30 June 2013

High Place Worship and the Doctrine of Vocation

It's interesting that in some Protestant circles, particularly the Reformed who are rightly concerned to argue for the Scriptural regulation of worship then at the same time identify their secular work as worship. Their secular work is an offering (as it were), it magnifies God and advances the Kingdom.

The Reformed have historically argued that innovation in the realm of worship, viz., adding on to the Scriptural commands...is a form of idolatry.

Yet if that's true shouldn't work (as worship) also be regulated?  How do you know that what you're doing (if its worship) isn't actually engaging in yet another form of idolatry?

In fact if the principle (work as worship/Holy Vocation) is wrong... by 'sanctifying' the work you are automatically making it into an idol.

At this point I ask where can I find the Christian blueprints for government and economics, the arts and sciences? Where does the Bible show me how to form a godly political system? Where does the Bible elaborate on macro-economics? Does the Bible only allow for realism in the realm of art? Is the scientific method in accord with Scriptural metaphysics? Where can I find the answers to these questions?

They're patently not there. And there's a reason for that I would argue. Many would point to the Old Testament at this point and try and derive political, economic and social principles from the Old Covenant arrangement. But this too is an error.

The Covenant people have only one analogy in the New Covenant era...that is the Church. Only the Church can be identified with Israel the Holy Nation. No political or tribal entity on earth can claim the Covenant status even if they erroneously presume to take it upon themselves. All such claims are spurious.

The laws of the Old Testament weren't models for a social order. They were typological pictures of the coming judgment and the gospel, the way of redemption.

All the promises were about Christ. 2 Corinthians 1.20 tells us all the promises are affirmed (yes) and confirmed (amen) in Christ. When anyone tries to extract those promises and apply them to America, the modern Jewish state or people, any other entity or idea, they're rejecting Paul's clear teaching. The Old Testament promises are about Christ (who is Israel) and he makes clear elsewhere that those in Christ participate in these promises and are in and part of Israel which in the New Testament has taken on its true spiritual meaning. To be 'in' Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit and to speak of nations or civilizations in this way is to embrace philosophical speculation and deny Scripture's authority for determining doctrine.

To extract certain portions of the Old Testament or to try and apply portions of it, mixing and matching with other political philosophies, is not only reading and understanding the Bible incorrectly, it destroys the typological picture and many of the lessons the New Testament teaches. In the end, this approach is just another example of syncretism. It's the same thing that was happening under the Old Testament and being condemned. It's taking alien ideas and human-born concepts and wedding them to the theology of the Bible. Throughout the history of the Church men have attempted to do this with nations, races, and social systems. In every case they claim that this is God's way and that God is on their side. You always end up with something that looks like Christianity on the surface but in fact is pagan to its core.

Today we don't have a holy nation, a holy kingship or a holy priesthood outside of the Church. We don't have a sanctified race or social system and this reality is not a problem because the Pilgrim Church is not in the business of transforming society or attempting to gain power.

Christ is Israel, the True King, and the High Priest. Our job is to proclaim it and deny ourselves.

To try and apply these Old Testament types to modern contexts is to de-covenantalize them. It's taking the holy and treating it as common. It's sacrilege in the extreme. Israel didn't take the things that were holy and give them to the surrounding nations.

There were plenty of Jews who wanted to blend Biblical Judaism with the values and judgments of surrounding nations. They wanted to emulate them. They wanted a king like the nations. They wanted to copy their altars and forms of sensual and tactile worship.

Today so many people read the Old Testament and equate the United States with Israel. They think about how the Israelites were supposed to suppress the Canaanites or how the Israelite kings were praised for removing idolatry persecuting the sodomites etc... and they long for such a government in this land. They looked at George Bush as a Hezekiah and now look at Obama as a Manasseh.

Again, the king was a type of Jesus 'the' King, the Christ. Israel was meant to be Holy, a picture of God's grace and redemption. It had prophets and a priesthood, holy laws and even its wars were holy. All of these things, the prophets, the priests, the land, even the wars...all pointed to Jesus Christ.

To try and draw parallels with modern nations or even with the extra-Biblical concept of Christendom is to profoundly misunderstand both the Old and New Testaments. It is a misreading of the Bible on a massive scale.

You want to purge Canaanites today? That's not applicable in terms of America. We do that by purifying the Church and purging out all syncretistic impulses and idolatry, the false believers in our midst.

