This is an exchange I had a couple of months ago with a pastor who is also a longstanding friend. We respect each other but we often disagree. One of my frustrations is that people who are coming from what I might call the ‘default’ position concerning culture have a terrible time even grasping what a Two Kingdom/Pilgrim theology person is trying to say.
Again and again it seems that if you say our task is not to focus on cultural transformation that you’re somehow suggesting that the lives of individual Christians don’t have to be transformed. In addition to their way of thinking it seems to suggest that you somehow leave your faith behind Monday thru Saturday. When I hear or read these suppositions I’m immediately aware of the fact that they’re not grasping the argument.
My friend wrote the following…..
This is how I understand my calling as a pastor. I am to preach the Gospel in the expectation that there will be some who will repent and believe; that is, they will turn away from their acts and attitudes of rebellion against their Creator and turn toward living according the teachings of the Scriptures. This repenting and believing is ongoing throughout the life of a Christian. It is pursued in the context of being a disciple of Jesus, that is, of hearing His direction and obeying it. In this way, as each disciple fulfills the purpose that Jesus has for him, the people he comes into contact with are affected, some are converted and the world is increasingly changed.
How does your understanding differ?
Based on our previous conversations I went ahead and expanded on what I believed to be the salient issues….
I'm not sure if you're suggesting this, but I notice a lot of people who are critiquing my position (and I'm hardly alone on these points) seem to believe that what we're saying is that your Christianity doesn't affect your life Monday through Saturday.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our faith informs every aspect of our lives and we live as Christians in the world.
What are our goals and expectations? How do we view the world and think of the Kingdom? Well, that's different.
I would say that if you want the guy running the local convenience store to stop selling pornography then you preach the Gospel to him. If that doesn't work then you continue to preach the Gospel to everyone else in the neighbourhood.
When the neighbourhood is converted, no one will buy those materials and he'll quit selling them.
Now, that's simplistic and naïve but an illustration I believe would demonstrate how the Gospel transforms society. I do not believe that the Christian calling is to make converts so that we can pass legislation and call on state power to enforce Gospel conformity. That's using violence (the threat of law) to create a pseudo-kingdom.
If there's a townhall meeting to decide whether a local ordinance will be passed regarding the sale of such materials. Sure...go, but go as a private citizen who is a Christian not as a Christian who is trying to transform the township. You go as a Christian, you faith informs your thinking, but the mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel, not pass legislation.
The reality is that sometimes we will have to walk away from things. There are oaths and jobs I cannot take or fulfill....and I'm not under a mandate to take them or fulfill them. I want this Babylon to be peaceful and free so we can go about our work. I'm not trying to transform Babylon into Zion.
At this point usually the hypothetical question is raised....what if everyone is converted? Well, that would be great but I don't think there's any expectation that Christians will somehow become a majority anywhere. Colonial Pennsylvania under the Quakers would probably represent the closest thing to a Christian government that I can imagine and yet it was flawed and ultimately failed. Amazingly they rescinded their power when crisis came and their principles were tested. With all their many flaws they at least seemed to understand the Spiritual nature of the Kingdom.
And ultimately as I've pointed out to many Theonomists, if you really lived in a neighbourhood or town full of Christians you would in fact need less law, not more.
I agree with your statement and maybe I'm reading a little too much into the last clause about the world being changed. The world is changed by the presence of the Kingdom. But don't the Gospels themselves tell us that it comes without observation? In fact you have to be born again to even see or discern the Kingdom? Individual lives, families, and even generations are profoundly changed. There's no doubt that a country like England benefited in many ways from a strong Christian presence. It did much to shape their attitudes and demeanour.
However they also established a pretty wicked Empire based on conquest and theft and they made their country into a New Israel, and this blinded them to many of their deeds and baptized many of their evils. That's the kind of thing I'm arguing against.
