02 November 2015

Mohler's Sacralist Commentaries

As I've mentioned before Mohler represents just the kind of Christian leader that I am opposed to. This does not mean that there aren't many theological points we find in common. We would ostensibly agree on the basics of the gospel and many a point of historical theology.

But there is always something a bit 'off' in his commentary and his overall outlook. I'm opposed to his rationalistic tendencies at work in the realm of theology but perhaps even more than that I reject his philosophical syncretism, his commitment to sacralism. I will grant his position is the majority position in terms of Western Church history.

But that does not make it right. Even he would have to admit that.

I cannot think of a single time I have read his works or listened to him where things aren't more than a little out of focus, skewed, and ultimately corrupted. His sacralism plays out not only in his theology, but most poignantly in his sociological commentary, political analysis and historical interpretation. It is on these points that as a Biblicist, I cannot agree with him at all.

Here's his 'briefing' from 29 October 2015.

I only listen to him on occasion because in almost every case I already know what he's going to say and I don't find his comments to be accurate or very insightful. But knowing his influence and the scope of his audience I attempt to keep abreast of his general viewpoint. I listened to this commentary because I wanted to see how far he'd push the issue and if he would even question or defend the assumptions of his position. I assumed he wouldn't, and he didn't disappoint. Mohler is a thoroughgoing sacralist. While he proclaims to be committed to Biblical Christianity, he actually has more in common with Medieval Catholicism.

He laments the fact that church buildings in England are in a state of social and financial decline. No one attends them. He also is disturbed the culture wishes to utilize them in a secular manner without acknowledging or more preferably paying homage to the theology inherent within the architecture of the buildings and the historical meaning and context they represent.

Of course how lost people are supposed to this we're never told. And why would they celebrate a belief system long abandoned? Well, that's not clear either.

At the end he briefly mentions in less than clear terms the apostasy of the Church of England and why it is in its present state. Of course we might also argue that had the Church of England ever been Scripturally faithful to begin with, it would have:

a. Never existed

b. Never been able to grow to over ten thousand congregations to begin with and thus the dilemma of all but empty buildings wouldn't exist.

It was largely a sham from the beginning. Many of the Reformed attempt to celebrate 'what almost was' under Edward VI, Elizabeth and the Puritans, but it never came to pass. In fact it failed miserably and by the time of the Restoration it was clear the whole project in the end did much more harm than could have ever been imagined. And had their dreams been fulfilled resulting in a Calvinistic Anglican Church guided by the Westminster Confession of Faith... it would still have been a state church and thus a theological aberration, a corruption of New Testament Christianity. And like every other state church, it would have succumbed to the culture and thus ultimately to the Enlightenment. The Reformation in rending asunder the basis for medieval social cohesion and consensus, unwittingly spawned the crisis that resulted in the Enlightenment and the eventual downfall of European Christendom. The Reformation planted the seeds of its own destruction.

Mohler assumes these buildings were valid expressions of Christian faith and celebrates the sacral symbolism of the steeple, the Tower of Babel-like proclamation that every society makes in its architecture. He doesn't view it that way of course but celebrates the symbolism of Christendom. Like most sacralists he simply assumes the validity of calling buildings 'churches' and then without hesitation accepts all the subsequent theology generated by this basic doctrinal error.

He would do well to read Verduin's 'The Reformers and Their Stepchildren' and in addition revisit an older chapter of history, the Pre-Reformation Church in England, where we find the Lollards operating as a Biblicist underground church. This all antedates Henry VIII and his scandalous corruption of marriage which was the genesis of the so-called Church of England.

The Lollards, like the Waldensians on the Continent had no time for steeples and spires, stained glass and bells. They rejected these popish corruptions and innovations. While the later Reformed (being sacralists) certainly constructed buildings, it is the British Puritan tradition, the very tradition Mohler claims allegiance to that was most dubious about buildings and all the leftover trappings and 'worldviews' associated with medievalism. Their iconoclasm vis-à-vis Christendom was not as penetrating as might be wished for but in another sense is in our own day significantly downplayed. Their radicalism is tolerated but increasingly few celebrate it.

One does not wax sentimental about Puritan 'Meeting Houses' and though they were sacralists to be sure, there was no theology of Church Architecture apart from a negation of the Roman Catholic tradition and a return to New Testament simplicity. How the Regulative Principle is hated in our day. And yet many err in thinking it finds it genesis with the British Puritans. The majority of the pre-Reformational movements espoused it in one form or another.

