What about John 18:11 Did They Not Understand?

Civil religion comes in many forms, but this one (heard yesterday morning during Big Band Sunday) was stunning:

Down went the gunner, a bullet was his fate
Down went the gunner, and then the gunner’s mate
Up jumped the sky pilot, gave the boys a look
And manned the gun himself as he laid aside The Book, shouting

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
And we’ll all stay free

Praise the Lord and swing into position
Can’t afford to be a politician
Praise the Lord, we’re all between perdition
And the deep blue sea

Yes the sky pilot said it
Ya gotta give him credit
For a son of a gun of a gunner was he shouting

Praise the Lord, we’re on a mighty mission
All aboard, we ain’t a-goin’ fishin’
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
And we’ll all stay free

Praise the Lord (Praise the Lord) and pass the ammunition
Praise the Lord (Praise the Lord) and pass the ammunition
Praise the Lord (Praise the Lord) and pass the ammunition
And we’ll all stay free

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
And we’ll all stay free

The problem isn’t passing the ammunition. If you want to shoot to defend your country, that’s a responsible end. But why would your baptize retaliating against Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor with an Hallelujah?

Christ’s kingdom in the New Testament (as opposed to the Israelites conquest of Canaan) doesn’t come by the physical sword (unless you want to get really technical about the Bible):

2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.”a Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18)

I wonder if the Reformed and Presbyterian chaplains would object to the song.

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Remember When Being Nice Would Win the Day?

How a little reminder of 1929 clears the cobwebs.

Once upon a time, the Gospel Allies scored points against Reformed confessionalists by claiming the high ground of nice. Remember when Jared Wilson wrote this?

Cold-hearted rigidity is not limited to those of the Reformed persuasion, of course. You can find it in Christian churches and traditions and cultures of all kinds. In fact, to be fair, I have found that those most enthralled with the idea of gospel-wakefulness, those who seem most prone to champion the centrality of the gospel for life and ministry, happen to be of the Reformed persuasion. So there’s that. But gracelessness is never as big a disappointment, to me anyway, as when it’s found among those who call themselves Calvinists, because it’s such a big waste of Calvinism.

Or how about when Justin Taylor chimed in?

Angry Calvinists are not like unicorns, dreamed up in some fantasy. They really do exist. And the stereotype exists for a reason. I remember (with shame) answering a question during college from a girl who was crying about the doctrine of election and what it might mean for a relative and my response was to ask everyone in the room turn to Romans 9. Right text, but it was the wrong time.

This raises an important qualifier. The “angry” adjective might apply to some folks, but it can also obscure the problem. In the example above, I wasn’t angry with that girl. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. But I failed to recognize what is “fitting” or necessary (cf. Eph. 4:29) in the moment. This is the sort of thing that tends to be “caught” rather than “taught” and can be difficult to explain. But there’s a way to be uncompromising with truth and to be winsome, humble, meek, wise, sensitive, gracious. There’s a way of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) such that our doctrines are “adorned” (Titus 2:10) and our words are “seasoned” with salt and grace (Col. 4:6). To repeat, the category of “anger” is often too broad and can miss the mark. As Kevin DeYoung pointed out to me, “Some Calvinists are angry, proud, belligerent people who find Calvinism to be a very good way to be angry, proud, and belligerent. Other Calvinists are immature—they don’t understand other people’s struggles, they haven’t been mellowed by life in a good way, they can only see arguments and not people. The two groups can be the same, but not always.”

So when Tim Keller advocated women’s subordination, he did so in precisely the categories that elicit New Calvinist religious affections (thanks to our southern correspondent):

We feel that there is a deep inconsistency in the phrase “evangelical feminism”. The feminists who are consistent recognize the Bible as a sexist book throughout. They reject it. The feminists who try to hold to complete Biblical authority have, really, an impossible balancing act to conduct. . . .

We know from experience that our position on women-in-ministry dissatisfies many people. Many friends from the traditional evangelical church find it far too “liberal” and “permissive”, while many other friends on the other side still feel it is oppressive. Our position is not totally unique. See J. Hurley’s book, Man and Women in Biblical Perspective or Susan Foh’s book, Women and the Word of God. They come close to where we are.

