The Bible's Forked Tongue?

Put simply, the Bible speaks narrowly to the church but broadly to believers. This, at least, is the unexamined logic of neo-Calvinism.

Two-kingdom proponents and neo-Calvinists both distinguish between the institutional church and its members. This distinction allows us to recognize that Christians properly do things that the church can’t do. Christians work as artists, parents, plumbers, bankers, and bakers. The church does not produce or rear children, lacks its own currency, uses bread from common sources for the Lord’s Supper. So far so good.

But the hiccup for neo-Calvinists comes when they insist that Christians must have biblical warrant or use the lens of Scripture for all that they do. In Kingdoms Apart, Timothy R. Scheurers, puts it this way:

Where . . . proponents of the Two Kingdoms perspective go wrong, however, is in their failure to distinguish adequately between the work of the church (as an institution) and the cultural activity of Christians who are simultaneously citizens of heaven and earth (church as an organism). The Two Kingdoms doctrine neglects the biblical command that in every area of public living, believers should apply the principles and values that shape their distinctiveness as Christians. If fails to provide a biblical and helpful paradigm for cultural living by limiting the unique identity and spirituality of believers in this world. . . .

Scripture nowhere hints that we are to live a compartmentalized life in which we relegate our Christian convictions to Sunday observance only. Romans 12:1 declares that for those who have been renewed by the Spirit of God, it is entirely reasonable and fitting for them to offer up to God their whole person, both body and soul, in an act of worship. . . . If we accept the Two Kingdoms assertion that the Christian’s secular activities are “thoroughly common,” and that it is improper to “apply” the gospel to our work in the common realm, it would seem a type of Sunday Christianity remains for us. However, if we are transformed by the gospel, then it is profoundly relevant for how we conduct ourselves as Christians in the civil realm, for “the very essence of Christian faith includes a grace-produced identity that comes to manifestation in the way we live our lives every day of the week.” (144-45)

And thus we see another example of neo-Calvinism’s bloated rhetoric for admirably pious reasons.

Here is the rub: if the essence of the Christian faith is a grace-produced identity for every area of human existence, then the church (institute or institutional) lacks this Christian essential. After all, the corporate church does not take stands on matters in which Christians engage throughout the week — plumbing, baking, banking, gardening, ditch-digging. No Reformed church has produced a chapter or chapters in its creeds about algebra, Greek, or photosynthesis. That does not seem to bother neo-Calvinists since the work of the church is different from that of the believer.

But if neo-Calvinists are content with churches that lack the essence of Christianity, why do they demand more of believers than of the church? Churches don’t confess articles of faith about hydrogen or dangling prepositions because the Bible does not speak to such matters. The Reformed creeds summarize biblical teaching and if Scripture taught trigonometry or Asian history, churches would be expected to teach what God’s word reveals.

And yet, under the logic of the comprehensive sweep of Christianity and biblical testimony, neo-Calvinists claim powers for believers what the church lacks, namely, the ability to apply biblical norms to all walks of life. We do not let ministers preach sermons on tax rates, rotation of crops, exercise, or television game shows. But now along come neo-Calvinists to tell us that any Tom, Dick or Mary, who has no training in biblical exegesis or may not even be catechized, is going to tell us how the gospel transforms cat litter, Alfred Hitchcock movies, and meteorology?

And people wonder why the institutional church ends up suffering in neo-Calvinist contexts, or why the convoluted notion of kingdom-work has given every member a ministry.

As I say, neo-Calvinists intentions may be admirable. But Calvinists, who put the T in TULIP, were not supposed to be suckers for good intentions.