What follows are some random thoughts relative to the legalization of homosexual marriage in the United States.
As I wrote a year and a half ago, Jesus’s own thoughts on matters like sex, shrimp and sacrifice are a matter of public record. Jesus’s church rightfully shares his judgment on all sexual sin. More than that, the church is called to disciple the nations, “teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). The church calls upon all rulers to obey God and “punish those who do evil and . . . praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14) — not the reverse. A necessary part of this is to rightfully judge evil and good, so that we do not “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).
Adam Ford makes helpful clarifications about the non-hateful Christian response, along with some wise insight into how much love is really being conveyed by all these rainbows everywhere. It is partly because a Christian fervently hopes to share a table at the heavenly feast with his opponents that he strenuously opposes their position. It is because a Christian has already wholly set aside her will to autonomous self-determination that she believes there is any possibility of inviting others to join herself in doing so.
In all this, the West is moving towards a Girardian dénouement. All individuals and societies must be justified. They will either be justified by God or must justify themselves. Self-justification takes place only by scapegoating others. It is clear that the new normal is not a classically liberal mutual understanding but is seeking to justify itself by scapegoating those who are opposed to it. There is no category for opposition other than “hatred,” and the cure for such hatred begins with steep fines. To their credit, some activists recognize this dangerous path; Camille Paglia has long been just such a breath of fresh air.
In some ways this is just one of many other ways in which Jesus’s church has been and will be scapegoated. But we all know that scapegoating does not end with steep fines; it must progress to the “death” of the scapegoat in order to feel wholly self-justified; otherwise the scapegoat is a constant bit of sand in the teeth reminding society that it is not justified. And this is also why the scapegoating can become such a pile-on—everyone desires to be justified. Scapegoating is a powerful agent of unification, surpassed only by Jesus the great scapegoat himself. All this is why everything must come to a crisis. Because of the power of unity and justification, the crisis must be almost as drunkenly, giddily grotesque as Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.
The crisis can be resolved either by the “death” of the scapegoat (e.g., as with the church under communism in the past century) or the “death” of the society (in repentance, as with Jonah’s Nineveh). Even in the death of the church there is great hope for the church because that is always the seedbed of future growth of Jesus’s kingdom. Scapegoating does not produce either enduring unity or enduring justification, and society will continue its search until it finds permanent justification in Jesus. So whatever may come, the church can continue to confidently call people to repentance, and confidently endure any kind of suffering knowing that Jesus will cause it to bear fruit.
It is important, however, that the church does not justify the scapegoating. We must be like Job before his scapegoating “friends.” We are confident we are justified; and in this matter we are in the right and we are not actually filled with hatred, full stop. It must be clear that the scapegoating is unjustifiable. It can even be made clear where and how the scapegoaters and their scapegoating are ridiculous. Scapegoating is shameful in itself and it always exists to cover up more shame—shame that has a proper covering only in repentance and the death of king Jesus.
Lastly, here are some bracing thoughts from Toby Sumpter. In the meantime, carry on singing the Psalms!
I really appreciate author N. D. Wilson, partly because his young adult fiction books are so much fun, and partly because of his joy-ridden perspective on life.
Here’s a great interview, round table, and lecture from him that I recently enjoyed. Thanks to John for passing this along!
While 1 Thessalonians 5 is applicable to all of the Christian life, it has repeated overtones of the weekly public worship service:
- Weekly public worship is one of the several kinds of “day of the Lord” that we can speak of
- As seen in 1 Corinthians, drunkenness and sobriety is particularly applicable to the Lord’s supper
- Our response to church leaders is especially important in the liturgical setting
- Admonishment, encouragement, rejoicing, prayer, thanksgiving, prophecy, and testing-discernment all take place in public worship
- The command to “always rejoice” has particular application to public worship; in Jesus’s presence we have a sort of weekly heavenly furlough from our battle in the world, and are “not [to] be grieved, for the joy of Yahweh is your strength” (Neh. 8:10)
- The focus of the Spirit’s work, and the occasions where we have the most danger of quenching the Spirit, are in the “one another” settings of the whole body of Christ such as public worship
Verse 18 carries similar overtones: in all, give thanks. Translating this as “in all circumstances” or “in all things” is certainly correct; we would not limit its application to public worship. However, it has an intensive application to public worship, where we corporately give thanks to God. Furthermore, as we allow the habits of the Lord’s supper to get into our bones—actually giving thanks for the bread and for the wine—we will recognize, as the church has throughout history, that thanksgiving is an appropriate synecdoche for the Lord’s supper.
Thus, weekly communion: in all worship, eucharist!
The book of Hebrews is critical to understanding the worship of the church under the new covenant. Hebrews 12 contrasts the worship of the church with Israel’s worship at Sinai:
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24 ESV)
From this we understand that the church stands in the presence of Jesus as we gather every Lord’s day. But more than that, we stand in the company of angels, and of the saints that have gone before us. So one of the ways that we can remind ourselves that we grieve with hope (1 Thess 4:13) for saints who have gone before us is that we stand shoulder to shoulder with them every week in the worship of our king. We are sent back into the field of battle without them, but we rejoin them at our weekly furlough-feast.