The fact remains that nearly everyone we meet is more “conservative” or else more “liberal” than we are. Thus we appeal to our friends to work with us on this. We do not to make this issue a cause of division, as we said above. We see no reason why friends with the same view of the Bible cannot work together, all the while influencing each other and refining one another’s viewpoint in order to become truly Biblical. Please be partners with us.

Balance, moderation, partnership — these were the calling cards of the New Calvinists. And for them, it was the Old Schoolers and Truly Reformed who were poorly positioned to represent Calvinism to the contemporary urban and global world. Some of us tried to explain that disagreement was not anger, and that standing in a specific tradition might cut down on “partnership.” We even thought that the medium of the World Wide Interweb thrived better on provocation than moderation. But for almost fifteen years the New Calvinists thought they had squared the circle, and Keller was proof positive at ground zero of global urban life in the United States.

What went wrong? One problem may have been living in a Gospel Coalition bubble and not engaging the concerns of “angry Calvinists.” But even more harmful was forgetting the antithesis and misreading the culture. Keller’s “success” in New York suggested (and sometimes actually asserted) that a new day had dawned for conservative evangelicalism. Modern Americans were truly willing to hear a kinder, gentler Protestantism. How could you deny that if the most secular and most urban place in the United States had received Keller the way New York City did? You certainly had to think that modern America was much more hospitable to faith if Keller was a best-selling author and the darling of religion journalists? Keller himself told lots of Presbyterians how the direction of the modern world was heading in a faith-friendly direction. I still remember the Power Point presentations I witnessed while on the faculty at WTS about the church in the city’s future.

What if while considering those trends predicted by economists and futurologists, New Calvinists had pondered the Bible more?

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3)

That may tilt more Rod Dreher than Jamie Smith. But if you’re going to minister the word and teach in a seminary, doesn’t the apostle Peter count more than Peter Drucker?

Fishermen Need Not Apply

Does the path to sanctification (or virtue) really lie in a liberal education?

Liberal education, according to Blessed Cardinal Newman, is primarily formation of the mind enabling it to seek, know, and contemplate truth, which is the good of the intellect and which prepares us to know fully and love fully the One who is the truth. But I do not think education of the mind is sufficient. Just as a specialist education in one field or skill should not come before a generalist and integrative education in the principles and mindset of all fields, education of the mind alone or as foremost is imbalanced, and can lead to extreme deformations in the soul, such as hyper intellectualism, an inability to act decisively, and a lack of emotional intelligence and integration. In addition to the mind, there must also be an education of the body in endurance and long-suffering, the imagination in beauty, and the will in the good. All this is to say that a proper education is an education of the whole person, but the person is neither his intellect, his will, his imagination, his memory, nor his body. He is, rather, his heart. And the heart is what WCC educates best.

Why is the heart so important? In a word, God. God makes His presence known in our hearts, and we see God with our heart, not our eyes, and not even our intellects. But the synthesis of all our powers at the very core of our being. The heart is supernaturally educated by grace, the sacraments, the life of Christian charity, and the teachings of the Catholic Church, but the heart needs a robust natural education in order for the supernatural formation to take root and bear fruit. How can the heart be educated? Only by a “curriculum of the heart,” one that forms and perfects all our powers in different disciplines: humanities, the moral imagination; the fine arts, the aesthetic sense; the outdoors, the will, the senses, and our character; math and science, our powers of observation and interpretation; philosophy, our critical and questioning powers, our dialectical mind; and theology, our contemplative essence.

Imagine if Peter and Paul had had to go to college before attending seminary with their Lord. Jesus would be dead and they’d be rising seniors.

Or maybe, just maybe, word, sacrament, and prayer work independently of philosophy and literature. Nothing wrong with education and in Protestant circles, literacy was pretty important for participating in the worship service — hymn singing and all. But education will not save us. If we know that in politics, why not (Christian) religion?

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.

