Archive for June, 2007

Andrew Matthews

Obedience and Exaltation

What is a theology of cross and glory? We all know what a “theology of the cross” is: since our Lord suffered, his followers must as well (John 15:18-21). Oppression and suffering provide the context in which hatred of God is revealed for what it is, in which the perseverance of the saints is proven, and in which sanctity increases in the lives of the saints. We also know what a “theology of glory” is: the servant receives better treatment than his master; victory and exaltation are achieved without passing through the testing of fiery trials.

Theologians of the cross are humble men who place no hope in this world because of its irremediable corruption by sin and Christ’s absence from it. Theirs is a sober “not yet” assessment regarding the presence of the future kingdom. Theologians of glory are proud men who downplay human limitation and act as if Christ were come already. Theirs is an obnoxious triumphalist insistence on the “already” presence of the kingdom. So, on one hand, there is a theology of cross without glory, and on the other, a theology of glory without suffering.

This cross/glory bifurcation is calculated to buttress anabaptist secularism and malign theocracy. However, overweening ambition is not the provincial characteristic of any of the major eschatological options. There are plenty of arrogant amillennialists and not a few humble postmillennialists. Amills can be just as adept at finding comfortable accommodation with the reigning spirit of the age as were the liberal postmillennialists and social gospellers of yore, perhaps more so. Furthermore, history shows that the Church has both suffered and enjoyed outward prosperity. This variance of disproportionate experience cannot be attributed to the attitude, piety, or eschatology of any church.

Suffering cannot be manufactured like pre-washed faded jeans. Lacking the outward circumstances of oppression, Western amills who wax eloquent about pilgrim suffering can no more conjure up the perseverance, character & hope such experience shapes than can theocrats cultivate qualities of wise statesmanship, all their plans for world domination notwithstanding. The Lord decides who to exalt to high office and when to chasten his people under tribulation. Faithful martyrs and good leaders become such, not through breeding or schooling, but essentially through the trials they have been chosen to pass through. In life, it is a general rule that every genuine accomplishment comes after a period of testing in which commitment is proven.

Not all such testing is governed by the Covenant of Works (CoW). While the works principle (“Do this and live”) is operative for all who remain outside of Christ and under Adam’s headship, it is not operative for the elect. The believer has “died to the law” in this sense (Rom. 7:1-6). He has been covered by the robe of Christ’s righteousness and freed to a new obedience, without condemnation, through the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:1-2). Under the economy of grace a role remains for trials of obedience: “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations…just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star…To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 2:26,28; 3:21). It should be evident that all Christians must endure testing of trials throughout their lives whether they face any actual oppression or not. Any victory—any reward—they “achieve” as a result, is fundamentally based not on their own merit, but on Christ’s, who fulfilled the CoW for them.

I have no desire to get embroiled in a controversy over legal merit and the “Federal Vision.” Men on both sides of the debate should be able to agree that whatever merit is, it is not operative in the “economy of testing” that Christians endure. With some qualification, James Jordan’s insights regarding “covenant maturity” should be generally acceptable touching this point.

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited…But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:8,10-11).

It is not pious to prefer the lowest station over others that are higher. To love the “lowest seat” for its own sake is unbalanced piety, or, pharisaical piosity. It is the sort of piety on display in Spielberg’s Last Crusade, when Indiana Jones discovers the Holy Grail, a simple wooden cup, hidden among hundreds of gold and silver chalices.

It makes no sense to praise the virtues of poverty, folly, and weakness. The whole point of choosing (not desiring) the lowest place is to faithfully endure testing and wait on the appropriate occasion to be exalted. It is unseemly to grasp for greater glory before the proper time. In this, Christ is our model (Phil. 2:3ff.). In passing, I’ll pointed out that there is no evidence here of an incommensurability between natural and Christian ethics. Pagans are just as capable of seeing the wisdom in Christ’s illustration as are Christians.

When Jesus enjoins humility he in no way implies that impotence, poverty and hunger are preferable to power, wealth, and prosperity. These good things are not to be refused when offered. In terms of Christ’s illustration, it would be unseemly to refuse the banquet host’s beneficence out of some morbid preference for dishonor. Throughout the course of a Christian life there are numerous occasions for such honors. Of course, at the end of a life faithfully lived, the greatest glories will be bestowed.

