Archive for the ‘Church History’ Category

James Davison Hunter says that, “…Christianity in North America…is a weak culture; weak insofar as it is fragmented in it’s core beliefs and organization, without a coherent collective identity and mission, and often divided within itself, often with unabated hostility.”

My question: “what’s the solution?”

Defending Christendom

Posted: December 8, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Christ & Culture, Church History, History, Politics
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There’s a lot in Peter Leithart’s interview with Jason Hood at the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology’s website, so I won’t try to summarize it all.  Leithart is, as he says, “an advocate of Christendom” who believes that Christians are to tell rulers that they must “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2) and obey the risen Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ.

Here are a couple of excerpts, but I’d really suggest that you take 15 minutes or so to read the whole thing if this topic interests you:

Political theology is not some specialized branch of theology, but a dimension of all theology.  Politics is not simply about passing this legislation or electing that candidate.  Politics addresses questions about the distribution of power, and more broadly questions about the shape and future of a group.  Theology cannot help but address those questions, and do it all the time.  The Bible certainly deals with political questions like this.

So, even when I am not doing political theology, I am doing political theology.  Let me given a couple of examples of what I mean.  Ecclesiology has been a major focus of my work, and, as I see it, that bumps directly up against political questions.  The intimate connection between ecclesiology and politics has been obscured in modernity because the church has been marginalized and has allowed itself to be transformed into a sociologically invisible and politically innocuous religious group.  Scripture, by contrast, treats the church as a political entity in itself, each individual congregation as an outpost of the heavenly empire of a heavenly Emperor.   That means that the church and its claims about Jesus, sin, and salvation are political claims, necessarily.

Secondly,

7.  Some political theologians note that Daniel simultaneously models service, critique, and a message of divine judgment.  Are all three of these to be implemented by believers?  Are they postures we should always exhibit, or are they more appropriate at some times than others?

PL:  I do think that the mix of these three postures varies depending on the political circumstances, and depending on the person involved.   And Scripture indicates that men and women can work faithfully even under the worst of rulers – think of Obadiah during the days of Ahab.  In thinking through this, my thoughts again gravitate to ecclesiological issues.  Daniel was able to serve, but also maintain a critical distance, because he was a member of another community, of Israel.  It seems that Christians today have difficulty maintaining that complex stance, or doing that complicated dance, because we don’t have an alternative home.  When Christians enter political life deeply conscious of the fact that they are members of the church, Christians first and foremost, that gives them a place to stand when they critique and when they serve.

I noticed significant overlap between the eccelesiology of Leithart and that of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World.  Both long for a church that is a true alternate community and that forms its members so that they can engage with society in a way that pleases God.  A big difference, of course, is Leithart’s postmillenial confidence that the kingdom will triumph in history, while Hunter has more of a two kingdoms view.

To see a bit of where Leithart is coming from eschatologically, check out his sketch of “the long view.”  The consideration of just war and total war that he discusses can be found here.

Hat tip: Justin Taylor

Women in the Reformation

Posted: November 23, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Biography, Church History, Family, History, Womanhood
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Justin Holcomb, writing at The Resurgence blog, writes short descriptions of the lives of several women that God used in the 16th century.  Here was one that I found particularly interesting:

Olimpia Fulvia Morata was an Italian scholar born in Ferrera as the oldest child of a humanist scholar, who, after being forced to flee his city to northern Italy, lectured on the teachings of Calvin and Luther. Olimpia flourished in her studies, especially in Latin and Greek, exhibiting impeccable scholarship. She wrote Latin dialogues, Greek poems, and letters to both scholars (in Latin) and less educated women (in Italian). In her “Dialogue between Theophilia and Philotima,” she encouraged those who feared that their gross sins obstructed their way to God:

    Don’t be afraid … No odor of sinners can be so foul that its force cannot be broken and weakened by the sweetest odor that flows from the death of Christ, which alone God can perfume. Therefore seek Christ.

