Speaking Mush to Power

Here is an interesting and valuable article on American Empire, N.T. Wright, the emergent church, and Pauline studies (HT: Justin Taylor).

And here are just a couple of random (and brief) observations on the same general subject. I am not going to argue for these; I am just going to say them.

1. It is self-evident to me that America has become an empire (of sorts), and that the New Testament provides us with a pattern as we seek to operate as consistent Christians within the confines of empire, supporting the powers that be as needed, and challenging them prophetically as needed.

2. The challenge to empire in the NT is presented in the name of the Lord Jesus, and is done through the Church. It is not done on behalf of and in the name of aggrieved Parthians, disenfranchised Scythians, post-colonial tinpot dictators complaining about the loan policies of the World Bank, or UN health workers urging a more expansive condom distribution policy.

3. Those who want the American empire to behave itself, and yet who have an allergic reaction to all forms of “Constantinianism,” want something that has never been and never will be. As much as they like to pretend otherwise, anti-Constantinians don’t really believe in speaking truth to power. They believe in speaking limp nostrums to power, or cheesy bromides to power, or sentimental cliches to power. And power laughs and does what it wants. The pagans running the show will behave as pagans always have until and unless they submit to the saving and authoritative grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. Submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ is not the same thing as trendy leftism. Sorry. See number two again.

5. The only genuine postmodernism possible is theonomic postmillennialism. This is not a cute debating trick. It is a serious point, easier to dismiss with a secularized and nonchalant laugh than it is to answer. True postmodernism is not possible until all the postmodernists are dead.

6. And last, although I write as a Christian, a conservative, and a Calvinist, in that order, everything I argue for here is deeply rooted in the blues.

Lord”s Day Prayer 80

Our Father and God, You are the God who has promised to show us the covenant. We thank You that we are in the covenant, but we seek more than this—we ask that You would show us the covenant, in accordance with all Your promises. We sit down at this meal, ready to thank You for it, but we are not just thanking You for the food, the wine, the fellowship, the laughter, and all the rest. We do thank You for these things, but in addition we thank You for keeping Your promises to us as You give them. We thank You for all the generations to come where You will keep, with different households, and different foods and wines, the same promises. We thank You for all of it,


All Reformers Are In Over Their Heads

“We are trying to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem with opponents taunting us about our (admitted!) inabilities in wall-building. They say that if a fox jumps on our wall, that wall will collapse; we wonder sometimes if it wouild take an animal that big” (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 235).

True Character Is Measured By An Ability to Oppose a Lynch Mob

“The master thinkers of the Enlightenment inherited a Europe that had been buoyed up by the moral ethos of Christianity for so long that they thought they could scuttle the ark and wash ashore on the next tide. They were sure that reasonable people, with a wink from Voltaire and Rousseau, would walk away from crowds in droves. When, by the grace of God, we are able to walk away from a crowd in the grip of mimetic contagion, it is not because we are the sturdy individuals we fancy ourselves to be. Rather it is because we, like the members of the mob accusing the adulterous woman, have been moved by a moral force of even greater power than that which the old system of sacred violence has been able to muster” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, pp. 196-197).

Which Should Be Obvious

“When Christ is the Molder of character we have Christian character; precisely, when Christ is the molder of culture we have Christian culture” (Richard Taylor, A Return to Christian Culture, p. 16).

Obedience or Death

Recall that chapter eight of Deuteronomy is structured chiastically. We will now consider the second half of this chiasm. “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day” (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).

Remember the central point of this chapter is emphasized at the point of the chiasm. Recall also this point is then reiterated in the last two verses of the chapter.

A Land was sworn to forefathers; the command is given today (v. 1).

   B Wilderness was a place of humbling, testing and provision (vv. 2-6)

      C The land before you is good (vv. 7-9)

         D You will eat and be full; bless the Lord (v. 10)

            E Do not forget the Lord (v. 11)

         D’ You will eat and be full (v. 12a)

      C’ The land before you is good (vv. 12b-14)

   B’ Wilderness was a place of humbling, testing and provision (vv. 15-16)

A’ Wealth, covenant with forefathers, as today (vv. 17-18)

And then verses 19-20 go back to reinforce the central point—do not forget the Lord. So let’s work our way back out the chiasm. From v. 11 through v. 18, Moses is working his way back through the points made earlier. And yet he does more than simply repeat himself; we find fresh coloration throughout.

