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Archive for August, 2006

Covenantal Confession of Christ
W. H. Chellis

Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). This is a fact clearly revealed in the Bible, yet widely ignored even within the conservative evangelical and reformed churches. Last month we introduced the outlines of the National Confessional application of Christ’s social kingship. We now begin a closer examination of the four pillars of the National Confessional position. This month we focus on the covenantal confession of Christ. The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church affirms the duty of nations to make a covenantal confession of Jesus Christ:

“Every nation ought to recognize the Divine institution of civil government, the sovereignty of God exercised by Jesus Christ, and its duty to rule the civil affairs of men in accordance with the will of God. It should enter into covenant with Christ and serve to advance His Kingdom on earth (Testimony Chapter 23:4).”

As Christ’s Kingship is universal (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:17-23), so recognition of His reign should also be universal. All men, in their individual capacity as well as is their social relationships, must confess the name of Jesus and submit to His gracious reign.

Disciple the Nations

At His ascension, Jesus Christ declared:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you.”
By this Great Commission, Jesus Christ sent forth His Church to offer Jesus Christ and His gospel of grace to all men from all nations. The ethnic monopoly of physical Israel was broken (Gal. 3:28). The Church of Christ would be an international and catholic body encompassing a multitude from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Yet, the Church’s evangelistic and discipleship goals must not end with the conversion of isolated individuals. Man is a social creator, a political animal. Indeed, close exegetical inspection of the Great Commission informs us of the church’s duty to make disciples of the nations themselves.

In the context of twenty-first century Western political thought, the idea of turning nations into disciples of Jesus Christ sounds implausible. Modern thought, rooted in enlightenment liberalism, looks upon the individual as the basic unit of social and political life. Our political discourse is saturated with catchphrases like “individual rights” and “individual choice.” Families, communities, and nations are considered as nothing more than the aggregate of all the individuals who consent to belong to the larger unit. In the context of modernist liberalism, the whole is definitely less than the sum of all its parts. Thus, we hear of individual Christians, of Christian radio, of Christian music, but rarely of a Christian community or nation. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the modern church has allowed its cultural and political prejudices to interpret Jesus’ Great Commission. The social Kingship of Christ has been replaced by the quest for a “personal relationship with Jesus.”

Unlike modernist liberalism, biblical ethics does not define the individual as the basic unit of social and political life. Rather, along with the broader pre-modern political tradition, biblical ethics establishes the foundation of social and political life upon the family. Accordingly, the family in its corporate capacity is the “little platoon” of society in both Church and State. Here the whole is greater then the sum of its parts.

Although American evangelicals feel comfortable encouraging others to “focus on the family”, I suspect that readers of a Baptist persuasion are feeling a bit uncomfortable. While Baptist, Methodist, and neo-evangelical theology tends to borrow its working assumptions from enlightenment liberalism, biblical Christianity roots its assumptions in the Scriptures. As a matter of biblical command, Christ has commissioned His Church to make disciples of the nations (not from the nations). Yet, it is at this point that even Reformed Christians may become visibly uncomfortable. Christ did not commission His Church to make disciples of all families but all nations. What could this mean?

From Family to Nation

To answer the question we must begin with the Greek word ethnos which our English versions translate nations. The Greek word ethnos refers to a people defined by blood, land, history, and language. Its horizon is larger than the modern concept of the [nuclear] family but not exactly the same as the equally modern concept of the nation-state. Of course, by way of application to our present situation neither the family nor the nation-state is excluded. For the Hebrews, the gentile and pagan peoples are referred to as the goy, while in Classical Greek thought “nations” outside ones own city-state are defined as ethnos or barbaros (barbarians). Both the Hebrew goy and the Greek ethnos suggest “otherness.” Here we find no universal brotherhood of men, no citizenship of the world, but rather the love of localism, peculiarity, and a delight in ones self-identification with an organic reality marked by location, heritage and faith (three concepts damned by modernist orthodoxy). It is this threefold unity that provides the foundational premise of a nation.

