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Archive for July, 2011

The Church frequently gets its axiology – its theory of value – dead wrong.  To value is fundamentally human.  It is instinctive and inescapable, a testament to the fact that man is the offspring of God.  But when the Church fails to discern between the values of  “the present evil world” and her Lord, it has just plain sold the farm.  A Church that doesn’t defend its axiological borders (God’s rather) has in effect seceded to the enemy.  And so she comes under Christ’s condemnation, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

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Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) may have been in favor of religious establishments. (Bravo!)  But he was hardly for a sycophant ministry beholden to the state, much less a political party:

“It appears to us that a Christian minister cannot keep himself in the true path of consistency at all, without refusing to each of the parties all right of appropriation. . . He who cares for neither [of two rivaling political parties] is the only independent man; and to him only belongs the privilege of crossing and re-crossing their factious line of demarcation, just as he feels himself impelled by the high, paramount, and subordinating principles of the Christianity which he professes. . . But turning away from the beggarly elements of such a competition as this, let us remark, that on the one hand, a religious administration will never take offence at a minister who renders a pertinent reproof to any set of men, even though they should happen to be their own agents or their own underlings; and that, on the other hand, a minister who is actuated by the true spirit of his office, will never so pervert or so prostitute his functions, as to descend to the humble arena of partisanship.  He is the faithful steward of such things as are profitable for reproof and for doctrine, and for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (Collected Works 11:34-36).

Now, this is anything but a call for the clergy remain aloof from all things political.   Instead, it holds out the high principle of ministerial allegiance to heaven, which may make the man of God unpopular or put him on a collision course with the powers that be – whoever they be.  This was the legacy of Knox, the bold gadfly of Queen Mary.   This was the costly legacy of the John the Baptist and of so many of the prophets who preceded him.  May God grant us a double portion of their spirit.  And so let us stay out of anyone’s pocket – except God’s.

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The architects of the Reformed Churches in the 16th century were trans-generational thinkers. As those who rediscovered Covenant Theology, this should be expected. In reading the First Book of Discipline (1560), one will encounter explicit and repeated concern for future generations as justification for church policy decisions. For “the profite of the posterity to come.” Like good fathers, they wanted what was best for their bairns, and their bairns’ bairns as well!

Does this paternal, trans-generational concern shape the way we ‘do church’?  Is what we do in doctrine, worship, and government really in the best interests of the rising generations, or is it more candy to placate the over-indulged? Are we correcting and cultivating, or just coddling?

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I’m certainly not well-versed in the current Reformed debates on the two kingdoms.  But what I have read in some quarters has given me the impression that the two kingdoms, church and state, ought to be as two ships passing in the night.  Each are on their own charted courses and should steer quite (quite!) clear of each other.

Now, this may be a position held in modern confessionally Reformed circles.  And it may have a pedigree going back to early 18th century American Presbyterianism.  But if my impression approximates to reality, then the position of some can hardly be advanced as classically reformed.  It may employ Melville’s famous terminology of the two kingdoms, but not the substance.

In my recent reading of the First and Second Books of Discipline (1560 and 1578 respectively) drafted by the architects of Presbyterianism, it is clear that the two kingdoms were to be distinct.  They ought not intrude on each other’s territory.  But note how they envisaged the ideal relationship, as recorded in the opening sections of the Second Book of Discipline:

10. The civil power should command the spiritual to exercise and do their office according to the word of God. The spiritual rulers should require the Christian magistrate to minister justice and punish vice, and to maintain the liberty and quietness of the kirk within their bounds.

11. The magistrate commands external things for external peace and quietness amongst the subjects; the minister handles external things only for conscience cause.

12. The magistrate handles external things only, and actions done before men; but the spiritual ruler judges both inward affections and external actions, in respect of conscience, by the word of God.

13. The civil magistrate craves and gets obedience by the sword and other external means, but the ministry by the spiritual sword and spiritual means.

14. The magistrate neither ought to preach, minister the sacraments, nor execute the censures of the kirk, nor yet prescribe any rule how it should be done, but command the ministers to observe the rule commanded in the word, and punish the transgressors by civil means. The ministers exercise not the civil jurisdiction, but teach the magistrate how it should be exercised according to the word.

15. The magistrate ought to assist, maintain, and fortify the jurisdiction of the kirk. The ministers should assist their princes in all things agreeable to the word, provided they neglect not their own charge by involving themselves in civil affairs.

Hardly did the Scottish Reformers admit the “Am I my brother’s keeper?” principle in their concept of the two kingdoms.  No, Cain ought not intermeddle in Abel’s affairs.  But neither should he ignore him as though he had relationship whatsoever.  The civil magistrate was to have a concern and exert his influence in the Kirk circa sacris.  So likewise the Kirk had a prophetic mantle to tell the civil magistrate how he ought to rule the people!

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