O GOD, merciful Father, who despisest not the sighing of a contrite heart, nor the desire of such as are sorrowful; Mercifully assist our prayers which we make before thee in all our troubles and adversities, whensoever they oppress us; and graciously hear us, that those evils which the craft and subtilty of the devil or man worketh against us, may, by thy good providence, be brought to nought; that we thy servants, being hurt by no persecutions, may evermore give thanks unto thee in thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. O Lord, arise, help us, and deliver us for thy Nameâ€™s sake.
(Litany. Book of Common Prayer)
I’d like to begin this post by apologizing to my fellow contributors for writing so much. My purpose is not to “hog the blog,” but rather to provide a defense of theocratic-transformationalism as thoroughly as I’m able while critiquing what I see as a terrible error: W2Kism. The time, energy and inspiration are not often there, so I’ve got to strike while the iron is hot. This third part of my defense begins with a few further reflections on suffering and obedience.
â€œRemember them that are in bonds, as bound with themâ€ (Heb. 13:3). While humility is essentially a spiritual quality, the intensity of oneâ€™s suffering often has to do with the outward circumstances one finds himself in. In the last post of this series, I made reference to Christiansâ€™ disproportionate experience due to outward circumstances. At the present time, the vast majority of Christians throughout the world suffer deprivation and impoverishment. Not a few must bear oppression on a day to day basis. The Sudan, North Korea, China, and the Middle East come to mind. Those who are privileged to live in the West have little awareness of the extreme spiritual suffering these most precious members of the body of Christ endure.
On the inward level, western Christians suffer. We suffer in our sin, our own difficult trials, and the separation from loved ones by death we experience. Even here there are saints who have profound insight into the meaning of suffering. But these, knowledgeable of their own privileged unworthiness, should have a sense of the difference in proportion between their suffering and that experienced in other parts of the world. We should join with the prayers of our oppressed brethren in imploring for the cessation of persecution.
Some incongruity becomes apparent when we see some W2K men rationalizing suffering as normative, even as spiritually beneficial, while third world Christians cry out for justice and deliverance. It is better to let the downtrodden speak about the virtues they find in suffering, if any. We could do no better than to read Richard Wurmbrand and Alexander Solzhenitsynâ€™s descriptions of their experience under Communism. These men are more aware than most of the threat posed by a culture that turns itself away from the Lord. They and countless others were spiritually crippled for life from the things they went through. Here in the â€œfreeâ€ West a less obvious, but no less insidious, deformation is taking place.
On the broader scale, the American church languishes in its fat and lazy accommodation with godless culture. We excuse this accommodation as being submissive to the ruling authorities, of choosing the â€œlowest place.â€ But what does this mean in the context of a democratic society where everyone is â€œequalâ€ and the government is accountable to its citizens? What does submission mean when the majority of our elected leaders claim some form of Christian adherence? What are we doing to disciple our fellow countrymen, the majority of whom are descended from Christian ancestors, whose only religious heritage is Christianity?
[As an aside, Iâ€™ll grant that the activist strategy of the so-called religious right inspired by the civil rights protests of the 1960â€™s is woefully insufficient for the task at hand. Darrylâ€™s Confessional-Liturgical Protestantism is indeed central to the program we should pursue.]
What are we doing with the â€œquiet and peacefulâ€ existence we have been blessed with, with the vast resources available to us? What are we doing to alleviate the suffering of our brethren abroad? Are we conceiving of new ways to justify our inaction, new ways to rationalize how making the world better is impossible? What are we doing?
Excursus: Macro Ethics Applied
There has been some discussion lately about an incommensurability between Christian ethics and the natural laws required for the maintenance of common culture. Darryl Hart argues that Christian virtue and natural virtue are incompatible, and Caleb Stegall invokes Tolkienâ€™s authority that possession of the ring (of power) is inherently corrupting. Lord Actonâ€™s ghost must be lurking nearby.
When I was younger, struggling with dispensationalism, I used to ponder how the natural right to self defense fits with the Lordâ€™s commands to â€œlove your enemiesâ€ and â€œturn the other cheek.â€ The W2K answer to this question is that the Christian holds dual citizenship in two ultimate realms: the City of God and the City of Man. In doing so, W2K men appeal to Calvinâ€™s teaching that determining what is proper to temporal affairsâ€”versus spiritualâ€”was as easy as distinguishing body and spirit. But I have difficulty seeing how W2Kâ€”and even the great Calvinâ€”has provided a practical solution for this Gordian knot every Christian must face. Can body and spirit be so easily separated?
â€œNo one can serve two mastersâ€ (Matt. 6:24). God or mammon must be served. How are we to understand (and obey!) Jesusâ€™ words if we possess two citizenships, two ultimate loyalties? Oh, they arenâ€™t ultimate? One is higher than the other? I see: â€œWe must obey God rather than men.â€ Earthly citizenship must be subordinated to heavenly if we are to avoid the alternativeâ€”ethical schizophrenia.