The OPC is the Church John Calvin Founded

That assertion would prompt guffaws throughout the Presbyterian and Reformed world and yet Roman Catholic apologists continue to make such a claim with even higher stakes: “the Roman Catholic Church is the church Jesus founded.”

Who actually looks at history this way? To think that the OPC was a gleam in the eye of John Calvin is risible if only because Orthodox Presbyterianism comes so much later and after so many different historical developments than the Reformed churches of Geneva. Someone could spot similarities in worship, polity, and theology between Geneva and the OPC. But the OPC is only a development from something that started in 1522 in Zurich even before Calvin was a Protestant convert.

It’s like saying the United States of President Obama is the nation that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams founded. Neither the Left nor the Right in the United States thinks that way. As if a nation that now extends across the entire continent, has a population 100 times greater than 1789, and possesses the largest economy and military in the world is the United States Jefferson and Adams founded.

So how close does Roman Catholicism come to Jesus? For starters, Jesus never made it to Europe. The churches with which Jesus had the greatest familiarity and presence were those of Jerusalem. Which is why Tertullian did not ask, “what hath Rome to do with Athens” (and a good thing he didn’t since Thomists may have followed Aristotle more than Peter and Paul).

If the writings of the apostles are any indication, you know the ones we typically call “the word of God,” the early church had no episcopacy. The first body to make authoritative rulings for believers was the Council of — wait for it — Jerusalem and that body showed no deference to the pastors of Rome. The theology of Paul, a big block of NT teaching, went out of its way to stress faith over observance of the law, a major point that split western Christianity and isolated Rome from the apostles according to those most zealous to protect apostolic teaching (as opposed to papal prerogative). Meanwhile, the worship of the early church was simple and according to Paul the Lord’s Supper was a not a sacrifice but a fellowship meal (just like the Passover). And worship was not in Latin, a point sure to upset the Latin-Rite proponents.

So the early records of Christianity lean much more in the direction of the Eastern churches being the original Christians. In fact, were it not for the Eastern Church and their first Christian emperor, western Christians would not have Trinitarian orthodoxy.

It may be high time to remember that Boston Americans, not the New York Yankees, won the first World Series.

Apostolic Audacity

A new sermon series from 1 Corinthians stimulated thoughts about apostolic greetings in the New Testament. Here are the ones Paul used with Corinth:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ESV)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:1-2 ESV)

Compare that to the first pope (ahem):

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

Now to round out the comparison, one from John Paul II:

Venerable Brothers and Dear Sons and Daughters,
Greetings and apostolic Blessing

What’s striking about Paul’s greetings is that if Peter were as supreme among the apostles as papal defenders allege, you might think Paul would acknowledge Peter or the wider body of apostles since his status was in dispute. But he claims to be called directly by God and has as much authority as any apostle does. Peter’s claims are even more subdued than Paul’s — an apostle compared to an apostle “by the will of God.”

When you do read the New Testament, Matt 16:18 sure does seem like a slender reed on which to rest all of the Roman See’s authoritative weight. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that confirmed somewhere else in the New Testament? And for the guys who get more pages than anyone else — Paul and Luke (especially if Luke is the author of Hebrews) — you would think they would have gotten the “on this rock” memo.

Biblical Pessimism

Today’s reading took me again to Roman Catholic and Kuyperian expressions of optimism. In the face of mounting evidence that our society is coarsening, Billy Boyce and Michael Sean Winters affirm hope. First, pastor Boyce (the Kuyperian):

But there is a way forward. Kuyper’s emphasis on the antithesis keeps us humble, recognizing that there will always be spiritual warfare in this age against the powers of darkness. Simultaneously, Kuyper’s emphasis on common grace allows us to participate in the public sphere with hopefulness that, by our faithfully sowing seeds of righteousness, we can reap a harvest of flourishing for the common good. To quote Dr. Vincent Bacote, “Ultimately this is a vision of a society where change occurs because Christians participate in the realm of common grace, and, as a result, the world gets better.”[3]

There may never be a Golden Age (I’m an amillennialist, after all), but this does not mean that we cannot look for cultural renewal in this life. Because we acknowledge the presence of sin, we can view our past with honesty, as a mixed bag of good and bad. But because we know God is at work, we can hope for more. Our hymnal teaches us that “not with swords’ loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums, but with deeds of love and mercy, the Heavenly Kingdom comes.” These deeds of love and mercy are powerful, and they include all sorts of cultural participation, even politics. Ours is a long march forward; our enlistment in the Church Militant is for the entirety of this age.