We have been told not to forget the Lord, but forgetfulness is then defined. Not keeping the commandments, judgments, and statutes is defined as forgetfulness (v. 11). Forgetting consists of what a man does or does not do. So God is forgotten when His Word is not done (Ps. 106: 19, 21; Jer. 2:32). God is remembered when His commands are performed (Psalm 103:18). Remembering and forgetting are not verbs that are contained within the head.

The actual temptation comes in vv. 14a & 17. The set-up for it comes in vv. 12-13. When you are fat and sassy (v. 12), Moses says, when you have fine houses, enjoyed over time (v. 12), when your herds multiply (v. 13), when your money multiplies (v. 13), when everything multiplies (v. 13), the sinful heart tends to exalt itself (v. 14). But self-exalting is God-forgetting. If riches create this temptation, then American Christian are in it up to our necks.

Not only are these people anticipated as fools, they are ungrateful fools. What had God done for them? He delivered them from slavery in Egypt (v. 14). He led them through the wilderness, and delivered them from serpents. Adam and Eve had fallen to the serpent in a Garden, and the Jews were delivered from seraphim in a wilderness (v. 15; Num. 21:8-9). God gave them water from Christ Himself (v. 15; 1 Cor. 10:4). God also fed them bread from heaven (John 6:32-33) to humble and test them, and bring them good (v. 16).

But when the heart is lifted up, it says all manner of foolish things. My hand and my might has gotten me where I am, and all I have. This attitude was the preliminary insanity of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:30), and the death of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity had a preamble, and that preamble was his boasting.

In contrast, we are called to remember. But the command is not to remember this point, or to keep it rolling around in the head. Remembering is doing. God gives the power to get wealth through your working (v. 18). He establishes His covenant through making our work efficacious. He alone can prosper the work of our hands (Ps. 90:17). So here is the basic choice. If the people forget, and do not live His commandments, they shall die (v. 19). They shall be destroyed (v. 20). Life is simple. Obey or die.

The Word of God speaks to us in our condition. What do we need to remember? Remembering is doing—remembering is not intellectual regurgitation. Obey or die—we may want a gentler religion. Well, go find a false one then. The beauty of the Lord—when God blesses us, the blessing is as lovely as His law.

Westminster XXIV: Of Marriage and Divorce

1. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5–6; Prov. 2:17).

One man, one woman, one time. Polygamy is excluded because it is not in keeping with God’s creation design for man and woman. God created Adam and one woman, not Adam and three women. Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and Christ provides the ultimate example of monogamy. The elders of the Christian church are required to be monogamous, thus reflecting this ultimate pattern. The Old Testament examples of polygamy are not to be categorized as sinful in the same way that adultery is, but it did definitely fall short of the creation pattern, and thus is unlawful in Christian cultures. Polyandry is excluded in the very nature of things. A husband is the head of his wife, and if a wife has two husbands, she is placed in an impossible governmental situation. A man cannot serve two masters, and neither can a woman.

2. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife (Gen. 2:18), for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed (Mal. 2:15); and for preventing of uncleanness ( 1 Cor. 7:2, 9).

Why is marriage? First, the husband and wife are created to provide godly help to one another—companionship in the fullest sense of that word. Secondly, God knew that Adam was unable to populate the world by himself, and so He gave him the woman. The purpose of our being constituted male and female is the propagation of godly offspring. And, thirdly, marriage is ordained for the sake of the marriage bed, which in a fallen world is a great help in the prevention of various forms of sexual immorality.

3. It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent (Heb. 13:4; 1 Tim. 4:3; 1 Cor. 7:36–38; Gen. 24:57–58). Yet is it the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies (Gen. 34:14; Exod. 34:16; Deut. 7:3–4; 1 Ki. 11:4; Neh. 13:25–27; Mal. 2:11–12; 2 Cor. 6:14).

