Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Folks, I recently just made a new category for posts I’ve personally written over the years, interspersed among all the others that tend to be quotes from others (sometimes plus short commentary).  The tag is “Authored by Blogger.”  I sure hope those updates didn’t turn into a barrage of WP updates in your inbox.  If so, I humbly apologize!

If someone could let me know if that happens every time I update a post, I would welcome that.

I am a conservative Christian. I also homeschool. I head to the range every month or so. Not only that, but I’m a Calvinist, a psalm-singer, and to boot, someone who believes that the state has an obligation to embrace and support Christianity. So really, I’m not your mainstream, happy-clappy evangelical. For most, I would be just to the right of Attila the Hun. I’m in a subculture of a subculture of a subculture.

And yet, I am increasingly concerned about how reactionary and polarizing folks like me can be. We often tend to be overly suspicious of anyone in government, education, or any institution that we feel encroaches on our freedoms. We can indulge in conspiratorialism, thinking that every government official or educator or doctor has made a self-conscious Faustian bargain with the Devil and is actively plotting our destruction. And then we respond accordingly.

I am concerned about all of this for two reasons. First, ethically, we have a responsibility to “honor all men” and make the Gospel we represent as winsome as possible. Our “light should so shine before men” that they might see our “good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.” Yes, we must at times offend, but only if it is for “righteousness’ sake.” Yes, we must stand our ground when sacred truth is at stake. But we must do it only when necessary and in a manner that involves no personal offense. Otherwise, we should, “as far as it lies within us, be at peace with all men.”

Second, I have very practical concerns as well. The more we are hyper-suspicious, unreasonable, and just downright cantankerous, the more we court the overreaction of those in positions of power. Tit for tat. “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.” If we are proud and stubborn as Christians, how much more will the graceless respond in kind? If we want to preserve our freedoms, we should act worthy of them and not bait the enemy. “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?” You’re just reaping what you’ve sown, says Peter.

I think we need to re-tune our theology and ethics here, in order to re-tune our practice. The following points I think are worth bearing in mind.

First, total depravity has been checked – sometimes very significantly – by common grace. To be sure, “there is none righteous, no not one.” And “the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” But unconverted people can be restrained, sometimes greatly. There is a real sense in which we can speak about ‘good pagans.’ I know some really good pagans! They are decent people. Some of them are more decent than some Christians I know. Consequently, there are some decent liberal Democrats, some decent members of the National Education Association, some decent doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists and social workers. Many of them mean well and want to do good, at least on a human level. We ought to realize this and keep it in mind.

Second, the law of love dictates that we assume the best of people, including non-Christians. Love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Our ethical responsibility is not suspended the moment we leave the church. Our unconverted neighbors – including government officials, educators, and doctors – are innocent until proven guilty. Would we want them to treat us with suspicion upon no clear, justifiable grounds? Even so, let us do unto them as we would have them do unto us. And all the while, let us not forget simple courtesy. “Be ye courteous.”

Third, two wrongs do not make a right. If someone does us wrong – if they give us a hard time for our homeschooling curriculum or our decisions on immunizations – then let us be very careful not to “repay evil with evil.” Rather, our Master tells us, “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” We can all be tempted to get bitter and retaliate when we are mistreated. But it is not the will of our good and gracious Father, and it will usually only make matters worse.

Fourth, in God’s world, personal liberty must be counter-balanced with social responsibility. We owe it to our society (and yes, to our government!), to educate our children to the best of our abilities. They have a vested interest, as do we, in their academic success. If we turn out illiterates, this is not good for the economy or the tax revenues. It is just plain bad policy to say, let folks do what they will with their children. Now, mind you, I’m hardly advocating statism here. I really don’t want local school officials showing up on my doorstep to scour our textbooks and school records. Yet if they make reasonable requests – or even requirements – let us make sure that they are in fact unreasonable before we just tell them to take a hike.

And my doctor and the rest of society has a vested interest in my health. If I only eat fatty foods and exercise once every two decades, this is bad for me and for others. And if a whole demographic is just like me, then it bodes ill for all. If my mental health deteriorates and I become a risk to myself or others, yes, others have a vested interest in helping me before the unthinkable comes to pass.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not promoting a lemming-like acceptance of conventional wisdom or the judgments of the establishment.  There’s a healthy place for critique.  Nor am I suggesting we roll over and play dead when someone oversteps their bounds. I’m all for insisting on personal rights, especially when it concerns the well being of my family. We can and may involve others to help protect those rights. But we must at once learn how to be actually in the world and yet not of it, as well as to be “angry and sin not.”

Let’s be careful to avoid the bunker mentality. Let’s remember that we represent God and Christ before a perishing world of lost and blinded sinners. Let’s remember that we were just like them, whistling down the broad path on the way to destruction. And let’s make very sure that if we cross them, we do it for the Lord’s sake and not for our own agendas. And then we can live with quiet conscience in peace or persecution. “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”

220px-Richard_Baxter_ColourMany have warned others that they come not to that place of torment, while yet they hastened to it themselves: many a preacher is now in hell, who hath a hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it. Can any reasonable man imagine that God should save men for offering salvation to others, while they refuse it themselves; and for telling others those truths which they themselves neglect and abuse? Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes. Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed, therefore, to ourselves first, that you be that which you persuade your hearers to be, and believe that which you persuade them to believe, and heartily entertain that Savior whom you offer to them. He that bade you love your neighbors as yourselves, did imply that you should love yourselves, and not hate and destroy yourselves and them.

-Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

The following is a firsthand snapshot of a Highland Communion season, from John Kennedy’s endearing work, The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire (1867).  Here is certainly an alternate ‘high sacramentarianism.’  I would challenge the supporters of the now fashionable weekly-communion position whether this ‘auld’ wine was not the better!

* * *

A communion season is approaching. It has been timeously announced that it may be known ” far and wide,” and that the praying people may be bearing it on their spirits before the throne of grace. The minister preaches a suitable course of sermons on several preceding Sabbaths. The Lord’s people are stirred up to seek a special manifestation of His power indexand glory. A few who propose to seek admission to the Lord’s table are deeply exercised about the solemn step they contemplate, and faithfully and tenderly are they dealt with by both minister and elders. As the appointed time draws nigh, special meetings for prayer are held, and, with holy solicitude, all the preparatory arrangements are made. The Fast-day is come. Eminent ministers have arrived to take part in the solemn services. Many of the Lord’s people are gathering. From as many as forty parishes they come; but lodgings they will easily procure, as the parish people are striving for the pleasure of entertaining them. Suitable discourses are preached in Gaelic on the open field, and to a small English congregation in the church, and in the evening prayer meetings are held in the various districts of the parish. On Friday the day of self-examination, the only public service is in the open air. A large crowd is gathered. “In the tent” there are several godly ministers. The service is that of a fellowship meeting, such as has already been described, but now with special reference to the solemn duties of a communion Sabbath. There are two questions proposed successively to secure variety. Strangers only are called to speak, and even of these only “the flower,” for there are so many. Not fewer than thirty will have spoken before the service is over. Blessed indeed to many souls have these “Friday meetings” been. The services on Saturday, the day of preparation, are conducted as on Thursday, but, owing to the gathering influx of strangers, the congregation outside is greatly larger than on the Fast-Day. At the close of the service, tokens are distributed. Prayer meetings are held throughout the parish in the evening; and while the ministers are preparing for the solemn work of the Sabbath, many are the petitions that ascend in their behalf, to Him who hath “the treasure ” to dispense, and of whom is “the excellency of the power.” In many instances, these prayer meetings have been protracted all night. So sensible were the people of the presence of the Lord that they could not forsake the place where they enjoyed it; and they found “the joy of the Lord” a sweet substitute for sleep. On Sabbath, the day of Communion, an immense crowd is gathered before the tent. At many as eight thousand are there. The “Beauty of the Lord” is on the assembly of His people; and before the service is over, many a soul has had reason to say “it is good to be here.” On Monday, the day of thanksgiving, a crowd almost as large as that on Sabbath is assembled ; and often has “the last” been found to be the “great day of the feast.” The closing service of the communion season is now over, and then comes the solemn parting! How affecting do the Lord’s servants and people feel the scene before them to be, as that multitude disperses, never to meet all together again till the vast congregation of “the last day” has assembled! What touching farewells are now exchanged between the Christians who enjoyed with each other, and together with the Lord, such sweet communion since they met a few days before! There are few tearless eyes, but the weeping is expressive of gratitude as surely as of sorrow. Such was a communion season in the good days of the Fathers in Ross-shire.

The Church, in its worldwide missionary enterprise, must be funded.  Yet, according to Chalmers, the Church must ultimately fail if it makes its services dependent upon a pre-existing demand.  Adam Smith was right to promote free trade in the marketplace, but not in religion.  Why?  Because the natural man won’t pay for the Gospel.  He has no demand for such a supply.  Therefore, missionaries must be financed by those who are already Christian, whose hearts have been enlarged by the Gospel that they may patronize its cause.  This is what Chalmers calls voluntaryism ab extra.  And it is a major part of his argument for the necessity of Church establishments.

In the quote below, Chalmers demonstrates that this has always been the case, from the coming of the Savior to the age of the apostles and beyond.

