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Archive for the ‘Natural Law’ Category

Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical leaders have united to issue a clarion call in the defense of life, marriage and religious freedom.

The document, entitled The Manhattan Declaration, was drafted by Princeton Law Professor, Robert George, Timothy George, and Chuck Colson, founder of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview (Lansdowne, Va.).

With great clarity the document presents a synopsis of the cultural battles raging against the faith. It is a great reminder that while we have our differences, all Christians should be united in our struggle against secular fascism.

Leading signatories include Leith Anderson (National Association of Evangelicals), Dr. Mark L. Bailey (Dallas Theological Seminary), Dr. Robert C. Cannada, Jr. (Reformed Theological Seminary) and Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput
(Archbishop of Denver).

I encourage all DRC enthusiasts to read and sign this document. It is a call to defense of Christianity in our time.

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Last Saturday we took the kids to see the movie Horton Hears a Who.

It was a lot of fun.

I heard more than a Who. “Who” else detected a pretty strong pro-life theme? Was it on purpose or did Horton’s motto “a life is a life no matter how small” accidently strike a pro-life cord?

Did anyone else see the movie? What did you think?

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To the RPCNA I owe my new life in Christ. She is my mother and I dearly love her.

In loyalty to my mother I have tried to work through her doctrine of the mediatorial Kingship of Christ over the nations and to defend its 20th Century application National Confessionalism. I have always found National Confessionalism more acceptably moderate than the radicalism of theonomy.

Finding very little content to the RPCNA’s doctrine, I have used the DRC to work out a biblical theology to defend the National Confessional position. Keeping in mind past excesses and failures, I hoped to root a renewed National Confessionalism in the fertile soil of broader Christendom. I looked to Edmund Burke, T.S. Eliot, and Russell Kirk to guide my efforts.

Today, I acknowledge something of a failure. Not that my work at building a biblical theology of Christ’s Kingship has failed. Rather, I have failed to convince myself that National Confessionalism is a worthwhile outworking of the doctrine. I have talked myself out of the National Confessionalist position.

I remain whole heartedly committed to Christ’s Kingship over the Nations. I remain wholeheartedly committed to the belief that nations are moral persons, corporately responsible to God and His anointed King. I stand behind almost every word I have written in my DRC column. Yet, as I have worked through the relationship between corporate responsibility of nations and the doctrine of the two kingdoms I cannot help but think that I have developed a more convincing biblical theological justification for the traditionalist understanding of the American religious settlement within our own Constitutional order.

Further, had the preamble of the US Constitution reflected the Kingship of Christ, I believe that we would be waging the exact same fight as we are fighting today. The Christian amendment was always a purely symbolic gesture. In itself neither harmful or helpful. I will not waste another drop of ink defending it.

The belief that nations are a morally responsible community of souls binding the dead, the living, and the unborn, a robust doctrine of the two kingdoms, the Spirituality of the Church, the continuing relevance of the moral law, and a traditionalist conservatism rooted in the wisdom of the West… these things I will continue to defend against all foes.

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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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The Protestant Kirk

I posted this on a Russell Kirk discussion group and got some good feedback. I thought it might be worth while to post here.

I object to Protestantism being denied the right to defender the
natural law.

While I agree that Kirk was not so much a Thomist as an Augustinian
you will find that the Reformers were also men deeply indebted to
Augustine. This does not necessarily mean that Kirk was closer to
Protestants for Roman Catholics like Christopher Dawson were also
deeply Augustinian (as was Tolkien) and they shared Kirk emphasis on
the moral imagination. Of course, some of the Protestant
Scholastics, like Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchius, and John
Owen were Thomists. All were defenders of natural law as has been
recently demonstrated by the Acton Institutes’ Stephen Grabill’s
Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics.

I do think that Kirk’s thought patterns were deeply influenced by his
cultural protestantism. He descended from a line of cultural
Protestants with roots in New England Puritanism and Scottish
Presbyterianism. Although the theological foundations had descended
into unitarianism, Swedenborgianism, and the strange specter of
spiritualism there is an undeniable cultural inheritance.