The idea of ethnos builds upon the foundation of family. The progression moves organically forward from family to tribe to ethnos (nation). Thus, to understand the Great Commission we must understand that far from being a collection of atomistic individuals randomly bouncing off each other in the daily hubbub of life, a nation has an organic and corporate unity. It is a people who share a commonality of location, heritage, and faith. This unity, although rooted in blood and soil, transcends tribal patriarchy as peoples bind themselves together in greater covenantal unity. The great English Statesman and political thinker Edmund Burke refers to this mysterious bond suggesting:

“As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed places.[i]

Our older theologians, such as William Symington and David Scott, are less poetic but make the same point by referring to nations as “moral persons.” By “moral person” we mean that the nation as a whole bears the corporate responsibility for its moral judgments and is capable of entering into a covenantal relationships. Such relationships might be expressed in relationship to its citizens (as in a written Constitution or a Bill of Rights) or in relationship to other nations (as in peace treaty or declaration of war) or in relationship to God (as in the submission of the nations of Christendom to Christ).

A nation’s organic law is its constitution. Constitutions may be either written (as is the case of the United States) or unwritten (as is the case of England). No nation is without a constitution, for organic law flows from historical experience. The voice of the nation speaks through its constitutional and legal establishments and documents. Therefore, it is the testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church that all nations must be organically conformed to the revealed will of Jesus Christ in submission to His Kingly authority.

Corporate Solidarity

Practical politics destroys individualistic notions of citizenship. Contrary to the assertions of President Bush with regard to Iraq, wars are not only waged against ruling regimes but against the people of a nation. This is the horrible truth of war, especially in the modern world. Yet, we must note a sense of biblical justice to this reality. If a nation has an organic unity, then there exists solidarity of responsibility between a nation and its citizens. Indeed, the citizen bears the guilt of the nations and the nation shares the guilt of its citizens. Thus, Israel suffered for the sins of Achen (Joshua 7) and even faithful Israelites like Daniel suffered the burden of captivity. Men are individuals, but not only individuals. They are social beings with covenantal obligations to family, community, and nation. Christianity does not destroy these obligations but perfects them.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church attempted to separate the organic unity between corporate sin and individual responsibility through their practice of political dissent. The attempt was unfruitful. One is not exempt from national guilt by simply renouncing the privileges of citizenship. Covenantal solidarity cannot be broken while enjoying the blessings of citizenship. Rather, we must accept the awful reality of our guilt, as Americans, for national sins such as murder (abortion), greed (consumerism and materialism) and lust (do I need to give examples). We must own these sins, confess them, and like Abraham contending for the city of Sodom, seek the peace and prosperity of the land in which we live and thrive.

Therefore, the national confessional position of the Reformed Presbyterian Church stands upon both the classical and biblical idea of “nations,” demanding not only the conversion of individuals within the nations, but also the corporate conversion of the nations themselves.

[i] Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Select Works of Edmund Burke: Vol. 2, Liberty Fund: Indianapolis, 1999, pg. 193.

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Got My Pitchfork: Or Caleb’s Populist Revolt
W. H. Chellis

Caleb Stegall has been busy of late. In a Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News, Caleb published this excellent piece entitled Populism Now!

Caleb writes:

“When the oldest sources of order – which are at root religious – are abandoned along with their traditions and taboos, the resulting void of meaning is by necessity filled with some ideology promising one form or another of perfect happiness in the here and now. And these systems of self-salvation creep not toward liberation, but toward total control.
Populism in its progressive form is not immune from this utopian yearning, which must always end in disaster. So our neopopulist moment ought to be approached with sober awareness that an angry mob is probably worse than a corrupt bureaucrat. The same bureaucrat who has harnessed the anger of the mob with progressive dreams is far more terrible than both.
What is called for is an anti-progressive populism; an anti-movement movement; a return to what is near, known and particular. What is called for is what I think of as regional populism. Its first political task will be to rediscover the ways citizens of the old American republic used to think and talk.”

Do check it out and enjoy.