Just as God gave permission to eat from any of the trees in the Garden of Eden, so men and women may marry as they please, and marry whom they please. One important restriction must be remembered—Christians must only marry Christians. In the first place, this means that those who profess the true reformed religion may not marry those who are overtly outside the pale, such as atheists, papists, or idolaters in other respects. But it is also possible for individuals to profess the true religion, but to live in a wicked way, or to profess heretical opinions. The fact that they externally belong to the same church as a true believer does not make them a lawful candidate for marriage.

4. Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the Word (Lev. 18; 1 Cor. 5:1; Amos 2:7). Nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife (Mark 6:18; Lev. 18:24–28). The man may not marry any of his wife’s kindred, nearer in blood than he may of his own: nor the woman of her husband’s kindred, nearer in blood than of her own (Lev. 20:19–21).

The Old Testament restrictions on marriage continue. A man may not marry his sister, for example. The important thing to note here is that the law of man, or agreement of parties, cannot make such a union into a marriage. In such an instance, we would have to speak of “marriage,” just as we do with homosexual “marriages.” A brother and sister who got “married,” assuming it to have been legal, should, upon repentance, separate and divorce. This would not be the requirement, for example, of someone who married unlawfully in another way (e.g. unlawfully divorced before the marriage). In that situation, repentance would not result in a divorce. The section in bold was dropped by the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1886, and is not in the PCA version of the Confession, which is a good thing. The restriction there goes beyond the boundaries of Scripture, and, in a certain measure, against Scripture.

5. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract (Matt. 1:18–20). In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce (Matt. 5:31–32): and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead (Matt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2–3).

An engagement may be broken if there is infidelity on the part of the other person after the engagement is made. Although the Confession does not address the question, an engagement may also be broken if there was earlier hidden immorality.

Say, for example, that a woman represented herself as a virgin although she was not. If the man enters into the betrothal believing this to be the case, when he discovers the truth, he may break the engagement (or marriage). In the case of adultery, the innocent person may divorce the other, and is completely free from the law of marriage in every respect. It is as though the offending party had died, because behavior has consequences.

6. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage (Matt. 19:8–9; 1 Cor. 7:15; Matt. 19:6): wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case (Deut. 24:1–4).

Men like to “study arguments” that might be able to get them into bed with other women. The fact that the Bible allows for divorce under certain conditions should not be used to justify this approach to justified lust. But only two conditions may set a person free to marry another. The first is adultery, and has already been addressed. The second is willful desertion that is beyond ecclesiastical or civil remedy. And when the conditions are met, the obtaining of a divorce should be a big deal, with a judicial and open approach being taken, and the aggrieved person not left to adjudicate their own case. In a corrupt time, as ours is, the civil and ecclesiastical authorities will frequently refuse to do their duty. In such a case, the innocent person may have to make their own decisions, but this is not the way it ought to be.

Westminster XXIII: Of the Civil Magistrate

1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers (Rom. 13:1–4; 1 Pet. 2:13–14).

God has established the civil magistrate in two relations. The first is that the magistrate is under Him. The second is that the magistrate is over the people. There are two reasons for this; the first and greatest is that this glorifies God. The second reason is that the public good is advanced by this arrangement. In order to bring about these goods, God has armed the magistrate with the power of the sword—lethal violence. In its turn, the sword is to be employed for two purposes, and in two directions. The first is the defense and encouragement of good people and the second is the punishment of the wicked.

2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto (Prov. 8:15–16; Rom. 13:1–4): in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth ( Ps. 2:10–12; 1 Tim. 2:2; Ps. 82:3–4; 2 Sam. 23:3; 1 Pet. 2:13); so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion (Luke 3:14; Rom. 13:4; Matt. 8:9–10; Acts 10:1–2; Rev. 17:14, 16).

The office of the magistrate is a lawful calling, and hence a Christian may occupy that station if he has been appropriately called to it. When a Christian holds civil office, certain things are required of him. He is called to maintain piety, justice, and peace. These things are to be defined according to the wholesome laws of the commonwealth in which this magistrate holds office. When the question arises, as it will, by what standard “wholesome laws” are identified as such, the only answer that can be given is the standard of Scripture. In particular, the Christian magistrate is not prohibited from waging war, even though the new covenant has now been established among men. But he must only wage war upon just and necessary occasion.

3. The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (2 Chron. 26:18; Matt. 18:17; 16:19; 1 Cor. 12:28–29; Eph. 4:11–12; 1 Cor. 4:1–2; Rom. 10:15; Heb. 5:4): yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed (Isa. 49:23; Ps. 122:9; Ezra 7:23, 25–28; Lev. 24:16; Deut. 13:5–6, 12; 2 Ki. 18:4; 1 Chron. 13:1–9; 2 Ki. 24:1–16; 2 Chron. 34:33; 15:12–13). For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God (2 Chron. 19:8–11; 2 Chron. 29; 30; Matt. 2:4–5).

The civil magistrate may not usurp the prerogatives of the Church. He may not discharge the office of preaching the Word, and he may not administer the sacraments. Neither may he conduct or oversee the process of church discipline; he does not have the power of the keys. In our era, this doctrine needs to be strongly reasserted. When someone is excommunicated from the Church, they do not have the right to sue in the civil courts. The fact that this is now happening in our era is a resurgence of Erastianism. In short the magistrate does not have authority

in sacris.

He does have authority

circa sacra. If public tumult breaks out in the church, for example, the magistrate must take steps to restore order. He has the responsibility to see that the truth is maintained, that blasphemy and heresy be repressed, idolatry excluded, etc. In brief, the magistrate has authority over false religion. This means that indirectly he has an effect on true religion.

As a churchman of eminence, he has the authority to convene a council of the true church, to attend himself, or through representatives, and ensure that the result of the synod is according to the will of God. Although I am in far greater sympathy with the original Westminster Confession at this point than with the American version, this last item is problematic. How can the magistrate be the final arbiter of the deliberations of the synod unless it is a corrupt synod, or the magistrate in some sense has been given the ministry of the Word?

The American downgrade of paragraph III (as revised in 1789)

3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments (2 Chron. 26:18); or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:17; 16:19; 1 Cor. 12:28–29; Eph. 4:11–12; 1 Cor. 4:1-2; Rom. 10:15; Heb. 5:4); or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith (John 18:36; Mal. 2:7; Acts 5:29). Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the Church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger (Isa. 49:23). And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his Church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief (Ps. 105:15; Acts 18:14–15). It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance (2 Sam. 23:3; 1 Tim. 2:1–2; Rom. 13:4).

We have no difference with this until we come to the statement that the magistrate may not interfere in matter of faith “in the least.” This creates interesting problems. As a nursing father, the magistrate is to protect the Christian church, but to do so without giving any preference to any body of Christians above the others. And here the American version grows utterly unwieldy. Define “Christian.” The basic question is whether or not the magistrate must be required to be a Christian, and whether or not this has any creedal aspect.

The Confession goes on to say that laws cannot interfere with how people decide to voluntarily join themselves to the church of their choice. The only restriction on religious liberty that the magistrate may offer concerns the bogus right of one worshiper to assault or insult another.

4. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates (1 Tim. 2:1–2), to honour their persons (1 Pet. 2:17), to pay them tribute or other dues (Rom. 13:6–7), to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake (Rom. 13:5; Tit. 3:1). Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them (1 Pet. 2:13–14, 16): from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted (Rom. 13:1; 1 Ki. 2:35; Acts 25:9–11; 2 Pet. 2:1, 10–11; Jude 8–11), much less hath the Pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretence whatsoever (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:15–17).

A Christian people have a collection of duties with regard to the magistrate placed over them. They must first pray for them, and honor their persons. They must pay taxes as appropriate, and obey them when the commands are lawful. They are to defer to the authority of the magistrate, and they are to do this out of conscience, and not from fear. The fact that a magistrate may be a wicked man, or an agnostic, does not remove the authority of the magistrate at all. The people are not freed from their obligation to obey because of the spiritual condition of the magistrate. In this respect, ministers are under authority just like everyone else, and no minister, including the pope, can wield civil authority over the magistrate. We have here the outlines of a doctrine of sphere sovereignty.