Mohler loves Calvinistic Soteriology but being a Baptist doesn't understand the comprehensive nature of the theology. He loves Reformed sacralism but can't seem to navigate the nuances and its interaction with European social history. In some ways Protestant sacralism represented a continuity with medievalism and in other ways it was absolutely revolutionary and represents the beginning of secularism. It must be said again, because it is supremely ironic that the Reformation most certainly opened doors that it did not mean to and in the end was self-defeating and destructive. Mohler would contest that of course. We can agree there's much to celebrate with regard to the Reformation, but not the romanticised version that Mohler and those like him propagate. Their interpretation of the 16th century and the events leading up to it are self-serving and lack integrity. Their subsequent narratives regarding Protestant history often tend toward pure fabrication and in some cases fantasy.

Today while claiming to adhere to Scripture, Conservative Protestantism has become reactionary and revisionist, recasting and re-embracing Europe's pre-Reformational and therefore pre-Secular heritage.

And yet during Mohler's Golden Age of Christendom, there were many voices arguing from Scripture against the very ideas and notions Mohler holds dear. This is why Sacralism has little interest in groups like the Waldensians and Lollards. They do not supplement their argument and narrative but stand in direct contrast to it. If they do refer to Waldensians and Lollards in their histories and works it is either in superficial or romanticised terms.

On the one hand, I too love the old buildings. That's part of Europe's charm and I've certainly worshipped in more than a few old Anglican Church buildings. I know the appeal and cannot help but feel the sentimentality when visiting the old village churches. I love the connections with the past. I've written about this before.

It must be emphasized once more that even speaking this way about 'old village churches' grants the false assumption that these buildings even ought to be called churches in the first place.

The funny thing is that where I live, the largely apostate Methodist and Presbyterian 'churches' don't possess the charm, or the interesting architecture. It's usually just a wooden faux-variety, a romanticised rip-off of some kind of European style. If they disappeared it would be no great loss. That said, many people do feel the same affinity for many of the old country churches, and I'll also admit I enjoy the feeling of history when I step inside, although the reaction is considerably different from when I step into an Old World building that's hundreds of years older.

On the one hand I lament the decay of these buildings and their history. On the other hand when I view it from a theologically objective viewpoint, as opposed to Mohler's reactionary romanticism, I say 'tear them down'. Remove the false witness so that the antithesis between the world and Biblical Christianity can be made more manifest.

Or better yet... let them be used for something else to keep them standing. That way we can remember the history and yet reflect on it instead of celebrate it. And then, those who care can still gaze upon them and learn something, whether it be the false theology at work in steeples and stained glass, or the lessons of institutions that succumbed to the spirit of Ichabod. Though this would horrify Mohler and create a narrative that would make a sacralist pour ashes on his head, I say 'Make them into village museums'.

Many lament the iconoclasm that occurred at the time of the Reformation, the smashing of statues and other works of art. Even the celebrated Francis Schaeffer said it would have been better if they had been put into museums and looked at as objets d'art rather that venerated.

Though no fan of Schaeffer I'll play along and I'll simply say that the buildings should be treated in the same manner. But for Mohler and those like him the buildings represent something more, they are quite literally a physical stamp, a tangible claim of Christian Sacralism on society as a whole. Relegating them to the status of artifact is an admission of defeat and obsolescence.

As far as weddings go, Mohler once again displays his theological ignorance and shallowness as well as his sacralist assumptions. The whole idea of a 'church wedding' is also a holdover from medievalism and is thoroughly sacralist in orientation.

Waldensians and others were viewed as fornicators and their children as bastards because they refused to be wed in Roman Catholic buildings by the extra-scriptural sacramental arrangement created by Rome.

They were wed privately and among themselves, but this was not recognized by the sacral society in which they lived. Despite the erroneous claims of some, the Waldensians were almost exclusively paedobaptist but they like the later Anabaptists had a problem with baptism being tied to the sacral society. They had a problem with Christian identity being confused and conflated with citizenship, the very thing Mohler celebrates and even demands. But as a Baptist his theology on this point is rather muddled and exposes the shortcomings of his own system rather than provide any clarity for his audience. At the core of sacralist thought is the idea that at least outwardly society represents a monistic structure, everyone is (in some sense) a participant in the civil-religious fusion. Pluralism, the teaching and demand of the New Testament is the great enemy. The composite society in which we live as strangers, pilgrims, exiles and aliens is the status sacralism seeks to eliminate. Interestingly when doing so, many of the ethical foundations of New Testament are eliminated.

Sacralism's consequence is a new foundation for ethics and a host of newly formed necessary consequences and imperatives result. It can look like Christianity but results in something very different. Mohler's ethics applied to the world all too often bear this out. The values of the world and the Kingdom become muddied and distorted. War, greed and pride are recast. Serving the greater good they can become tools and fruits of virtue.