Right-wing American Christians think of the secular Left as the Canaanites. Actually in terms of the theological analogy....they (the Idolaters in the Church) are the spiritual heirs of the Canaanites. They're the Baal worshippers within the land (the Church). The secularists are lost too, but they're not 'in' the Church, i.e. in the land. They're only a threat to us if we borrow their worldly wisdom and seek to emulate their ways.

The New Testament tells us of the nature of our warfare. It's spiritual not carnal. Our weapons are not swords or guns. Let us not fall into the common blasphemy of viewing the lives of dead American soldiers as somehow redemptive. They have not died for us in either the social or spiritual sense. They've lived by the sword, killed for the empire and died the death they all too often deserved. We're not free as citizens because of their works. And as Christians we owe them nothing and in fact if we understand anything of the Empire and its evils...we must harshly condemn their deeds. We can urge them to repent, we can pity them, but we must not praise the agents of violence, lies and murder.

While the Sacralist cannot find economic and political blueprints from the New Testament they (through rather dubious philosophical assumptions) have allowed themselves to construct rather elaborate theological systems that in the end are speculative and often completely contradict New Testament teaching. They may use the 'Biblical' adjective when speaking of them but upon closer examination their ideas have found their genesis in a wide range of ideas and concepts that have flowed from the Western tradition which all too often is misnamed as Christendom. Regardless they are a far cry from Scripture.

It's not new. The Constantinian Shift birthed this tendency which flowered during the Middle Ages and has experienced many seasons of reinvigoration and expansion. Today, the tone is one of wistful celebration and a clarion call to militancy. The politically conservative Restorationism of our day does not concern the New Testament but a return to the supposed halcyon days of Charlemagne. Charles was many things, but in God's eyes he was not great. Luke 16.15 comes to mind:

And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Beginning with Augustine and others the Church reformulated its ideas about money and power (economics and politics) and abandoned the legacy of the New Testament and the early Church.

It syncretized worship, introduced hierarchy, embraced violence, and sanctified greed and wealth. The bottom line is a strict adherence to the New Testament doesn't allow for a Christian society nor does it provide the tools to build a Christian civilization. Some would argue the Old Testament does but to use it in such a way is to misunderstand and certainly misinterpret the Old Testament. Divorcing it from Christ and the history of redemption they use Old Testament ideas, syncretized with new ones and construct the Harlot Zion, the false Church.

There are those who have used this theological tendency to sanction great evil and invent new ways to do it. And no doubt there are many who are sincere in their innovations. Some seem more harmless than others. But in their zeal to reach the culture that's slipping away from them, the Church of today has embraced a great deal of pagan superstition and like the Medieval Church they've blended it with Biblical Christianity. Like the Jews of the Old Testament they have borrowed from the nations in their desire to be like them. I'm sure in those days there were many who argued a greater influence and impact could be made by speaking in the vernacular and using the media of the day.

These people have not understood the wisdom of God. They (like the world) find God's wisdom to be foolish.

We read in 2 Timothy 3:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

I'm afraid all too often people read this passage and shake their heads and say, that's just like America today. The passage is not applicable to America or any other nation. One it's characteristic of the entire age, for the Last Days are the period extending from the Ascension to the Second Coming. They don't refer to 'Last' in the sense of the time right before the 2nd Coming. This is the last epoch of history, the last covenantal arrangement wherein this Age blends (via the Church's presence) with the Age to Come. All that is left is the Day of Judgment which in terms of eschatology has already happened with the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. And yet it is also...not  yet.

Paul was writing in the Last Days. Acts 2.17 and Hebrews 1.2 make it clear that the Last Days have already been a reality for over 1900 years.

The Middle Ages were the Last Days too, and today we certainly live in the Last Days. Whether we live at the time Christ will actually return...who can say? I certainly hope so.

The key phrase in the passage is....having a form of godliness but denying its power.

Paul is speaking of the leaders of a false form of Christianity. These are the false apostles which dogged him everywhere he went. This is the battle found between the lines throughout all of his epistles. While at times he may seem arrogant, what he's trying to do is assert the validity of his office and calling vis-a-vis the claims of the false apostles. He counters their doctrine at every turn. And here he warns, just as he warned the Ephesians in Acts 20 that this tension will be characteristic of the entire Church age. It won't just be Gnostics (1 Timothy 6.20) teaching a wrong cosmology and a false view of the material v. the spiritual world. There will also be those who will try to revive Judaism (Acts 15), those who celebrate acculturation (1 Corinthians 5) and those who blend both Judaizing and Paganizing tendencies (Colossians 2.16-18).

