The Only Real Alternative to “Two Kingdoms” Theology is Islam

Some people will complain about anything:

Recently some critics of prominent Trump-supporting Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress have disapprovingly identified him as a supporter of “Two Kingdoms” theology, an historic Protestant belief about the division of duties between spiritual & earthly rule. Jeffress in public pronouncements has stressed that civil government is called to provide public order, not embody the Sermon on the Mount, on issues like immigration.

Two kingdoms theology’s most expansive expression is Augustine’s City of God, written late in the game for another world power, the Roman Empire (well, the western part.)  In those times those in civil authority who “wore the belt” were not allowed to become priests.  The system was so corrupt at that stage that Christianity could not see its way clear to fix it (although it made improvements such as getting slavery to dissipate.)  Rome collapsed, but the Church, in a different way, laid the foundation for a civilisation that was greater than the one that was there.

I honestly don’t think that the howling social justice warriors who profess and call themselves Christians (and I’ve run into them of late) have really thought through what the New Testament commands us to do vs. what the state should do.  The blunt truth is that, like it or not, Christianity has never really set forth a morality for the state, or that the morality of the state should be at unity with that in the church.  The religion that has done that is Islam; that may explain in part the affinity that people on the left feel with IslamEven a secular historian like Ferdinand Lot grasped that truth.  Since most of the focus on refugees have been those from the Middle East, it pays to look and see how things have worked out under the various forms of Islam before we unwittingly advocate those things for ourselves.

If You’re Not Doing It for Jesus, You Shouldn’t Be Doing It

Rachael Denhollander, one of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse victims at Michigan State University, makes it plain:

Bethany Jenkins, vice president of forums at the Veritas Forum, which helped to organize the event, reported that Denhollander was asked about her view of the church responding to the issue of sexual abuse. When asked “how do you trust the church to point to justice and truth in these situations?” Denhollander responded “You don’t. You don’t trust the church, you trust Jesus.”

Some Christians are queasy at this statement.  But if they are real Evangelicals and not the “corporate” kind, they shouldn’t be.  One of the first lessons I learned in the years I worked for the Church of God is that I was doing this for God, not the church and that I, like Denhollander, needed to trust Jesus and not the church.  That held me in good stead all the way until the church abolished my department and my position in 2010–and beyond.

Too many Christians practice churchianity rather than Christianity; they equate the church with God and, when the church lets them down, they bail on God. Forms like Christianity like Roman Catholicism, with their high view of the church, set themselves up for that kind of reaction.  But those of us who do not have that view of the church have absolutely no business making that equivalence.

Although the #MeToo movement has given Denhollander a larger platform for her message, in many ways she’s swimming against the tide, both in and outside Christianity.  But she’s a strong person; we need more like her.

The Alternative to Easter Sunrise Service…At Sunrise

It’s an old Evangelical tradition: the “Easter Sunrise Service,” when people get out of bed early to go to church (or somewhere) and celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

For some people–especially musicians–rising from the dead is an easier task than getting up in the morning.  Celebrating anything before noon is problematic.  But necessary: as one Iranian friend told me, she had resigned herself to having to get up, make classes, etc….

Necessary until now, in the case of Easter Sunrise Service.  If you live in the Continental United States (and this goes for most of the Western Hemisphere) and you are a night owl, your ship has come in.  Thanks to live internet streaming and the time shift, we can now join the Sunrise Resurrection Service from the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem–a very nice one at that–at a decent hour.  Decent as follows: since the service starts at 0630 Sunday morning in Jerusalem, it translates into starting at 2330 Saturday night Eastern time.

And that’s worth celebrating.  Again the link is here.

Scourged and Crucified: A Good Friday Reflection

In all of their glorification of the “giants of the faith,” evangelicals either overlook or ignore the fact that same giants were usually far better versed in the classics of antiquity than is common today.   To some extent this is understandable: study of these works has taken a beating the last fifty years, and we have the ignorant national discourse to show it.  But it is also indicative of Evangelicals’ own narrow view of things.  They learn enough about classical antiquity in order to read the maps in the back of the Bible, and that’s about it.

