What Would a Woke Christian Do (WWWCD)?

Is it just I, or do the times when Jesus ministered seem very different from ours?

5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

7Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

Jesus Heals Many

14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. (Matthew 8)

First, we have a centurion with a servant who boasts that he has authority to boss people around. Does that put Jesus off? No. Instead, he marvels at the centurion’s faith.

Would a social justice warrior be so insensitive to the power relationships, the intersectionality, that pervaded Roman society and that assumed a high ranking military official should have servants and bark orders at them?

Or how about Peter’s mother-in-law (leaving aside that the first pope was married)? Yes, it’s a genuine act of kindness for Jesus to heal the woman without being asked. But what’s up with Peter’s mother-in-law feeling the need to wait on Jesus as soon as she recovered? Why not tell Peter, who later had to learn to feed sheep, to feed his Lord?

Or maybe our standards of equality, justice, politeness, and social rank are not the Lord’s.

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Before Calvin

What would happen if critics of 2k had to think about the relationship between the church and magistrates before emperors got religion (and who knows if they grasped Christianity for the right reasons)?

In the current issue of New Horizons, David VanDrunen explains where 2k reflection on the state starts — not in 1536 but in 33.

The apostolic church lived under civil magistrates who did not confess Christ and sometimes persecuted people who did. Yet New Testament texts such as Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Peter 2:13–17 taught that God had ordained civil magistrates and that believers ought to honor and submit to them.

Following the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the early fourth century, the status of Christians in society changed. The contemporary church historian Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, described the Roman Empire under Constantine as the fulfillment of Old Testament texts prophesying that war would cease and the wicked would be cut off: Constantine was realizing Christ’s kingdom on earth. Shortly thereafter, Augustine (354–430) provided a much more modest view. In his City of God, Augustine described Christians as sojourners, on a pilgrimage in this world toward the heavenly city. He acknowledged that Christians should participate in their political communities, but he taught that all earthly rulers and empires are provisional, not to be confused with Christians’ eschatological hope.

In the fifth century, the “Christendom” model emerged. As described by Pope Gelasius I, there are “two powers” that exercise authority under God in this world: the emperor has authority over “temporal affairs” for the sake of “public order,” and the priest controls the sacraments and “spiritual activities,” toward the goal of “eternal life.” Priest and emperor should submit to one another in their proper spheres.

This model was helpful in important respects. It affirmed that civil governments are legitimate, ordained by God. It also taught that their jurisdiction is limited and subject to God’s authority.

But notice the problems:

First, it essentially wed the church to the state in a confessionally unified Christian society. The New Testament, however, never suggests that Christians should expect or seek such a society.

Second, the state was expected to enforce the church’s claims about doctrine and worship by punishing dissenters with the sword. This reality sat uncomfortably beside New Testament teaching that Christ’s gospel and kingdom do not advance by the weapons of this world. Many who sought to reform the church—such as John Hus in the fifteenth century—would meet untimely ends as victims of this church-state alliance.

So long as a Protestant city council supports our guy, John Calvin, we forget about the problems of a religious magistrate? It’s our civil government.

And so long as that Cadillac CTS that only gets 13.8 mpg is a comfortable ride to church, we forget about the price of gas or limits on fossil fuels? It’s our gas guzzler.

Integration and Separatism

I’m behind on podcasts at Reformed Forum and Proto-Protestant nudged me to listen to Camden Bucey’s discussion with Alan Strange about the spirituality of the church. I was not surprised to learn that Alan (and Camden) have concerns about aspects of the spirituality of the church as articulated by contemporary 2k folks like David VanDrunen, John Muether, and mmmmmeeeeeeEEEEE. I was surprised, though, to hear the word “integration” used as much as Alan voiced it during the hour-long recording. Alan wants to affirm the spirituality of the church and on this we agree — the church can’t take a stand on say the War between the States. But he also wants some measure of integration between the church’s witness and civil authority and seems to think that the Scottish Presbyterians are a good model of such engagement.