This is another reason that our worship can be without mourning or weeping (Neh. 8:9), since we are spiritually experiencing a foretaste of all things being made right.
E. J. Hutchinson analyzes the grammar of Matthew 28:19:
“The nations” are in the accusative: they themselves, and not some group of people from them, are the direct object of the imperative “disciple” or “teach.” Whatever the phrase means, therefore, it is “the nations” themselves, considered as such, that are to be acted upon.
I’m proud of Asher for winning first place in the design competition for his derby car this year!
Asher named his car “fire engine”—partly because that was what Amos called it, and partly because it puts out the fire in your mouth:
Brad Littlejohn writes the following about the objective existence of the church in history:
The most crucial and insightful work on [the question of church history] to come out of Mercersburg was Philip Schaff’s What is Church History? published in 1846. . . . At the outset, unsurprisingly, he insists on the intimate connection between ecclesiology and Church history:
In proportion, however, as the Church is thus brought into prominent and principal view, her History must also become for theologians an object of attention and inquiry. Church and History altogether, since the introduction of Christianity, are so closely united, that respect and love towards the first, may be said to be essentially the same with a proper sense of what is comprised in the other. The Christian Church is itself the greatest fact in the history of the world, by which the ancient order of life both Jewish and heathen has been overturned, and the way opened for a new course of existence altogether. Almost nothing has since occurred that can be counted great and important, which is not found to stand in nearer or more remote, friendly or hostile, connexion with the Church, and to acquire its true historical significance precisely from this relation. History, on the other hand, is the bearer of the Church; by whose means this last is made to possess a real existence, whereas, under any other form it could be nothing better than a baseless, fantastic abstraction, which for us who are ourselves the product of history, and draw from it all the vigour of our lives, would have no meaning or value whatever. (Schaff, What is Church History? 25-26)
In this quote, Schaff argues that the Church is, by its nature, visible and historical, and comes to maturity in history. Moreover, history, by its nature, is oriented by the Church. Therefore, not only is a proper understanding of Church history essential to any true idea of the nature of the Church, but it is necessary to give meaning to the lives of Christians today. The study of Church history, then, is as important as any area of doctrine, and those who neglect or abuse it endanger the project of Christian theology as a whole.
The inseparable relationship between Church and history follows directly from the Mercersburg view of the visible/invisible church distinction, discussed above. For Nevin and Schaff, the visible, historical Church is inseparable from the invisible, timeless Church—it is indeed its necessary manifestation. There is no concept of a true Church existing in a transcendent realm beyond time and space, of which the Church we see is merely some vague corollary. No, if the Church is to have reality at all, it must be a reality which actualizes itself in space and time. And of course, we will remember that this is so because the Church springs out of the Incarnation, in which God declared that His saving power must be something which was actualized in space and time. But more importantly, the Church must be historical because God has a historical plan for His creation. Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation—the whole order of the world’s life flows forward, first as a degeneration toward death and separation from God, then after the Incarnation and Resurrection, as an eternal regeneration towards life and union with God. God has willed neither that the glorification of mankind take place in an instant, nor that man be divorced from time and the world to be clothed with his glorified state. For it is not just man who is to be redeemed; the God-man came for the life of the world, and through His saving power in the Church, the whole world must be transformed into a new creation, to the glory of God the Father. This story of transformation is the story of History, and it is thus through history that the Church becomes the Church and accomplishes her God-given task to disciple the nations.
This idea comes out in Schaff’s fondness for the scriptural image of the Church as the “kingdom of Christ on earth.” Just as any kingdom, it has citizens, it has a history, and it accomplishes its conquests in history, until it completes those conquests and history as we know it shall cease: “The church is in part a pedagogic institution, to train men for heaven, and as such is destined to pass away in its present form, when the salvation shall be completed.” Moreover, the Church is “the continuation of the life and work of Christ upon earth.” Therefore, because it is alive, animated by the life of Christ, “the church is not to be viewed as a thing at once finished and perfect, but as a historical fact, as a human society, subject to the laws of history, to genesis, growth, development. Only the dead is done and stagnant. All created life . . . is essentially motion, process, constant change.” Again, however the distinction between ideal and actual plays a key role in this concept of development: “the church, in its idea, or viewed subjectively in Christ, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, is from the first complete and unchangeable.” However, he says, we must distinguish from the idea of the Church its “actual manifestation on earth; from the objective revelation itself we must discriminate the subjective apprehension and appropriation of it in the mind of humanity at a given time.” This latter is necessarily gradual and progressive; the Church slowly grows to maturity through history. (The Mercersburg Theology and the Quest for Reformed Catholicity, 77-79)