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Archive for the ‘localism’ Category

Alasdair Macintyre, the astute Roman Catholic philosopher, got off one of the better quips about the difficulty of feeling loyalty for the modern nation-state when he wrote that being asked to die for one’s country is like “being asked to die for the telephone company.” Whether it’s AT&T or Verizon, it’s just too big, too abstract, too bureaucratic for people to be willing to sacrifice anything meaningful. It’s even hard to imagine wearing a phone company t-shirt.

This is the way contemporary evangelicalism feels and it confounds me that so many Reformed Christians continue to show allegiance to a religious phenomenon that is as big, remote, and weightless as the phone company. A number of blogs recently have taken up the subject, Lee Irons’, Scott Clark’s, Ref 21, and the Confessional Outhouse among them. Also at Greenbaggins the posting of recent statements from administrators at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) on the schools relationship to evangelicalism was the occasion for reflections on the relations between evangelical and Reformed Protestantism.

Typically, Reformed types will concede that evangelicalism has its problems – theological especially – but the garden variety evangelical’s devotion to the Bible, sincere religious experience, belief in Christ as savior, and general zeal are all worthy of Reformed respect. So deep is this respect that many Reformed believers will speak of the fellowship they have with evangelicals.

Fellowship? How exactly is such fellowship manifest? Is it like being listed in the Yellow Pages? Where does this fellowship happen other than when American Protestants answer pollsters questions a certain way, when journalists lump everyone from Rick Warren to James Dobson under the heading of evangelical, or when a university press releases yet another book about evangelicalism in the United States?

The way Christians are supposed to consider fellowship is through the prism of the church – not the warm and fuzzy invisible church that incorporates believers the way Verizon sends out direct mail. It is rather the visible church that sets the terms of fellowship and these bodies have definite views about doctrine, worship, and polity. That’s why Orthodox Presbyterians may have great respect for Missouri Synod Lutherans but don’t exchange pulpits with Lutheran pastors. And yet, certain Reformed Protestants, who are supposed to know better because they have actually taken vows that circumscribe their ministry and membership within a specific communion, will speak of the fellowship and unity they have with Christians who are in communions not even within the Rolodex of the chairmen of their denomination’s committee on ecumenicity.

To speak of fellowship with evangelicals is really like speaking of oneness with fellow Americans who favor marriage. I do support marriage and am glad for as many citizens of this republic who value it as we can find. But what I share with pro-marriage Americans is hardly the same as the real fellowship I have, by virtue of marriage, with my wife. I wonder when Reformed Protestants will consider that their membership and ordination vows may be as serious as their marriage vows, and may even trump their identity as evangelicals.

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Running on a “Little America” theme, Caleb Stegall scored a 30-point romp over the incumbent DA in yesterday’s election. Good news for all populists, crunchy cons, and reactionary radicals!

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Beer and civilization

Sad news today about the sale of Anheuser-Busch to the Belgian-owned, Brazilian-run InBev company. Of course, you shouldn’t have been drinking very much Budweiser even before this sale. You should be drinking local beer (or making your own). But now Budweiser must definitely be booted from the fridge.

Anyway, this news story has spawned an outstanding op-ed column by George Will.

No beer, no civilization. After reading Will’s essay, I have to wonder whether it might also be true that “no beer, no church”. Did the RPCNA grow during the decades when beer-swilling was prohibited? No. Might our modest growth in the past decade be partly attributable to the fact that our elders are once again free to imbibe? Yes.

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If you live in or near Rochester allow me to invite you to the Old Toad this Thursday at 5:00 p.m. Bill Kauffman will be joining us to discussion his recent books. Bill is a Western New York legend and has a great following among the Presby-Cons (a term coined by Kauffman to describe us).

Bill will be speaking to The Club, a circle of friends and associates that gathers quarterly at the Old Toad for finely crafted beverages, excellent food (the bangers and mash are amazing), and civilized company. Talks cover a range of topics, political, literary, philosophical, and theological. Conversation follows and it is always stimulating. If you come you will enjoy it.