I am not sure that I would put my disagreements as starkly as Proto-Protestant does:

His final appeal to Acts 17 struck me as patronising and pedantic if not silly. Of course we preach the Word. Does any Two Kingdom adherent deny that? We call all men to repent. That’s a far cry from arguing for the Sacralisation of culture and the state, let alone taking covenant law and ‘integrating’ it with the temporal non-holy order. There is no Biblical precedent for his view in either the Old or New Testaments and he assumes categories completely outside anything found in the Apostolic writings. Instead what he suggests is that natural fallen man can be compelled to ‘keep’ God’s commandments and work together with the Spirit to build the Kingdom of God on Earth in the form of institutions and culture.

Calvin’s comments on the state are wrong. He misinterprets Romans 13 let alone Christ’s words concerning Caesar in Matthew 22. The state is not holy or redemptive. It is temporary and yet serves a ‘ministerial’ purpose. That’s true with Assyria, Persia and in the New Testament context, the Roman Empire under Nero. The Reformed tradition got this desperately wrong and sadly their view has become the Evangelical standard.

It is a caricature to suggest that 2k folks don’t think the church can preach about abortion or same-sex marriage. The Bible forbids the taking of innocent life and has no grounds for marriage between two men or two women. But just because the church preaches against idolatry doesn’t mean that the OPC, for instance, opposes Roman Catholics or Muslims living and worshiping in the United States. Morality is one thing. Civil legislation and public policy are another. And if Hodge was correct that the Presbyterian Church could not back the federal government during the beginning of the Civil War (as Gardiner Spring proposed) even if the Bible requires subjection to the powers that be, is it really that far to go to say that the church cannot endorse a politician or legislative initiative even though the church affirms the morality for which said politician might stand?

But here’s the aspect of this discussion that caught my ear. What does it mean for the church to be integrated with the state? At first, I thought of the Roman Catholic position on integralism. Here’s how one Roman Catholic blogger describes it:

Contrary to popular belief, Catholic integralism—or what I shall refer to simply as “integralism” for the duration of this essay—is not first and foremost a political program. For the integral understanding of Christianity begins first with the supernatural society established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, namely the Corpus Mysticum, the Holy Catholic Church, which transcends the temporal sphere and has for its end the salvation of souls. By carrying out its mission in the world, the Catholic Church possesses indirect power over the temporal sphere which is exercised for the good of souls. This indirect power in no way sullies the Church’s divine mission nor dilutes it by way of overextension since the civil authority retains at all times direct power over temporal matters.

Of course, Alan does not endorse this or even Erastianism. But integration is too close to integralism for that word to work for Protestants (in my book).

As matters now stand, churches in the United States are related (integrated?) to the civil government but obviously not in the way that the Church of Scotland is to the United Kingdom. The latter is likely somewhere in the constitutional provisions for religion in the realm. In the United States churches relate to the federal and state governments as tax exempt institutions. That means that churches don’t pay taxes and that contributions to churches can be deducted by individual tax payers. That’s not a recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord. It means the OPC is no better or worse than Rotary (another 501c3 organization). But it is a relationship between church and state at which Christians should not sneeze.

And mind you, the church and Christians in the U.S. fair better than Christians during the Roman Empire. What kind of integration to Paul or Peter experience? Did they have a tax-exempt status?

If we want more overt forms of integration, though, what might that involve? If the United States is going to give legal preferences to Christians, does that include Protestants and Roman Catholics, Calvinists and Arminians, Lutherans and Wesleyans? It’s not a foolish question since even the venerable Puritans (who did believe in the spirituality of the church) wouldn’t let Baptists or Lutherans in Massachusetts Bay. Then again, if we want religious freedom for believers (as many seem to since gay marriage went on-line), then where does the good form of religion to free stop and become the bad kind of faith? In other words, isn’t the system we have for church state relations the best we can do without an established religion/church?

But let’s complicate the idea of integration even more. Churches are integrated in the federal government through the military chaplaincy program. But boy oh boy does that look like a disagreeable relationship. In the Armed Services, Orthodox Presbyterian chaplains minister God’s word cheek-by-jowl with female Lutherans and male Wiccans. Of course, if that sounds provocative, it should. If Orthodox Presbyterians insisted on being separate from modernist Presbyterians in the PCUSA, and if those same OP’s remained separate from Arminians in the National Association of Evangelicals, why wouldn’t Orthodox Presbyterians be comfortable now with separatism rather than integration? I mean, if you have the stomach for being separate from other Protestants, surely you can fathom separation (rather than integration) from the federal authorities.