While we can certainly agree with Mohler's criticism of modern society's narcissism and the absurdity of our contemporary wedding culture, we cannot agree with his theological assessment. Even then, I think many of his sociological analyses are incorrect. Not everyone rejecting a 'Church Wedding' is a narcissist. He is guilty of his own non sequitirs. Some wish to avoid formalism and grandiosity and though he insists 'Church Weddings' are not inherently expensive, even a simple one can be somewhat overwhelming. Granted it doesn't have to be $30,000 but it can easily run $3-5000 and for some that's too much. The bourgeois Mohler, like not a few of his Reformed brethren, lives in a different world, one quite foreign to many working and lower class Americans.

He seems to think that it is only modern culture that makes the wedding an expression and celebration of the self. While this has been taken to a new level to be sure, I can say with great confidence that even many a traditional wedding has been very much about the bride and a celebration of 'her moment'. Even many of the contemporary wedding 'reality' programmes clearly demonstrate that a 'Church Wedding' in no way eliminates the narcissism and self-focus that seems bound to occur when formal dress and pageantry come into play on a grand scale.

Once again, even if we assume his position, why should we expect nonbelievers to view the wedding ceremony in the same way Christians should? It is always baffling to me that sacralists seem to find some kind of great satisfaction in forcing infidels to hypocritically 'go through the motions' and be forced to participate in some kind of made up social ritual or exercise in civil religion.

Despite Mohler's claims, it's not Biblical. There's nothing in the New Testament that tells us to compel the pagan through the threat of law. There's nothing that suggests that we take over society and impose Christian (and hence spiritual) realities on people who cannot apprehend let alone comprehend them.

And there's nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the wedding is some kind of quasi-worship service. The modern 'Church Wedding' is the child of medieval Roman sacralism, a philosophical consequent of sacral theology. It is not derived from New Testament exegesis and its retention by Protestants claiming Sola Scriptura is in fact a denial of the principle. Mohler undercuts his own ability to argue against other Catholic innovations. By embracing the building and the wedding ceremony he's already admitted the Scripture alone is not his source of doctrinal and ecclesiological authority.

Marriage is a Common Grace institution that we're told will cease at the Eschaton. While I do not doubt our spouses will be known to us in heaven, the relationship is not the same. Marriage is a temporary order that will perish when this age is consummated.

That said, marriage most certainly takes on a different meaning for the Christian couple as it 'also' represents in symbolic or metaphorical terms our Union with Christ.

In the time of the Patriarchs, Isaac brought Rebecca to his father's tent, they were blessed and they were considered married. There was no great fanfare and there was no holy building or priesthood. The Patriarchal Period, or even the similar Antediluvian era is more analogous to our own epoch, the New Covenant/Kingdom era governed by the Already-Not Yet dynamic. To attach significance to a building, to clerics and to ceremony (manmade at that) is to Judaize.

The confusion grows because to many the marriage is legitimated by the state issued license. This has led not a few to balk at the state sanction and for some to reject it altogether. If, the certificate was specifically 'sacral' as it was in the Middle Ages or more recently in Rick Santorum's dream state of Spain under Franco, then we too would have to reject the certificate, and be married 'underground' as it were. Again, this is what many a Biblically minded non-conformist opted for during the totalitarian regimes of Roman and in some cases Protestant Christendom.

But contrary to Mohler we can be thankful that we live in a secular society. Marriage in terms of the civil order has no religious meaning. Therefore I can go and get the certificate... it wouldn't matter if it was done on the exact same day as the wedding vows and consecration.... for simple legal purposes. The state issued certificate has nothing to do with sanctioning the marriage in terms of Christian doctrine or ethics. It's simply a legal formality and social convenience. It's not a holy stamp of approval from a sacral society nor does Babylon's necessarily wrong interpretation of marriage have any bearing on my understanding as a Christian.

We register with Rome/Babylon because it makes life easier in terms of taxes, medical decisions, inheritance and so forth. If Rome gets out of the 'marriage' business altogether and allows us to legally establish our tax, medical and inheritance connections through other means and under a different nomenclature, then so be it. It might even aid in lessening the confusion.

To suggest that marriage will be understood in Christian terms by unbelievers is to reject the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is to assume the unregenerate can take hold of the holy and understand Union with Christ. This is folly as is the whole of Mohler's thought and commentary.

There is much to criticise about modern wedding culture and its obscenities. Failing to get married in a 'Church Building' is insignificant. Actually it is Mohler's position that is far more disturbing and exposes the distorted thinking at work in the Sacralist worldview and its theological and social hermeneutics.