It may be objected that I might overemphasize how often earthly and heavenly loyalties conflict. Perhaps it is thought that most of life consists of things indifferent, of adiaphora. It seems that most of our choices are between similar alternatives: Shall I eat roast beef or steak? Should I drive a Mercedes or a Lexus? Should I play a ball game or watch TV? As long as we fulfill obligations of health, family, and employment, we are free to choose from the alternatives available to us. For Christians, most of life may be lived in the world according to its laws while faith is exercised in the remaining time left, in attending church and offering private works of service.
There is much truth in this for how individuals live out their lives. However, there is more to life than the exercise of private faith and the fulfillment of personal needs. The outside world influences us in ways that are not obvious at first glance. Our behavior validates (or not) and/or enables (or not), various interests pursued on the macro level of life.
The meat that I eat, is it raised in a factory farm where animals are pumped full of hormones and treated inhumanely? The brands that I choose, which causes are supported and who benefits from the support of my hard-earned money? The pursuits, indifferent or not, that I habitually engage in, what is the cumulative effect of practicing them? What kind of culture am I promoting by the choices I make?
â€œIt seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to usâ€¦You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immoralityâ€ (Acts 15:28,29). This decree from the very first Church council has relevance to the point raised in the previous paragraph, I believe. All is not resolved by appealing to Christian liberty. St. Paulâ€™s teaching in 1 Corinthians 10 does not rescind the councilâ€™s decree. In 1 Corinthians, one of Paulâ€™s earliest epistles and contemporaneous with the Jerusalem council, Paul is concerned to show how things of creation can be received with thanksgiving, even after they have been defiled by pagan practice. To give thanks is to sanctify, and whatever is done should be done to Godâ€™s glory (vv. 30-31). What the council was concerned about, on the other hand, at least in part, was the defilement of conscience inevitably resulting from association withâ€”or regular supportâ€”of idolatry. The council was not so much concerned with the occasional eating of defiled food out of necessity, but with the habitual way of life of Gentile Christians.
That the Jerusalem council concerned macro (social-public/large scale) issues and Paul micro (personal-private/small scale) can be ascertained from the following considerations: It cannot be disputed that the council issued decrees concerning the lifestyle of Gentile converts, whereas Paul was concerned with the private consumption of defiled foods. It is doubtful he would have advocated their regular consumption. That he never countenanced the public eating of such food, which would amount to a flaunting of Christian liberty, can be seen in 1 Cor. 8:9-13.
Macro and micro considerations need to be taken into account whenever the commandments of Scripture are applied in particular circumstances. This is not to be confused with situational ethics. Rather, the exercise of judgment is needed for the appropriate application of law in a particular case. Whatever Christians do should always be done with an eye for its publicâ€”as well as privateâ€”consequences, for every act has both micro and macro ramifications.
Steve Zrimec writes: â€œThe go-to charge of antinomianism seems odd. I know you make these micro- macro-distinctions but, to be honest, I find them sort of manufactured since it should go without saying that the categories for obedience to which I refer are both individual and corporate; the HB was written for both the individual believer and the church proper. But therein seems to lie our difference. I see these forms culled from scripture to mean how the church may and ought to govern herself and her members.â€
Hereâ€™s my problem with Steveâ€™s point of view. He is only concerned about individual and corporate obedience of Christians in the Church apart from cultureâ€™s purpose. For him, Christianity has nothing to offer to the historical task of human culture. The public consequences, the cultural impact of our behavior, indeed, the cosmic consequences, donâ€™t even register on his radar.
Much of life is lived in the public realm, and the standards of public behavior are different than those in private (i.e., We donâ€™t engage in sexual intercourse or defecate in public. We observe the manners and mores of polite society.) And all the things that we do, we do as Christians, our essential identity. Make no mistake about it: the people of the world know who we are, especially if they have spent any time at all with us.
This micro/macro â€œdistinctionâ€ Iâ€™m making is merely an attempt to account for the disparity of significance between public and private acts and their consequences. Further, it is a way to express the interrelatedness of individual life and the life of the larger community, since every ethical choice has immediate and far-reaching consequences. Micro and macro considerations are an important element of moral casuistry. Indicatives and imperatives just wonâ€™t do the whole job. Living a principled Christian life requires more. And the social aspect of Christian ethics cannot be dismissed by appeals to free justification.
The antinomianism discernable in Darryl, Steve, and other representatives of W2K has to do with their lack of serious engagement with macro ethical issues. The chain of reasoning that follows is denied: A collective cultural task was given to humanity. This culture mandate has been assimilated within every subsequent covenant, including the new covenant, the Churchâ€™s constitutional order. After his redemptive work, the Lord Jesus ascended to a Throne to whom every other authority is subject. The Church witnesses to Christâ€™s lordship, announces his accomplished redemption, and cooperates in the royal-sacerdotal task of applying it. When this task is complete and the Lord returns, the old creation will be transformed into a new heavens and a new earth. At that point the Church and new creation will be coterminous with one another, suffused with the glory of God.
To ascribe cultic qualities to the Church devoid of cultural import, to disengage the Churchâ€™s mission from any culturally transformative purpose, is effectively for Christians to forsake the macro-ethical sphere of life altogether.