I understand that Alan Strange wants to prevent Presbyterians from being Anabaptists. But 2kers are not separate from the government because civil authority is a corruption of Jesus’ rule. 2kers advocate separation of church and state because politics is only good but not holy. Magistrates maintain public order. They don’t minister salvation. The one is good. The other is great.

Political Theologians Pleading Specially

Why does Peter Leithart find this encouraging, uplifting, or persuasive? Why does the inadequacy of secularism somehow prove the sufficiency of God-drenched conceptions of the world?

The task is not simply to expose the inadequacy of a world without God or to show the collaborative spirit of religious engagement in the common good. It surely must more specifically be to demonstrate the unique power and thrilling wisdom of the logic of God in Christ and to reconceive tired issues in the light of the shape of Christ’s coming. The authority and the credibility of the public theology rest not so much on the theologian’s insight, intelligence, or subtle grasp of complex issues (wondrous as each may be) as on the ability – respectfully, lucidly, and accessibly – to show how Christ redefines human nature, transforms death, and overturns the givens of life; to show what only God can do and only God has done; and more intriguingly, to highlight the way that questions in public life today reflect and recall issues faced by the church in shaping and embodying Christian doctrine.

Who said secularism was going to figure it all out? Who says that Christendom ever did? In fact, if Peter Heather is correct about the appeal of the Roman Empire to Christian Emperors — Constantine, Justinian, and Charlemagne — then the European world even in its most Christian phase was responsible for a lot of senseless war:

. . . a restored empire that captured the essence of the Roman original had become completely impossible by the year 1000. Not only had Islam broken apart ancient Mediterranean unity, and the balance of power in Western Europe shifted decisively north of the Alps, but, still more fundamentally, patterns of development were now much too equal across the broader European landscape. Thanks to this equalization of development, you might say, the scene was set for the thousand subsequent years of fruitless warfare which followed as Europe’s dynasts intermittently struggled to achieve a level of overarching dominance that was in fact impossible. In that sense, it took the nightmare of two world wars in the twentieth century before the European Dream was finally called into existence to try to put a stop to the process of endless armed competition between powers that were always too equal for there to be an outright winner. (The Restoration of Rome, 294-295)

And let’s be clear, these were dynasts with Christian motivations (at least in part — Hegel’s w-w had not come along yet). So why does Leithart think that putting God into the questions surrounding public life will do any good? This time, he thinks, the politicians, inspired by his guy Constantine, will get it right?

And if anyone ever wants to argue for Christendom as an example of politics accomplished Christianly, or that the Christian society secured human flourishing, s/he should merely consider the fundamental dynamic of medieval monarchy — gain control and keep it by taxation, warfare (and don’t forget leaving behind an undisputed heir). According to Heather:

In the small-state world of early medieval Europe, expansionary warfare replaced large-scale taxation as the source of renewable wealth that was necessary to maintaining a powerful central authority in anything but the very shortest of terms. . . . All of which prompts one final question: if expansion was so crucial to the longer-term exercise of central authority, filling the massive gap in royal finance created by the end of taxation, why did later Carolingian monarch allow it to end? . . . A more profitable route into the problem is to consider expansionary warfare in terms of cost-benefit equations which governed it. Expansionary warfare would bring in profits, but also involved costs, not just in financial terms (food, weaponry, etc.), but also in personal terms since some of those participating would certainly die. If you think about it in this way, then the ideal profile of an area ripe for expansion is easy enough to construct: it needs to be economically developed enough to offer a satisfying level of reward both in terms of moveable booty and potential land-grabbing, but militarily not so well organized that too many of your expeditionary army, on average, are going to die winning access to the prize. . . . On every corner of the frontier, the cost-benefit equation was starting to deliver a negative answer, either because the enemy was too formidable (Spain), or because the likely benefits were not that great (the Balkans), or some combination of the two (southern Italy and the Southern Elbe region). (288-90)

When you think about empire and government in those terms, the modern secular nation-state surely does seem to have its advantages. That’s not because it doesn’t go to war or because it’s run by a bunch of virtucrats. Instead, say what you will about capitalism and its appeal to baser human motivations, it does generate the kind of internal wealth that many times prevents nation-states from having to conquer another people who will pay the government’s bills. Not to mention that constitutionalism and enumerated powers are a much better way of gaining consent than intimidation by force (cheaper too).