Hat tip: Justin Taylor

Calvin to Cranmer on Church Unity

Posted: November 12, 2010 by joelmartin in Anglicanism, Church History, History

Thomas Cranmer desired a general council of the Protestant churches to unite them in confession and form a western, Protestant Church. Oh that it would have happened! God in his providence did not see fit for that to occur. But here is Calvin’s response to Cranmer on the subject:

I know moreover, that your purpose is not confined to England alone; but, at the same moment, you consult the benefit of all the world. The generous disposition and uncommon piety of his Majesty, the king, are justly to be admired, as he is please to favor this holy purpose of holding such a council, and offers a place for its session in his kingdom. I wish it might be effected, that learned and stable men, from the principal churches, might assemble in some place, and, after discussing with care each article of faith, deliver to posterity, from their general opinion of them all, the clear doctrines of the Scriptures. It is to be numbered among the evils of our day, that the churches are so divided one from another, that there is scarcely any friendly intercourse strengthened between us; much less does that holy communion of the members of Christ flourish, which all profess with the mouth, but few sincerely regard in the heart. But if the principal teachers conduct themselves more coldly than they ought, it is principally the fault of the princes who, involved in their secular concerns, neglect the prosperity and purity of the church; or each one, contented with his own security, is indifferent to the welfare of others. Thus it comes to pass, that the members being divided, the body of the church lies disabled.
Respecting myself, if it should appear that I could render any service, I should with pleasure cross ten seas, if necessary, to accomplish that object. Even if the benefit of the kingdom of England only was to be consulted, it would furnish a reason sufficiently powerful with me. But as in the council proposed, the object is to obtain the firm and united agreement of learned men to the sound rule of Scripture, by which churches now divided may be united with each other, I think it would be a crime in me to spare any labor or trouble to effect it. But I expect my slender ability to accomplish this will furnish me with sufficient excuse. If I aid that object by my prayers, which will be undertaken by others, I shall discharge my part of the business. Melancthon is so far from me, that our letters cannot be exchanged in a short time. Bullinger has perhaps answered you before this. I wish my ability was equal to the ardency of my desires. But what I at first declined, as unable to accomplish, I perceive the very necessity of the business now compels me to attempt. I not only exhort you, but I conjure you, to proceed, until something shall be effected, if not every thing you could wish.

Perhaps we will see more unity built from the confusion of our day, although it now seems doubtful.

Hyde, Daniel R.. Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims. Orlando, Fla.: Reformation Trust Pub., 2010. Print.

Reformation Trust provided this copy for a honest review on my part, so here it is:

Rev. Hyde offers readers a primer on the history and doctrine of the Reformed Church, focusing mainly on the 3 Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt).

The Good:

Although an Evangelical Baptist, I am indebted to the 3 forms more than any other confession, catechism, or doctrinal formulation. I welcome with joy this brief book which introduces many to a heritage that is little-known in the broader American Evangelical Church.

Rev. Hyde takes great care to represent Reformed theology as a religion of the heart and mind. Hyde states,

“God has established an inseparable connection between truth and godliness. If truth remains in our heads but does not proceed to dwell in our hearts and find expression in our conduct, then we are no different, James says, than the devils (James 2:18-19).”

 Many have criticized Reformed theology as being arrogant and cerebral. While there are some who may unfortunately represent the Reformed heritage in such a way, this certainly is unrepresentative of the whole. Hyde commends Scottish Presbyterian John “Rabbi” Duncan’s quote, “I’m first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist and finally a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse the order.” Hyde reminds us that we are first Christians, and secondly catholics. Catholic in the sense that we affirm solidarity with the church behind us, the church around us, and the church ahead of us.

Hyde also reminds us that Reformed theology highlights the importance of Sanctification. While many may first think of God’s sovereignty and Justification as key Reformed doctrines, the Reformers cared just as much about holy living. Hyde notes:

“Our Reformed fathers focused heavily on holy living. The volume of teachings they devoted to sanctification in their confessions and catechisms is striking. The Heidelberg Catechism devotes forty-four of its 129 questions and answers, more than one-third of its material, to sanctification, while the Westminster Larger Catechism devotes an impressive eighty-two of 196 questions and answers (42 percent) to this subject. By this emphasis, the Reformed churches declared that Calvinism is no mere religion of “head knowledge,” and we cannot live as if it makes us the “frozen chosen,” as we are sometimes derisively known. It is a religion of head and heart.”

The last emphasis that I found helpful was Hyde’s treatment of the Church and the centrality of the means of grace through Word and Sacraments. He reminds us that,

“It is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, that creates the people of God. The gospel not only saves us from our sins and the wrath of God, it places us in vital union with Jesus Christ and other Christians. Thus, the church is the fruit of the gospel; it is not our own creation, but a creation of the triune God of grace.”

