Results tagged “Church and State” from Reformation21 Blog

The Spirituality of the Church Speech

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Kevin DeYoung recently wrote a post about what has frequently been termed "the spirituality doctrine of the church." I heartily commend this post to our readers, as it is quite a helpful introduction to the basics of Presbyterianism regarding the relationship between church and state. In that post, Kevin explains the significance of the Second Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland--it being one of the foundational sources of the theological articulation of the spirituality of the church doctrine. 

The Second Book of Discipline was largely the product of the labors of Andrew Melville, John Knox's successor. Melville's name is often inseparably linked to references to "the spirituality doctrine of the church"--both on account of his contributions to the Second Book of Discipline as well as on account of a well documented interaction that he had with King James in September of 1596. It is this interaction to which I wish to briefly turn our attention.

With news of an impending Spanish invasion, King James VI of Scotland (later King James I of England) had given orders to the ministers throughout Scotland to charge their members to "take up arms, provide supplies and meet mediated attacks." Additionally, he relayed his desire to bring back certain Roman Catholic officials who would reestablish their presence and assert their authority over the churches. After an uproar among the people at the reception of the King's resolutions, a number of ministers forged a private meeting with the King and express their concerns. Among them was James Melville, Andrew Melville's nephew. The group of invited ministers had agreed that James Melville would be the best person to address the King "because of his courteous manner, and the favorable regard the King had shown him." At a certain point in the meeting, however, Andrew Melville could no longer remain silent and--despite attempts by his nephew to silence him--"seized the kings robe by the sleeve...termed him 'God's silly vassal," and explained that they had a "commission as from the mighty God." He then proceded to give what may be called "the spirituality doctrine of the church speech." It is as follows:

"Sir, we will always humbly reverence your majesty in public; but since we have this occasion to be with your majesty in private, and since you are brought in extreme danger of your life and crown, and along with you the country and the Church of God are like to go to wreck, for not telling you the truth and giving you faithful counsel, we must discharge our duty, or else be traitors both to Christ and you. Therefore, Sir, as divers times before I have told you, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James, the head of the commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.

Sir, those whom Christ has called and commanded to watch over his Church, have power and authority from Him to govern his spiritual kingdom, both jointly and severally; the which no Christian king or prince should control and discharge, but fortify and assist; otherwise they are not faithful subjects of Christ and members of his Church. We will yield to you your place, and give you all due obedience; but again, I say, you are not the head of the Church; you cannot give us that eternal life which we seek for even in this world, and you cannot deprive us of it. Permit us then freely to meet in the name of Christ, and to attend to the interests of that Church of which you are the chief member.

Sir, when you were in your swaddling clothes, Christ Jesus reigned freely in this land, in spite of all his enemies. His officers and ministers convened and assembled for the ruling and welfare of his Church, which was ever for your welfare, defense and preservation, when these same enemies were seeking your destruction. Their assemblies since that time continually have been terrible to these enemies, and most stedfast to you. And now, when there is more than extreme necessity for the continuance and discharge of that duty, will you (drawn to your own destruction by a most pernicious counsel) begin to hinder and dishearten Christ's servants and your most faithful subjects, quarreling them for their convening, and the care they have of their duty to Christ and you, when you should rather commend and countenance them, as the godly kings and emperors did? 

The wisdom of your counsel, which I call devilish, is this, that you must be served by all sorts of men, to come to your purpose and grandeur, Jew and Gentile, Papist and Protestant; and because the Protestants and ministers of Scotland are over strong, and control the king, they must be weakened and brought low by stirring up a party against them, and, the king being equal and indifferent, both should be fain to flee to him. 

But, Sir, if God's wisdom be the only true wisdom, this will prove mere and mad folly; His curse cannot but light upon it; in seeking both ye shall lose both; whereas in cleaving uprightly to God, His true servants would be your sure friends, and He would compel the rest counterfeitly and lyingly to give over themselves and serve you."1

1. W.M. Hetherington History of the Church of Scotland (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1856) pp. 104-105

Andrew White, Todd Pruitt and John the Baptist

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Over at Mortification of Spin, Todd Pruitt has made waves by sounding an alarm over Andrew White, the PCA ruling elder who--as a Democratic candidate for governor in Texas--has stated his commitment to legalized abortion and gay marriage. As reported by Pruitt, Mr. White stated on Texas Public Radio: "I support Roe v. Wade 100%," and promised, "I'll veto any of this legislation that's coming out that limits a woman's right to choose." Todd responded with an open letter to Mr. White that laid out the biblical stance on the wickedness of abortion and called on him to repent. If Mr. White continues, Pruitt expressed the prayerful hope that his session and presbytery will subject him to church discipline.

In the aftermath of this public letter, Pruitt followed up to report on the response from the differing sides of the PCA.2 On the one hand, he notes how biblical conservatives expressed horror that an elder in our Bible-believing denomination could seek to provide political protection to sins condemned so clearly in Scripture, along with alarm over the apparent approval (or at least inaction) of his Session. On the other hand, Pruitt was contacted by numbers of progressives in the PCA who held the opposite view. Pruitt has been labeled as schismatic and divisive, accused of meddling, and derided for an "unchristian attitude." Included was the inevitable complaint that Todd had not followed Matthew 18 by first contacting Mr. White in private (this despite the fact that Matthew 18 concerns sins committed against us personally, not public sins by public persons).

