Corporate confessionâ€™s conclusion
What is the National Confessional approach to Christâ€™s mediatorial Kingship? This series began by noting the four-fold foundation of the National Confessional approach: corporate confession, distinguishing kingdoms, applying the moral law, and defending the Church. So far this series has focused on the issue of corporate confession of Christ. Surveying the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament we conclude that the Christian faith is not simply a private affair between God and an individualâ€™s conscience. Rather, Christianity has public and corporate ramifications. Christâ€™s Lordship extends to the nations, and as such, nations must give Him honor and glory. Much, therefore, depends on our understanding of the word â€œnationsâ€.
The great commission charges the Church to baptize the ethnos (nations) (Matthew 28:19). 21st Century Americans who hear the word â€œnationâ€ are immediately overwhelmed by images of the modern nation-state. One for one application of the biblical ethnos with the modern nation-state has been the hallmark of two centuries of Covenanter application of Christâ€™s mediatorial Kingship. This month I wish to offer an alternative vision.
An American strategy
Is America an ethnos? Or is it a confederation of multiple ethnos covenanted together on the basis of a shared vision of the common good? Rather, it is an ethnos (rooted in a shared sense of place, language, and history) constituted by a diverse assortment of smaller ethnos (variously rooted in a shared sense of place, religion, blood, and history).
This raises the question, how should Christâ€™s mediatorial Kingship be applied to a Constitutional Republic (Empire?) such as the United States of America? For years, the answer of the Reformed Presbyterian Church was a constitutional amendment reflecting our national commitment to Christâ€™s Lordship. The idea that the stateâ€™s Christian commitment should mirror that of its people by way of constitutional confession has an attractive logic. This position was so attractive that the Covenanter case is made by no less of a Presbyterian theologian than A.A. Hodge who, in his Outlines of Theology, writes:
It follows thereforeâ€”1st. That every nation should explicitly acknowledge the Christ of God to be the Supreme Governor, and his revealed will the supreme fundamental law of the land, to the general principles of which all special legislation should be conformed. 2nd. That all civil officers should make the glory of God their end, and his revealed will their guide (Outlines of Theology, pg. 434).
While it is unquestionably true that civil magistrates at all levels should â€œkiss the Sonâ€, I suggest that an inordinate focus on a Constitutional Amendment to the Federal Constitution is less than helpful. Does the most committed National Confessionalist believe that a Christian Constitutional Amendment will be showing up on a nearby ballot anytime soon? Pie-eyed dreamers will suggest that anything is possible with God. Great work if you can get it but I would prefer that our politics show a love for God â€œnot in word or talk but in deed and in truthâ€!
Living Lavida Local!
Drawing on our previously argued case for subsidiarity, I propose a more humbly local strategy for applying Christâ€™s mediatorial Kingship. Christâ€™s command to baptize the nations charges the Church to see extended families (tribes), communities, villages/towns, guilds, unions, and private associations subservient to the glory of God. While the modern-nation state should not be artificially excluded from our concept of â€œnation-hoodâ€ it must not be the end of, or even the focus of, our discussions. Rather, the doctrine of subsidiarity demands that it is of principally greater importance to seek Christian families than Christian cities, Christian towns than Christian nations. Christian influence is most acutely felt when it is closest to home.
Focus on the family
The first step to living lavida local is to focus on the family. 21st Century Americans have a stale, artificial, and ailing concept of family. This impoverished vision of the family is to often encouraged by conservative evangelical Christians. The modern nuclear family envisions sovereign households headed by father and including wife/mother and 1.5 children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins to the 4th degree, continue to exist but have little bearing on the modernist family save for birthday celebrations, Christmas presents, and the occasional phone call (or email?). Tribes and clans are broken up in the name of the autonomous individual. A serious approach to Christâ€™s Kingship will begin with a renewed focus on the family in its more historic and extended form. We should remember that the promise of the covenant extended beyond Abrahamâ€™s nuclear family and encompassed to the whole of his broader tribe (including many not bonded by blood).
A renewed sense of Christâ€™s Kingship over the family must include a renewed sense of the mystical unity of the family as a community cemented by bonds of blood, love, and place. It is time to question the transient nature of our root-less society and the devastating effect it has on our churches. Reformed churches are organic bodies. They do not grow well in the artificial environment of modernist liberalism. Until the church can make a case for place the children God has given us will continue to flee to the pews of distant suburban evangelical community churches. They will continue to forsake worshipping with their extended families and ancient communities in favor of an anonymous life among strangers.
From extended family we move to the need for a renewal of local communities. In the American System, our nation is not only a community of semi-sovereign states, but each state is a community of semi-sovereign counties, which, in their turn, are communities of semi-sovereign cities, towns, and villages. Note the use of the word semi-sovereign. Here is the genius of American order. Since sovereignty is found in the people, no one level of government or society can claim indivisible sovereignty. Rather, sovereignty is shared between a plethora of diverse social units, civil authorities, and government institutions. Of course, it should go without saying that, if authentic authority comes up from the people, than those civil authorities closest to the people should have precedence. Life is local.
Yet, if life is local, I suggest that our congregations must also renew their commitment to an appropriate sense of place. Time was when congregational life together was a seven-day a week affair. Folks who lived, loved, and worked (bickered, sinned, and hated as well) together the other six days of the week worshipped together on the first. Authentic Christian community was not just a buzzword for a new small group discipleship program at the local mega-church!
When community and congregation share a common geographic reality and more fully appreciate the grace of place, Christ honoring politics will be the natural (supernatural?) result. Does this mean the church should stop testifying of the need for the state and federal governments to confess Christ? Never! 1st Century Rome was less an ethnos than 21st Century America but the church did not abandon hope in her conversion. Rather, it reminds us to keep the horse before the cart. A popular bumper sticker suggests: THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY. What a perfect slogan for applying Christian politics. Let us, therefore, embrace a more local view of nationhood and focus our attention on rebuilding Christendom one community at a time.