To Frank Purcell’s point, all I can recall is this passage that
recounts the story of Annette bring home Clinton Wallace:

A few minutes later, Annette burst upon Russell, who lay abed–

being too frequently given to indolence on the Sabbath, the charge
brought against his Pilgrim ancestor Abraham Pierce– and
shouted,
“Russell, do you want to meet a bum? (pg. 351).

Notice how the shadow of Protestantism, even Puritanism is interlaced
in the passage? He speaks of his Pilgrim ancestor but also of the
Sabbath and his personal sin of indolence. This is deeply suggestive
of a man who owned his Protestant and Puritan heritage even as he
took comfort from his Roman Catholicity. Of course, authentic
confessional Protestantism cannot be blamed for Kirk’s sleeping in
while his wife attended Mass. Failure to attend public worship and
the means of grace are matters of church discipline even for those
who believe that we are justified sola fide (how does this relate to
the relationship of faith to works in justification?). The heart of
the situation is Kirk’s conservatism and his recognition that even in
converting to Rome he could not escape the haunting inheritance of
the faith of his fathers. I do not have the reference at the tip of
my finger but I recall that Kirk answered the question about the
man’s ultimate meaning by alluding to the First Question of the
Westminster Shorter Catechism: What is Man’s Chief End? Man’s chief
end it so glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

BTW John Randolph of Roanoke is included in the Conservative Mind
and in Kirk’s biography he makes the point that that Randolph’s
Anglicanism was deeply evangelical and influenced by Samuel Davies.
That places Randolph’s protestant faith to the left of Old Light and
Old School Presbyterianism. Of course, we would also have to note
that many of those “atheists” in the Conservative Mind were
“Protestant” atheists (I use to word loosely) including John Adams,
Fisher Ames, ect. and all the men in the chapter on New England,
ect. Some of the “atheists” were Roman Catholic “atheists” like
Santayana. My point is that Kirk’s Conservatism transcended the
breach between Rome and Geneva/Canterbury/ Boston and made common
cause with all defenders of Anglo-American traditionalism (especially
those traditions that he could feel in his blood).

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Andrew Matthews

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 Name’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.

“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them” (Heb. 13:3). While humility is essentially a spiritual quality, the intensity of one’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 Christians’ 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 Solzhenitsyn’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 “free” 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 “lowest place.” But what does this mean in the context of a democratic society where everyone is “equal” 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, I’ll grant that the activist strategy of the so-called religious right inspired by the civil rights protests of the 1960’s is woefully insufficient for the task at hand. Darryl’s Confessional-Liturgical Protestantism is indeed central to the program we should pursue.]

What are we doing with the “quiet and peaceful” 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 Tolkien’s authority that possession of the ring (of power) is inherently corrupting. Lord Acton’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 Lord’s commands to “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek.” 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 Calvin’s teaching that determining what is proper to temporal affairs—versus spiritual—was as easy as distinguishing body and spirit. But I have difficulty seeing how W2K—and even the great Calvin—has provided a practical solution for this Gordian knot every Christian must face. Can body and spirit be so easily separated?

“No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). God or mammon must be served. How are we to understand (and obey!) Jesus’ words if we possess two citizenships, two ultimate loyalties? Oh, they aren’t ultimate? One is higher than the other? I see: “We must obey God rather than men.” Earthly citizenship must be subordinated to heavenly if we are to avoid the alternative—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?

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality” (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. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 10 does not rescind the council’s decree. In 1 Corinthians, one of Paul’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 God’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 with—or regular support—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 public—as well as private—consequences, for every act has both micro and macro ramifications.

Steve Zrimec writes: “The 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.”

Here’s my problem with Steve’s point of view. He is only concerned about individual and corporate obedience of Christians in the Church apart from culture’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, don’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 don’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 “distinction” I’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 won’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 Church’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 Christ’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 Church’s mission from any culturally transformative purpose, is effectively for Christians to forsake the macro-ethical sphere of life altogether.

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Andrew Matthews

Darryl, you write: “Andrew, I’d be glad to answer these reflections if I weren’t already asking for you to answer them.”

