Welcome to De Regno Christi, a new web discussion site to advance discussion and awareness of Christ’s reign over the nations. This site is a corollary of a column in the Reformed Presbyterian Witness magazine. Each month, some of what appears in the magazine will be posted here, along with a lot more material from a distinguished panel of contributors. We invite you to participate in the discussion and in glorifying the King of all nations.
My thanks to Pastors Bill Chellis and Bill Edgar, the column’s editors, in their groundbreaking work in this endeavor. This blog was Pastor Chellis’ brainchild. As you might expect with any endeavor of this sort, the comments expressed are those of the particular authors and not necessarily those of the column editors or the magazine.
Drew Gordon, editor
Reformed Presbyterian Witness
The West’s Last Hope
by Bill Chellis
Our Distinctive Yet Catholic Principles
Having come to Christ and joined the Church, I quickly learned that Reformed Presbyterians delight to speak of their distinctive principles. By distinctive principles, we mean those doctrines that make our faith seem strange to our neighbors. While different principles are often shuffled in and out of the distinctives deck, the most notable areas of distinction are in worship (psalm singing a cappella) and politics (the mediatorial kingship of Christ over the nations).
At first, the idea of emphasizing distinctive principles struck me as provincial at best and sectarian at worst. I reasoned that the orthodox should seek to walk in the well-worn paths. Could that which is distinctive also be true? As my former professor of systematic theology Dr. Wayne Spear said, â€œWhat is new in theology is not good, and what is good is not new.â€
In the providences of God, I did not follow my gut reaction to RP distinctive principles. Rather, I examined them. I thought about them. I read what the fathers of the Reformed Presbyterian Church had said about them. I went back and studied the former Testimony of the RP Church, Reformation Principles Exhibited and David Scottâ€™s Distinctive Principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (a book close to my heart because it was written by another Rochester RP pastor). As I read, I compared. I compared the theology of the Reformed Presbyterians with the Reformers, the medieval Scholastics, and the church Fathers.
What I learned from my study caused me to fall in love with the RP Church. I fell in love with the RPC precisely because of, not despite, her distinctive principles. I learned that positions like exclusive psalm singing and Christâ€™s mediatorial kingship were not innovative doctrines drawn from the moors of Scotland. Rather, these principles represent remnants of orthodox catholicity held tenaciously against the powerful forces of ecclesiastical innovation so dominant in our day.
Our Hibernating Distinctive
Historically, Reformed Presbyterians were known by the popular title â€œCovenanters.â€ The designation has not completely gone into disuse, but the fact that this column appears in the Reformed Presbyterian Witness and not the Covenanter Witness is significant. The title â€œCovenanterâ€ refers to our churchâ€™s lineal descent from the noble witness of the Second Reformation of the Church of Scotland. The Scottish Covenanters stood upon a testimony of Jesus Christâ€™s kingship over both church and state. From the late 17th Century until the late 20th Century, the Covenanter Church was preeminently known for her unwavering devotion to the kingship of Jesus Christ.
In the United States, where the church has enjoyed freedom from state domination, the Covenanters have been free from the need to wage a vigilant defense of Christâ€™s kingship over the Church. We have enjoyed the right to worship God and to govern our churches according to the express command of King Jesus.
Sadly, however, while the church is free to serve Christ according to His Word, the United States omitted all mention of Christâ€™s name in her founding and constitutional documents. Since 1787, the year that the United States Constitution was written, the Reformed Presbyterian Church has therefore actively witnessed to the need for corporate repentance for public sin and national confession of Jesus Christ as King of kings. In fact, the Reformed Presbyterian Church was so strongly committed to testifying against our national rejection of Christ that it refused to allow its members to vote, hold office, or take absolute oaths of support for the United States Constitution. The Covenanters referred to their stance as political dissent.
In the 1960s, the church concluded that political dissent, her long-standing application of Christâ€™s kingship over the nation, could not rightly be insisted upon as a requirement of church membership. The church was right to make the change. Christâ€™s kingship over the Church demands that the Church command of its members only that which Christ Himself has commanded.