It is the anabaptist-leftist error to suppose that the Sermon on the Mount extols outward poverty. The “poverty of spirit” Jesus blesses (Matt. 5:3ff.) has to do with an inward disposition of the heart instead of outward circumstances. Certainly, Jesus has outward lowliness in view, but only because spiritual humility befits a low estate. We are not to invert the priority of genuine inward humility over bodily condition. Not that outward circumstances are unimportant–they are–but the essential thing is a matter of the spirit.

Darryl Hart manifests this interpretive distortion when he writes, “Maybe the apostle Paul will help. He wrote: ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God’ (1 Cor. 1:27ff). If the Bible, nay God, is our model, why would we choose the wise, the strong, and the high and reputable (say Christendom) for our cultural model if God chooses to use the opposite in his work?”

The ante-Nicene Church followed the exact same model as St. Paul: the Lord Jesus Christ. After accomplishing his course of obedience unto death, our Lord was resurrected and glorified to sit at the Father’s right hand. The pattern is first suffering, then glory. After two centuries of often fierce persecution, the Roman emperor was moved to convert and raise the Church to high prominence. It is only by means of an invalid differentiation between Christ’s providential and redemptive rule that such a momentous event can be conceived as a sort of fall from the original grace of impoverishment. Such is Anabaptist, not Reformed, historiography.

There is no contradiction between the ultimate glorification of the Church and its various lesser “glorifications” in history. Did Jesus refuse the crowd’s acclaim on Palm Sunday? No, it was an appropriate time for him to receive their praise. Should Christians refuse cultural responsibility in this life because they have a better inheritance in the next? Of course not.

In the same passage Darryl cites, we read the following: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor. 1:26). The apostle did not say, “None of you were wise, etc.” The Church honors great reformers (Gregory the Great, Martin Luther) and thinkers (St. Augustine, John Calvin) in her memory. Such men and women (e.g., St. Joan d’Arc) are rightly regarded as great persons. But the wonderful thing about Christianity is that it holds up the exemplars of great humility in the highest place (e.g., Moses, Mary, Jesus).

Yes, God chooses the low and humble things to shame the proud and mighty. This is how he works and continues to work. But we do not do this. Again, suffering cannot be manufactured: God alone creates the unique circumstances of each individual’s testing. The theology of cross and glory I am proposing is able to account for tests of commitment (of whatever kind) along with the legitimate temporal blessings Christians and the Church at large have had and continue to experience. To promote a theology of cross without glory is an obvious ploy to disparage Christendom’s true and proper glory in light of the supposed genuine piety of separatist enthusiasm. It is anabaptist piosity.

More to come…


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Christians in Iraq

Why do American Christians spend so little time thinking about their brothers and sisters in Iraq?

From Pat Buchanan….

On April 1—Palm Sunday—after bullets were fired into the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul, Iraq, during mass, the pastor, Father Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic, e-mailed friends at the Asia Times:

“We empathize with Christ, who entered Jerusalem in full knowledge that the consequence of His love for mankind was the cross. Thus, while bullets smashed our church windows, we offered our suffering as a sign of love for Christ.”

The attacks continued. Father Ragheed wrote again: “Each day we wait for the decisive attack, but we will not stop celebrating mass; we will do it underground, where we are safer. I am encouraged in this decision by the strength of my parishioners. This is war, real war, but we hope to carry our cross to the very end with the help of Divine Grace.”

As the bombings in Mosul and Baghdad rose during April and May, and priests were kidnapped, Father Ragheed grew weary. In his last e-mail, May 28, he wrote, “We are on the verge of collapse.”

A day before, Pentecost Sunday, a bomb exploded in his church, and Father Ragheed seemed dispirited: “In a sectarian and confessional Iraq, will there be any space for Christians? We have no support, no group who fights for our cause; we are abandoned in the midst of the disaster. Iraq has already been divided. It will never be the same. What is the future of our church?”

Though tempted by despair, Father Ragheed did not give up hope.