Haven't I Seen These Ruins Before?

Out for my Sabbath stroll yesterday, I got a little lost though the statues atop the Basilica of St. John Lateran worked as my compass, I found my way to the Palatine Hill, which made the German Reformed side of me feel a little at home (though I now know “Palatine” has little to do with Germany and lots to do with an official’s status within the empire). As I progressed to the Foro Romano (Roman Forum for those mentally challenged) and looked out over the ruins to the Colosseum all I could think of was Ephesus. The temperature was as torridly hot as last year’s trip to Turkey, the sun as bright, the air as dry, my throat as parched, and the tourists as numerous.

The big difference is that Ephesus died. The city that was there — it was only second to Constantinople in the Byzantine Era — dried up as the harbor filled with silt and thereby cut of commercial access to the Aegean Sea. An earthquake in 614 did not do Ephesus great favors either. But to my untrained archaeological eye, the Turks have done a better job at restoring Ephesus’ ruins than the Romans have with the Roman Forum and its surroundings.

But that is not a knock on the Romans (as if I’m siding with Muslims over Roman Catholics) since they had matters to keep them preoccupied other than ruins and how to preserve them (and how to attract tourists to them). They had a major European capital city to build and maintain. So for all the money that may have gone into preserving the Colosseum in a way that would make it scaffolding-free for ME during MY trip, Rome’s citizens and officials also needed to worry about roads, a metro system, modern art, and pizza.

This means (at least for today) that the ruins in Rome are a lot more ho hum than in Turkey. Even though the Roman ruins are even more Roman than the Roman ruins in Turkey, they have a lot more to compete with in contemporary Rome. Thus far on this journey into one of the world’s ancient cities, I enjoy the competition.

2K Threatens Defenders of Christendom the Way Christianity Threatened the Roman Empire

Doing a little reading on the motives for Roman authorities to persecute the early church, I was struck by parallels to contemporary criticisms of 2k from the likes of neo-Calvinists, theonomists, or those who pine for Christendom or Christian America. According to Robert Wilken:

Traditional Roman religion emphasized the utilitas (usefulness) of religious belief for the well-being of the commonwealth, the res publica. Hence, it has been easy, especially for a civilization nurtured on the “personal” religion of Christianity, to assume that the Romans did not actually believe in the gods, but rather deemed belief in the gods merely advantageous to the life of society and to the state. . . .

In the cities of the Roman Empire, religion was inextricably intertwined with social and political life. Piety toward the gods was thought to insure the well-being of the city, to promote a spirit of kinship and mutual responsibility, to bind together the citizenry. “In all probability,” wrote Cicero, “disappearance of piety toward the gods will entail the disappearance of loyalty and social union among men as well, and of justice itself, the queen of all the virtues.” In the most profound sense, then, impiety toward the gods disrupted society, and when piety disappears, said Cicero, “life soon becomes a welter of disorder and confusion.”

By the standards of the individual and personal religion familiar to most Westerners, it is difficult for us to appreciate the social and public character of Roman religion. But “separation of the concept of piety into a familiar and a cultic half is clearly a product of modern sensibilities; in antiquity piety formed a unity.” For the Romans, religion sustained the life of the state. The new Christian superstition undermined it.

Isn’t that what 2kers regularly hear from their critics, that 2k relegates Christianity to the private and personal sphere when Christianity really should be part of the social order, a mechanism for protecting the well-being of society? But that is precisely what Christianity’s critics saw in Christianity. Which suggests that anti-2kers are using pagan categories for evaluating 2k, not ones that the first Christians new.

Wilken concludes:

By the beginning of the fourth century Christianity was a large and influential social and religious force within Roman society, no longer a tiny, unknown foreign sect. Yet from the perspective of Roman officials Christians remained a people apart. They contributed little to the public life of society, and by their devotion to their own deity, Jesus of Nazareth, they undermined the religious foundations of the cities in which they lived.

Again, that sounds a lot like what 2kers hear from their critics. We don’t speak up in the public square. Our faith is irrelevant. Our understanding of Christianity undermines the cause of Christ in the United States (and elsewhere).

If I were a critic of 2k, I’m not sure I’d want to be on the side of an argument that Roman emperors and officials used to persecute and execute Christians.