One giant of the faith who was well versed in them was G.K. Chesterton.  When he looked at the clash between Elijah and the followers of Yahweh and Jezebel and the followers of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he saw more than two competing teams: he saw a civilisational conflict between those who put there trust in the intangible and those who were driven strictly by commercial considerations.  To him the competition between the Romans and the Carthiginians (Carthage was a colony of Tyre) was just the “Western Front” of this war, and archeology has borne this out in a grisly way.

In addition to such unappetising customs, the Carthaginians brought crucifixion to the western Mediterranean.  This grisly combined punishment and execution was Middle Eastern in origin; Herodotus mentions it, probably came from Persia.  It percolated across the Levant and from there to Carthage.  The fact that it combined punishment and execution meant that, in most cases, it was deemed enough by itself.

The Second Punic War (of three) between Rome and Carthage had several classical historians document it and one of those was Livy.  His history from the start of Rome to Augustus is sweeping in its scope.  Much of the history is centred on battles and punishments, and it’s the latter we will focus on.  Although as noted crucifixion was usually considered punishment enough, Livy records two instances during the Second Punic War where people were both scourged and crucified.

The first took place after Hannibal’s victory at Lake Trasimene, in the early stages of his Italian campaign:

He (Hannibal) then ordered a guide to lead him into the territory of Casinum, as he had been informed by people familiar with the country that the occupation of the pass would cut the route by which the Romans could bring aid to their allies.  His pronunciation, however, did not take kindly to Latin names, with the result that the guide thought he said ‘Casilinum’; he accordingly went in the wrong direction, coming down by way of Allifae, Calatia and Cales in the plain of Stella, where seeing on every side a barrier of mountains and rivers, he sent for the guide and asked where on earth he was.  The guide answered he would lodge that day at Casilinum, whereupon Hannibal realised his mistake and knew that Casinum was miles away in a different direction.  He had the guide scourged and crucified as an example to others… (Livy, XXII, 13)

The second took place towards the end of the war, when the Carthiginian general Mago attempted to enter Gades (Cadiz) in southwestern Spain.  Formerly a Carthiginian ally, their change in heart proved deadly for the town’s leadership:

Mago on his return to Gades found himself shut out of the town.  Sailing to Cimbii, which was not far distant, he sent representatives back to Gades to complain of the gates’ being barred against a friend and ally; the people of the town tried to excuse themselves by saying it had been the work of a section of the populace which was enraged because the soldiers had stolen property of their when they went aboard ship; whereupon Mago enticed to a conference the sufetes of the town (the highest sort of Carthaginian magistrate) together with the treasurer, and, once they were in his power, had them scourged and crucified.  (Livy, XXVIII, 37)

The Carthiginians were hard masters, which may in part explain why the Italian allies/subjects of Rome did not bolt en masse after Cannae.  But the Romans, the supreme adapters as they were, made crucifixion part of their arsenal against those who had the bad idea of challenge or revolt against Roman authority.  Our Lord had predicted that he would be the victim of such a treatment:

When Jesus was on the point of going up to Jerusalem, he gathered the twelve disciples round him by themselves, and said to them as they were on their way: “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem; and there the Son of Man will be betrayed to the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, and they will condemn him to death, And give him up to the Gentiles for them to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify; and on the third day he will rise.” (Matthew 20:17-19, TCNT.)

The Romans lived up to his expectations:

Pilate, however, spoke to them again: “What shall I do then with the man whom you call the ‘King of the Jews’?”

Again they shouted: “Crucify him!”

“Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them.

But they shouted furiously: “Crucify him!” And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified. (Mark 15:12-15, TCNT.)

Scourging someone before crucifixion made death on the cross more rapid, something that Pilate, mindful of the Jews’ Passover, may have wanted to take place.

But that scourging, anticipated by Our Lord, had a purpose, as did the crucifixion:

He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 Brenton)

In his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus won a victory, not only over sin, death, and the physical pain of this life, but over those who would posit life only as an extended business deal like the Carthaginians who, with Jezebel’s co-religionists, sacrificed their own children as part of their bargain with the gods.

And that’s good news for everyone.