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My time as Chairman of the RPC Synod’s Committee for the Understanding the Times came to a very final conclusion at this evening’s session of Synod.

My attempt to send the committee to its eternal slumber was defeated by a vote of 53-47. This was the last year of my term. For what it is worth, and apparently it is not much, I offer it to DRC readers for their edification.

Committee on Understanding the Times Report
2007 Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church

Recommendation: That the standing Committee on Understanding the Times be dismissed.

Historical Evaluation:

The Committee on Understanding of the Times has a long and colorful history. Once titled the Committee on the Signs of the Times, the committee has served an important historic function. Although the Committee on the Signs of the Times was discontinued some three decades ago, it was reborn as the Understanding the Times Committee in 1989. At that time, the Committee on Priorities and Administration reported:
While there were good reasons for discontinuing the former “Signs of the Times” reports, we believe that something has been lost, and that the time has come when we again seek to evaluate our culture from a biblical perspective in order that we might better see the progress of the kingdom and how the grace and mercy of God must be brought to bear (Minutes of Synod, 1989, pg. 88).

The Reformed Presbyterian Synod created the Committee for Understanding the Times and charged it with the work of evaluating the culture from a biblical perspective. No small task for an otherwise insignificant committee! Yet, standing in general continuity with the old Signs of the Times Committee, the Understanding the Times reports have given voice to the unique Covenanter interpretation of current events while seeking to contextualize them within the breadth of post-canonical redemptive history. These reports are a treasure in waiting for future historians and have added a great deal of color to our Synod meetings and annual Yearbooks.
Still, your committee believes that it is again time to affirm that there are good reasons for discontinuing these reports. Formerly, the Covenanter Church was deeply committed to a Whig interpretation of history (history as the narrative of progress). This commitment led the Covenanters to raise their peculiar postmillennial historiography to a confessional status through her former Historical Testimony. Borrowing an interpretive grid from the Testimony, current events could be expounded by Synod committees in a way that gave voice to the Covenanter cause and provided a unifying social and cultural vision for the church.

Confessional Difficulties:

The Reformed Presbyterian Testimony no longer includes a historical part. Wisely did the church conclude that only inspired history could bind the conscience set free in Jesus Christ. Further, chastened by a century of mass bloodshed and ideological extremism, the Reformed Presbyterian Church no longer views progress as the hallmark of history. A diverse denomination, no common understanding of post-canonical history draws us together. Artificial unity is no answer. Without confessional grounding, unhinged from classical postmillennial historiography, the Understanding the Times reports, although interesting, are a temptation for division within the Synod.

Further, Chapter 31, paragraph 5 of the Westminster Confession of Faith declares:
Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude, nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth; unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they are thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

The wisdom of the Confession of Faith should not be ignored. Covenanters, following the example of Andrew Melville, have ever proclaimed that, where the gospel has taken root, two kingdoms exist within each nation. As the kingdoms of men cannot legitimately interfere with the holy politics of God’s Kingdom neither can the Kingdom of God legitimately politicize the gospel by binding the conscience of believers on matters purely secular and political.

Interpretative Difficulties:

While ministers of the gospel are well equipped to exegete the Holy Scriptures, they are not necessarily equipped for exegete-ing the newspaper. Although the church must not give up its duty to call the magistrate to faith and repentance, especially in response to corporate sins and issues of morality, it must not allow the politicization of the gospel of Christ. Further, we must humbly recognize that God’s providences are fundamentally inscrutable and defy our ability to interpret with any degree of certainty.

Cultural Difficulties:

Culturally, the Reformed Presbyterian Church is no longer homogenous. Released from the confessional authority of the historical Testimony, neither Elder nor laymen can be asked to assent to a grand reading of non-canonical history. The present Synod includes Ministers and Ruling Elders representing various shades of political opinion. Your committee suspects that in the midst of this Synod are seated wild Whigs and high Tories, traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals, Republicans and Democrats, authoritarians and anarchists, populists and progressives. Yet, our diversity in matters cultural and political is tempered by our common agreement that Jesus Christ is King over the nations, that God’s Word should regulate worship, and that the Westminster Standards are a faithful exposition of Biblical Christianity.