The Bad: (more…)

I recently read Justin Taylor’s brief interview with Michael Haykin from Southern Seminary.  Haykin, whose book on the Church Fathers is forthcoming, recommended Cyprian’s “Letter to Donatus.” I finally read it in full today and found it quite remarkable.  According to short introduction to the document, Cyprian had promised Donatus to write to him about spiritual matters.  Cyprian expresses his doubt that he is up to the task, but offers “things, not clever but weighty, words, not decked up to charm a popular audience with cultivated rhetoric, but simple and fitted by their unvarnished truthfulness for the proclamation of the divine mercy.”  He follows with beautiful description of his marvel at the new birth:

While I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, wavering hither and there, tossed about on the foam of this boastful age, and uncertain of my wandering steps, knowing nothing of my real life, and remote from truth and light, I used to regard it as a difficult matter, and especially as difficult in respect of my character at that time, that a man should be capable of being born again — a truth which the divine mercy had announced for my salvation—and that a man quickened to a new life in the layer of saving water should be able to put off what he had previously been; and, although retaining all his bodily structure, should be himself changed in heart and soul. How, said I, is such a conversion possible, that there should be a sudden and rapid divestment of all which, either innate in us has hardened in the corruption of our material nature, or acquired by us has become inveterate by long accustomed use? These things have become deeply and radically engrained within us. When does he learn thrift who has been used to liberal banquets and sumptuous feasts? And he who has been glittering in gold and purple, and has been celebrated for his costly attire, when does he reduce himself to ordinary and simple clothing? One who has felt the charm of the fasces and of civic honours shrinks from becoming a mere private and inglorious citizen. The man who is attended by crowds of clients, and dignified by the numerous association of an officious train, regards it as a punishment when he is alone. It is inevitable, as it ever has been, that the love of wine should entice, pride inflate, anger inflame, covetousness disquiet, cruelty stimulate, ambition delight, lust hasten to ruin, with allurements that will not let go their hold. (more…)

Reformation Day 2010

Posted: November 3, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Church History, History
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I liked Peter Leithart’s quotation and explication of Martin Bucer’s words.   This was his short post:

Bucer wrote, “Because by faith we embrace this righteousness and benevolence of God, it shines in us, and thus he imparts himself, so that also we, too, are driven by some zeal for righteousness.”

He’s got just about everything you’d want there: Righteousness comes by faith; righteousness embraced by faith is not outside us but also “shines in us”; but this shining of God’s righteousness in us is God Himself imparted to us, not some grace-stuff or habitus; and when we embrace the righteousness of God and receive God the Righteous One Himself, we are impelled to live in and for righteousness.  One could hardly do better.

Leithart also wrote a Reformation Day column for First Things, considering the meaning of the Protestant teaching of the “priesthood of all believers.”  Leithart opposes Luther’s understanding of this doctrine with our modern state of affairs in which “the priesthood of the faithful in both its Protestant and Catholic forms has been corroded by fusion with modern individualism.”  Luther saw it differently:

Priestly ministry was ministry within and to the church. To be a priest means to be a priest for someone. “The fact that we are all priests and kings means that each of us Christians may go before God and intercede for the other,” he wrote in a preface to the Psalter. “If I notice that you have no faith or a weak faith, I can ask God to give you a strong faith.” Timothy George captures Luther’s viewpoint in one sentence: “Every Christian is someone else’s priest, and we are all priests to one another” (emphasis added).

But for Luther, the priesthood of believers was not an excuse to abandon the church, but rather described the shape of life in communion with the body of Christ and the family of faith. It was not a call to individualism, but summoned individuals to serve God, others, and the common good of the church. It did not free the believer from obedience to authority or leave him free to do as he thought best….

In the hands of some Protestants, “priesthood of believers” became an anti-ecclesial slogan, a “get out of church free” card. Understood in its original biblical and Reformation sense, the priesthood of believers is quite the opposite. It is not a solvent of ecclesial Christianity but an affirmation of churchly piety and the foundation of a thoroughly catholic church practice. Five hundred years after the event, this Reformation slogan may be even more relevant than it was when Luther first shouted it out from Wittenberg.

Finally, the Desiring God blog re-posted David Mathis’ reflection on the first of Luther’s 95 Theses (“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”) and his last words (“We are beggars! This is true.”).

I’m grateful for the Reformers, saddened by the numerous ongoing divisions in the church that have multiplied since the Reformation, and confident that Christ will someday “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27 ESV).