not Jewish – including a majority of those who have gotten married since 2000.

By contrast, Jews make up about 80% of Israel’s adult population of 8 million. The vast majority of Israeli Jews say that either all (67%) or most (31%) of their close friends are Jewish, and nearly all married Jews in Israel have Jewish spouses. There’s also very little conversion between major religious groups in Israel, while in the United States, religious switching is remarkably common, including many U.S. adults who have drifted away from organized religion altogether. In our 2013 survey, one out of every five Jewish Americans said they do not identify with any religion, even though they also said they had at least one Jewish parent or were raised Jewish, and they consider themselves Jewish in other ways aside from religion (such as culturally or ethnically). In Israel, by contrast, nearly all Jews say their religion is Judaism.

Or this:

Most American Jews are part of organized Jewish denominations or “streams,” which include the relatively large Reform and Conservative movements as well as Orthodox Judaism. In Israel, only about 5% of Jews identify as either Reform or Conservative. Instead, Jews in Israel generally place themselves into one of four informal categories of Jewish religious identity. These labels – Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), Dati (religious), Masorti (traditional) and Hiloni (secular) – are not connected to formal Jewish organizations or denominations, but instead are loose identity groups (similar, for example, to an American Christian calling herself an “evangelical” rather than a “Southern Baptist”).

Even better, watch part of the short interview with the Israeli woman who married an American Orthodox rabbi.

America is weird and that means we have the luxury of reading the confessions in ways that other Protestants do not or cannot.

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The Spirituality of the Church Means No Need for a White Paper on Israel

If you wonder why Roman Catholics in the public eye are a little sensitive about the review of the Edgardo Mortara memoir, it may have something do with the Vatican’s not-so-great history with European Jews or the state of Israel. Massimo Faggioli reminded readers of Commonweal of that vexed past:

Rome looks at the anniversary of the State of Israel with a complex perspective very different from that of Evangelical Protestants in the United States. In less than fifty years, the Vatican has moved from opposing the Zionist movement, to a de facto recognition of the State of Israel, to a de iure recognition. In 1947, the Vatican supported UN Resolution 181, which called for the “internationalization” of Jerusalem. In the encyclicals In multiplicibus curis (1948) and Redemptoris nostra (1949), Pius XII expressed his wish that the holy places have “an international character” and appealed for justice for the Palestinian refugees. In its May 15, 1948 issue, the official newspaper of the Holy See, L’Osservatore Romano, wrote that “modern Zionism is not the true heir to the Israel of the Bible, but a secular state…. Therefore the Holy Land and its sacred places belong to Christianity, which is the true Israel.” The description of Christianity as the “true Israel” (verus Israel) is a reminder that it wasn’t until decades after the Shoah that the church fully recognized the connections between supersessionism, theological anti-Judaism, and anti-Semitism.

Vatican II helped reconcile Catholicism and Judaism. But the relationship between the Vatican and the State of Israel remained complicated. During his trip to the Holy Land in Jordan and Israel in January 1964, Paul VI was very careful never to utter the word “Israel,” thus avoiding even the suggestion of recognition. The questions of who should control the Holy Land and whether to recognize the State of Israel were not addressed by Vatican II’s Nostra aetate, whose drafting was closely scrutinized not only by bishops, theologians, and the Vatican Secretariat of State, but also by diplomats, spies, and Arab and Jewish observers. Vatican II ended before the Six Day War of 1967 and the subsequent occupation of Palestinian territories, which permanently changed the geo-political situation in the Middle East. From then on, Israel was in firm possession of the whole of the Holy Land west of the Jordan River, including all the Christian holy places. This led the Vatican to modify its position in a pragmatic way. In an address to cardinals in December 1967, Paul VI called for a “special statute, internationally guaranteed” for Jerusalem and the Holy Places (rather than internationalization). We cannot know what Vatican II would have said if the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the capture of Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem (and the Old City) had taken place before or during the council. But we do know that Arab states and Arab Catholic bishops and patriarchs at Vatican II were strongly opposed to anything that sounded like a recognition of the State of Israel.

Yowza!

But that is the sort of corner into which you can paint yourself when you are a church with temporal power (that is, the Papal States) and with assumptions that you should be at the “running things” table.

A spiritual as opposed to a political church doesn’t have such worries. Add some amillennialism and you can even free yourself from the evangelical Protestant habit of trying to determine the date of the Lord’s return by monitoring developments in the Middle East. Like the Confession of Faith says (chapter seven):

5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.

6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

Now that the coming of the kingdom of grace is no longer bound up with a Jewish state, people are free to support Israel as an outpost of democracy without a whiff of immanentizing the eschaton.

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?

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!