Christians need to be out and involved in the world. I loathe Pietism but I also reject Transformationalism. I want people to know Christ and rejoice in fellowship and reconciliation with God and to see their lives transformed. Yet sadly a set of doctrines have (in different forms) permeated the Church throughout its history and have not only distracted the Body of Christ but present a real danger that can create a counterfeit Church which redefines the Kingdom in worldly terms and is bent on the acquisition of power.
A couple more things I can perhaps tease out of your statement.....
Ongoing repentance and belief........amen. I think we've always agreed on the nature of Saving Faith, the necessity of Fiducia, and have rejected hyper-forensic soteriological constructs. While I am to some degree 'with' many of the Klinean/Westminster West types on the issue of the Kingdom, I am more in line with the Federal Vision/Shepherd folks on issues related to soteriology and covenant.....but understood in a Redemptive-Historical framework(again with Westminster West) and contra Theonomy.
You speak of the disciple fulfilling the purpose Jesus has for him.....
Now if you mean this in terms of Decree....John Doe was meant to be a carpenter
In terms of Revealed Will....John Doe is a Christian husband and father and needs to have an honest ethical job that he does with diligence, then I can agree.
If you mean this in terms of the doctrine of Vocation, then no, I would disagree. I also reject the common formulation of the Dominion Mandate based on Genesis 1.26ff. My opinion is that it stems from a philosophical commitment tied in with a chiliastic formulation of the Kingdom. In terms of exegesis I think the subsequent Biblical data within Genesis does not support it. And the way in which some have tried to tie it in with the Commission of Matthew 28 does not support the notion either. I'm not sure where you're at on that point or if it's something that plays a part in your thinking, so I'll cease elaboration.
My Vocation (used theologically) is not to be a carpenter. That's just a means to an end. It's a job. My calling or vocation is to be a Christian and it is in that context that I build the Kingdom of God. As a carpenter I hang a door, and yet there's nothing specifically Christian about that task. I can and should do it well and in an honest manner but there are unbelievers who can do that just as well and honest as I can. In fact some are undoubtedly better at it.
It's a means to support my family which is also part of my calling as a Christian. My children are baptized and being raised in the faith. I have a duty to them to provide. Hanging the door helps me do that. In that sense the work itself, the vocation or job, helps me in a sense...in an indirect sense. It's not of the essence of my Christian calling and Kingdom building activities.
Now perhaps when I'm on the job I will interact with the homeowner and my conversation (both verbal and in terms of conduct) may contribute to the Kingdom... but again it has nothing to do with the door hanging. We could do that over coffee.
The theology I'm arguing against views culture as Sacral and thus the business of building culture becomes Kingdom activity. I know that many will emphasize the lowliest jobs are part of that and yet the reality is the focus is on the big 'mover and shaker' type jobs. This is not really the issue with the doctrine but it’s an interesting outworking. If you're a doctor, lawyer, or politician, great, that's important to the Kingdom mission. Artists and musicians have their place too. But a garbage man? A worker at the dollar store? Practically speaking those people are not held in high regard within the circles that sanctify work.
Now in many ways I am anti-clerical and I realize this doctrine was used at the time of the Reformation as a counter-argument to the whole Sacerdotal system and the notion that live a truly holy or almost super-Christian life you needed to be a member of the clergy or in a monastic setting. Luther and others countered this and gave validity to the common man. But I don't agree with his construct.
It is often pointed out that rejecting Vocation would re-establish the clergy-laity distinction. I would argue this has happened anyway in many Protestant circles and yet I would say that office holders (not the same as Clergy properly speaking) do have a higher calling. When you're going about your daily tasks they are indeed Kingdom building endeavours. Your full time occupation is to teach the Word, to talk to people etc...
It's a high calling indeed and I can't imagine anything better.
