On the Lam for Jesus

And of course we should all know that Christians ought not to be scofflaws. We are to be among the best citizens a magistrate ever had — we should be diligent and hard-working, dutiful and responsible, so that we might put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. We should bake the best cakes in Colorado, but not for the homo-fest, sorry.

But wait . . . doesn’t the Bible say that we must do whatever they say we must do — cakes, flowers, incense to Caesar, the works? Well, no (Acts 5:29).

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Pet. 2:13–17).

So let’s take a look at some of the actions of the man who wrote those words — and not in order to charge him with hypocrisy.

“And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him” (Acts 12:7–10).

Peter then went over to John Mark’s house, left a message, and disappeared from the book of Acts a wanted man, on the lam, with his picture in all the post offices.

This was what we might call a jailbreak, and it was not just a bit of innocent fun. The guards involved were executed for negligence they had not been guilty of (Acts 12:19), and yet, despite the seriousness of the issues, Peter did not consult with a bunch of modern Christians, who would have urgently advised that he turn himself in — citing, as they did so, with tears in their eyes, 1 Peter 2:13-17.

An idea worth developing . . .

An idea worth developing . . .

What we desperately need in these times of amoral chaos is recognize that the obedience of the Christian man will frequently be taken by tyrants as something other than the righteous obedience before God that it actually is. What did Jehoiada do? He honored the king. What did Athaliah call it? She called it treason (2 Kings 11:14). While we are not surprised that she would call it that, we are surprised that lots of modern Christian political theory listens to her.

I am reminded of that great line in Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. “Sir, you speak treason!” “Fluently.”

The Mind of a Free Man

Villainy is not honest. I mean, c’mon.

This means that when rulers are ungodly, we should expect them to be like their father, the devil, who is the father of liars (John 8:44). When they lie, they speak their native language. Bitterness and cursing are under their tongue, but of course never at the press conference.

False teachers do not knock on your door with a brief case full of literature, and say, “Hello, I am here from the devil, and I have come to lead you into eternal torments.” That kind of stuff never makes it into the brochures.

False kings have confidence in the American people. They simper, flatter, and coo. They do what they do “for the children,” meaning of course the ones they haven’t chopped up — but all very constitutionally.

Now this is not just a character assessment. It has ramifications. And the ramifications directly affect, at the end of the day, our compliance. Or, I should say, if we are following the ramifications, our lack of compliance.

Think of it this way. We know that when they say same sex mirage is marriage, they are wrong. It isn’t. When they say that an unborn child, that rejected son or daughter, is just a lump of tissue, they are wrong. He or she isn’t. When they say that we can borrow trillions backed by nothing but the whistling wind, and grow wealthy thereby, they are wrong. We can’t.

All this is obvious to us, and it is why we are having the political conflicts we are having. But take it a step further.

These same people, these people to whom the truth is as rigid as their tongues, which is to say, not very, say things about their authority to impose their legal grotesqueries, and call it constitutional. But this is just as much a lie as the other stuff. Their cargo is two ton pallets of lies, but so is their flat bed truck. And they are just blowing down the road.

They say that what they are doing is constitutional. But it is not. They say that what they are doing is legal. But it is not. They say that what they are doing is lawful. They lie. They say that they have the authority to do these things. They do not. They say that we have to honor their decisions. We do not. God “frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;” (Is.

The legal reasoning is probably over your head. Don't worry about it.

The legal reasoning is probably over your head. Don’t worry about it.

44:25).

In short form — and I know I will need to develop this further — Romans 13 does not apply. We do not have to dutifully honor illegal laws. We are not under the authority of the lie.

Before I develop it in weeks to come, conduct a thought experiment for yourself. Suppose the president appoints a czar, a czar of a task force that is called the We Don’t Care About the Constitution Task Force. They issue decrees and regulations, and, of course, promulgate stuff. They tell you that you and your family must comply with these Ridiculous Measures, and of course, you must do so because of the Crisis. Are you bound, or not?

I am talking about your conscience, and not about judgments of prudence. I might give a mugger my wallet without conceding his right to it, and I have no obligation to tell him about the five hundred dollars in my boot. I might hand over something to the government for the same reasons that I would hand over stuff to the pirates who had captured my ship.

Get the principle down first. They are lawless, and they lie about it.

A Covenant of Salt, or The Politics of Envy

The Lord Jesus compares His followers to two things, salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14). Salt that loses its saltiness is despised by men, and as a consequence is walked on. Light that is hidden from men is not something they respond to at all—because it is hidden from them. So we either have a no reaction of contempt or no reaction of ignorance. In order to get a response, according to this passage, we have to be salty Christians. So what does it mean to be salt?

Our first reaction, of course, should be to turn to Leviticus . . .

“As for the oblation of the firstfruits, ye shall offer them unto the Lord: but they shall not be burnt on the altar for a sweet savour. And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt” (Lev. 2:12–13; cf. Num. 18:19).

Notice that this requirement is given in the context of a first fruits offering, an offering of thanksgiving. It must be seasoned with salt, and this salt is called the salt of the covenant. It apparently means something that is a big deal. And then the law adds that this salt should be added to all their offerings.

It also appears (to me) to be the passage that Paul is alluding to here:

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6).

Notice also that this element, whatever it is, enables you to know how to answer every man. This includes discourse in the public square, in addition to conversations over the back fence with your neighbor. Our language is sacrificial, and is to be seasoned with salt, seasoned with gratitude, and full of grace.

Then Jesus gives us an odd juxtaposition between being salted with fire in judgment and salted with salt. He says that to be salted with salt is good, and He ties it in with the sacrifices. And He then ties those sacrifices in with our lives in community.

“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:48–50).

Taking these passages together, I understand salt to be a type of thanksgiving, a type of gratitude. And this means that salt is freedom from envy.

Love and Loyalty: A Meditation on the Fourth

The other day I tweeted this, and it drew more than the usual number of comments, and I thought I needed to develop it. Here is the tweet.

“Feel uncomfortable at a patriotic worship service? Don’t feel superior if you would also feel uncomfortable at a Fourth of July parade.”

The comments were mostly generated on Facebook, and I later added this to the discussion.

“My point is that many think they are uncomfortable at a patriotic worship service for high and noble theological reasons, when the actual reason is that they are just unpatriotic. I think we should flat out prohibit patriotic worship services, and then go down to the Fourth of July celebration to eat as many hot dogs as we can.”

In discussing this kind of thing, the issues get complicated fast, and so I thought I would try to do a little bit toward untangling them. If you want some additional thoughts, Toby Sumpter has some helpful ones here.

This whole thing is a complicated hierarchical issue, with layers and subtexts, and keep in mind the fact that these thoughts are simply preliminary.

A number of years ago, when George Bush Sr. launched Desert Storm, a dear saint who was leading our singing at the time called an audible and had us sing one of the patriotic hymns that was in our hymnal. The hymnal then was Great Hymns of the Faith, which we used to call Pretty Good Hymns of the Faith. Anyway, he had us sing that song, which caused some consternation in our congregation, as it should have. That was not the time or place for it.

But why? The simple (and simplistic) answer is that it was wrongheaded because it intruded “things American” into “the things of God.” No, the problem was that it did so in the wrong way, not that it did so.

Every time I get into the pulpit, I am bringing something thoroughly American into the worship service. I preach in American English, and I think in American categories. We do have some internationals in our midst, who are of course most welcome, but not enough to change the fundamental cultural “set” of the congregation. The whole thing is as American as all get out.

So why not wave the flag then? The answer is that to do so would be liturgically inept.

Uplift and Sunshine

This article is long enough and ignorant enough to be pretty tedious, but if you want to know how “what passes for journalism these days” is dealing with issues over on what they consider to be the Hard Right, you need look no further.

“Throughout Scripture,” Leithart declared in a passage from his 2012 book “Between Babel and Beast,” “the only power that can overcome the seemingly invincible omnipotence of a Babel or a Beast is the power of martyrdom, the power of the witness to King Jesus to the point of loss and death.”

The author then cites Peter saying something similarly outrageous over at  First Things.

“Leithart is the founder of a small school and related think tank, Trinity House, in Birmingham, Alabama, which Clarkson says ‘seeks to serve as a center for a new Reformed Protestantism, called Federal Vision, whose leading lights include Neo-Confederate authors [Douglas] Wilson and Steven Wilkins.’”

If we took all the journalistic competence on display here, rolled it up in a little ball and put it into a matchbox, it would look like a BB in a boxcar.

But while we are on the subject, let me say just a few things for the record. I do this in the hope that it will allay all concerns whatever, while knowing at the same time it will do nothing of the kind.

The Christian faith contains nations, but no nation, no empire, contains the Christian faith. Every Christian citizen of any nations, who has his wits about him, understands that he has loyalties that necessarily transcend the tribe — regardless of how big the tribe might be. It might be an imperial tribe, and it might be a tribe almost extinct, but God reigns all of them from Heaven. If you make Demos your god, where does your hierarchical vision end? It terminates in John Boehner and Harry Reid, and this is the point where I would encourage devotees of this pathetic faith to look upon their college of priests and reconsider. And looping in the Prophet Obama doesn’t help.

Second, suspicion of our current gaggle of corruptocrats is not unAmerican, but very American. Not only is it American, it is healthy American, two days before the Fourth American, down with the House of Hanover American. This, in contradistinction from that newer breed of diseased American, that species of capon that positively likes it when the kingident sends swarms of his officers to eat out our substance. At the risk of seeming stupid (“no, not that!”), I would like to suggest to writers of articles at Salon that the Declaration is not unAmerican.

And last, I would like to repeat something I have said a number of times before, and will probably be continuing to say until I die. The neo-cons with their talking point of “American exceptionalism” have really made a hash of this phrase, and have set us all up for the lefty statists who want to come after them and make us all bow down to the golden statue as soon as we hear the sound the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick. Changing Nebuchadnezzar into Uncle Sam doesn’t alter the theology of the thing, and the real Uncle Sam, unlike Nebuchadnezzar, would be more than a little annoyed by the whole enterprise.

Am I the only one around here tired of hearing about American exceptionalism?

Am I the only one around here tired of hearing about American exceptionalism?

The Founding of our nation really was exceptional, because the men who drafted our Constitution knew that American politicians, taking one thing with another, would be every bit as sleazy as the same class of men from any other clime. As Samuel Johnson once put it, “Politicks are now nothing more than means of rising in the world. With this sole view do men engage in politicks, and their whole conduct proceeds upon it” (Life of Johnson, p. 556). Surprise! Crossing the Atlantic did not change human nature. File this under things we should have learned from The Who, who weren’t going to get fooled again. Meet the new world, same as the old world — novus ordo seclorum needs to come back to Jesus.

The Founders knew we were not exceptional, and drafted a Constitution that did not trust us, not even a little bit. The subtext of the Constitution is not “beware of the English crown,” and it is not even “beware of the commies from the Soviet Union.” The subtext of the Constitution is that we are constantly to beware of boobus Americanus and the inveigling mountebanks they elect. We are particularly to watch their beady little eyes (Art. I, Sec. 2), their greasy palms (Art. III, Sec. 1), their sweaty foreheads (Art. II, Sec. 4), and their glowing promises filled with Uplift and Sunshine (Art. IV, Sec. 4).

That self-awareness really was exceptional. But we have now lost anything resembling such humility, and have replaced it with an Ozymandian pride, and are the laughingstock of the angels crammed into the balcony at the celestial matinee, who have seen ten empires rise and fall, and it is not even lunch yet.

Aluminum Deniers

A couple of posts ago, I said that limited government was absolutely dependent upon public virtue. Here’s why.

It all goes back to Burke’s “little platoons.” Raw individualism is not the opposite of the collective. It is what makes the collective possible. The collective likes it. The Hive can handle a pothead bee. The collective cultivates individualism because the collective knows how to take genuine rivals out of commission.

The atomistic individual has no ability to mount a principled and structured stand against the state. Whatever the romantic appeal of “going Galt” might be, to the extent it might work it would have to work in concert with others. And to the extent that it doesn’t work in concert with others, it will not work. But how can atoms work in concert with others? They must form molecules, and there must be a molecular bond. In order for atoms to connect with one another with that kind of bond, they must do it the way the Creator designed. You can’t put two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen together and get Congress to call it aluminum. And it doesn’t matter that Nancy Pelosi tells us that “aluminum deniers” are on the “wrong side of history.”

Sanctuary and Parish

I have written before on the ideal relationship of church and kingdom, comparing it to the church at the center of town, and life in the kingdom fanning out into the parish from that center. Word and sacrament are at the center, and they shape and form the lives of believers outside the sanctuary, but without ruling and dictating what goes on out there. I am using the words sanctuary and parish in a figure. The elders of the church do not rule over auto mechanics, or garbage collection, or interior design. First, it is none of their business, and secondly, they would do a bad job.

Family government and civil government and church government are the three governments ordained and established directly by God. Our task is therefore to make sure they are in a right relationship with each other, and to take care that one of them doesn’t try to swallow up the others. In our day, it is the state that is swollen with this particular conceit, but other eras have seen the other two governments try it.

After the Great Commission is fulfilled it would be appropriate, in a figure of speech, to say that “the Church” has filled the earth, as the waters cover the sea, but this is not talking about the church in the strict sense — gathered worship, the preached Word, the bread and wine, etc. A great deal of what will have been done by that point will have been done by nations and by families. These nations and families will have been baptized, and they will return to the sanctuary every Lord’s Day to be instructed and strengthened, but they will do what they do as Christians — not as officers of the sanctuary.

So that’s the background. Let’s take a test case. I used the phrase “shape and form” to talk about the kind of influence the sanctuary has on the parish, and a good example of this kind of thing from the New Testament would be the case of role relationships between men and women. It is good for two reasons — the first is that there is abundant material in the Scripture about it. Secondly, the issue has that peculiar kind of clarity that will cause the enemies of the truth to get whipped up into a bubbly froth, and the trimmers of the truth to hem, cough, a dig a little divot in the carpet with their shoe.

The Next Big Thing

Those who pay attention to the progress of their sanctification have long noticed the optical illusion of spiritual regress. By the end of his life, after decades of faithful service to Christ, the apostle Paul saw himself by that time as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). The more you learn, the more you know how little you know. The more progress you make in holiness, the more aware you are of the blemishes that remain. This is not a false humility; it is how real humility functions.

And it works in the other direction also. The longer you go on in sins unmortified, the harder and harder it gets to even notice them anymore. This is why Scripture speaks of the seared conscience.

The same phenomenon can be seen in cultures. This is a corporate tendency also, and not just an individual one. If a culture is progressing in basic decency (a downstream effect of the gospel), the greater will be their ability to be self-critical in helpful ways. But if they are given over to their lusts, then the characteristic will be self-loathing (to be distinguished from being self-critical), coupled with an utter inability to see how bad they have gotten. The president could appoint Kuba the Clown as his new secretary of HHS, and nothing would be as apparent to the chattering classes than the fact that the people who had a problem with this are all haters. They didn’t have to go very far to get tagged with this because they are already filed under that category.

So in case you missed it, we have certainly gotten to this point in our own culture already. We have flipped over the handlebars of self-parody, have landed on the gravel of serious consequences, and have told ourselves (with apparent success) that the road rash we now have on our palms, thighs, and chin is going to be the next big thing in body modification.