If you cannot come, buy Bill’s new book Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism. It will be good for you and it will help stimulate rural Western New York’s stagnant economy.

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Caleb’s review of Jason Peters, ed. Wendell Berry: Life and Work

If you have not done so already, you really need to bookmark First Principles. It is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s new web journal.

ISI should really start a blog. Maybe they could get Caleb to be a regular. I would tune in daily.

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I am so glad to live in Walworth New York. Wayne County New York is an agrarian paradise. During the summer the road sides are dotted with small farm stands standing in front of handsome old farm houses. Pick up your fruits and veggies put your money in a little box and you are on your way.

For ravenous carnivores like the Chellis family, Wayne County has another hidden pleasure. Just down the road, really in middle of nowhere, stands Joe’s Meat Market. At first glance Joe’s looks like a regular farm but on closer inspection the astute eye will note that cattle trucks parked by the slaughterhouse. Here local cows, pig, ect. are brought to be slaughtered, butchered, packaged, and sold. The prices are significantly LOWER than the local supermarkets and the quality is far superior.

After living here for a few years we were able to get our hands on a freezer. We now buy our beef by the quarter and our pork by the half pig. They come from local farmers who are our neighbors. The animals are treated humanely by farmers who remain committed to authentic husbandry. This allows our family to eat well at a cheeper price and with a cleaner conscience.

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Industrial and farming are two words that should never be in the same sentence except by way of contrast. Kinda like the words industrial and ecclesiastical. Mega-churches with cheap salvation. Mega-meats with cheap chicken. Everyone once in a while a news story offers a warning about the dangers, even the sins, of industrial farming practices and their effects on the food supply. Few seem to ever think deeply about the implication no matter how disturbing or disgusting the details. Today’s massive meat recall is such a story.

If your conscience is not bothered by eating that large, cheap steak from your local supermarket you might want to pick up a copy of Matthew Scully’s book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. If you are thinking… oh boy, I am not reading some left-wing diatribe from some animal rights freak… reconsider. Matthew Scully is a conservative who has written for National Review and the American Conservative. He has served as a speech writer to conservatives like G. W. Bush (does he still count as a conservative?), Dan Quayle, Bob Dole, Robert Casey, and Fife Symington). It is worth checking out.

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Westminster’s Warrior Children

We have moved past times when the revolution will be televised. Now it’s happening on blogs. Dueling blogs have recently been created to voice either despair or support for the current administration at WTS (Philadelphia). Saveourseminary.com (get it, SOS) is the outlet for students and alumni who fear that the biblical studies faculty is about to be put on a tighter leash. According to these despondent bloggers, Westminster is about to abandon its commitment to both “cutting-edge” scholarship and “historic traditions.”

Meanwhile, dudewheresmyseminary.wordpress.com was created to lampoon saveourseminary. It satirizes the fears of tyranny at Westminster by portraying “Karl” Trueman as a fire breathing tyrant, not too many steps removed from the real tyrants that Karl Marx inspired. The impression given is that worries of a palace coup are completely unwarranted. (The site is humourous, but it may not do justice to the seriousness of either the issues the biblical studies faculty have raised about the inerrancy of Scripture or how important holding a job is.)

What is arguably most puzzling about the current flap at WTS is that both sides are opposed to narrowness and smug denominationalism. To be sure, some alumni and students at WTS sound more open and outward looking (read: biblical) than their opponents whom they deem as narrow and inbred (read: creedal). For instance, at SOS Tremper Longman explains why he left WTS to teach at Westmont: “one of the reasons why I left in 1998 was my perception that the seminary was beginning to change from the deeply Reformed but outward facing institution that it was from the time that I first knew it in the 1970’s to a more inward defensive institution. I remember talking to one colleague, for instance, who told me that if I felt the Bible taught something that the Confession did not that I had to side with the Confession. That’s not the Reformed approach to the study of the Bible that I know and love.”