 

Just Because Your Alma Mater is “Christian” Doesn’t Mean You’ll Be

Higher education is a competitive business.  One of the things that educational institutions that are affiliated with a church or profess or call themselves Christian use to attract students is “your faith will be enhanced by coming here.”  Christian parents and students find that attractive, which is why many pay the premium to go to one of these institutions.

Unfortunately things don’t always work out the way we think they’re supposed to.  I didn’t have to wait until college to find that out: the one and only church affiliated educational institution I ever attended, the St. Andrew’s School, was the place where I entered an Episcopalian (the school was and is affiliated with the Episcopal diocese it’s in) and left a Roman Catholic, a move which liberal and conservative alike found distasteful.

So how did this happen?  There are basically two reasons for this.

The first is that the school, like many in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, received an influx of sixties radicals in the faculty.  These obviously had little use for any “traditional” agenda of any kind, Christian or otherwise.

The second is that neither of the school’s head chaplains–who also taught the required theology courses–had much use for the Episcopal Church’s historical beliefs either.  I document my conflict with the second one here.

Although life at Bethesda had its moments, when I came to St. Andrew’s I was basically happy with being an Episcopalian.  By the time I left I wasn’t.  I could have just dropped out of church altogether, like many did (and do) when faced with people who had fled their post.  Thankfully I didn’t.

Christian educational institutions don’t exist in a vacuum.  They’re subject to the changes going both in the society at large and in their own church (if they’re affiliated with one.)  It’s takes a special effort–and occasionally some unpleasant staff and policy changes–to keep such an institution on course.  It’s easy to let things and people slip.  This is true for Evangelical and Pentecostal institutions as well; the firm doctrinal stand is frequently overwhelmed by the shame-based desire to be acceptable in society.  The accreditation system accelerates this process.

For me, I went to Texas A&M, which exceeded my expectations in many ways.  I’ve never been on the faculty or received a degree from a Christian institution since.

So what is to be done?  For Christian parents and prospective students, it’s time to be discerning.  Don’t accept labels and heritage at face value; things are changing too fast these days.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in his good time, laying all your anxieties upon him, for he makes you his care. Exercise self-control, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, like a roaring lion, is prowling about, eager to devour you. Stand firm against him, strong in your faith; knowing, as you do, that the very sufferings which you are undergoing are being endured to the full by your Brotherhood throughout the world. God, from whom all help comes, and who called you, by your union with Christ, into his eternal glory, will, when you have suffered for a little while, himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be ascribed dominion for ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11 TCNT)

Is Going to a Canadian Style Immigration System That Bad?

While most Americans were bracing themselves for Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address (which turned out reasonably,) I got myself into a Facebook argument with the most bilious person I know about immigration policy.  During that dialogue I stated my preference for a Canadian (the Aussies use a similar system) immigration system which uses points to favour immigrants which, in the opinion of the government, would contribute most to the betterment of the country.  This usually means those with more education and income potential, as opposed to the “Emma Lazarus” dream we usually see in the US.

There was a time when such a proposal would have gone down well with progressives in the US, for two main reasons.

First, it’s Canadian.  Our elites have been holding up places like Canada and Western Europe as a model for us as long as I can remember.  They have universal health care; we don’t.  They have strict gun control, we don’t.  They have lots of paid family leave and holiday; we don’t.  And so on…remoulding this country in the image and likeness of places like this has been a long-time dream for many progressives, at least up to now.

The second is that it would skew our immigration towards more educated people.  Our elites constantly hold up people with high intelligence and as many degrees as Dr. Fahrenheit as the ideal; the more people like this we can attract, the happier they should be.

It would make sense that the left should then be the first to propose such a system.  But they haven’t: Donald Trump did, and reiterated that proposal in his SOTU address.  Personally I’m surprised that he did this; I would think his base would react badly to it, having been pummeled by legions of “pointy-headed,” overeducated elites and with little stomach for more.  Donald Trump, however, not only knows how to play to his base; he knows when they’re not paying attention, and this is one of those times.