My job while valid, is of less value to the Kingdom. Not my calling, but my occupation. Tomorrow when I'm laying brick or next week when I'm sistering ceiling joists, my job while valid is of less spiritual value than what you do. Luther and many others would say I'm wrong to think that but I see no alternative. If I really believed the Kingdom was built via culture...now that would really depress me. Because then, truly, my job is worthless. I work for some of the most worthless people I have ever met. Often I'm working for miserable souls that have money to burn and think their lives will be better if they remodel a room or add a bathroom when they already have a sickening abundance of ease and comfort. Right now I'm working for a guy who's opening an office in XYZ. His company represents a decadent financial element within our society. He and what he represents is a cancer and yet...it pays the bills. If I start imposing that kind of ethical criteria on my employers I might as well sit at home. I do turn down some. The local Methodist church(sic) wanted me to do some work on their building. No way. I wouldn't touch their filthy money with a ten foot pole. I do draw lines but the bar is pretty low. Some of my worst customers and experiences have been working for Christians. Two of my best clients are a lesbian couple. Go figure. Again, I blame the theology of Sacralism. It has turned the Church on its head.
That does not mean I embrace clericalism. Far from it. I embrace a distinction between office holders and brethren. You can call it a clergy-laity distinction. I'm not opposed to the denotation. What I'm opposed to is the historical connotations as well as other hierarchical constructs that genuinely create a spiritual aristocracy and destroy the Universal-local dialectic of Biblical ecclesiology. That's the kind of clericalism I oppose, not the notion of an office holder holding authority.
One last thing.......
I would also add that Sacralism can create a rather interesting phenomenon, or perhaps a conundrum. While they would say that I'm promoting Sunday only Christianity, the same charge can be made against them, and I'm not the first to do so. For example, Sacralism often uses the concept of 'office' in terms of the government or some other to function to sanction behaviour that would not be acceptable for a Christian.
Look at the occupation of a soldier. He kills and yet it is sanctioned because of 'office' or is masked by extra-Biblical Constantinian constructs like Just War Theory. Bottom line he's killing people which is something that he shouldn’t do. If there are instances when a Christian can kill, defending your child from a maniac on drugs or something....that's a possibility. But when can we ever justify, or even worse glorify and celebrate violence? It's completely counter to the Gospel imperative.
I would say a Christian has no business being in the military and hence I got out as quick as I could when I realized this.
What about the police? Again, the office issue comes into play. Now I'll admit our society has to have police. I view them as a necessary evil. It's a position of power and violence and though I think they're necessary I want their power heavily curbed. I'd rather have 'bad guys' get away than innocent people incarcerated or civil liberties lost. It's a nasty job and I can't say that I like or think much of the people engaged in it. I don't think it's a job a Christian should do.
I'm not worried about abandoning Kuyperian spheres. Every society, every Babylon will deal with civil disorder and often calls upon the elements who are but one tier above the criminals to do this. I'm not worried about Babylon. This one will fall and another will rise. That's history. But I am worried about a Christian who puts on Babylon's uniform and carries gun in the name of Babylon and is willing to throw his weight around and if necessary kill people. I realize not all police 'have' to throw their weight around but if you talk to police...I've worked for a few and at present chat pretty regularly with a state cop that lives nearby. It's friendly chat. She asks me about carpentry and I ask her about police stuff. Anyway, they all seem to admit there are nasty bits to the job where you have to deal with people in harsh terms to get your point across.
I'm glad they're there but I'm not doing it. In many cases I'm not glad they're there. In the case of soldiers overseas, I'm not glad they're there. I wish they weren't. In the case of our nation's politicians, I'm glad we have something resembling law and order and yet I feel no affinity for these people. I'm thankful Providence has given this Babylon some form of government, but in terms of the individuals I think all of them are pretty wicked power mad and deceived people and in the case of the Christians in the congress....even more so.
