Here's where I start bring it together and you're either going to sit up and really think hard about what I'm saying, or you will write me off.
What are the marks of the Church? Or is there but one Mark?
I read and studied more and began to come to the conclusion that perhaps the Middle Ages weren't so dark. Maybe there is some spiritual light there….but it wasn't within the bosom of Rome. It's not with Bernard of Clairvaux and other men we're supposed to admire. Doctrinally, the Underground, these Protestors before the name of Protestantism came about, they were kind of a mess, doctrinally all over the place. Much like today with one exception. These people were meeting and reading and praying under threat of fine, incarceration, torture, and possible death. I think if those conditions came about today, we might find a smaller percentage of Christians today than there were proto-protestants in the Middle Ages. That's a terrible indictment that I obviously cannot prove…but study it out yourself and see what you think.
A big issue has always been Sola Fide. The Waldensians, Hussites, Wycliffe…..none of them taught it. Well, at least not in that formula, not in the Lutheran construct. But then, isn't that like saying there were NO Christians on the earth for over a thousand years? Or are you going to say some people believed it but didn't know they believed it? They were part of a church that taught an explicitly different way of salvation, but some of the people didn't believe the priest's and instead held to Sola Fide? It seems to be something of a problematic position.
I've read a lot of Patristics. It's not there either….so how is it that the Catholic and later Roman Catholic Church is allowed valid church status with all its abominations and idolatries because it doesn't formally DENY Justification by Faith alone until Trent? Even though in practice it had been functionally denied for over a thousand years? Federal Vision doesn't deny Justification by Faith alone but their critics believe their additional doctrines de facto deny it...and this want to put them out of the church. How then will the grant it to the medieval church?
……and yet the Protoprotestants are denied church status because they don't actively teach it?
Or is it because they didn't have an institutional-cultural quality about them?
There's something else behind this argument and it's not a genuine concern over the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone. It's the: Where was your church argument?
And as I've contended elsewhere Sola Fide is certainly the gospel, but there are two other essential elements to understand this formula….on what authority?…..and what is saving faith? If you don't answer those...what exactly does Sola Fide mean?
The Authority issue is of equal importance to the issue of Sola Fide itself. When the Word of God is not the authority, the gospel is lost. There's no way you can retain it. You've subjectivized your whole foundation, so it's just a matter of when will the gospel be lost. Sola Fide is grounded in the doctrine of the Word.
Just because the Word of God is the authority, doesn't mean it's free from manipulation…but without the authority…the gospel will be perverted. And that's true whether it be traditions or system-commitments that trump the text. Luther appealed to the authority of the Word at Worms. Unless he was convinced by sacred Scripture or evident reason....presumably reason to not appeal to the Scriptures?
The one hallmark of the Protoprotestants was their adherence to the Word. They were Bible Churches. The were producing Bibles in the vernacular and promoting literacy in an illiterate age. They memorized vast portions of the Bible, and carried it with them under threat of torture. They produced remarkable miniature books which they could hide on their persons, and they certainly taught Justification by Faith...but nowhere do you find the Lutheran formula of alone.
And yet they're not the Christians. Instead we grant it to a system that perverted every doctrine of Scripture, was inexhaustible factory of idolatry and pagan synthesis...sent untold millions of people to hell. The Bishop of Rome sat as Caesar, as his underlings taught a theology that denied and denigrated the work of Christ, overthrew the Bible, tortured and burned the true believers of the Lord.
Certainly this was a plain and powerful manifestation of Antichrist. The Medieval Underground had no doubts. In their minds, the minute the church took worldly power (Sacralism)....it was done. And for centuries they survived in what was in many cases something akin to a Stalinist state in fear and suffering. Many hid in dens and caves of the earth and we spit on their graves when we call the Roman Catholic Entity the Church of Jesus Christ until the Reformation. The argument makes no sense.....unless there's some other issue that we have to bring in. But first.....
What is saving faith? Mere assent? Or with fiducia? Can we understand fiducia in a sense that requires a certain quality (not quantity) of vitality and conditionality?
The New Testament is replete with conditional clauses and warnings. Do we allow Systematic Methodology to explain them away or do we submit to the Scriptures, and change our model to allow bi-covenantalism, which is nothing less than applying the Already not-yet to Soteriology and Ecclesiology. Paul doesn't write like Berkhof or Hodge. Maybe splitting our discussion into Soteriology and Ecclesiology is part of the problem? Maybe they should be treated together?
Or do we explain it away, subsuming the multi-faceted complex of Salvation under a particular formulation of Justification by Faith alone? Can we understand something of these things in the way the Bible presents them…in a dialectical tension?
Or do we with a Sacralist worldview allow our western thought tradition to interpret the text for us and improve the Bible as per Hodge, by putting things in their right and logical order, and viewing theology as primarily a matter of induction? To answer the question regarding saving faith, we have to know what is the method of derivation from our authority. If we answer that wrongly, our method will become the authority itself.
I came to the conclusion in the end that the Protoprotestant movement had as much claim to being the church as did the Roman body. No, ten times the claim. You may disagree but there are plenty of other Protestants who have believed the same. But what I don't want to do is force Post-Reformational ideas onto them. I don't want to start by saying the Reformation was right and we need to read the Protoprotestants in light of it. No, I want to read both in light of the Scriptures and in context.
Where was your church for a thousand years? I'm not with Calvin on this. It wasn't the Roman body that then 'left' the true church when the Reformers showed up. Please. There has just been a lot of historical nonsense in Protestant arguments. These justifications are unnecessary.
The church is not an institution comprised of cathedrals and monasteries and guys wearing vestments governed by canon law. It's not a form-institution.
Just like it's not a General Assembly with offices and secretaries and computers and filing cabinets governed by a BCO….
The church was here and there. Sometimes it was a monk in a monastery studying the Bible, wrestling with what to do…how to follow God. Sometimes it was a country priest who sat down and talked with someone who knew the Scriptures and was blown away and had to re-think his life…
More often than not, it was people meeting in a cave in the Alps at two in the morning singing hymns, hiding from the agents of Antichrist.
Or it was a group of twenty meeting in a barn on the edge of the forest, with the Danube twinkling in the distance.
It was three or four families meeting on an island in the Fen country surrounded by bellowing frogs and marsh stench.
And this is the visible church, don’t misunderstand me! I'm not trying to conflate the visible and invisible. How can we make sense of the wording? I think there is an example for us in the Old Testament.
To understand the status of Roman Catholic Church we can look at an Old Covenant precedent in the divided kingdom period. The northern kingdom under Jeroboam…even under Ahab and Jezebel was still formally a Jehovah worshipping covenant people. Look at the names of the kings…they're still naming their sons for Jehovah. The northern kingdom was a covenant community in a state of apostasy. They had syncretized the right worship with pagan ritual….They were still worshipping Jehovah in part at Dan and Bethel….that wasn't the issue. The issue is how they're worshipping and the authority they've set up. Their own reason, purposes, and desires, blending the worship of Jehovah with the calf/bearer images, probably a throne motif meant to depict an invisible Jehovah. Were they still Israel? Yes in one sense. They still fall into the orbit of discussion…there's a visible arrangement, dreadfully wrong, but it's still there. They have a heritage, a lineage, and lay some claim to the name.
And in another sense, no. They were apostate. The faithful were not worshipping at Dan and Bethel. So are they part of what we could call the visible church? Sort of, but no. They were no longer holy. To make them holy again, would be without Theocratic mandate. To be Theocratic they would need to repent and join with the Jerusalem-shrine in Judah, the place of the Oracle, the place of the Word. So to consider them covenantal at that point would be not a Theocratization but a Sacralization.
What about Judah? There's your visible church….but what about the seven thousand in the north who had not bowed the knee? Yes, they're disenfranchised but they were brethren. Elisha and the sons of the prophets were welcome and regarded in the southern kingdom. They were disenfranchised members of the visible church. That's not a popular concept for Institutionalists.
Today, we wouldn't have the same issue because our Jerusalem-shrine is not geographical. The only equivalent today would be Christians living in places where there is no church.
And yet were all in Judah or even the northern remnant saved? No, not all were in the invisible church. Think of Gehazi. Think of the false prophets Jeremiah had to deal with in Judah. They were still Judeans….full members of the covenant, the people of God….but not.
They are not all Israel who are of Israel.
So…obviously I cannot dogmatically apply this model onto medieval Europe, but I can borrow from the concepts and categories…frame it and leave it for you to chew on.
Rome is like the northern kingdom…apostate visible church. It didn't all apostatize at the same time or same place.
The Protoprotestants, the Medieval Underground……..the visible church. Congregations and Coventicles, not an Institution...scattered all over Europe, some apostatizing from time to time, some dying out. There are records of both.
In terms of the invisible there were undoubtedly people within the Roman fold who were saved and I'm sure there were many in the Underground who were not. But that would not allow us to view Rome as the true Church of the medieval period.
Do we think because these people didn't build cathedrals or labour in universities that they are not worthy? Would we say the same of the Christians in China today, or Pakistan? Cathedrals are magnificent, breathtaking, almost surreal completely idolatrous towers of Babel. Sure, if I Europe, do I go in? Of course, but because its part of history. I can learn something. But apparently I've learned something much different than Doug Wilson.
Well, they were outside the mainstream of Christian thought in the universities and didn't contribute to the growth of western civilization....How Christian was the thought? Would someone in 1300AD do better to sit down with a Waldensian in a cellar with the Bible, or would he do better sitting down with Bonaventura? These people accomplished much. It's hard to even fathom how much was destroyed. Look into the Inquisition. It was the Gestapo, the SS of the middle ages. They killed an unknown multitude, tens, more likely hundreds of thousands of people in a time when the populations were a fraction of what they are today.
This whole argument may seem silly, but for those who insist on a historical visible cultural institution….I appeal to the OT example of the exile. Their form was taken away, but they were still God's people. But if I can stretch it a bit…..in one sense the visible church ceased during the exile and yet there were still God's people on the earth, the had the Oracle, the Word. Institutionally it was gone….no way of redemption…no temple. They weren't under a Patriarchal pre-nation arrangement. Their candlestick had been taken away. I know many would say that can't happen during the church age…and to that extent yes, we won't have another typological exodus as was the return from Babylon, a modification of the covenant. The arrangement we have is perpetual until the Eschaton.
But the arrangement doesn't consist of a form-institution. The Body of Christ, even the visible Body of Christ is not buildings and men with titles, it's the people declaring the Word of God. There's your visible church and even among their number, there will be hypocrites.
It's the Word of God…there's the mark of the church. There's your ground for Sola Fide. That's what Luther appealed to at Worms though maybe he didn't realize it. It was Justification…but it's the Word of God. The Old Catholic/Patristic Church had begun to abandon that in the 4th century. Without the Word…you get instead of a bride….a whore. It is irrelevant that Rome maintained the Bible was the Word of God throughout the middle ages. It wasn't the Word of God. It was the Word of God plus…..
Reformed Protestantism is not exempt from this either. When we erect Aristotelian Systematics as the divider and discerner of the Word of God…when we use it to metaphysically speculate, and set boundaries where the Scriptures don't…destroy the context of Biblical arguments forms through syllogism…..we are doing the same thing. The Word of God plus….
When we lose the authority, when we lose the sufficiency of Scripture and add to it, we lost the gospel and we lose sight of the Kingdom….and then we are in big trouble.
Because now we'll get another gospel for another kingdom…
I'm not advocating a break from dogma. I'm advocating reading the Bible as Redemptive-Historical Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. That means context and thematic development as they pertain to Jesus Christ are the central focus of our discussion and development. When the Scriptures seem to contradict, then the contradiction is in our mind. Rather than super explicit detailed documents like the Westminster or Belgic Confessions, we need simple statements of the faith and then we need to trust in the Holy Spirit to hold the church together. The Westminster Confession is not the Bible, and the more you try to bind people to an extra-scriptural document as the basis for holding a faction together, the more they will slip through your fingers.
I think Kline is correct. The whore imagery in the corpus of apocalyptic literature can be shown to be the covenant community in a state of apostasy. Beast powers are governments that seek to build a Babel…a gate to heaven….a heaven mandated country….a holy nation…a state that either openly deifies itself or does in a de facto manner by appealing to a pseudo-heavenly mandate.
When the two join and the whore (Judaizing and/or paganizing apostasy) uses the beast to accomplish its tasks and helps the beast gain and retain its power…when the two become one…there's the picture we are presented.
Some call it Constantinianism. Verduin calls it Sacralism. We could also call it Christendom, i.e. when we define Christianity, the Kingdom in a cultural political construct. God can do that…create a typological Theocracy. We cannot. We do have a Theocracy today….the Kingdom of Christ. No earthly kingdom can claim that. The minute it does…….it's on the way to fulfilling the Beast-Whore imagery. This is the goal and aspiration of the vast majority of the American Evangelical Church. The Dominionism of Kuyper, Schaeffer, and Rushdoony have more or less become the default setting. And the more zealous subset of Theonomic Reconstructionism function as the shock troops and have shown great success.
In fact one of them talking to a friend of mine many years ago insisted that they had already won. They had already planted the seeds though their ministries, books, school materials, political groups, ecumenical connections, placement in seminaries and then later forming their own. He was right. They more or less have. Even institutions that don't specifically advocate the extremes Judaizing positions of Theonomy, still strongly advocate Dominionistic and Sacralist Theology. Only the small Escondido school seems to be standing for the truth on this issue. And even among them, many advocate Cultural Doctrine that is rooted in Sacralist presuppositions.
We are in the dark ages once again as far as the church goes. Our situation is akin to the mid-fourth century when the Greco-Roman world was teetering between Sacralism and a kind of Pluralism. Constantine had brought toleration and with it corruption but Theodosius hadn't yet slammed the door shut. Let us pray the Sacralists don't win. I don't think they will. If they did, the need would arise to go underground, break their laws and defy them to warn people, the antichrist has returned to the church. Those have come who deny the King in Heaven, and say his kingdom is here, or to put it differently....he is here.........on the earth. Isn't that what the Pope's said?
I think they will lose, God be praised. And, yet, I think because of what they do and will do we will be persecuted. The Beast will destroy the whore with fire. The Beast always turns on the Sacralism that built it. Unfortunately, like it or not, we suffer with them. Undoubtedly there are many true Christians among the ranks of the Sacralists. I do hope as their Babel falls they will begin to see. But I don't think so.
I thought along those lines in the days after 11 September 2001. This might be a blessing I thought. Maybe some will now stop and say, look at what we've done. Look at what we've built and the blood we've shed to accomplish this. Let's really look at what we are as Americans, as Westerners. I thought maybe some believers would stop and say, we need to repent, not to make America strong, but because of the America we helped to make.
That's not what happened. In fact, things got much worse.
Kline put it well in his last work. He had said things like this before, but it was good to see him unhindered.
"Latent in the Apocalyptic symbolism is an even more direct contradiction of dominion theology's postmillennial eschatology. The melding of church with the state and its coercive power, the arrangement which theonomic reconstructionism regards as the kingdom ideal to be attained during the millennium, is precisely what is anathematized in the Apocalypse as the harlot-Babylon church, the monstrous perversion of the true church."God Heaven and Har Magedon, pp.186
Scream it from the mountaintops.
Of course it is interesting how the Beast turns on the whore and destroys it. What's that look like?
I always think of those old videos from the thirties in the Soviet Union. Stalin was blowing up all the Orthodox churches and they have a lot of footage of onion domes crashing down, real dramatic stuff.
On the one hand Stalin is a wicked man persecuting the church….warring on God as it were. He is but one manifestation of Bestial power through the ages, one of the heads on the hydra..
On the other hand he is the axe in God's hand…casting down the blasphemous icons and temples of a whore-sacralist system….Russian Orthodoxy
So while some may lament the fall of the American variety of Christendom, languishing in horror as the vision is swept away over the course of a generation or so….I ask, what kingdom do you serve? What is the kingdom ideal?