What?! I have been providing answers to this (admittedly) difficult question. The “hard sayings” of Jesus are called such because they are not easy for anyone who recognizes the validity of natural law, even in the Christian life.

Alright, I’ll summarize my view for anyone interested in interacting with it.

First of all, Jesus’ commandments do appear to go against our desire for earthly justice and natural inclinations for self-preservation. At times, faithfulness to Christ demands that we give up everything for his service. However, we do not choose the when and how of this. We do not manufacture the circumstances in which we are called to obediently suffer. It is up to the sovereign Lord to determine when our faith will be tested in such a radical way.

Second, in my series on the cross and glory, I’ve been arguing that in life everyone has to go through probationary tests in order to advance to a position requiring greater responsibility. This was a dynamic in the original CoW, and is still operative in the economy of grace, though there is no longer a possibility of eternal condemnation. God puts every individual in a lowly circumstance, peculiar to whatever status he is originally given (i.e., born into). For example, before becoming a journeyman lineman, an apprentice must go through several years of apprenticeship. Another example is that before becoming king, a prince must be under the discipline of tutors. You get the point.

Third, a Christian is to be characterized by humility both in his probation and in his responsible vocation. Just because someone has been given an exalted position doesn’t mean that there aren’t probationary tests anymore. Rather, Christian sanctification is a progression “from glory to glory” as the flesh is further mortified. This process doesn’t stop after a particular plateau has been reached. In the last comment I wrote under this heading, I said that there is humility “appropriate to kings, another appropriate to parents, another appropriate to husbands, and another appropriate to single unattached people.” The station one finds himself in determines in what way and how extensively he is able to lay down his life in imitation of Christ. Single people are freer to do this, while married people are less free.

I deny that desiring a Christian state in any way contradicts these principles. It should be fairly uncontroversial that a king can serve Christ and his subjects in a self-sacrificing way, while a beggar, eaten up with resentment can hoard whatever wealth he can acquire and refuse help to people around him. Yes, God uses the humble to shame the proud. So what? This doesn’t mean that the humble always remain in humble circumstances. King Nebuchadnezzar said, “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17).

Furthermore, using the power of the sword to enforce a social way of life is not necessarily tyrannical, but in fact a legitimate function of the state (if approached wisely). Scripture is clear: kings not only punish evildoers, they promote the good as well (Rom. 13:3-4; 1 Pet. 2:14). St. Paul says, “once your obedience is complete, we will be able to punish every act of disobedience” (2 Cor. 10:6). After a person acquires the responsibility of parenthood, a period of obedience has been completed and a new obedience requires a new exercise of disciplinary enforcement (in children). Accession to a royal throne involves an analagous progression into a new obedience of enforcement.

A state may become Christian through the natural course of things (i.e., not through revolution). At that point the king has an obligation to confess Christ’s Lordship, emulate Christ in a way appropriate to his responsibility, punish those who trouble the Church, and foster that which facilitates discipleship while suppressing ungodliness.

Darryl, you write: “So it seems that you also concede that Christians resort to the city of man. Why is this only a problem that I have to solve when you yourself admit that you do not pursue a life of weakness, folly or poverty, at least when you’re thinking about culture and politics.”

I deny that Christ intended us to pursue “a life of weakness, folly or poverty” at any point. Rather, we are to take the “lowest place,” when presented with options in a probationary test.

I have provided an account how to apply Christ’s commands in real life. W2K avoids this challenge. W2K men think that by prohibiting theocratic transformationalism they are taking the path of humility, and somehow fulfilling Christ’s requirement. This is mistaken, and falls far short of Christ’s intent. Jesus calls us to obedience in every sphere of life in ways appropriate to our vocation.

By positing dual citizenship in two ultimate realms, the “city of man” and the “city of God” with an ethic proper to each, W2K leads immature Christians into error. The simple are deluded into believing they will be okay (i.e., justified) even if they live their everyday lives according to the fallen principles of the city of man.

And so, Darryl, my challenge to you still stands: How do you do justice to Christ’s commands in all their comprehensive radicality?

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