If not a Golden Age, at least point to an instance of cultural renewal. If we can spot that, then we might identify the ingredients that make for such positivity. Without the specifics — 1550 Geneva? 1630 Boston? 1900 Amsterdam? — we have only haze.

Michael Sean Winters (Roman Catholic) also keeps hope alive:

These prophets of doom may or may not be culturally attuned, but they misunderstand who is in charge. Maybe it is just that I have been reading Kuyper, but it seems to me that a truly holy preacher of the Gospel does not invite his listeners to despair, but to hope, hope not in their own efforts, but in God’s promises. Love and labor, then, not breast-beating and complaints about slippery slopes. Besides, sometimes we humans even slip up the hill.

So what does the Bible say about what Christians should expect from their futures on planet earth?

Anyone remember the curse?

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:16-19 ESV)

Unless I’m mistaken, the curse is still in effect. Mothers chime in if you want to correct that impression.

Remember Paul’s counsel to Timothy:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5 ESV)

Not much forward rhetoric there.

How about Peter’s closing words?

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

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 3:1-13 ESV)

Is waiting for the world to get torched much of a plan for cultural renewal?

But let’s not leave out Jesus’ pessimism:

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:15-31 ESV)

Perhaps hoping for a restoration of cultural standards in the United States comes up a tad short of the kind of cataclysm that seems to await sinners in the hands of a righteous God.

Of course, some might want to point to any number of Old Testament prophecies as the basis for hope (even while avoiding signing up for Jack Van Impe‘s newsletter):

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.

He will raise a signal for the nations
and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.
The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart,
and those who harass Judah shall be cut off;
Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah,
and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
But they shall swoop down on the shoulder of the Philistines in the west,
and together they shall plunder the people of the east.
They shall put out their hand against Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites shall obey them.
And the LORD will utterly destroy
the tongue of the Sea of Egypt,
and will wave his hand over the River
with his scorching breath,
and strike it into seven channels,
and he will lead people across in sandals.
And there will be a highway from Assyria
for the remnant that remains of his people,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from the land of Egypt. (Isaiah 11:6-16 ESV)

But if that is what the hopefuls are optimistic about, then they may want to stay away from the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic team in the Middle East.

Still Spooked by Constantine (or Why I Am A Disestablishmentarian)

Why do Christians believe society should be Christian? Did Christ and the apostles entertain such a belief? Keeping Israel Mosaic certainly made sense for about 1500 years of redemptive history but that did not exactly go well. Think exile. And when Christ came, did he try to put Moses back in the Mosaic Covenant? Paul would have us believe otherwise.

But Christendom continues to haunt residents of the West who pine for the days of Christian influence. Oliver O’Donovan defines Christendom this way:

. . . the idea of a professedly Christian secular political order, and the history of that idea in practice. Christendom is an era in which the truth of Christianity was taken to be a truth of secular politics. . . . . Let us say that the era lies between AD 313, the date of the Edict of Milan, and 1791, the date of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. . . . it is the idea of a confessionally Christian government, at once ‘secular’ (in the proper sense of that word, confined to the present age) and obedient to Christ, a promise of the age of his unhindered rule.

When O’Donovan looks for biblical support he has to go more to Israel’s legacy and Christ’s claims about the kingdom of God than he does to anything that Peter and Paul wrote about what Christian rulers should do (as if they ever entertained the idea of a Christian emperor):

The core idea of Christendom is therefore intimately bound up with the church’s mission. But the relationship between mission and Christian political order should not be misconstrued. . . . The church’s one project is to witness to the Kingdom of God. Christendom is the response to mission, and as such a sign that God has blessed it. (The Desire of the Nations, 195)

Not to be a literalist or anything, but the trusty search engine at ESV indicates that Matthew used “kingdom” 53 times in his gospel, Luke 44. Paul in his entire corpus uses the word 14 times (17 if you throw in Hebrews as any Three Forms person should). If declaring the Kingdom of God was a big deal to the apostles, they lost Jesus’ memo.