Paul is speaking of those within the Church who have a form of godliness but ultimately reject the Kingdom of God. They have baptized sin and are traitors to the true Kingdom. They may be good patriots as the world defines it. They may be successful and respected. They may be good citizens and wise as the world reckons wisdom, but they like the man in Matthew 7.21-22 don't know God. They have not heeded the words of Jeremiah 9:

23 Thus says the Lord:

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
24 But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the Lord.

25 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised— 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, the people of Ammon, Moab, and all who are in the farthest corners, who dwell in the wilderness. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.”

It is God who exercises judgment and righteousness in the earth. If the Church has any part in this it is through the preaching of the Gospel and by being martyr-witnesses.

Boastful and brutal love of money and power, the root of evils is not an exercising of a judgment and righteousness. These are concepts they hide behind in order to sanctify their evil deeds.

From such turn away!

Innovation is the rejection of an objective standard. And like the Middle Ages we are flooded by fads and newly invented forms of spirituality. How do we know what's good? If it says something about 'God' and makes me feel spiritual then it must be good. The Medieval culture gave us pilgrimages and saint worship and our modern Church doesn't look much different. Today we have a cult of angels and increasingly the equivalent of saints. We have pilgrimages (some to Holy Washington DC) certainly a host of spiritual (often narcissistic) exercises. We even have miraculous visions, people going to heaven and hell. I find it hard to believe these books are so popular but their ubiquity testifies it must be so.

The Church is weighed down with superstition regarding America, the West, history, current events, and the future. Many live under the yoke of legalism, a host of prescriptions rooted in cultural taboo and narratives that have been synthesized with Scriptural truth.

We live as Christians at all times and in all places. This affects our work, our recreations, our interactions with believers, family, the culture and the state. In this sense indeed all of life is consecrated. We are born again and thus our lives are demarcated from the world around us.

We are pilgrims and that affects mission, ethics and expectations. We see this fallen world as it really is and proclaim the need for repentance and the coming judgment. Our ethic is heavenly minded. Our primary weapon is love. With it we overcome the world. Thus eschewing and rejecting all violence we cannot to aid or abet, participate in or endorse the sword-bearing state. It's there for a reason and serves an important purpose, but in the end the state and its goals do not concern us and cannot help us in what we're here to do.

In terms of ethics, we are Christians not only primarily but solely. This is our vocation. Our tasks in life are done in faith. Faith teaches us our goals and aspirations are transcendent. Our concepts of success and riches are beyond what this world can grasp. To the world we are fools. We may do good quality work but our motivations are in the world's eyes nonsensical. We refuse to play by their rules, view time and career commitment or success in the same way and thus they'll always know...we're not 'with' them.

While it is admirable and right to try and please God in terms of our work and I have no doubt there are many who are motivated by this simple concern. Nevertheless many of them and certainly their teachers are motivated by a different host of concerns ranging from something like utopia to raw power.

In this quest they have inserted a theology between the pages of Scripture and the New Testament in particular (which certainly affects how the Old is read and understood).

The insertion sometimes hiding behind a seemingly innocent and beneficent concept like Christian Vocation in the end presents a grave threat to the New Testament teaching concerning the Kingdom of God and the ethical system that flows from it is essentially obliterated. The love of money becomes the root of all success instead of the root of all evil. The loving of enemies and turning the other cheek is replaced with prideful violence often centered around the concept of an idolatrous Babel-state. The Kingdom that is not of this world is replaced with a kingdom that looks very much like the world. The battle-shield with the cross on it is a perfect symbol representing the false kingdom and the vocational ethic it generates.





Cal said...

Always a good push to keep thinking.

I do think, while a serious error and one that is practiced, some people who say "work is worship" are doing so in non-idolatrous ways. By that I mean, they're perhaps being sloppy with their words. What they mean is that "walking with God" is something that impacts all areas of life. Therefore, when you work, you do so to the glory of God. It doesn't matter what you do, but do so cruciformly. I have friends who speak like this ("all life is worship"). There's truth to it, and the same friends would distinguish between that sort of worship and "Corporate worship" on a Sunday morning.