Can Christ’s Kingship be applied?

The mediatorial Kingship of Christ over the nations is a precious doctrine that calls the nations to faith and repentance. It demands that civil authorities apply the norms of God’s law to the political process. Without hesitation your committee believes that this doctrine has substantial application. Against the sin of slavery our 19th Century fathers pressed the royal claims of Christ. Against the sin of abortion we have so contended. Yet, we are also keen to remember that Christ’s mediatorial kingship is not an ideology. No champions of an armed doctrine, proponents of Christ’s Kingship recognize that Christian politics remains the art of the possible. Indeed, not inebriated zeal but sober-minded prudence is foremost among the virtues prized in the faithful statesman. Therefore, your committee believes that the Synod should be restrained in binding the conscience of its members by authoritatively speaking where there is not clear consensus, not only of the present generation but also among the faithful saints of the historical church.
Can greater consensus be achieved? Possibly, but it is not the work of the Synod. Such work should be faithful accomplished from the pulpit, in the pages of the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, the Christian Statesman, Semper Reformanda: Covenanter Theological Review, on blogs, in pamphlets, and in the editorial section of your local newspaper.
Therefore, your committee thanks the King of the Church for the many years of faithful service and insight provided by this committee and asks that the Synod grant its indefinite dismissal.

Respectfully Submitted,

Rev. W.H. Chellis, Chairman
Rev. Katsunori Endo*

* Rev. Endo wishes to note his discomfort with the hyperbolic tone of the sentence: “The present Synod includes Ministers and Ruling Elders representing various shades of political opinion. Your committee suspects that in the midst of this Synod are seated wild Whigs and high Tories, traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals, Republicans and Democrats, authoritarians and anarchists, populists and progressives.”

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Andrew Matthews

“To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations…just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star…To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Rev. 2:26,28; 3:21)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father…It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of the world now stands condemned.” (John 14:12; 16:7-11)

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” (2 Cor. 10:4-6)

To begin with, I’m going to request Darryl’s forbearance for this budding “theologian of glory” (2 Cor. 3:9-11, 18), especially for some of the excessive statements made about his version of Westminster Two Kingdoms (W2K) theology. Plainly, it is improper to claim W2K “positively attributes evil to creation.” And so, I apologize for this uncharitable exaggeration. Darryl and other representatives of the W2K school repeatedly affirm the goodness of creation as originally created, whatever the unintended consequences of their views.

For the purpose of easily referencing all viewpoints broadly characterized as transformationalist or “theocratic,” I designate the letter “T,” without meaning to imply all such views are adequately represented by my arguments. There are two objectives I hope to accomplish in this post and subsequent postings. First, I purpose to meet Darryl’s challenge in a way that provides a general defense of all T views. Second, my specific agenda is to defend historic Christendom as a viable model for future T efforts. Once the majority view, Christendom has fallen out of favor even with most T proponents. Yet, Christendom is the only T program that has been tried. It lasted for over 1500 years, demonstrating significant—even extraordinary—stability, and perhaps is not completely beyond resuscitation. I feel honored to advocate for the venerable tradition of Christendom on this forum.

W2K Critiques T

As far as I can ascertain, Darryl offers the following arguments against theologically motivated culture transformation (T): 1) T breaks down the providential division between cult & culture, thereby compromising the Church and undermining political order; 2) T is impossible because natural and Christian ethics are incommensurate; 3) T represents a premature effort to “immanentize” the Kingdom of God; 4) T inadvertently subverts Justification in an attempt to save the world through works; 5) The NT nowhere indicates that Christianity is supposed to take over society, but precisely the opposite; 6) T implies persecution of other religions and has historically done so.

Darryl’s first four points represent a chain of argumentation, first formulated this way by Meredith Kline, which goes like this: The economy of the original Covenant of Works (CoW) was the first theocracy. Theocracy (the full integration of cult & culture) was the social order through which humanity was to render “personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience” in order to merit consummated eternal life (beatitude) under the terms of the CoW.