One lesson from this situation is that the PCA in its fifth decade is deeply divided over core issues that extend even to the most basic biblical ethics. Just last week, Pew Research published a survey of views on the morality of abortion which claimed that 54% of PCA members support abortion "in all or most cases." Many of us have found this statistic hard to believe, but Andrew White and his supporters suggest otherwise. Is it possible that a professedly Bible-believing denomination could be so deeply divided on such a basic issue as the morality of the slaughter of pre-born babies? If so, how could this happen? Perhaps the PCA's differences over worship, confessional fidelity, and cultural accommodation are more closely connected to our most basic Christian commitments than many have thought. Or, perhaps, the issue is really only about the relationship between church and culture. This would seem to be the concern of Pruitt's critics, who argue that a professing Christian (and elder) should be able to give public support to biblical abominations. You know, two kingdoms, etc.

Here's where John the Baptist comes in. It so happens that my Wednesday night studies on Mark's Gospel bring me tonight to the passage where John the Baptist publicly scolds Herod Antipas for his adultery with his brother's wife Herodias (who is also his niece). Herodias doesn't like this a bit and so after her daughter mesmerizes a drunken Herod, John the Baptist's head comes off. What insight does this passage provide to Andrew White and Todd Pruitt? One way to answer the question is to ask where the faithful servant of Christ is found? Is he at the party with Herod? Is he defending Herod's right to practice his own idea of sexual ethics? I would say that the lesson for Mr. White is found in Herod's experience: if conscience does not silence sin, then sin will silence conscience. But for you, Todd, the lesson is found not only in the hatred directed towards John the Baptist but also in the attitude of Jesus toward his faithful servant.



Jesus and the Federal Budget?

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One of the interesting aspects of Scripture is that it doesn't tell us the precise way in which moral principles should be implemented in the civil sphere--even while it contains ironclad moral commands and lasting principles for the lives of God's people. This makes sense for quite a number of reasons.

In the first place, it is important for us to note that the Old Testament was written in the context of a theocracy--a situation far distant from our own. Today, the theocratic nation of Israel is a matter of history and no longer in existence. The Westminster Confession of Faith even goes so far as to say that that "sundry judicial laws...expired together with the State of that people" (WCF 19.4).

The New Testament was written in the context of an underdog atmosphere where the ability of Christians to have any influence on the laws of Rome would have seemed laughably absurd. The New Testament doesn't envision a scenario of cultural/political conquest for Christians, but instead assumes that the readers are powerless minorities who need to learn how to live as a minority in the face of opposition.

In spite of these realities, we continue to find ourselves in an environment where Christians of various stripes insist that the Bible gives us very specific commands for how the government should be run. One of the clearest examples of this at the moment is last week's announcement that over 100 evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders made a joint statement challenging the proposed budget set forth by the Executive Branch of the U.S. government.

The letter, which is addressed to Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, and Nancy Pelosi, states that America has a moral responsibility to not reduce its International Affairs Budget. One might wonder whether the Bible instructs governments as to how to set their budgets. According to the letter in question, it is found in Matthew 25, where Jesus says "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

These are words, of course, which Jesus directs to His disciples in which He is telling His people how to live in the world and to love other believers. These are words directed to the church of Jesus Christ, for sure. It's hard to conceive of the disciples standing before Caesar and talking budget cuts. My suspicion is that they felt they had a more important message to share.

I am not suggesting that the United States government should or should not seek to assist the poor. However, as a pastor and a minister of the Gospel, I would be out of my depth to suggest what a wise or unwise use of the federal budget would be in this regard.

Some Christians are adamant that the federal government should have little to no budget. Some think that we should have a massive budget that protects every citizen--not only of the U.S., but also of the world. What troubles me most of all is the idea that we should baptize our political preferences and make them the law of the land. This happens all the time, but in this case it's especially sanctimonious and troubling.

Consider the wording of the final paragraph:

"As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the 'shining city upon a hill,'"

The idea that the signers of the letter would accept the statement that the United States is "the 'shining city upon a hill'" is not only disturbing, but another symptom of a Messianic complex that America is still, evidently, struggling to shrug off.

In Matthew 5:14 Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." Why does Jesus say that his people should do good works in this passage? Because, he says, so that "others...may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (5:16). In seeking to apply an imperative made to the church to the United States of America, we feed rather than lessen America's messianic self-identification.

I am especially troubled that there are signatories of this letter within my own denomination (the PCA), but perhaps even more so that two of the signatories sign the letter, not as concerned citizens, but as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Vice President of Governmental Relations of the NAE, respectively. This is a lobbyist group that serves, among many others, the denomination of which I am a part. These are men presuming to speak on behalf of my church and other constituents.

I believe that we need to think long and hard about whether or not we want to be associated with a group that speaks on behalf of us while dictating foreign policy and budget to the government.

The answer to these problems, in part, is for Christians to have a modest assessment of the Bible's teachings and how closely they really apply in the political realm. In the short-term, I wonder whether the PCA ought to even continue its association with the NAE.

 

Adam Parker is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church of America and the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, MS. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.