I know what you are saying, and like a lot of things, major problem in vocabulary. The English word 'worship' implies the act of ascribing worth or worthiness to something or someone. A 'pilgrim' will be making those sorts of choices 24/7. I don't know. But I agree totally: being a lawyer or doctor or artist is not, by doing law, medicine or art, building the kingdom. Vocation theology is a revamped version of the Medieval doctrine that Chelcicky took an axe to. There's nothing holy about nobility, mercantilism, or clericalism.

I don't mean to sound like an Augustine apologist, but it's not his fault for the baptism of greed, violence and political power. That had already happened, and Augustine was trapped trying to chart a course in the context of Donatism and Pelagianism. I mean those two in terms of Ecclessiology. How do you try and chart an explanation that the typical 'Pilgrim' is redeemed, with expectations, but also a sinner, one who is in the process between two humanities. I don't think Augustine came up with all the right answers, but he certainly understood the problems in truer ways than Pelagius or Julian of Eclanum.

I don't understand your comment about the vernacular. Do you mean you can't speak in ways a surrounding culture would understand more intuitively? There's a danger I suppose, somehow you change the form without altering the message. Paul did this at Mars Hill. But then you have the stories of missionaries giving a gospel-less conversion to German tribes who think Christ is just a superior warrior to Odin, and thus worthy of obeisance. I guess like all things, one needs wisdom. I marvel at happened amongst the Masai in Kenya. But then you have the Jesuits in East Asia, during the 16th and 17th centuries, promoting some spineless, flexible message that gets them into court positions. It's complicated!

Thanks again for some good thoughts,

Protoprotestant said...

Ah I probably didn't make the vernacular statement clear enough. What I meant by that was the tendency for those who wish to acquire power, they will speak in ways to tug at the heartstrings of the regular population.
For example many Theonomic groups will market themselves as good old patriotic mom and apple pie Americans who stand for the family and the Constitution.
Meanwhile that's not really what they stand for at all. What they want is power and if their full agenda were known it would shock people.
In OT times (and today) the people were already engaged in all kinds of syncretism and superstitions. Rather than be OT purists and stick hard and fast to the Word...no,no, appeal to the things the people like and speak the way they speak. Obscure the message if need be to bring people on board. Use the popular means of communication if it works, and not stick to the foolish (in the world's eyes) methods that God has given.
Or as it is often done today...Christianize everything that serves your agenda, war, soldiering. I just read a review for 'War Horse' and someone wrote they were so inspired by the movie they created a Sunday School lesson about how we're all 'war horses' for God.
Everything but the simple Word of God. It's not profound to them, because they don't understand it.
Yes 'life' is worship, not work. Work is incidental and if it comes into conflict with 'life' then you ditch it and find something else. If work were truly worship then we would be duty bound to excel at it in order to maintain a Christian witness. But the reality is, if we're honouring God the pagan will almost always beat us. They'll lie for the company, they'll sacrifice family for the job etc... Integrity as much as people tout it usually puts you in the unemployment line. The business world is the worst. I can barely stand to even deal with those people. They squeeze every last drop of blood out of you and then stab you in the back. And yet the business world is full of Christians! I'm sorry but they're either willfully blind or in many cases suppressing their consciences. That's a generalization but I think it's pretty true. The idea of 'vocation' applied to so many sectors is just a bad joke.

Protoprotestant said...

I appreciate Augustine and in other debates will defend him. But one bad area is when it came to the whole idea of money and poverty and the giving away of wealth. With the Constantinian Shift the Bishops suddenly didn't want everyone 'recklessly' giving away their fortunes. Before the Shift the Church could give with abandon. Now when the Church takes over the function of government the idea is to budget and plan...to be a steward. Mohler and Peter Brown were talking about this one day, celebrating the fact that Augustine played a role in shifting the Church's extreme attitude to one more long term, more conducive to the construction of a Christian civil and economic polity. Now, I will admit Brown may have been reading modern conservative economic views back into Augustine, but it actually made sense.
Augustine is a giant...both good and bad. That's true of most figures in Church history.
And undoubtedly all these things were already at work. He was born in 354 and didn't really become a figure of consequence till what...almost 400? It was all well underway but the guy was so brilliant he did much to help certain concepts along for good or ill.
As usual you make good points and temper my sometimes carried away assessments. I try to remain sober but sometimes I'll admit I get a little passionate.