For that reason, the support for Christian norms in social life are more likely to depend on nostalgia for Christendom (or the theory of it) than on exegesis. Consider the following response to the Marriage Pledge and why Roman Catholics shouldn’t support it:

It is part of the Church’s mission to seek out the State and be united with it; it is the duty of the State to be subject to the Church in matters religious, including those pertaining to the eternal law and the natural law. When the State attempts to create positive law that is contrary to the natural or eternal law, the law itself is invalid. But the Church betrays herself if in confronting evil laws she abandons the State to its own devices. The Church has a positive mission to create concord between the Church and State, not to sow dissension between them. . . .

Thus all marriage (not just Christian marriage!) rightly falls under the authority of the Church. So if, in our times, the State attempts to usurp the rightful authority of the Church by either depriving her ministers of their liberty or by attempting to create laws which are injurious to the natural and eternal law, the role of the Church is to teach, admonish, and ultimately dissolve the temporal authorities. That is what the Magisterium indicates.

If you want evidence of why some Roman Catholics think the magisterium should still be running things, that piece is one where to find a paleo-Roman Catholic construction of Vatican II. But are Presbyterians any less enamored of Christendom or the national (civic) church that gave them legitimacy? Here‘s a defense of the establishment principle from the recent debates among Free Church Scotlanders over Scottish independence (if only the South had used the i-word instead of secession):

Lord Mackay of Clashfearn defines the current status of Church/state relations: “the relationship of the State to the Church of Scotland is one of recognition with a degree of support. As Professor Frank Lyall has said, ‘All that establishment means is that the civil authority has recognised the Church’s self-imposed task to bring the ordi-nances of religion to all Scotland, and looks to the Church on suitable ceremonial oc-casions.’”

What are the duties of the Established Church? In 1877 these were described as: “the protection of the Sabbath, the promotion of scriptural education in the public schools, the conservation of the purity of the Scriptures, and the sacredness of the law of mar-riage.” Today, this scope is greatly diminished: legislation has broken the back of a national recognition of the Sabbath; the state has monopolised education; the free market has removed ecclesiastical oversight from Bible production; and the institution of marriage has succumbed to demands from the gay rights lobby.

And here’s one more for the Lord-of-the-Rings enthusiasts out there. In response, again to the Marriage Pledge, Jake Meador pulls out a quotation from J. R. R. Tolkien:

The last Christian marriage I attended was held under your system: the bridal pair were “married” twice. They married one another before the Church’s witness (a priest), using one set of formulas, and making a vow of lifelong fidelity (and the woman of obedience); they then married again before the State’s witness… using another set of formulas and making no vow of fidelity or obedience. I felt it was an abominable proceeding – and also ridiculous, since the first set of formulas and vows included the latter as the lesser. In fact it was only not ridiculous on the assumption that the State was in fact saying by implication: I do not recognize the existence of your church; you may have taken certain vows in your meeting place but they are just foolishness, private taboos, a burden you take on yourself: a limited and impermanent contract is all that is really necessary for citizens. In other words this “sharp division” is a piece of propaganda, a counter-homily delivered to young Christians fresh from the solemn words of the Christian minister.

Has Meador or Tolkien considered what it’s like to be a Muslim or Jew in a Christian society (think Christendom)? And if we don’t like idea of Sharia law determining civil codes, why should Roman Catholic or Protestant teaching on marriage determine U.S. law? Because more Christians live in the U.S. than non-Christians?

But more to the point, have these folks contemplated whether Jesus and the apostles favored an establishment principle or where the early Christians went to be married? I don’t know the answer to the latter. But I do sense that Christendom is alive and well and that lots of Christians still pine for it. If the church as a pilgrim people not responsible for public affairs was a good thing for the early church, why not for Christians today? I mean, could anyone possibly imagine the OPC as the established church of the United States being responsible for religious life across the nation? (Imagine how long General Assembly would be!) That thought experiment might well put any number of Christian warriors off the Christendom project.