I would argue that Sacralist commitments have in many cases led Christians to embrace an ethic that indeed leads them to abandon their calling Monday through Friday, making them as it were Sunday only Christians. I could press that much further and into many other occupations. And yet I wouldn't because I wouldn't wish to unnecessarily violate or bind consciences. But I do contend that in many cases if they were actually thinking about ethics in a more Biblical matter, they would be a bit troubled.
I realize these roads are not ones that lead to building a great civilization or one that empowers the Church to have a great social impact. But I don't believe that we're ever going to prosper or succeed in this world. I don't think we can do so and maintain our integrity. I don't think that's our calling. Our calling is to be a colony of the Kingdom of Heaven, citizens of Zion living in the Babylonian Wilderness. We set up the Lord's altar, proclaim what the world calls foolish and we die as martyrs....and yet they cannot stop us or destroy us. Our strength is what the world calls weakness and though they think we lose....in fact we win.
That's probably way more than what you were looking for, but....there it is. Perhaps that helps a bit? Taking your statement at face value, I can totally agree. And yet, knowing you and from our conversations in the past, knowing a bit of where you're coming from....I decided to add the rest even if it went far beyond what you were asking.
Just curious, was there a specific post that led you to ask this, or was it resulting from reading various articles?
At this point we continued to disagree and he continued to press me to go and ‘join’ a local church. My break with the PCA is in part what precipitated this conversation. I sent a further email….
I don’t understand why Christ coming to save the world translates into transforming or redeeming culture.
I believe in a New Testament-centric hermeneutic. I believe the New helps us to rightly understand the Old and that would include the passages that seem to speak of transformation, or a chiliastic Kingdom.
The world was in a sense saved at the cross, and in a sense is being saved and post-Eschaton will be saved to the utmost…but first it must be refined in the fires of judgment.
We are salt and light. I think primarily this is accomplished by us just being Christians. Being martyrs. Worshipping itself is act of declaration, a prophetic presence on the earth. Undoubtedly our very presence will affect people. If we raise godly children, it will affect people and the world around us. But there is no evidence from the NT to indicate that our success, the success of the Kingdom will any way be measured by the world. It won’t be something that breaks the Babel’s and Babylon’s. The gate is narrow and few are saved. The Kingdom is not something observable, it is a redemptive category.
I’m not at all opposed to be involved in the affairs of this world. Half the articles I’ve written deal with the affairs of this world, with history, culture, and current events. But my response is very different and my interaction is motivated by different concerns and with different expectations.
Throughout history the ‘Church’ has attempted to bring transformation into the world and it has resulted in great evil. Medieval Catholicism, the Byzantine Empire, the British Empire, and the American Empire have been great enterprises of theft and murder. Sure there’s some good mixed in too, but to their shame I can say likewise with regard to pagan empires and pagan religions. I think the Scripture is warning us against such visions and expectations. I believe the majority of American Evangelicals are unwittingly labouring to bring about the very imagery we are being warned against in the Apocalypse.
We’ve never agreed on these points, but I’ve never known you to be one who actively promotes Dominionism or Theonomy and so I know that you wouldn’t go to those extremes. However, you are an exception and though we would still differ on many points, practically speaking I don’t think we’re all that different. But there is a profound difference between what I believe, promote, and support over and against what is happening not only in mainstream Evangelicalism but especially within Reformed circles where I think there are some deplorable things going on.
I agree with what you say about the Visible Church. I’m not a Baptist in any way and I don’t relegate much of the New Testament discourse to the Invisible category. Certainly Corinth was reckoned a church, one in need of sharp rebuke. The Galatians of course were in a borderline status…Paul stood in doubt of them. I’m not sure the analogy holds throughout history. Things are of course more complicated and I would argue churches today are much more accountable.
That said, I am more than willing to endure messed up churches. In fact I assume that will be the case. I am willing to endure not just a little…but a lot. The problem is at present, that the few churches left that still meet some basic definition of a church won’t put up with dissent. What do I mean? I was more than happy to sit in the yyztown PCA and endure extra-Scriptural nonsense, error and whatever else was happening….but it’s when I am forced, when I am compelled to participate that I must draw the line. If I am forced to participate in extra-scriptural polity and ritual in order to share communion….then they go too far and claim authority they do not possess.
