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Archive for the ‘Two Kingdoms Theology’ Category

Figures_Moab_Leads_Israel_into_SinThe following passage comes from Rutherford’s Trial and Triumph of Faith (1645), treating the story of Christ and the Syro-Phoenician woman.  In it, he deals with a dimension of sin and repentance that often gets very short shrift in our individualistic age, and sadly even in the Church.  Does this square with the contemporary Two Kingdoms approach?

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THE dispute between Christ and the woman goeth on: Christ bringeth a strong reason, (verse 26,) why he should not heal her daughter; because she, and all her nation, not being in covenant with God, as are the Jews, the church of God, are but dogs, and profane, and unworthy of Christ, which is the bread ordained for the children.

When Christ humbleth, he may put us in remembrance of our nation, and national sins: “Look to the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged,” (Isa. 51:1). “I alone called Abraham, he was an idolater,” (Hos. 9:10). I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; they should have been wild grapes rotting in the wilderness, had I not put them in my basket. “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abomination,” (Ezek. 16:2). How? Make them know the stock they came of, ‘And say, Thus saith the Lord unto Jerusalem, thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite,’ (verse 3). When the Jew was to offer the first fruits to the Lord; “And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and went down to Egypt to sojourn there,” (Deut. 26:5). Thus, the forgetting what we are by nature, addeth to our guiltiness: “And in all thine abominations, and thy whoredoms, thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted in thy blood,” (Ezek. 16:22). So the Ephesians must be told how unfit they were by nature for Christ, being the very workhouse and shop of the devil, in which he wrought, (Eph. 2:1-3).

National sins have influence in their guilt and contagion on believers: (1.) When they mourn not for them: God’s displeasure should be our sorrow. (2.) When they stand not in the gap to turn away wrath, (Ezek. 22:30). There were godly men that departed from ill, (Isa. 59), but God’s quarrel was, that there was no intercessor, (verse 15). In fasting, believers, though pardoned, may have on them a burden of the sins of three nations, and be involved in that same wrath with them. National repentance is required of every one, no less than personal repentance. Who sorrows for the blood of malignants and rebels?—for their oaths, mocking, scoffing, massing? The sins of the land, idolatry, superstitious days, vain ceremonies, etc., have influence on a believer’s conscience in his approach to God.

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Lincoln_Proclamation_1863While listening to an excellent sermon by Rev. Bill Shishko of the OPC on days of prayer and fasting, I was struck by his final quote of the presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln for a national day of humiliation and fasting.  One can read it here.

I am hardly endorsing Abraham Lincoln’s personal theology and practice, much less making commentary on the merits and demerits of each side during the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you prefer).  But I cannot help but ask the modern (contra Melvillian) Two Kingdom advocates (1) whether this was, in the main, a good thing and not inherently a violation of Reformed principles and (2) whether it is ever commendable for a state or its elected officials to call for national days of fasting and humiliation.

I think that any simple Christian will read this and be impressed with how appropriate such a call was and earnestly sigh and cry that God might give us such magistrates again.  And more, for even better and more consistently Christian ones.

At the same time, I would hope that it would give pause to the more thoughtful modern 2K advocates to ask whether their outlook may at least be somewhat misguided.   Are such national fasts, following Westminster and Dort, inherently flawed?  Is this not a fast that the Lord “has chosen” (Isa. 58)?  But sadly, I fear it will make no dent with the more trenchant ones.

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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.”

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Had the following been written by anyone other than Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), it might be taken as a specimen of pietistic escapism.  But coming from one known for his lifelong advocacy for political reform and his busy, personal involvement in caring for the poor of Industrializing Britain, it is anything but.  It’s not an unhealthy other-worldliness, by any means.  It’s a reality check.  And a very necessary reminder for us in the weeks running up to the election.

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“There is a delusion that attaches to much of moral and much of political speculation. The purpose of both is to ameliorate the condition of humanity, and to rear the permanent and substantial fabric of a better society than that which now encompasses our globe. It is, indeed, a soothing perspective for the eye of the philanthropist to dwell upon, when he looks onward to fancied scenes of bliss and perfection in the ages that are to come —and while he pictures to himself as the fruit of his enlightened labours in the philosophy of public affairs, that there shall then be love in every heart, and plenty in every habitation, it is scarcely to be wondered at, that he should kindle in the thought of all this goodly munificence, as if it bore upon it somewhat of the worth and greatness of immortality. But apart from religion – and how poor is the amount of all that the mere cosmopolite can do for our species!  And even though, without its aid, he should he able to perfect the temporal economy of nations, never can he perpetuate beyond a few flying years, to a single individual of this vast assemblage, any portion of the bliss or the glory that he thinks to have provided for them. It is death which brings down the worth and computation of his high-blown enterprise, that though established over the whole earth, and weathering the lapse of many centuries, can only gild in brighter and more beauteous characters than before, the fantastic day of each ephemeral generation. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ through which life and immortality are brought to light—it is this alone that can furnish the friend of humanity with solid and enduring materials – and never can he stand on a vantage ground where the mockeries of the grave do not reach him, till labouring and devising for the Christianity of his fellows, he helps to extend an interest that shall survive the wreck of every death-bed; and which, instead of being swept into annihilation, will be ushered to everlasting day, by that trumpet, at whose sound, our world, with all the pomp and all the promise of its many institutions, shall utterly pass away” (Collected Works 16:214).