Why Don't Jason and the Callers Ever Quote the First Pope?

(Or, could Francis ever say or write what Peter did?)

Not like I’m meditating on Peter’s epistles but the local dominie is preaching through 2 Peter and we have come to this major rough patch (even before the new heavens and new earth go up like smoke in the cosmic toaster). Peter was apparently very worried about false teachers and he spends what seems to be half the epistle on warnings about such teaching and the punishments that follow:

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;3 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

Given this heightened sense of false teachers, their threat, and warnings to be on the lookout, what has happened to those who consider Peter to be the first pope when it comes to the dangers of erroneous teaching and warning about it. The Council of Trent made clear that at least some Protestant teachers were dangerous. But somehow that old sense of antithesis vanished — I suspect with the introduction of separated brethren at Vatican II.

This is not meant to be a nostalgic plaint for the good old days of Protestants and Roman Catholics anathematizing or scared of each other. But it is a reminder of how considerably times have changed (even if some refuse to acknowledge it).

The Primacy of James (or the Ante-Ante-Nicene Fathers)

One of the puzzles of Roman Catholic claims about the primacy of the papacy is that the biblical support for this view rests almost entirely on Matt. 16:18. Theologians and church members (at least of Protestant derivation) should always beware of so little biblical support. In addition, when you read the New Testament (if you do), Peter largely fades from view. In Acts Peter does not show up after the fifteenth chapter (according not to superior biblical knowledge but to a word search — “advanced,” mind you — at ESVBible.org). The rest of the book is really Paul’s story. And the rest of the New Testament is really Paul’s teaching. Yes, Peter, John and James write epistles but they are short compared to Paul (leaving aside Revelation in page count totals).

What is also striking about the New Testament is the interaction among the apostles. Galatians 2 proves to be a particularly difficult text to square with claims about Peter’s primacy, not to mention his infallibility, since it records Paul publicly rebuking Peter for caving to the Judaizers. Here first is Calvin’s rendering of Paul’s order of James, Peter, and John in Galatians 2:9:

I have already stated, that James was the son of Alpheus. He could not be “the brother of John” who had been lately put to death by Herod, (Acts 12:2,) and to suppose that one of the disciples had been placed above the apostles would be absurd. That he held the highest rank among the apostles, is made evident by Luke, who ascribes to him the summing up and decision of the cause in the council, (Acts 15:13,) and afterwards mentions his having assembled “all the elders” of the church of Jerusalem. (Acts 21:18.) When he says, that they seemed to be pillars, he does not speak contemptuously, but quotes the general opinion, arguing from it, that what was done by such men ought not to be lightly set aside. In a question relating to diversity of rank, it is surprising that James should be mentioned before Peter; but the reason perhaps is, that he presided over the church at Jerusalem.

Calvin follows with these remarks on Paul’s rebuke to Peter:

Now, as I have said, he goes further, and asserts that he had blamed Peter for leaning to the other side; and he proceeds to explain the cause of the dispute. It was no ordinary proof of the strength of his doctrine, that he not only obtained their cordial approbation, but firmly maintained it in a debate with Peter, and came off victorious. What reason could there now be for hesitating to receive it as certain and undoubted truth?

At the same time, this is a reply to another calumny, that Paul was but an ordinary disciple, far below the rank of an apostle: for the reproof which he administered was an evidence that the parties were on an equal footing. The highest, I acknowledge, are sometimes properly reproved by the lowest, for this liberty on the part of inferiors towards their superiors is permitted by God; and so it does not follow, that he who reproves another must be his equal. But the nature of the reproof deserves notice. Paul did not simply reprove Peter, as a Christian might reprove a Christian, but he did it officially, as the phrase is; that is, in the exercise of the apostolic character which he sustained.