This original theocracy was ended by the fall when humanity split into two groups, elect and reprobate. As a result, a new common grace order was established by God (point 1 above). This new order was established so that elect and reprobate could cooperate together to a certain extent in order to build a peaceful society. While the elect are motivated by an ethic of gratitude (for the anticipated redemption of Christ), the reprobate retain the old CoW ethic of merit (human works will earn the state of beatitude). These ethics are incommensurate with one another (point 2), though there is some overlap because natural law forms the basis for each.

Kline would argue that any attempt to restore theocracy (T) by the elect ipso facto involves a regression back under the CoW, a rejection of the Covenant of Grace (CoG), which is an unconditional covenant whereby God has undertaken the sole responsibility of establishing man in beatitude. All human activity is excluded from this enterprise. Therefore, for Kline (and W2K in general) the elect no longer have a cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28). Kline would hold to a common mandate (common to elect & reprobate), and therefore circumscribed in principle by natural law shorn of its original orientation toward consummated beatitude.

A revived theocracy would constitute an attempt to prematurely establish God’s Kingdom through natural effort (point 3). Justification is incompatible with T (point 4). Natural effort, comprised of human works, characterizes fallen man’s pursuit of beatitude. Since the CoG is received and perpetuated by faith alone, human works represent “unlawful” impositions upon God’s prerogative to establish beatitude through his own provision. Sola Fide is here framed in a radically monergistic way, such that the faithful have no responsibility to advance godly culture. Any cooperation between Christ and his Church in the outworking of redemption is excluded.

Responding to Kline-W2K

Allow me to address a preliminary response to this Klinean-W2K critique. The whole line of argumentation depends on T being equivalent to the Adamic theocracy, complete with its works principle. I am unaware that Darryl or any other representatives of W2K have established this necessary connection. Why couldn’t God have graciously perpetuated the cultural mandate as part of the duty gratitude enjoins? What evidence is there that God’s elect are absolved of the original command to produce offspring, subdue, and cultivate the earth?

As I have already argued fairly extensively (I apologize for the repetition), there doesn’t seem to be a necessary conflict between carrying on with the construction of Megapolis (the cultivation of creation as a garden-city) in anticipation of Metapolis (the beatifying work only God is able to perform).

Theocracy doesn’t necessitate conceiving the present order of things as ultimate. Rather, theocracy, if valid, would be God’s way of maintaining teleological continuity between the old and new creations. Present work would therefore be a profound expression of faith in God’s work of cosmic regeneration. Rather than despairing of the significance of his activity, the man of faith expects that the results of his labor will be gloriously transformed on the day of his Lord’s reckoning. Ten minas will be transmuted into ten cities (Luke 19:17), and so forth—so to speak. The regenerating fire of the final judgment will consume the wood, hay, and stubble, but leave behind (and reveal!) the gold, silver, and costly stones (1 Cor. 3:12).

In succeeding portions of this essay I intend to develop an argument that the original cultural mandate retains viability in the redemptive post-fall economy drawn from the following scriptural evidence: the promises made to Abraham and his seed, the OT prophetic anticipation of the new covenant era, the Melchizedekian ministry of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. I hope to show that the cultural mandate has been assimilated into the covenants of promise, and that creation’s preservation and ultimate deliverance is inextricably linked to the Church’s own destiny. Indeed, there is an ontological relation between the world’s birthing pangs and the Church’s suffering (Rom. 8:22-25, Cf. John 16:20-25). Finally, there is eschatological continuity between the world and the Church. In the final pages of inscripturated revelation, St. John unveils the mystery of the world, its consummate identity. The new heaven and new earth are revealed as the New Jerusalem (= the glorified body of Christ) that descends out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:1-2).

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An interesting warning from Rod Dreher’s always interesting blog. I fear that a lot of this kind of thing can be found in our circles. The temptation to be religious ideologues is immense.

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DRC will be busy in the weeks and months to come.

July 10 will begin a two week discussion of James Twitchell’s book Branded Nation: The Marketing of MegaChurch, College Inc., and Museumworld

Future coming attractions: DRC takes a look at the Federal Vision

Stay tuned.

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Here is a fine example of a Reformed Thomist dealing with natural law.

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