But Carl Trueman, the one supposedly behind the defensive shift at Westminster, can sound equally outward looking. For instance, at Reformation 21, the on-line magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (hardly an inward Presbyterian group), he explained why he is sometimes critical of evangelicalism while also maintaining his regard for these Christians: “I am not in the game of bashing evangelicals and evangelicalism – humanly speaking, I owe everything, almost all my theology, and much of my Christian nurture to such people. It wasn’t the confessional Presbyterians who told me the gospel; it wasn’t the confessional Lutherans who took the time to teach me the basics of the faith; it was the evangelicals.” Trueman adds, “I refuse the binary opposition which makes me either an evangelical first, last and only; or a denominationalist who sits in his study taking supercilious potshots at those who do their best to share the gospel with those who need to hear it.”

Apparently what we have here are rival ways of being open to evangelicals, of not being narrowly or parochially Reformed. In effect, WTS is now torn between Scott McKnight, Tim Keller and Richard Mouw’s sort of broad evangelicalism and Al Mohler, D. A. Carson and John Piper’s sort of Reformed evangelicalism.

What is missing from both sides is the understanding of being Reformed that informed the likes of Machen and Van Til, men who were in fact denominationalists first and whose potshots at evangelicalism were not supercilious. Their criticisms of a lowest common denominator evangelicalism and their defense of the grandness of the Reformed faith stemmed not from a love of being narrow or isolated (though holding to the Westminster Standards as opposed to following one OT professor’s interpretation of three books of the Bible is hardly narrow). It stemmed from the real differences that arise once one becomes a member of a church and a theological tradition. To be Reformed for the original WTS faculty meant not being something else.

Wouldn’t it be nice if vows to a wife did not restrict involvement with other women, and wouldn’t it be nice if responsibilities as an adult child didn’t require caring for aging and infirm parents, and wouldn’t it be nice if being a citizen of the U.S. also yielded the benefits that come to those living in New Zealand. And wouldn’t it be nice to live with Homer Simpson in the Land of Chocolate! The problem is, we are situated people, and this situatedness inherently cuts us off from other people. To be open to all people and points of view is the conceit of modernity. It is not human. The ties of church membership and theological traditions are no less situated.

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I will be speaking this Friday evening at the annual conference of the National Reform Association.

NATIONAL REFORM ASSOCIATION (NRA)
Publisher of the Christian Statesman

Annual Conference­ – Friday Nov. 16th 7pm
Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church

“Restoring the Roots”
Christ’s Kingship and the Centrality of the Local Community
Rev. William H. Chellis, M.Div., J.D., Pastor, Rochester, NY RPC
Founder – De Regno Christi blog – to advance discussion and awareness of Christ’s Reign over the Nations

“The Trinitarian Theocratic Imperative vs. Polytheistic Pluralism”

A Christ-centered contemplation of the Great Commission and a Journey thru History
Pastor Tony Cowley – Pastor Fairmount Presbyterian Church
Former NRA President and former editor of Christian Statesman
Contributor – Explicitly Christian Politics

WHEN: Friday, Nov 16th, 7:00 pm

WHERE: Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church (South Hills, near Dormont/Brookline)
2001 Pioneer Ave. (South Hills), Pittsburgh, PA 15226 (412 388-1099)

RSVP (Wed Nov. 14th): Patrick Marx [patrick.marx@verizon.net, (412) 260-9900 c]
DIRECTIONS (bottom) and SPEAKERS BIOS (below)

SPEAKER BIOS

Rev. William H. Chellis, M.Div., J.D., Pastor, Rochester, NY RPC
Pastor Chellis grew up in the small town of Jeffersonville in the lower Catskill Mountains of New York. There he developed a love for the simplicity of agrarian virtues and the beauty of God’s creation. Having received his B.S. in Political Science from SUNY Oneonta, Pastor Chellis earned his Juris Doctorate from Villanova University School of Law.

Pastor of the Rochester Reformed Presbyterian Church, Bill writes a monthly column for the Reformed Presbyterian Witness entitled De Regno Christi and hosts a blog discussion bearing the same name. He serves as co-editor of Semper Reformanda: A Covenanter Theological Review. Bill’s writings have also appeared in the Christian Statesman.

Bill is also an active Attorney and a serves as Walworth Town Chairman of the New York Conservative Party. He is married to his high school sweetheart Katrina.

