Tuesday, March 01, 2016

2K and Quietism

John Bunyan - Pastor, Pilgrim, Tinker

I don’t think I can take much more 2K versus ‘transformationalist’ journalism. Nor tired tirades against Socialism in the name of Christ and Capitalism. Nor the usual stuff about segregation in the South of the United States in years gone by, convictions formed with the help of current enlightened and insightful morality. Has anyone any idea what will be outlawed in 100 years?

Instead, here’s a more manageable sort of question. Does the recognition of two kingdoms or two cities require Quietism? Wikipedia says that Quietism is or commits one to devotional contemplation and abandonment of the will as a form of religious mysticism. Or, calm acceptance of things as they are without attempts to resist or change them. I think we’ll opt for the second view this morning.  Suppose the ‘things’ in view are political or those social or cultural things that Transformationalism fixes on. So the Quietism in view is the calm acceptance of political or social  or cultural things as they are without attempts to resist or change them.  So the question is, does 2K require or permit calm acceptance of such things as they are without attempts to resist or change them.  Does 2K commit one to the status quo, or even to a tendency to be such a quietist?  Does it require it? Does it permit it? At least it is to be preferred to ‘my forbears were more Christian than yours’  or  ‘Scottish Socialism is more spiritual than American capitalism’.

Quietism, then?

2K affirms the ideal of the spirituality of the church, holding that the business of the church through its confession and ministry is to prepare adherents and all who will hear for the spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of which the Apostle Paul said this it is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.  A kingdom whose maker and builder is God. And so on, and on.  2K's don’t adopt this view because it's a cop-out of some sort, but because they believe that it is an intrinsic part of the Christian church’s commission and confession. So the people of God are essentially pilgrims.

And they seem to have something on their side. After all, Jesus had things to say about the pre-eminence of his kingdom.  This is the kingdom (2Kers hold) that Jesus advises his disciples to pray for the coming of as they pray the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Your kingdom come’, a kingdom of which Jesus said ‘my kingdom is not of this world, else would my servants fight’.

Cultural transformationalists are eager to insist that Christianity must speak to  ‘the whole of life.’ And (2Kers hold) so it must, and does. For the Scriptures of the New Testament, from which these sentiments are taken, also have other teachings, affecting the Christians attitude to ‘the whole of life’.

Admittedly the New Testament does not have much of a view of  what usually passes for ‘culture’ in 'cultural transformation’: leisure and pastimes, painting and sculpting, the media, literature, academic research. But if the NT permits, say, bee-keeping,  (Is that permission derived from an argumentum ex silentio?), then forming beekeepers’ associations is OK. If you can earn a living as a teacher, then joining the teachers union is OK, since the  Bible does not (as far as I can see) forbid having friends.  It even permits those dreadful golf clubs, where seniors love to gambol. Some golf, others bee-keep, still others engage in both, or neither.

Consequences and silence

The oft-cited Westminster Divines’ ‘good and necessary consequence’ applies to what the Bible omits to say as well as to what it requires. [Note to 2Kers – don’t be bullied by those who say that on your view of the Bible does not speak to the whole of life. Tell them not to forget that there’s a hermeneutic of the silences os Scripture. Like dogs that do not bark in the night] So the positive and negative implications of the Bible are quite far-reaching as far as culture and society are concerned.  

And the Bible has much to say about human life. For it upholds the teaching of the moral law, and recognizes other  injunctions than those just referred to, to be part of the church’s ministry, and it expects its adherents to listen to and learn from that ministry. Does the moral law have to do with the whole of life? I should say so, though maybe the unwary, on their way to the Celestial City, suffering from a bout of the Neo-Calvinist Contagion, are in danger of slipping through the Crevasse known as the Nature-Grace dichotomy, or of being assaulted by Legalist.


Here are some of the ways that the New Testament addresses the Christian in society.

For starters,  the Christian has duties to the state - to honour the government, to pray for it. Do you mean pray for the success of its foreign policy, or the further success of its national health service, or tax policy?  Obviously not. Because praying for the government, according to Paul’s command, is part of the Christian’s concern for the prosperity and peace of the Church, Christ’s church. No persecution, no disruption to its business, that sort of thing. 'That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way'.

But lest you fear the onset of a monkish seclusion, the Christian is explicitly told not to leave the world. And also not to shun the rights one may have by virtue of being a citizen of your country, but to use them wisely, as Paul did when he stood his ground and played his free-born Roman card.

Employment and business - To make business plans conditionally on the will of God, to pay taxes, to employ fairly, not to break contracts. We are not to be aggressively ambitious, lest we love this world, and become discontented with what we have, partcularly with the money we have.  But we may seek better opportunities as they come along; to be honest, and not to be idle, but to be wholehearted in whatever we do, living in the sight of God. Not the whole of life? Plenty to be getting on  with, surely. And more, to do good to all, especially one’s fellow members of the kingdom.

There are no apostolic words covering the sort of jobs  to look for. But there are instances of diversity, mentioned without adverse comment – from being a member in Caesar’s entourage, to being a tentmaker, or a seller of purple. A significant silence. There is no comment either way on military service. Nor is there any advice that is technical or professional in character, such as how to make tents, or to cook a rabbit. But there is also a  (welcome!)  absence of faddishness, e.g. in the matter of eating. More silences.

But comprehensive ideals are occasionally set out and urged on Christians, which may have general application to professional and other standards. Truth to tell, the Apostles treat their hearers as grown ups, and don’t interfere where they don’t need to. In their view there are more important matters.

There is teaching to the effect that some skills and abilities generally distributed to the people of God or others, are the gift of the Holy Spirit, distinct from his regenerating effects, and from his donation of spiritual gifts to the pilgrim people of God.  These are most explicit in the OT, but may be presumed, or are presumed,  to carry over to the age of the Messiah.

Those who advocate a Christian view of this or that fail to recognize the seriousness of what they are proposing. To  have a Christian view of X is to be committed to proclaiming it as the word of God which Christians have an obligation to uphold and propagate.


This brings us to the sociological side of things. The fact is that Christians differ in their tastes when given the current cultural and political menu and invited to make their choices.  And given this mixed reaction, how can anyone say that policies and trends in society at large are ‘Christian’, and so are to form part of the Christian message,  when in the eyes of many Christians,   judged by the standards of the New Testament, they are neither here not there, things indifferent, adiaphora.  Isn’t the unworldliness of the church, its being 'counter-cultural', one of its characteristic, unique  features, giving it an  attractive indifference to passing trends and policies? And is there not something uniquely attractive in the Christian socialist worshipping alongside the Christian capitalist, servants of the same  Saviour and walking the same pilgrim path?