My bilious opponent was unreceptive to such an idea; she changed the subject and then blasted me for my disinterest in DACA (I am fine with the legalisation on the table, actually.)  I think her idea on this exemplifies the apparent volte-face of the left on the subject, which has its roots in more recent history.

First, the obvious: they’re thinking, if Donald Trump proposed it, it must be bad.  For people who style themselves as reason- and reality-based, this is pretty stupid.  Everything they look at is through the lens of Trump even though the law passed (if the opposite of progress gets moving) will be in place after he is gone (kinda like the ACA and BHO, and we see how that’s come out.)

Second, it would dilute the large numbers of unskilled people coming in who, in their mind, would automatically vote Democrat if they achieved citizenship (and, in some places, before then.)  In addition to an abuse of the electoral system, this is a monument to their inability to “close the deal” with the American people.  If the ten trillion in debt the illustrious BHO borrowed couldn’t buy off the population, how can they expect to hold new people?

Third, I think the traditional Europhile nature of our “knowledge classes” has been diluted by years of multiculturalism.  About the only countries that get that treatment any more on a routine basis are the Scandinavian ones, and honestly Canada, Australia and the UK are better comparisons for many reasons.  Conservative people decry the fact that people in the West don’t believe in Christendom any more, but really they don’t believe in the secular replacement either!

I said that I’m surprised that Trump proposed this.  But if he believes he’ll get more immigration from Norway, he’s badly mistaken; he’s likely to get more from India, China and Iran than any place in Western Europe.  Perhaps, in this case, ignorance is bliss.

It’s also bliss for his base: what will happen with more merit-base immigration is the importation of a new elite which will crowd his base into an underclass.  As David “Spengler” Goldman put it a long time ago, the children of the soccer moms will be serving tea to the children of the tiger moms.

At this point I’m not prepared to predict how or whether this “critical moment” will come to a legislative resolution.  I wasn’t optimistic about a new tax law but we got one anyway. Maybe we’ll take a cue from our neighbour to the north and maybe we won’t.  On this topic we could do a lot worse, and given the current state of our political system, one can never count worse out.

The Real Problem with Prosperity Teaching Isn’t Theological (Well, not entirely…)

There’s a well-known Anglican “divine” (to use the old term) in this country who’s engaged in a Facebook campaign/rant (take your pick) about African faith declarations and the popularity of prosperity teaching.  It’s gone on for some time, and the fact that he’s Reformed only adds to the persistence.  (Maybe he’s also trying to prove that doctrine, but that’s another post…)

Readers of this blog know that an family heritage snob like me doesn’t have much use for prosperity teaching as it is currently propagated by the arrivistes on this side of the Atlantic.  And that may be a big part of our Anglican divine’s problem: Episcopal churches in this Republic have traditionally been the church home of people who really don’t need “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it” because they already have it and know how to get it by other means.  I suspect that Anglican churches have inherited many of these people and have attracted more to their ranks, which is why it’s easy for Anglican and Episcopal divines to sniff at others not so well endowed.

But to turn sniffing into heresy hunting is a game-changer.  It’s easy if you’re a hammer to see everything else as a nail; it’s easy if you’re a minister of the Gospel to see everything that doesn’t square with what you know to be true as heresy, especially when you’ve been pummeled by the stuff from the Episcopal left.  It’s also easy to miss the forest for the trees, and I think objectors to prosperity teaching have done just that.  The real problem with prosperity teaching isn’t theological, but it’s wrapped up with the whole theodicy issue.

I’ve discussed this before, but the core problem is that Americans in particular have been drilled in the idea that life is supposed to be a “bowl of cherries” and that they’re not supposed to experience adversity or pain.  That’s an interesting idea in a country where interpersonal relationships (like marriage and parenting) are so unstable and thus cause pain by themselves.  That’s had a great deal of fallout, I’ll mentioned two examples.

The first is the opioid crisis.  Boomers act like this is something new, but face it: the generation committed to “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” put drugs front and center in life.  But why?  Why are Americans so prone to taking drugs, and have been for the last 50+ years?  Some of that blame must be put squarely on the drug companies themselves.  Leaving out the scourge of prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, so many over-the-counter drugs were sold on the idea of “take a pill, you don’t have to feel pain, everything will be fine.”  That’s a powerful concept for drugs both legal, illegal and those in transition.  But it’s left a wreckage.