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Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was an early voice opposing the compulsory, state-managed poor relief, what would later evolve into the present monster of the welfare state.  He argued that a compulsory, bureaucratized system tended to stop up four natural fountains of charity within society, fountains that had long adequately refreshed the poor in rural Scottish society for ages.  In order, these fountains were (1) personal industry, (2) the kindness of personal relatives, (3) the sympathy of the wealthy, and (4) the sympathy of the poor for each other.  Unstop these by eliminating the compulsory system, and in general, poverty is naturally relieved.  A few words from Chalmers himself on each, from his Collected Works, Vol. 14:

(1) Natural fountain # 1: personal industry.

“We know not a more urgent principle of our constitution than self-preservation; and it is a principle which not only shrinks from present suffering, but which looks onward to futurity, and holds up a defence against the apprehended wants and difficulties of the years that are to come.  Were the great reservoir of public charity, for the town at large, to be shut, there would soon be struck out many family reservoirs, fed by the thrift and sobriety, whichnecessity would then stimulate, but which now the system of pauperism so long has superseded;—and from these there would emanate a more copious supply than is at present ministered out of poor rates, to aliment the evening of plebeian life, and to equalise all the vicissitudes of its history” (402).

(2) Natural fountain # 2: the kindness of personal relatives.

“One of the most palpable, and at the same time most grievous effects of this artificial system, is the dissolution which it has made of the ties and feelings of relationship. It is this which gives rise to the melancholy list of runaway parents, wherewith whole columns of the provincial newspapers of England are oftentimes filled. And then, as if in retaliation, there is the cruel abandonment of parents, by their own offspring, to the cold and reluctant hand of public charity. In some cases, there may not be the requisite ability; but the actual expense on the part of labourers, for luxuries that might be dispensed with, demonstrates that, in most cases, there is that ability. But it is altogether the effeet of pauperism to deaden the inclination. It has poisoned the strongest affections of nature; and turned inwardly, towards the indulgences of an absorhent selfishness, that stream which else would have flowed out on the needy of our own blood and our own kindred. It has shut those many avenues of domestic kindliness by which, but for its deadening and disturbing influence, a far better and more copious circulation of needful supplies would have been kept up throughout the mass of society” (402-403).

(3) Natural fountain # 3: the sympathy of the wealthy.

By the state-managed system, the result is that the wealthy and the poor “stand to each other in a grim array of hostility—the one thankless and dissatisfied, and stoutly challenging as its due, what the other reluctantly yields, and that as sparingly as possible. . . Were this economy simply broken up, and the fountain of human sympathy again left free to be operated upon by its wonted excitements, and to send out its wonted streams throughout those manifold subordinations by which the various classes of society and bound and amalgamated together – we doubt not that from this alone a more abundant, or, at least, a far more efficient and better-spread tide of charity would be diffused throughout the habitations of indigence” (404-405)

(4) Natural fountain # 4: the sympathy of the poor for each other.

“In the veriest depths of unmixed and extended plebeianism, and where, for many streets together, not one house is to be seen which indicates more than the rank of a common labourer, are there feelings of mutual kindness, and capabilities of mutual aid, that greatly outstrip the conceptions of a hurried and superficial observer: And, but for pauperism, which has released immediate neighbours from the feeling they would otherwise have had, that in truth the most important benefactors of the poor are the poor themselves— there has been a busy internal operation of charity in these crowded lanes, and densely peopled recesses, that would have proved a more effectual guarantee against the starvation of any individual, than ever can be reared by any of the artifices of human policy” (405).

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James Bannerman (1807-1868), one of the “Disruption Worthies,” wrote a comprehensive two-volume work on the Presbyterian doctrine of the Church, The Church of Christ.  It is a definitive treatment of the subject and really ought to be on the shelf of every Reformed minister, if not of every Reformed head of household.

The following quote comes from a selection in the first volume on the subject of the necessity of a friendly connection between the Church and State.  One of the reasons is that the State cannot be altogether neutral to the universal claims of the of the Kingdom of God within its boundaries.  While the Church does not have a right to interfere in the sphere of civil government, yet it demands audience from king and people of all lands.  Her warrant comes from none less than the Most High:

“[The Church’s] first principle and first duty is that of aggression. The ministers of the Gospel claim it as a right to go into every nation, however fenced around and guarded from intrusion, and to demand an entrance in the name of Him who sent them, even although the magistrate should bid them depart from his coasts. Further still, the messengers of the Cross arrogate to themselves thee title to enter into every human dwelling where a sinner is to be found, – seeking admittance in the name of the Saviour of sinners, that they may negotiate with the inhabitant in behalf of their Master, however sternly the door may be closed against them by jealousy of their errand, or hatred to their cause.

It has been the eloquent boast of freedom in our country, that every man’s house is his castle; and that, be it but a straw-built shed, open to every breath of heaven, yet fenced about by the protection and the sanction of law, there even ‘the king cannot and dare not enter.’  But where the king cannot enter, there the missionary of Christ claims to be admitted; and, with a higher warrant in his hand than that of human law, bids the gates be lifted up, that with the Gospel he may enter in” (The Church of Christ, 1:142).

Too often we fail to appreciate this authoritative dimension to missions.  While the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be patient with all men, yet he is not go to into the world hat-in-hand.  Mission forbids timidity, for we have been sent by the King of kings.   No, we should not force entry, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.  Yet alternately, we should not so ‘respect’ the boundaries of men when our Lord counts it no trespass.  It is His claim after all, the deed and grant of His Father.  And the warrant is in our hand.

So let us go.  Aggressively.

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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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