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From the Synod of Dort
W.H. Chellis

My friend the Rev. David Reese, Pastor of the Springs Reformed Church in Colorado Springs sent this along…

“Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has given very many consolations to his Church Militant in this wretched pilgrimage. However, the one he left before he entered the heavenly sanctuary to go to his Father is justly considered to be the most important one: And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.. The truth of this kind promise is evident in the Church of all ages. She has been attacked from the beginning, not only by the public force of enemies and the ungodly violence of heretics, but also by the masked subtleties of seducers. Truly, if the Lord had at any time left her naked without the beneficial consolation of his promised presence, she would have long ago been oppressed by the force of tyrants or led to her ruin by the subtlety of deceivers. But there is a good Shepherd who most steadfastly loves his flock and gave his life. He has always at the appropriate time by his outstretched hand, often in miraculous ways, put down the raging of persecutors. He has uncovered and destroyed the crooked ways and deceitful counsels of seducers. In all these ways, he has proved that he is truly present with his Church. Of this we have very clear proof in the histories of the God fearing Emperors, Kings and Princes whom the Son of God raised up so often to the aid of his Church. They were kindled with holy zeal for his house. By their service, he not only subdued the raging of tyrants, but also provided his Church, when she had to fight against false teachers, with means to healing and with holy Synods. In these Synods, faithful ministers of Christ, with their combined prayers, counsel and labour, placed themselves courageously in defence of the Church and the truth of God over against the servants of Satan (even though these had changed themselves into angels of light). The holy Synods removed the seed of error and of discord, preserved the Church in the unity of the pure religion, and passed on the genuine religion unblemished to posterity.”

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RE: Community and Normativity
W.H. Chellis

I want to thank Greg Baus for his interaction with my article on the Foundations of the National Confessional position. Obviously, there is much that Greg and I agree on. I found his interaction helpful and spent a great deal of time reading through the linked articles on neutrality, sphere sovereignty, and neo-Calvinism.

Thus far, I would commend Edmund Burke’s distrust of “sophistry, calculators, and economists.” When I read the neo-Calvinists, I get the same feeling in the pit of my stomach when that I get reading libertarians abstractors like von Mises or Ayn Rand as well as socialists like Marx and Engles. Although I greatly prefer the ideas (sometimes… Although sometimes I have to admit a limited preference to von Mises as many defenders of neo-Calvinism tend toward Marx) of Neo-Calvinism, I still find it a metaphysical abstraction unworthy of a party that calls itself “anti-revolutionary”.

Rather, the beauty of the National Confessional position is not its radicalism but its inherent conservatism. It stands within the great tradition of Western Christendom. It’s stand it not uncritical, but even its criticism places it within the stream of the revealed will of God and our shared historical experience.

Criticism aside, I do believe there is a great deal within neo-Calvinism that stands within the great tradition. After all, Kuyper was a conservative who stood upon the foundation of the tradition. It was his sons that turned the position into an abstraction. I would suggest that the sons of Kuyper return to their father. I trust that Greg Baus will do much to help the situation.

In Kuyper, it seems to me, we find the greatest hope of agreement between our respective positions. Did Kuyper believe in “sphere soverignty”, indeed he did, but I question whether his view of sphere soverignty was closer to the historic Christian ideal of subsidiarity or the modern neo-Calvinist conception. I would prefer to re-root Kupyer in the tradition of classical subsidiarity as expressed in Calvin, Althusius, and the Puritans. This is where I am most confortable. A confessional pluralism within the context of a Christ’s confessing (and honoring unity). Thus my attempt to suggest a form of local confessionalism within the context of a Christ confessing nation.

I have three points to make against neo-Calvinism,

First, the problem with neo-Calvinistic interpretation of sphere soverignty is that areas of exception swallow the rule. Is the family a distinct sphere from the community? Is it a seperate sphere from the Church? What rights does a father have over against the city elders, over the church elders? What are the bounderies. Since all admit the bounderies are not black and white, the point it so fluid as to lose all ability to provide normative answers.

The second problem is this: Christ has given to the Church authority over the Bible. If God’s Word is normative within the family, the state, or the market, it is a problem to say that these spheres have an independent right to interpret God’s Word over against the Church. God has given the good gifts of Pastors and Teachers to interpret and expound His Word to the Church and not to the magistrate, the family, or the acadamy (at least not independently from the Church).

Finally, the neo-Calvinist view of sphere soverignty blurs what is best about subsidiarity. The ability to have diversity exist in unity within a traditional and hierarchical context.

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