Anonymous said...

This is another well-stated piece describing the errors of Constantinianism, which mutate in form over the ages but the errors are all the same. The fruit is, of course, bad too because the root is rotten.

I see that you and I agree about definitions of "Last days," "vocation," "Israel and covenant," and so on. Refreshing!

In the old days, tail end of the Jesus movement era, there was a somewhat widespread and commonly-held desire to seek after "New Testament" Christianity, as opposed to status quo dead Protestantism. Though there was much goofy dispensational influence around, and some goofy influence from charismatic movement, though we never knew it by that name, we received a solid biblical understanding of covenant fulfillment in Christ, OT typology and foreshadowing, nature of the church and Kingdom as not of this world, pilgrim mentality, and the emphasis was on preaching the gospel and living witness. Work, which we called tent-making, was necessary after the fall, but just a means to survive for one's true vocation which was being pilgrim witnesses of the everlasting Kingdom. We saw our work and jobs as missionary endeavors--a way that the Lord put us in proximity with the unsaved. Money was never the goal. Jobs and money were not the rudders for your decisions, and that in itself was a witness, but foolish in the world's eyes, and you weren't seeking (worshipping)earthly "success." Col. 3: work as unto the Lord for His Name's sake but the work is part of the post-Garden fallen world and thus actually is part of the Curse.

For me, the sad thing is that most former friends in the Lord have been seduced into the harlot system with its many blasphemies and syncretisms. Many view their former convictions as simple, primitive, naïve and unproductive. To me, it's more grievous to fall from a biblical conviction than it is for those who have never known anything else to be stuck in wrong ideas out of ignorance.

I think of doves vs. serpents and sheep before wolves.

I wonder to what extent the modern prevalence of celebrityism and "ministries" has contributed to the neutralization of the saints. Everyone is just feeding everywhere from whatever is out there, like spiritual junk-food, and it's showing. People can't think a concept or principle through. I know that I was very confused until I jettisoned all that stuff, repented, and went back to (old) proven writings and Scripture and prayer.

I appreciate the site and everyone's comments.


Cal said...

I think ultimately, Augustine is one of those figures who, on account of his openness to his own mind, one can talk about how he developed. The results one gets depends on how one pieces the puzzle together. That's how the Medieval order and the underground, charlemagne and chelcicky, trent and geneva, can all claim him. Obviously, the answer isn't relativism, but careful analysis.

I know Augustine added to the act of the Church sitting on her wealth and becoming integrated into the Roman Empire. Yet there was a secondary major shift in Augustine thought. Alaric sacking Rome, as a symbol, represented a shift. Augustine had at one point bought the lie that Imperial Government could be good for the expansion of the Church.

Then Rome was torn to pieces. The government fluctuated on consistent Donatist pressure. Sometimes they'd back the Catholics, sometimes they'd back off, even at some rare points they inched closer to the Donatists. Whatever it took to secure African wealth from the ever loyal province. I'd be curious if anyone has ever explored this. I think Augustine woke up to what the politics of Africa had done to him. The Pelagian debate dogged him, another frustration with all the politics.

It's pretty interesting: Pelagius is like the modern liberal activist appealing to yuppies. Roman aristocrats flocked to him. I guess it was like a vent for those who were conflicted.

Augustine could be devious and two-faced, and he certainly was with his debates with the Donatists. But I think that's what can be so frustrating with Augustine: he's too human for all those who want a figure-head to rally around. He has won my respect by even attempting to write the "retractiones". He also got my respect when he figuratively punched Jerome in the nose for implying studying Scripture was a game. I digress.

Augustine was apart of the problem, but also apart of the solution. I guess that's the most I can ask of him. He added to Rome's absorption of the Church, but he also left the tools for dismantling it.

In the end, it doesn't matter what Augustine thought, but he's one of my favorite characters in the history of ideas.


Protoprotestant said...

Sorry, I'm not sure why the Blogger platform took your last comment and dumped it in the spam folder.

If anyone ever posts a comment and it doesn't come up, just let me know. Don't worry I'm not blocking you! If I was going to do that (can't imagine why?) I'd let you know and tell you why.