This is another thunderbolt which strikes the Papacy of Rome. It exposes the impudent pretensions of the Roman Antichrist, who boasts that he is not bound to assign a reason, and sets at defiance the judgment of the whole Church. Without rashness, without undue boldness, but in the exercise of the power granted him by God, this single individual chastises Peter, in the presence of the whole Church; and Peter submissively bows to the chastisement. Nay, the whole debate on those two points was nothing less than a manifest overthrow of that tyrannical primacy, which the Romanists foolishly enough allege to be founded on divine right. If they wish to have God appearing on their side, a new Bible must be manufactured; if they do not wish to have him for an open enemy, those two chapters of the Holy Scriptures must be expunged.

Of course, defenders of the magisterium need not trust Calvin since he is writing out of a position of disobedience to the papacy. That is why it is intriguing what a Roman Catholic biblical commentary has to say about this passage:

St. Paul says that he withstood St. Peter to the face “because he was to be blamed,” inasmuch as, whereas he had hitherto eaten openly with Gentiles, he was now led by fear of the Judaizers to refuse to do so, “fearing them who were of the circumcision.” “To his dissimulation,” adds the Apostle, “the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation.” St. Jerome maintained that the whole scene was a “dissimulation,” Peter was not “to be blamed” by Paul, but solely by those brethren whom he had offended by withdrawing from their table; the scene, therefore, was meant to appease both parties, viz. those who believed in circumcision—for they could follow Peter, and those who repudiated circumcision—for they could follow Paul. St. Jerome’s reasons for holding this view are briefly that Paul could not have withstood Peter, who was his senior, and further that Paul, by circumcising Timothy and shaving his head at Cenchre, was guilty of the same obsequiousness towards Jewish prejudices. Some, he says, try to avoid the dilemma by saying that “Cephas” is not the Apostle Peter, but one of the Seventy disciples, and, moreover, that Acts is silent concerning the whole affair. But St. Jerome replies that Cephas and Peter are but Aramaic and Greek forms of the same name; that he knows of no other Cephas than the one who is termed at one time “Cephas,” at another “Peter”; and finally, that St. Luke was not bound to mention every event he knew of.

St. Chrysostom’s explanation is fundamentally the same as that of St. Jerome. It could not, he urges, have really been a dispute, for this they would have had in private. Therefore “to his face,” κατὰ πρόσωπον, must be a figure of speech, and the equivalent of “in appearance,” σχημα. The explanation, then, is that Peter withdrew from the table of the uncircumcised converts for two reasons: lest he should offend the Jewish converts, and in order to give St. Paul an occasion for correcting him. This correction was necessitated, not because St. Peter was in the wrong, but because those who saw him eat with Jews might fancy he did so out of fear of St. Paul. The latter, of course, had no such feeling. “Paul, then, rebukes, and Peter bears with it; so that while the master is silent under rebuke his disciples may be the more easily induced to put aside their suspicion. . . . Peter, then, joins Paul in this pretense, συνυποκρινεται, as though were really in fault, so that owing to this rebuke they might be corrected. . . . Thus, by his silence Peter corrected their false suspicions; he put up with the imputation of dissimulation so as, by a real dissimulation, to free the Jews.”