Pastor Tony Cowley – Pastor Fairmount Presbyterian Church

Anthony Alan Cowley was born in New York City, the youngest of eight children in a Swedenborgian family. Tony lived in Bryn Athyn, PA (attending the Academy of the New Church) where his great grandfather had been a founding member of a New Church (Swedenborgian) Society. He was converted to orthodox Christianity at age 15, but struggled for five years in coming to clarity on the nature of God and the gospel of grace. He was baptized in Monterey, Calif. In 1978, and started attending a Reformed Church in 1981, while serving in the U.S. Army at Ft. Riley, Kansas as a Russian Voice Interecept Operator. He started attending the RP Seminary in Pittsburgh in 1984 while finishing his BA in Russian Literature and History at the University of Pittsburgh. He worked as a clerk and paralegal for one year, then worked for the Education and Publication office of the RPCNA from 1986-1990 while completing his M.Div. at RPTS. He was ordained into the gospel ministry by the Atlantic Presbytery of the RPCNA on June 9, 1990 at Elkins Park Reformed Presbyterian Church (near Philadelpha, PA). He became involved with the National Reform Association while in Seminary, and later served as President of the Board. He became pastor of the Minneola R.P. Church in 1998, serving on various boards and committees, including the E&P Board and the Synod Worship Committee. In 2004 he was called to pastor the Fairmount Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Sewickley, PA, where he now serves. He is married to Natalie Rose Cowley (5/25/81) and is father of five children – Sarah Marie Luper (Married to Josh Luper on November 3rd, age 24), Shawn Alastair Christian (21), Christina Elisabeth (16), Samuel David (14) and Elineke Rose (8). He has preached in Russia (1994) and Cyprus (1996) and edited The Christian Statesman and written for Semper Reformanda and the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, and is a contributor to the NRA’s Explicitly Christian Politics.

MISSION of the NATIONAL REFORM ASSOCIATION
Maintain & promote in our national life Christian principles of civil government, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Jesus Christ is Lord in all aspects of life, including civil government. Jesus Christ is,
therefore, the Ruler of Nations, and should be explicitly confessed as such in any constitutional documents.

2. The civil ruler is to be a servant of God, he derives his authority from God and he is duty-bound to govern according to the expressed will of God.

3. The civil government of our nation, its laws, institutions, and practices must therefore be conformed to the principles of Biblical law as revealed in the Old and New Testaments.

DIRECTIONS: 2001 Pioneer Ave. (South Hills), Pittsburgh, PA 15226 (412 388-1099)

From North or Pittsburgh (or coming from 376 East or 376 West):
· Go through the Liberty Tunnels heading Southbound (Becomes Rt. 19, then Washington Rd.)
· Left on Pioneer Ave. Go 1.0 mile Church is on left.

From East or West of Pittsburgh (on 51 East or West):
· Go Southbound on Rt. 19. Go .1 miles
· Left on Pioneer Ave. Go 1.0 mile Church is on left.

From South of Pittsburgh (get on Washington Rd.):
· Washington Rd. Northbound. Becomes W. Liberty Ave. then Rt. 19)
· Left on Pioneer Ave (before you reach Rt. 51 and Liberty Tunnels). Go 1.0m Church is on left

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Corporate confession’s conclusion

What is the National Confessional approach to Christ’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 individual’s conscience. Rather, Christianity has public and corporate ramifications. Christ’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 “nations”.
The great commission charges the Church to baptize the ethnos (nations) (Matthew 28:19). 21st Century Americans who hear the word “nation” 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 Christ’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 Christ’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 Christ’s Lordship. The idea that the state’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 therefore—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 “kiss the Son”, 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 “not in word or talk but in deed and in truth”!

Living Lavida Local!

Drawing on our previously argued case for subsidiarity, I propose a more humbly local strategy for applying Christ’s mediatorial Kingship. Christ’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 “nation-hood” 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 Christ’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 Abraham’s nuclear family and encompassed to the whole of his broader tribe (including many not bonded by blood).
A renewed sense of Christ’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.
Life together
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.

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