The second is prosperity teaching itself.  You never learn to appreciate the “positive confession” movement until you’ve been subjected to the “negative confession” one.  But prosperity teaching here pushes very strongly the idea of the pain-free, adversity-free life, especially for people who have been primed for that idea by their culture.

And that’s where the Africans come in.  Prosperity teaching has an obvious appeal in a place as poor as Africa.  But my exposure to the Africans tells me that for the most part they haven’t bought into the pain-free, adversity-free mentality that we have here in the U.S.  Their daily life and bad actors such as Boko Haram only reinforce reality in a way that most Americans find incomprehensible.

So what’s a Christian to do?  The first thing is to define the extremes, and see what’s in the middle.  We’ve seen one extreme, the adversity-free idea.  The other is that we should just tough everything out in life and do it ourselves.  The problem with that is that it basically leaves God out as our ultimate source and strength.  A good example of that is the “Contract on the Episcopalians, ” where the promises of God were replaced by what we promised to do.

Somewhere between these two extremes is reality, that we live in a fallen world, that our God as given us the promise of eternity, that bad things happen but ultimately that the life that God has given us is good.

Finding a middle ground on anything these days isn’t easy.  In this case, however, it is both Biblical and necessary.

Drift, Like Real Estate, Is All About Location

It’s almost like the Illinois Family Association overlooked the most important detail in their lament over the course of at least one Evangelical Covenant Church:

There’s something rotten in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). It’s rotting from the inside due to the presence of wolves in sheep’s clothing like Peter Hawkinson, pastor of Winnetka Covenant Church…Hawkinson has been drifting in the direction of heresy for several years, but kinda, sorta started “coming out” in baby steps—always wearing sheep’s clothing—over the past two years beginning with the church leadership presenting to the congregation “a motion inviting the church leadership to propose to the congregation a specific program of purposeful discernment for addressing the issue of LGBTQ inclusion.” I kid you not. That’s what a December letter to the congregation said.

The reason why Hawkinson is doing this is simple: his location demands it.

When my grandfather was done (in his mind at least) with his aviation career in Washington and was ready to really take command at the family business, he bought a house in Winnetka.  My grandparents lived there until they moved to Palm Beach; we lived in the same house until we moved the business to Chattanooga.

Today Winnetka is one of the most expensive places in the United States to live, or at least buy a house.  It’s another one of those places which I cannot return to.  My guess is that Hawkinson’s church is pretty high maintenance; without a congregation that’s at least holding steady and has a strong demographic to fill the offering plate, the “system maintenance” will get him and his church will close.  He thinks that, if can appeal to an elite whose main goals in life are to get laid, high or drunk, he’ll be OK.  He’s going to find out that such a move is a Faustian bargain, but, as my father used to say, too soon old and too late smart.

Personally I’d rather go to churches where there’s lots people from places Donald Trump doesn’t like.  And I’d rather spend my time helping people not to have to move to this place.  But that’s just me, I guess.

David Meece: My Father's Chair

At this time of year I usually think of my mother, who passed at this time of year.  But I heard this gem on Jradio Rewind this AM, had to share:

The Wesleyan Advent Hymn the Wesleyan Pentecostals Don't Sing

It’s the classic hymn for the Second Sunday in Advent: “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” done in good Anglo-Catholic style here:

The lyrics were written by Charles Wesley in 1758; more than one tune has been affixed to them, this is my favourite.  It’s about the Second Coming, which is really what Advent is all about: Jesus Christ came once, he will come again.  A better known song with the same theme is “Joy to the World” but it’s been lost in the Christmas carols.

It’s a magnificent hymn, so why don’t those who claim the Wesleyan (albeit John) name sing it?  Probably the same reason they adopted Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: because the Baptists didn’t do it that way!

I am sure, however, that our contemporary ministers of music can adapt this to their style and instrumentation.  Why?  Because the old High Church types and the smoke machine people have one thing in common: they both like it loud.