If I can compromise that point out of charity or some other consideration then I see no reason to continue there. A Reformed congregation would by no means be my first choice. At that juncture, if I can in good conscience abandon the authority of Scripture then I would much prefer to attend an Anglican or even an Eastern Orthodox service. My flesh longs for historical liturgy and tradition. And to be honest at that point I don’t think the PCA or most Protestant bodies have a historical or theological leg to stand on.
Where should I go? A Baptist church? They won’t allow you to be a part of their congregation unless you subscribe to their doctrinal statements. I’m not an Arminian or a Dispensationalist, nor a Baptist… they would struggle to believe I’m even a Christian. I came from those circles. Amillennial baby sprinkling Augustinians aren’t Christians. It’s not a matter of us enduring them, they will look at us as lost people to be evangelized.
A mainline congregation? I don’t believe these are churches. While I think there may still be a few here and there that maintain some kind of gospel testimony I have not found one in this area. And the ones that do are in sin for retaining affiliations with these denominations sold out to do evil.
I have talked extensively to numerous mainline pastors and usually come away convinced that they’re with the enemy. We’ve attended mainline churches in the past. We attended the Episcopal Church in YRY some years ago. It was great as long as you didn’t talk to anyone afterward and well the rector…he didn’t believe in hell or much else…but I guess everyone reading out of the BCP (Book of Common Prayer) means something? I once would have thought so…but no longer. I remember asking about the 39 Articles and got laughed at.
It is unacceptable to be outside of the Church…. but just as there were exceptional times in the OT, I think there have been many such times throughout Church history and I think for many today…it is such a time. It’s a time of apostasy.
Again where should I go? Basically I’m left with some Baptist churches. I have to say for you to suggest that we go there indicates that perhaps you’re not familiar with those circles? (My wife) and I came out of that. It makes us ill to return to those circles, but despite that we have on numerous occasions. When the people learn that you’re not ‘one’ of them…they scorn you.
Who then is the schismatic?
We attended one in YRY some time ago. Fellowship means…talking about retirement accounts and bashing Obama. Christianity= American Nationalism in the form of Conservative politics. If someone actually talks about the Bible….it’s Dispensational Eschatology, usually brought up in light of current events with regard to Israel and the need to kill more people in the Middle East. I keep my mouth shut because there’s little point in engaging on those topics when most of the people believe salvation consists of responding to altar call or signing your name in the back of a Gideon Bible.
The sermons….politics and therapy.
We’re not going there for ‘us’ and what ‘we’ can get out of it. But it reaches a point after a couple of months that your dreading Sunday mornings. We’re going to drive 45 mins to hear a sermon that to be blunt is either bubble-gum or just plain garbage…and often heresy. It used to be okay when our kids were little, but now it’s more than a little problematic when I have to deconstruct not only the sermon but pretty much everything that occurred on the car ride home.
The people hate us when we won’t let our kids go colour pictures of Jesus and we don’t want them to be in their damn Christmas play (yes there’s some irritation here and that’s what I truly think of their Christmas plays)….and no, we don’t want to support Brother Bill over in Ukraine spreading Cheap Grace Dispensational heresy to the poor Slavs who have been liberated from Eastern Orthodoxy.
You don’t dare talk about the Bible with anyone because in about two minutes you end in a terrible row. And I just smile as I listen about the wonderful things Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell, or D James Kennedy have done. Three very evil men in my book.
So my conscience while burdened and unhappy is pretty clear in this regard. I cannot attend Dispensational Baptist Churches. Oh and all this was while we endured a band up front, and various other entertainments. They also know you’re not one of them when you won’t go marching around the auditorium or step out into the aisles and stomp with the song.
