15 December 2012

Answering Questions #20- Restorationism (7) Restoration, Kingdom and Political Expectation

Practically speaking a Restorationist mindset means frustration with the state of things and many difficulties in relating with other Christians. It becomes all the more confusing because you will encounter many Evangelicals who believe they too are Restorationists.
They believe they are following 'just the Bible' and they too want the Church to be like it was in the first centuries. And then more often than not, they'll talk about 'our guys' over in Vietnam or Afghanistan and how we need to stand by Nixon, Reagan, Bush, or whomever. They'll also tell you about how America was founded as a Christian nation etc..
The pronouns become confused and it becomes clear they really have no idea what they're talking about...not just about America...but with regard to Restorationism. In fact for them the founding of America is almost a Restorationist concept!
Generally speaking a Restorationist mindset has led to a myriad of practical difference that makes 'getting on' with your average Christian American Evangelical rather difficult. For the rest of this series I would like to touch on some of those differences.

The Sacralist has tied political endeavour to the doctrine of the Kingdom and thus in many ways the Gospel itself. The non-Sacralist will view contemporary politics and history through a different lens.
The Sacralist believes there are great possibilities to be found in the realm of politics. The quest for power can bring about good, at least partially defeat evil, and help the kingdom to advance either through social change or setting up social conditions more conducive to people becoming Christian. Social pressures will drive people to embrace the Gospel.
The non-Sacralist is essentially cynical of this quest for power. Believing too strongly in the effects of sin and the motives of men, the non-Sacralist believes self-deception is working in their hearts. The non-Sacralist believes in the sole necessity of a Gospel preached that is foolishness to the wisdom of men, a Gospel that cannot be brought to bear with legislation but with the Holy Spirit. Sacralism at best can create a veneer, a facade of Christianity and is in danger of redefining what a Christian is.[i]
Politics, even well meaning politics, is not interested in truth, but in presentation, manipulation of facts, and promoting an agenda at all costs. The truth is only employed when it is politically advantageous. When it is not, even if outright lies aren't told, there is at least an attempt to obscure. As with all forms of marketing there is no attempt at objectivity in the realm of facts. The agenda is supreme.
Some might accuse me of sweeping generalization at this point, but I maintain that while marketing may attempt to sell a product based on facts or truth, the true interests of the audience and attempting to help them to properly evaluate the issues is never in scope. Any marketing campaign or political endeavour that sets out to do this is virtually guaranteed to fail. It is not a formula for success whether that is measured in terms of political or monetary capital. Your opponents and adversaries will never abide by these rules. Fail with integrity or modify your ethics...that's your choice. Half-truths via omission are a compromise and create a slippery slope, a deterministic road to misinformation. Anyone involved in sales or marketing has to deal with this. You can believe in your product but in not revealing what you know, in not treating the other person in the same way you would want to be treated, in other words providing a full and balanced disclosure... you are in some sense compromised.[ii]
The political Church which necessarily sits at the core of Sacralist theology is profoundly compromised. It is a false church that no longer serves He who is Truth, and has replaced the Gospel centered on Christ's Person and Work with a false gospel and hope resting in the capturing of power.
In terms of Scriptural imagery it becomes a Whore, prostituting itself, selling itself, seeking to entice others, again not for Truth, but for power. It joins with the Beast, the Babel-state seeking to establish a pseudo-kingdom of Heaven, to make a name for itself. This joint project of false Church and Beast-state produces a theology that equates the state and/or culture with the Kingdom of God. Wars become holy, the use of violence a righteous deed. Dead soldiers become martyrs. The destruction of peoples becomes a sanctified endeavour as long as the cause is advanced. Geo-politics and Empire likewise have no interest in truth. The false church embarks on a road of deception, blood, and great evil. Their consciences are seared in the end.
At this point some would argue for the inclusion of Means. Often non-Sacralistic theology has rejected means or mediate tools used by God in order to administer or affect change.  Often a great deal of non-Sacralist theology tends toward the Baptistic which focuses not on mediate, outward forms, covenantal signs and seals, or Means. Instead it focuses on the immediate, the Spiritual, the non-tangible, the direct intervention of God and thus has little use for outward forms which seem to bring about logical dilemmas and contradictions in trying to reconcile these concepts.
As is clear in the rest of my writings, I am in no way opposed to the concept of Means. At this point I definitely break company with the Anabaptists and I will once again point out they do not have a monopoly on Non-Sacralism. However I will insist that God alone establishes the Means. Common Grace, the law and order exhibited by nature, these too are Means that God has provided, not to build the Kingdom in a positive sense as some would suggest, but to grant a level of stability to this present evil age. 
Nowhere does God sanctify the state or culture. The Scriptures nowhere tell the Church to employ these tools as a Holy Means. Verduin rightly points out that Sacralism is essentially a pagan notion. I would add that it is fallen man's attempt to re-create the Primeval paradise, or create Heaven on Earth. It is essentially Utopian though most Christian Sacralists will deny this[iii].
The theology of Sacralism generates a whole host of philosophical questions that when structured and placed together in a coherent system necessitate and demand the sanctified state and essentially mandate Christian involvement in the political struggle. It is complicated and not easy to explain in a casual conversation, especially as most Sacralists have not worked out the philosophical implications of their views, nor are they aware of the forces influencing their thought. 
Many non-Sacralist movements have in the end succumbed to the temptation of power and utopia. Some of the Hussite groups and even some of the fringe groups during the English Civil War did not really hold to an absolute anti-Sacralist/Spiritual view of the Kingdom. Instead they too were rooted in anti-monarchical and anti-Imperial views. They didn't like the abuse of power but were not opposed to the formation of a Christian state per se.
Their ideological heirs live on in what we might call the Christian Left. These groups and movements are (like what we might call the Christian Right) all for a Constantinian state. The only difference is they usually would not be keen to persecute religious minorities or treat them as second class citizens.
The non-Sacralist should understand that one of the things that is unique about the Kingdom in the New Testament is that it is not tied, indeed cannot be tied, to a political or cultural order. It is international, and trans-cultural.
Sacralist thought has in the 20th and 21st century been fueled by commitments to Absolute Idealism, which tends to view all knowledge in terms of the whole or system.[iv] The non-Sacralist views the Church in the World as a necessary unresolvable tension. The only solution is the 2nd Coming of Christ.
In the meantime the non-Sacralist is concerned with the peace of Babylon. Babylon is in no way a Christian construct, nor can it be. What we desire is a society that functions, promotes order and stability, and allows us to go about the work of the Gospel. Building the altar-presence of the Church and living as pilgrim-martyrs is our calling and the means by which the Kingdom is built.
Consequently throughout history whether it was the Waldensians or Hussites, or later groups like the Mayflower Pilgrims or the Quakers the emphasis when it comes to social organization and liberty has been more Social (as opposed to individual) thought and practice. While we of all people love liberty, we also want social stability. Not a Constantinian ordered liberty, but an order that allows society to be at peace. 
And even among groups like the New England Puritans, while not fully Socialist, hardly exhibited the 'rights of man' type individualism found at the time of the American Revolution. These were folks who believed in social order, strictly ordered liberty, and the subjugation of individuals for the sake of the whole.
The key difference is the Puritans believed in using coercion and the power that developed from social cohesion to bring about and enforce a Christian Sacral order, something non-Sacralists find abhorrent and not worthy of Christ's Kingdom.
The Waldensians and Pilgrims often practiced communalism among themselves. They did not wish to impose this on the pagans around them, but were not opposed to political orders that lessened the place of the individual. The famous Waldensians of the Cottian Alps were rebuked by the Reformers for this practice and encouraged to establish private property among other things.
The Quakers were willing to use a light-form of power to govern a state, and yet were careful in its use and certainly were reticent to employ coercion. And amazingly they were willing to lay down their power when the pragmatics and demographics no longer supported their vision. Despite their soteriological and ecclesiological heresies, this alone is an astounding testimony to their vision of the Kingdom, a Kingdom which rejected the sword and refused the temptations of pride.
The Hussites, Lollards and others believed (to various degrees) in a socialized construct for the whole of society. It's not always clear how universal they were in their scope or vision. There is certainly evidence to indicate the Lollards rejected the Feudal order which labeled men as common or aristocratic.
          "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?"
Socialism of course has such negative connotations within the United States but I rarely find anyone who really knows what it is nor has any familiarity with the various nuances. I am not advocating Socialism or arguing it is somehow Christian but I want to briefly discuss why many non-Sacralistic theologies (including Dissenters and Non-conformists) have been less hostile to it than typical Sacralist and Establishment power-bases. And with it comes a strong Anarchist impulse which is another that is often completely misunderstood.

[i] And I would argue eventually leads to a social backlash. One day the society awakens to the fact that a substantial minority or even a majority do not actually accept the status quo. It leads to revolution.

[ii] This touches on the whole question of legality v. ethics. Sometimes what is legal is not ethical. For a Christian to maintain ethical integrity they will always be at a disadvantage in the marketplace, even in the marketplace of ideas.

Our power is not in man's wisdom, in the wisdom of words, or in presentation but in the humble and seemingly foolish testimony to the Gospel of grace. We can try and come up with 'better' arguments and ways of one-upping our opponents, but besides being often intellectually dishonest it is spiritually and ethically questionable. The Holy Spirit uses mere earthen vessels such as us, but the Almighty doesn't require our cleverness, tactical arguments, or schemes. We are called to bear witness to God's love and power and be martyrs.

Anyone who has spent any time arguing with sceptics and unbelievers will soon learn that argument and presentation won't do it. The world's wisdom can always find ways to escape Divine accountability. In the end, it requires the work of the Holy Spirit and our efforts while used by God are nothing.

[iii] Many forms of Retreatism also exhibit Utopian tendencies. Transformationalists want to forge a universal Utopia. Retreatists want to create a sectarian Utopia. A proper Two-Kingdoms doctrine finds the 'Utopia' as it were in the Spiritual Kingdom and looks for no Eden on the earth in this present evil age.

[iv] Weltanschauung or Worldview. An interesting quote from Wikipedia:

According to Neo-Calvinist David Naugle's World view: The History of a Concept, "Conceiving of Christianity as a worldview has been one of the most significant developments in the recent history of the church."

1 comment:

kittykit said...

This was really good. I always enjoy reading your posts. Thanks again.