This view was strenuously combated by St. Augustine, who pointed out that it made Scripture untruthful. St. Jerome replied that his view was derived from Origen, and that it seemed to him compelling from the twofold consideration that (a) Peter knew from the conversion of Cornelius that the Gentiles were to be received into the Church, and (b) that St. Paul had done the same in the case of Timothy, and in shaving his own head at Cenchre. Finally, he endeavored to show that he and Augustine were really saying the same thing in different words. But Augustine declined to accept this statement. The idea that the whole scene was fictitious was repellent to him, since it imperiled the whole truth of Scripture: “Non nunc inquiro quid fecerit, sed quid scripserit quaero.” “If Peter was doing what he had a right to do, then Paul lied when he said that Peter walked not uprightly unto the truth of the Gospel. . . . But if Paul wrote the truth, then it was true that Peter walked not rightly.” St. Augustine then shows that the cases of Timothy and the shaving of Paul’s head are not parallel with this episode at Antioch; he further points out that in St. Jerome’s list of authorities for his view Apollinaris the Laodicean and Alexander are heretics, while Jerome himself acknowledges that there are errors in Origen and Didymus. Augustine’s main exegetical point, however, is that the scene at Antioch took place either after or—as he himself at that date seems to have thought merely more probable—before the Council at Jerusalem. If after the Council, then it is to be noticed that whereas the Decrees forbade anyone to compel the Gentile converts to Judaize, they did not prohibit the Jewish converts from Judaizing. If before the Council, then it is not to be wondered at that St. Paul should urge St. Peter to uphold what he had already learnt from the case of Cornelius. But Augustine really based his whole position on the irrefragable veracity of Scripture; again and again in the course of the controversy does he return to the principle that if the scene is fictitious, then we can no longer trust Scripture. It is certainly remarkable that St. Jerome nowhere takes up this point, while his marked descent from acrimony to an unusual suavity in the course of the correspondence seems to indicate that he felt that Augustine’s position was really the sounder, though he never sang the palinodia for which St. Augustine called!

The point to notice in this commentary is the lack of consensus among the early church fathers even about as important an episode as this for claims about the primacy of Peter. The constant theme at Called To Communion is that the early church is in agreement about the deposit of the faith and that this provides a much more certain basis for faith than do Protestant interpretations of the Bible. Well, if Jerome, Chrysostom, and Augustine don’t see eye to eye on this matter, how unified are those early fathers? What kind of consensus exists that falls right down from Matt. 16:18 to a unified body of truth? Or how is it that Roman Catholic understandings of the early church fathers’ teaching do not rely on interpretations while Protestants only have their opinions? History is not so easily appropriated.

And that is an important point implicitly in Eamon Duffy’s history of the papacy (Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, Yale, 1997). As students of the Reformation may know, Duffy is one of those historians that Roman Catholics like to cite because his book on England (The Stripping of the Altars) shows how vibrant Roman Catholic piety was before Henry VIII came along. Instead of being moribund, late medieval piety was alive and popular. But his introduction to Saints and Sinners will not set well with those CTCers who claim that the reality of Rome needs no interpretation:

All the essential claims of the modern papacy, it might seem, are contained in this Gospel saying about the Rock, and in Irenaeus’ account of the apostolic pedigree of the early bishops of Rome. Yet matters are not so simple. The popes trace their commission from Christ through Peter, yet for Irenaeus the authority of the Church at Rome came from its foundation by two Apostles, not by one, Peter and Paul, not Peter alone. The tradition that Peter and Paul had been put to death at the hands of Nero in Rome about the year AD 64 was universally accepted in the second century, and by the end of that century pilgrims to Rome were being shown the ‘trophies’ of the Apostles, their tombs or cenotaphs, Peter’s on the Vatican Hill, and Paul’s on the Via Ostiensis, outside the walls on the road to the coast. Yet on all of this the New Testament is silent. Later legend would fill out the details of Peter’s life and death in Rome — his struggles with the magician and father of heresy, Simon Magus, his miracles, his attempted escape from persecution in Rome, a flight from which he was turned back by a reproachful vision of Christ (the ‘Quo Vadis’ legend), and finally his crucifixion upside down in the Vatican Circus in the time of the Emperor Nero. These stories were to be accepted as sober history by some of the greatest minds of the early Church — Origen, Ambrose, Augustine. But they are pious romance, not history, and the fact is that we have no reliable accounts either of Peter’s later life or of the manner or place of his death. Neither Peter nor Paul founded the Church at Rome, for there were Christians in the city before either of the Apostles set foot there. Nor can we assume, as Irenaeus did, that the Apostles established there a succession of bishops to carry on their work in the city, for all the indications are that there was no single bishop at Rome for almost a century after the deaths of the Apostles. In fact, wherever we turn, the solid outlines of the Petrine succession at Rome seem to blur and dissolve. (p. 1)

As I’ve said, the idea that only Protestants have opinions and Roman Catholics have epistemic certainty is nonsense historically considered.