* * *

“Now let us consider whether this is the footing on which the world ever is; or ever can be, supplied with its Christianity, or rather with its Christian instruction, in the way that is best for the moral interests of our species. It was not so at the first introduction of Christianity, in virtue, not of a movement from earth to heaven, but of a movement from heaven to earth; and the expenses of which, throughout the infancy and boyhood of the Saviour, were certainly not defrayed by those for whose welfare the mission was undertaken. It was not so during the time of His public ministry, when three or four women ministered to Him of their substance, as He travelled from place to place over the land of Judea; and so He was maintained at the cost of the few for the benefit of the many. It was not so in the journeyings of His disciples, two by two among their countrymen—who, when they entered a city, fixed their residence in some particular house, and were supported by the hospitality of one individual for the good of the general population. It was not so when the apostles went forth after the resurrection; and received their maintenance from such as Simon the tanner, or Lydia the seller of purple, or Stephanus and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and others of those Scripture worthies who harboured and entertained the men of God, while they held out the bread of life, without money and without price, to the multitude at large. It was not so when the last, but not Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_Projectthe least of the apostles, provided with his own hand for his own necessities; and the wages of Paul the tentmaker, enabled Paul the apostle, to labour in his sacred vocation without wages. It was not so when he received from other and distinct churches, that, in the church of Corinth, the gospel might not be chargeable to any; and he would suffer no man to strip him of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. And, to come down from the age of the New Testament, it generally could not have been so, that the extension of Christianity was carried forward during the three first centuries. The men who were not yet Christians did not, in those days, send to the apostolic college for men who might give them the lessons of the gospel; but, by a reverse process, teachers went forth among the yet benighted countries of the earth; and their expenses, at least in the first instance, behoved to be borne, not in the shape of a price by those who received the benefit, but in the shape of a bounty by those who dispensed it. In all these instances, contrary to every law or character of pure trade, the expense was borne either totally or partially by one party, and that for the good of another party. It was not as in the ordinary exchanges of commerce. The receivers were not the purchasers; and what they did receive was not a thing by them bought, but a thing to them given. It is an utter misconception that when Constantine set up in his dominions a national establishment of Christianity, he made the first infringement on that system of free trade by which the prosperity of this religion had been heretofore upholden; for, from its very outset, Christianity stood indebted, for almost every footstep of its progress, to a system and a policy directly the opposite of this. When he came forth with his great imperial bounty or benefaction, he only did on the large scale, what thousands of benefactors had previously, and for hundreds of years, done on a small scale before him. When he became the friend and nursing father of the church, he did for the whole territory of which he was the sovereign, what, times and ways without number, the friends of the church had already done, each for the little district in which he himself resided, or for the introduction and the maintenance of Christian worship in some chosen locality of his own. With his great national endowment, he but followed in the tract of those private and particular endowments which, sometimes temporary, and sometimes perpetual, had multiplied beyond all reckoning, during the preceding ages of Christianity; and in virtue of which it was, that churches innumerable were raised, and congregations were formed; but chiefly in the large and flourishing cities of the Roman empire. The peasants, or they who lived in the country and villages, inhabitants of the pagi, and hence called Pagans, were, in the great bulk of them, still unconverted—insomuch that Paganism in those days became synonymous with heathenism; or, in other words, the great majority of the rustics or countrymen of that period, notwithstanding the strenuous and apostolic exertion of many thousands of Christian missionaries for about three centuries together, were still adherents to the old superstition and idolatry of their forefathers. The universal endowment, by which a ministry was provided for every little section of the territory or the whole was broken into parishes, opened a way to the moral fastnesses that were still held and occupied by the countless millions whom all the efforts of by-gone generations had not reached; and so brought a whole host of gospel labourers into contact with the wide and plenteous harvest of the general population.

Here’s a great quote in Chalmers’ treatise on Natural Theology.  Innate instincts are marvelously designed for the welfare of humanity and even the animal kingdom.  Even fear!  -

* * *

“Man has not been left to himself, any more than the inferior animals, for the care of his own preservation ; and instead of this interest being altogether confided to his own wisdom, or his own vigilance, he too has been fitted with a number of unreflecting instincts and appetites, but for the impulse of which he would inevitably perish. There cannot be a more palpable exhibition of this than is afforded by the appetite of hunger, which both reminds and urges man by its periodic calls to the food that is needful for his sustenance, and seems planted there to serve the office of a monitor, who might prompt him at right times to take of that aliment, on the neglect of which for a few days there would ensue his dissolution. And the same holds true of his mental as well as his bodily affections. When danger threatens, it is not enough either for escape or for protection, that under the government of reason he should adopt the right measures by which to shun or to resist it; but whether to wing his flight or to stimulate his wakeful diligence, there is inserted within his bosom the affection of fear. When an infant is born, it is not enough that nature has provided the material nourishment which keeps it in life; but for the indispensable safety of the little stranger, nature has also planted the strongest of her instincts in the heart of its mother, who under the impulse of an affection that never wearies, ceases not day nor night to tend and watch over it.”

200px-ThomasGuthrie1870sHere is an excellent article on a contemporary of Thomas Chalmers, Thomas Guthrie.  Like Chalmers, Guthrie (1803-1873) had a heart beating for the good of the souls and bodies of those downtrodden in Industrial-Age Scotland.  He also embraced the parish plan of action.  ‘Let each select their own manageable field of Christian work. Let us embrace the whole city, and cover its nakedness, although, with different denominations at work, it should be robed, like Joseph, in a coat of many colours. Let our only rivalry be the holy one of who shall do most and succeed best in converting the wilderness into an Eden, and causing the deserts to blossom as the rose.’

The author of this article, Andy Murray, blogs at Ragged Theology.  Andy also tells me that he’s just published a Kindle version of Guthrie’s memorable The City: Its Sins and Sorrows.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers