Thursday, June 03, 2021

The Two Kingdoms?

 

 

Two Kingdoms?

 

Last time I said  this about toleration: 

‘Rubbing shoulders with such immoral people is inevitable it we are to live in the world, and it is desirable that we be in their company in order that they may hear of the gospel. This is an attitude of toleration to people who were not Christians . The NT church lived and worked among queers, some of which were converted to Christ (‘such were some of you’) .The Church may have to bear the charge of ‘bigotry’, but such talk is not to be fostered.’

In Europe, in particular, Christians and in some cases others with views of a religious kind are held and developed  with the tacit belief that their  religion  pervades the society in which they live. This in turn is because of the idea of the  establishment of Christianity as a arm of the state has become the default position. It wasn’t always such.  So, in the sixth century or so the Holy Roman Empire emerged. Before that, Augustine lived in the birth pains of this Empire. Though in the case of his attitude to the Donatists he employed armed force, the army of a particular region of the Empire. Soon the top men in the faith were a part of the elite who ruled the Empire.

In the West the Holy Roman Empire lasted until the sixteenth  century when that alliance between the Protestant Christian church formed a church – state alliance in England. And when besides the antics of Henry the VIII he became the 'Defender of the Faith'. At the time when the Protestant magisterial reformation occupied cities such as Strasbourg or Geneva, and  the church benefitted for the shielding of the arms and fortifications of the city forces, not only freeing the church from persecution,  under the umbrella of  the link with the state, used as a means of church discipline.

So, shamefully,  Calvin was able to have Servetus, a heretic as far as the Reformed were concerned,  put to death by the city authorities of Geneva. In Protestant England the King and his successors became ‘Defenders of the Faith’. In Reformed Scotland, where the Westminster Confession of Faith held sway from 1647, it was the law of the land, the part of the project of ‘Covenanted Uniformity’, ‘betwixt the Churches of Christ in the kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland’. This became a reality only in Scotland. The Scots are (in theory) still governed by Chapter 23 of the Westminster Confession.

The civil magistrate may not  assume to himself the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: 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.

In England, Cromwellian England interfered by the death of Charles I in 1648/9, and when in 1660 again kings as defenders of the faith was governed by the re-establishment of the monarchy, in the person of Charles II, with the help of the Act of Uniformity in 1660, which still holds in theory. From the establishment of the Christian Religion came a different interpretation  of the place of the church and the wider society of the New Testament, and in others in Europe Rome ruled.

In terms of confessions, in time  the Westminster Confession was changed to conform with the American constitution, and in England Dissent spawned its own Confessions it  spawned, the Savoy Declaration of Independency in 1658. In the chapter of the civil magistrate included this: ‘It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto, in the management whereof, as they ought specially to maintain justice and peace, according to  the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so for that end they may lawfully now under the New Testament wage war upon just and necessary occasion. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith had a similar wording for the civil magistrate.

This view of the Protestant church and state that made  the torture of foes of the  Christian church legal is by an extension of Romans 13 1-7, beginning ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities ‘ and ending in v.5 paying taxes’ And also I Timothy 2.2-3 and I Peter 2.13. Christians were to be good citizens. The Apostle’s status as a free Roman citizen  made it possible to gain his freedom from prison at Philippi.(Acts 16.25f) But chiefly, by the policy of the adoption by Christian churches as modelled on the Old Testament theocracy . And the recognition in the OT of the sheltering role of the government. But all this was to be superseded by Christ’s assertion that his kingdom was not of this world, Christ’s and the Apostles’ teaching of the spirituality of the kingdom of God, and the nature of the kingship of Jesus Christ.

In I Corinthians 5 Paul made  a difference between who are ‘insiders’, professing Christians and the crowd we outsiders which we have to mix with. The question here was , could Christians dine off food that had been dedicated to an idol. In the course of discussing Christian behaviour  in the world the Apostle Paul stated  that Christians are free to buy and eat it. He clarified earlier advice about the company the Christians should keep. And not go to law with another Christian.

The Enightenment, secularism, and Dissent followed, in Protestantism in Europe, and in the United States of America,  when its constitution was established and the copies of the Westminster Confession (to those who subscribed to it) made consistent with the American constitution.

In the light of this sketch, it supported toleration as it  was historically until Christianity was allowed became part as the apparatus of state.  This is a course that the woke don’t follow. In their activities there is no evidence of them taking account of the government, rather of secretive behaviour. More likely they use force, or deception, or through their use of political-style lobbying as a prelude to gaining a change in the law.   

God’s kingdom, (mentioned by Paul) which transcends all other organisations, the members of which worship Christ her king,  need  ‘room’ in order to flourish 'in the present evil age'(Gal.1.4), agencies in education, literature and society. The growth of such a kingdom, God’s kingdom, creates effects in society, as you would expect, but not of a worldly, political character.  Politics should not enter the life of Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world. As our Saviour said 'render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God’s'. (Mark 12.17)

And Paul said,

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought  captive to obey Christ….(2 Cor. 10.4,5)

Note the repeated contrast of work ‘in the flesh’, which means here 'physical exertion ' in contrast to  ‘divine power’. Paul refers to two worlds here, a life of physicality, and a spiritual life. The work of the gospel is ‘not of the flesh but of divine power'.

Believers are in these two worlds, and we need to make this clear to our children and the rising generation, with wisdom and patience.

Friday, April 09, 2021

In the world, but not of it.


In the world, but not of it.

 You may be puzzled by references in the media to what is referred to as the ‘woke’ position in cultural matters (in a wide sense). Currently, this attitude aims in securing power over of one group in society over other groups. This might involve  the ‘cancellation’ of a book, or the arguing for ‘equity’ between individuals or groups, to secure similar outcomes for one group to another, or more choice of kinds of  gender. Each of these is described by their advocates as advances and achievements in building their ‘personal identity’. universities, colleges, retailers (such as Amazon), leisure centres and charities, are all positioning themselves to  further ‘woke’ values.  

 This post has two aims, first to note the direction of the trends of the various woke sensibilities, and then what the attitude of Christian believers ought to be.

First, a word about what is meant by ‘personal identity’ by such woke advocates. This is not bearing the social class that a person occupies, as in the ‘working class’, or the ‘ruling class’ or ‘the elite’. Woke activity is not part of the ding and dong between  Left and Right as they seek more votes, but as engaging in what George Orwell called ‘the capture of power’.  It is not a change in the strength of a social class nor is it a matter of metaphysics, an inquiry into what makes for the identity and the changes of an individual person. In the make up of the woke a person’s goals may be so strong that they come to be is intrinsic to the identity of that person, hence the phrase ’person identity’. 

Interestingly, Christians will be familiar with the woke use of ‘personal identity’. For becoming a Christian has to do with the acquiring of a new nature, with new goals and ambitions, and repudiating others.  Christianity begins with the new birth, the new creation, a transition between the ‘old man’, and the possession of the ‘new man’. This is not identity acquired  by by the pressure of either political or social power, nor even by legislation. Such a transition is solely due to the grace of God in the soul. ‘Adoption’ is another New Testament way of charactering this all-important transition. 

        'For all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of                slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom         we cry ‘Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness to with our spirit that we are children       of God’. (Romans 8 15-16) 

Not slaves, but sons and daughters. This is not the everyday adoption of a young person, which involves a mere a civil transaction. Life as a spiritually adopted child is not immediately perfect. For  the new nature fights the old, remaining nature. The Christian has the promise of a new destiny, where and ‘when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is’ .  and that alone will suffice for such to have a completely new identity,  when he sees Christ as he is. (I Peter 3.2) Paul wrote

You can see that‘ woke’ behaviour and its character is rather different from Paul’s recipe for personal change as a Christian. For though the language is war-like, and the Apostle to the Gentiles has a deadly enemy,  Paul’s weapons are spiritual. He goes on in this passage, v.15f. ’our hope is that as your faith increases,  our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged’.


 Christian standards and the woke


 In this matter of the pressure that ‘wokeism’  exerts we need to contrast it with  the standards of the New Testament.   For Christians, as when Paul taught that food that has been offered to idols may be eaten by believers with a good conscience. Why? 

    'I wrote to you in my letter  not to associate with sexually immoral people -  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy or swindlers, or idolators, since then you would need to go out of the world.'(I Cor. 5.10)

As he went on to say,

    'Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit te kingdom of God. Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers nor men who practises homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy , nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will   inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the `Lord Jesus Christ and by the SpIrit of our God'. (1 Cor. 6.9-11)

Rubbing shoulders with such immoral people is inevitable it we are to live in the world, and it is desirable that we be in their company in order that they may hear of the gospel. This is an attitude of toleration to people who were not Christians . The NT church lived and worked among queers, some of which were converted to Christ (‘such were some of you’) .The Church may have to bear the charge of ‘bigotry’, but such talk is not to be fostered.

 In this matter of co-existing with the ‘woke’ is something that true Christians have to bear, a part of their pilgrimage. However Christian parents need to make the Kingdom and those of this world, for they must learn of the difference.

Christians support toleration in society. In I Corinthians 5 Paul discussed a difference who are ‘insiders’, professing Christians and the crowd we outsiders which we have to mix with. The question here was , could Christians dine off food that had been dedicated to an idol. In the course of discussing Christian behaviour  in the world the Apostle Paul stated  that Christians are free to buy and eat it. He clarified earlier advice about the company the Christians should keep. 

So much for toleration. In the account of Paul’s preaching at Athens in Acts 17, Luke’s narrative shows that his message was not forced on his hearers. When his preaching involved references to the resurrection of the dead, he was prepared to hear some who mocked, and he did not press  any hearers for an immediate response. (See Acts 17. 32-4) And with the Corinthians he wrote ‘we refuse to  practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s consciences in the sight of God’. (2 Cor. 4.2)  Another instance of his tolerance. ‘We  are afflicted  in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not  driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed’ (2 Cor.4. 8,9) No intimidation.

The woke have no compunction in forcing,  on for example, on Amazon, in ‘cancelling’ (that is withdrawing) titles that express a Christian view. No discussion. Besides these, woke attempt to force the Police to provide single women to accompany as they walk home across London in the evening with the protection by as they choose to walk.  These cases, such as countering ‘racism’, or fostering gender changes, or the confiscation of books , or the right to be accompanied by police. Such behaviour  lessens  the historic practices of Christianity, marriage between a man and a woman, the 'nuclear'family. 

 For the woke, in contrast to the toleration of Christians,  they make changes in underhand ways. So the purpose of the creating floral displays following the dreadful murder of Sarah Everard is (at the time of  writing), unclear what the motivation is, but we may be sure that the (mainly) young ladies who gathered bearing flowers were not bent on organising a weekly prayer meeting. Their attention to the support of Sarah’s mourning family does not seem to have been a centrepiece of the activities. The question of why the crowd collected as it did is a bit of a mystery, but no doubt we shall discover later. 

Christians must be advocates of toleration in defending the practices they wish to support.As they have been historically until Christianity was allowed to the state.  This is a course that the woke don’t follow. In their activities there is no evidence of them taking account of the government, rather of secretive behaviour. More likely they use force, or through their use of political-style lobbying as a prelude to gaining a change in the law.   

God’s kingdom, (mentioned by Paul) which transcends all other organisations, the members of which worship Christ her king,  need  ‘room’ in order to flourish 'in the present evil age'(Gal.1.4), agencies in education, literature and society. The growth of such a kingdom, God’s kingdom, creates effects in society, as you would expect, but not of a worldly, political character.  Politics should not enter the life of Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world. As our Saviour said ' render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God’s'. (Mark 12.17)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The Modality of Easter


The big words of our English translations of the New Testament matter: justification, sanctification, predestination, election, and so on. They matter for understanding the Christian Faith. But so do small ones. This post is devoted to a small word which in its way is as vital for the growth of faith and love in the believer as some of the big ones.  I refer to the word ‘must’. In various passages of the New Testament that  have to do with events surrounding Jesus’s death and resurrection they state these in a manner that what occurred had to happen or must happen. These are too many to be thought of us as mere stylistic variants, but are central to the narrative. Here are some examples from the New Testament.

I

Mark

8.31 ‘And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many thing rejected the elders….’(8.31)

Luke 

24.7  ‘But the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified and on the third day rise’.

24.44 ‘that everything written  in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’

9.22, ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things….’

22.37 ‘For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me’.


John


3.14, ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up’.

4.24. ‘God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’.

9.4. ‘we must work the works of him who sent me’. 

10.16. ‘I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.’ 

12.34.  ‘the Son of Man must be lifted up’

20.9. ‘that he must rise from the dead,’

19.36.’that the Scripture might be fulfilled’


The Acts of the Apostles

17.3, ‘it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead’. The AV has ‘should be’ and both these expressions can have ‘must be’ as their equivalent, though there are other meanings of ‘might’ in English that are weaker, for example as in ‘He might come but more likely won’t’.

I Corinthians

15 25 ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet

II

These are not meant to take in all the references to ‘must’, but to be a generous sample. In odd cases other words are used. In other examples words other than  ‘must’, but equivalent to it. The quotation from Paul’s address in Athens spells of the point that to sufferings and rising from the dead were ‘necessary’, that they were necessitated, or inevitable. And the translators of the ESV for some reason used  ‘might be’ in place of ‘was necessary that’ or ‘must’. The AV uses ‘should be’ at this point.

We can see  that the chief theme which employs ‘must’ have to do with aspects of the work of Christ as our Redeemer, in his crucifixion and rising again. That ‘'mustness’' is present in different texts, especially in the Gospel of Mark which can be said to have Jesus being  aware of and the must about his redeeming us on the cross that he solemnly refers to his disciples at structural points of the entire Gospel, with growing explicitness. 

First as 8.31 ‘And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again’. ….’ 

9.31-2 ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise’

10.32-4 And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him, pit on him, and flog him, and kill him. And after three days he will rise’  More detail, but no ‘must’

13.10 ‘And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations’

III

So what is all this telling us? A passage in John 19 is Instructive. John gives an account of the failure of the soldiers to break the bones of those crucified, the two crucified along side Jesus, and Jesus himself. The soldiers made as to break Jesus’ legs (v.31) John comments,‘

But when they (the soldiers) came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead , they did not break his legs, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it borne witness –‘his testimony is true. And he knows that he is telling you truth -  ‘that you also may believe.  is true’   -  that you also may believe. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear bear witness…..For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled.   ‘Not one of his bones  ‘will be broken.’ [Zech. 12.10] And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced’. [Ex 12,46, Num. 9.12]  

Could Jesus’s legs have been broken? They certainly could have. Jesus’s body was a human body, and human legs are breakable. So why were they not broken? Because their behaviour was ‘governed’ by a word of Scripture, a prophetic word. It is a case of what the scholastics referred to as  a ‘hypothetical necessity’. The ‘hypothesis’ that generates the necessity in this case were the words of prophecy.

John tells us that this word was Zechariah 12.10 -  ‘And I will pour out on the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, in him they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn’.  And Ex. 12.46 and  Num. 9.12, ‘.  The first is from the installation of the Passover: the sacrifice was kept intact, ‘thou shalt not break any of his bones; and Numbers 9.12 repeats the proper Passover arrangements.

IV

So the ‘must’ was not a logical ‘must’, governed by the carrying out of the character of the Passover, but what the scholastics referred to as a hypothetical necessity. The necessity of God’s good pleasure. As Paul says in I Corinthians 5, ‘Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’. (I Cor. 5.6). which is an integral part of the ‘festival’ of the Lord’s Supper, the remembering of his death, which includes the piercing of his side.  John reports, that Christ the Son of God ‘came by water and blood’  (1 John 5.6) Piercing is mentioned twice in John 19. 24, 37. See also Revelation, 1.7. When Jesus taught his disciples about the destiny that he must undergo, this is not about his possession of special legs, but by the will of God the Father that he endured for his people. This is the   curtain of his flesh that was signified by the ripping of the temple curtain, as his flesh was pierced that the author of the letter to the Hebrews refers to in Heb. 6.19, 20 and 10.20.