Yet, in this imperfect age, progress is rarely an unmixed blessing. No longer part of a church committed to political dissent, many Reformed Presbyterians simply set the doctrine of Christâ€™s kingship aside. Although lip service continues to be paid to the doctrine, the church has been negligent in defining any meaningful cultural or political application. How ironic to consider that, at the historic moment when the bulwarks of Christian civilization were crumbling, the Reformed Presbyterians allowed their most historically valuable distinctive principle to go into hibernation. The purpose of this column is to invite the church to rediscover its hibernating distinctive principle.
An Hour of Need
I believe that the hour is ripe for the Reformed Presbyterian Church to take her ancient principles seriously. Who could fail to recognize that we live at an extraordinary moment in Western history? The once Christian West (I do not mean cowboys and Indians but the geo-spiritual heritage of Western Christendom) has become suicidal. Declining marriage rates, birth rates, and high abortion rates attest to our cultural death-wish. The rising generation does not know the God who inspired hope in their fathers. Decadence has replaced virtue, individualism has destroyed community, and technology has become an object of worship. Lacking the necessary moral discipline to enjoy an ordered liberty, we are increasingly handed over to authoritarian tyranny. Meanwhile, the dual threats of Islamic jihad and authoritarian state-capitalism suggest a bleak future if the West does not awake from its spiritual slumber.
A Doctrine That Meets Our Need
Reading our newspapers, thinking critically, and discerning the times is scary business. Thankfully, the focus of this column is not to scare but to offer hope. Our hope is this: Jesus Christ presently reigns as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The confession â€œJesus is Lordâ€ is far more than a generic evangelical catchphrase. Rather, our declaration of the Lordship of Christ is nothing less than our testimony to His sovereign and absolute reign over men and nations.
To speak of Christâ€™s Lordship is to speak of His royal authority. As the resurrected Jesus stood before His disciples, at the very hour of His glorious ascension to the right hand of the Father, He declared, â€œAll authority in heaven and on earth has been given to meâ€ (Matt. 28:18). As Christ uttered these comforting words, He assured us that the great hope of the Old Testament people of God had found its realization in His victory. In celebration of His victory, the Father rewarded Christ with dominion over a borderless kingdom (Psalm 2:7-8). Into the hands of Christ have been placed the destinies of men and nations. History rests in His providential care.
The Devil Is in the Details
We call Christâ€™s present rule over history the Mediatorial Kingship of Jesus Christ.* At first glance, the conclusion that Jesus Christ presently reigns over all things hardly seems controversial. Who could deny such an obvious biblical truth? Of course, the devil is always in the details. While it is easy to agree upon broad generalizations and abstract doctrines, things get a bit more complicated when we try to apply Christâ€™s Kingship to the lives of individuals, families, communities, and nations.
The nature of the complication is simple. Kings have laws and are not pleased when their laws are mocked. The Testimony of the RPCNA declares, â€œGod has given the exercise of all authority to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the Divine Lawgiver, Governor, and Judgeâ€ (chap. 23:2). It is easy to say Christ is King, but it is hard to mean it. Meaning it demands living it. Therefore, where Christ is honored as King, He will not only be confessed with the mouth but also obeyed with hearts and glorified with hands.
An Hour of Opportunity
We live at an extraordinary period of history. Our day is not only extraordinary for its challenges but also extraordinary for its opportunities. For two centuries, Americans have laughed off the Reformed Presbyterian criticism that they were citizens of a nation in need of serious repentance. Generations of Americans, enjoying the fruits of an inherited Christian culture, have naively assumed that theirs was a Christian nation. American Christians are no longer able to find cheap comfort in an outwardly Christ-honoring civilization. The light of Christendom glows dimly. Yet Christ reigns.
As we stand at the dawn of the 21st Century, I believe that the Reformed Presbyterian Churchâ€™s testimony to Christâ€™s Kingship over the nations makes her the most relevant denomination in all of Protestant Christendom. Tucked away in our â€œblue books,â€ hidden within the pages of our Covenanter history, there is found the doctrine that can restore hope to Western Christendom. The time is ripe to engage in critical thought about Christâ€™s Mediatorial Kingship, how to apply it to our day, and how to pass it on to a generation that might redeem the time.
T.S. Eliot reminds us, â€œIf you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.â€ We must boldly declare the kingship of Jesus Christ over the nations and submit to Him, lest we fall prey to devils far worse than Hitler and Stalin and Mao. For Christâ€™s Crown and Covenant.