Jesus does not love these churches. There are individuals within them that I’m sure he loves but I will not attend these Samaritan synagogues or congregations that make a mockery of Scripture. I’m not going to sit under women so-called pastors or women so-called elders.
I think we just continue to profoundly differ on the state of the Church and perhaps its tale through the ages. I think there are very encouraging things happening in the Church at large, but not here and not where a lot of people think. The numbers are small but there are things happening that are good and encouraging. I think there are very evil things afoot in this land and I think the American Church is permeated with the evil and often the source of it.
So what’s the plan? That’s usually what you’ll ask next.
Our plan is to live. To find fellowship where we can, to find others who will open a Bible and read it seriously…believe what it says. Maybe someday we’ll move. It’s not happening anytime soon. Preferably out of the country! Oh how I would love to leave this nation and never look back. But it’s not likely unless our financial situation significantly changes.
Actually at this point if I could find even a Church of Christ I would be pretty content. The nearest ones are an hour away. But again, that only lasts so long. Eventually they’re after you about Baptism as they only recognize their own. Denominations are a curse. I’d happily take a Bible Church…but again, an hour drive to find something that’s pretty depressing. We’d still attend it if it were closer that’s how desperate we are.
I understand what you’re saying and I don’t disagree with you that Church is a necessity. Your ‘messed up’ church is not as nearly as messed up as you think. I’m sure your laughing at my ignorance. I’m largely speaking of Sunday morning pragmatics. It’s one of the few in this entire region that is reasonably sound. I can even endure the horrible Advent wreaths and all the rest!
For me the drawback is Presbyterianism. Though I hate the polity with a burning in my heart, I am happy to endure it. But again, not if I am forced to participate in that aspect of it. Most of the time….your congregation or even the one in YYZ is a ‘congregation’ and everything is fine. But there are these certain times when the Presbyterian machine comes rolling in (dark clouds and all) and suddenly we’re not the congregation anymore…we’re part of this institution with its own laws, its own order, and to me its own canon. I can’t find any of it in the Bible but I know this…suddenly problems develop and the next thing I know I can’t have the Supper unless I get in line.
If we lived in ZZY, we’d happily attend ABC Reformed Church…but again, we’d be excommunicated. It’s out of your hands. We’d happily attend the YYZ PCA…but we’re excommunicated. Presbyterian Pastor X finally asked me the one day…why did you come here? And that’s where I had to confess my folly. We shouldn’t have because it would only end in disaster. I told him I thought maybe I had found some men who would put the Gospel above the PCA….but alas. In that system they don’t even have the choice, they can’t decide because a clerical council and canon law rules the day.
It’s a sad state of affairs. We were very reluctant to leave there but we felt we had no choice. We were excommunicated. At least that’s how I see it. He didn’t like it when I put it that way, but I refused to play the word games many Presbyterians are so keen to play. If we’re Christians you have no right to turn as away. If you turn us away, then that is tantamount to saying you don’t believe we’re Christians. You can’t grant us the substance and then deny us the bare and simple sign.
I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe I’m in sin. Probably. Maybe I’m the one who’s lost. Maybe we need to move. Maybe we live in an age of apostasy and it’s only going to get worse. During Manasseh’s time what did the faithful do? Some villages might have had a good synagogue and others didn’t and had to make do. When there were idols and wicked priests in the temple I don’t believe the faithful were going there. It was a dark age. I think many people throughout the history of the Church have been in this same predicament.
Some people blow off Church because they have a low view of the Church, they’ve embraced a hyper-individualist, or a hyper-Calvinist theology. Some are home on Sunday morning but they are grieved by this. This is unacceptable but the only viable alternatives are equally unacceptable. They pray for a better day.
As always I appreciate your input and wisdom.
The conversation went on a bit longer but I’ll stop for now…. In the end it didn’t really resolve anything. I know some readers will find these emails to be helpful and so I’m sharing them.