Friday, November 19, 2010

Bring on the Christendom!

I do not believe there is any way back to Christendom, nor do I want to see this flawed system restored.

The Christendom era has left the body of Christ with toxins in its bloodstream- practices, instincts, commitments, structures, attitudes, biases, compromises, and reactions that damage our health and disfigure our witness. We need to purge these toxins from our system.

-Stuart Murray (The Naked Anabaptist)

I'm inclined to disagree with Stuart- entirely. The more I read into what Murray describes as "Christendom" the more I lament its loss and the more I hope that it will be radically restored to us. Indeed, the last thing we need kicking around is another form of "Emergent" theology which stands under the guise of the now trendy term "Anabaptism". Let it be said that those who today call themselves Anabaptists are actually not Anabaptists at all.....they haven't been re-baptized and I have not yet come into contact with a single one of them who advocates the practice of re-baptism.

Anyways, back to the point. Here is what Murray describes as Christendom:

.Christendom was a geographical region in which almost everyone was at least nominally Christian.
.Christendom was a historical era resulting from the fourth-century conversion of Constantine and lasting into the late twentieth century.
.Christendom was a civilization decisevly shaped by the story, language, symbols, and rhythms of Christianity.
.Christendom was a political arrangement in which church and state provided mutual, if often uneasy, support and legitimation.
.Christendom was an ideology, a mindset, a way of thinking about God's activity in the world. (Taken from p.73)

Oh bring it back!!!!! Please!!!!! Anything but this wretchedly banal thing called the "pluralistic era" or the "post-colonial" phase of communist laziness.

Seriously, who would ever have a beef or an ax to grind with the societal criterion described by Murray? It sounds remarkably awesome!

I for one always beam from ear to ear when I read of Constantine's conversion and his programs towards making Christianity the state religion. Christianity should be the state religion because Jesus (not Allah, not Karma, not a positive force field previously known as the aether, and most certainly not a secular principle of human self-consciousness which sets itself over and against God) is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (cf. the entire book of Revelation, and after that...the rest of the bible). I highly doubt that it is the task of Christians to usher in this blessed necessity...but man if it comes, I soooo welcome it.

Check out the words of Paul: " that all nations might believe and obey him." Rom.16:26. Did you hear that? That's the goal of the revealed gospel: the subjection of all nations on this planet to belief in Jesus and obedience to His Name.

Pluralism is a sham, and politicians must be made aware that they have obligations to Jesus their Lord....they must be made aware that they must render account for the theological stance they represent in the political sphere. It may be the duty of the Christians to remind politicians of this...I don't know. One thing I do know is that God is not a secularist, and He is certainly not content with any civilization that attempts to cooly distance itself from His concrete and Jealous commandment to faith and baptism.

A society which promotes religious freedom and plurality is not God's society, nor does it stand in the bee-line of His blessing. It just doesn't. Idolatry is a crime that stinks to the high is an adultery and a pernicious theft that far exceeds the petty things our society contemns....the bible knows of no other response to political toleration of this crime than fierce judgment from the Hand of God. This is why rulers like Josiah, Hezekiah or the older Manasseh who fear God and purge the land of religious syncretism receive such high accolades in scripture, and rulers like Nebuchadnezzar (who sacrificed to his own strength, so Hab.) and Sennacherib and Antiochus Epiphanes get destruction. I'm not advocating that the church take up arms and resist public idolatry.....what I am suggesting is that politicians should, and the degree to which they do not will determine the severity of the judgment due them.


Theophilus said...

Romans 12:19: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.""

Romans 13:4b: "But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority [government] does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer."

Any state that is Christian is, by definition, either apostate or a failure of a state. Also, don't confuse nations with governments. Those weren't connected until the 19th century.

Emerson Fast said...

"Any state that is Christian is, by definition, either apostate or a failure of a state."

Really? So this one- admittedly comprehensive- region of being-in-the-world may bide its time outside of the judgment of Jesus Christ? The state is of no interest to the Lord who says things like," Gilead is mine, Manasseh is mine, Ephraim is my helmet, Judah my scepter, Moab is my washbasin, upon Edom I toss my sandal, over Philistia I shout in triumph"?

I hear you when you warn against anachronistically confusing "government" with "nation". But "nation" presupposes "government" and most certainly does not exclude it.

Take for instance the invasion of God's inheritance by the "nations" in Psalm 79. This was a political initiative before it ever became a common one.

And I agree with both of your selections of scripture, which is why I cannot accept an "Anabaptist" critique of governmental retribution as being "outside of the perfections of Christ". The scripture cannot designate a concrete political move as being a "service" to God done by "servants of God" and simultaneously condemn the move as being "un-Christ-like". As if one can truly render God service (remember the extreme hesitancy with which the scriptures call something or someone a "servant of God", as in the book of Joshua) and receive recognition for it under the decree of scripture, and yet have missed the mark entirely in meeting Jesus' demands? Is Jesus some other God than the God the magistrates serve by executing judgment on evildoers? Is Paul erecting an infinite cleavage between this God and the God revealed in Christ, as Marcion did?

I'm not sure how the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount apply to the political sphere. What I do know is that the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Paul (also Peter, cf.1 Pt. 2:13-17) is given by one and the same Lord in indivisible authority and unity for the church.

And so I welcome a Christian empire which holds all of these statements together, even in tension if need be. And I certainly will not call "apostate" that which Paul, Peter, Revelation and with them the entire law and prophets consider to be sanctified under the name of the One God of Israel (who is none other than Jesus the crucified Nazarene).

Emerson Fast said...
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Emerson Fast said...
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Theophilus said...

I believe in the Apocalypse and in a New Creation that is different from this one in many very important ways. I believe that the political realm is among the things of this world that are passing away, and are not comparable to the reign of God which is to come. I believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians are the firstfruits of this new creation, and that the ethics of the New Testament amount to living in this world as we will live in the next, as far as we can within this impermanent world whose sin-scars will be absent in the next. I believe that the same God who gave the Law to Moses inspired Paul when he wrote that the same Law brought death, and that the way of Jesus is better than the Law, though both came from the same God. I therefore believe that there is no problem with acknowledging God's ordering of the political realm while abstaining from exercising this power ourselves in the name of the better way of Jesus. And so I do not see why Christians are compelled to invest themselves in the passing shadows of inevitably violent human government, when the alternative is the new life of the risen Christ.

Emerson Fast said...

Thanks for your criticisms,

I find myself agreeing with quite a few of them. For instance, the notion that executing vengeance on a rebellious citizen belongs to an order that is already passing away is certainly true. There will be no need for chastising or punishing in the world termed "the home of righteousness" by the Petrine tradition.

I also agree with you that Christians should not be compelled to take up a political or judicial office, since neither of these are commanded in scripture without the attachment of a specific call.

However, I am not certain that the act of political vengeance in itself is an "imperfect" act, or an "un-Christian" act. Relative it remains....yet many of God's attributes and commands are relative to the situation of sin (the daily exercising of mercy, justice, grace, long-suffering, pity, wrath, remission of sins etc...) and yet are not for that reason imperfect attributes or commands.

In the same way, I cannot see political vengeance as being "outside of the perfection of Christ" because it is an ordinance from Christ..not some other God. It is the perfect way of dealing with public disobedience and a sign of the cosmic and eschatological way with which God deals and will deal with sin: judgment and destruction.

Even the sign of the cross is a sign of violence, and you need be no proponent of substitutionary atonement to agree.

Moreover, we have to do with all of the texts in the Old Testament and the new which speak of Christ the Judge coming to slay the wicked with the breath of his mouth or with an iron rod.

Theophilus said...

Your claim that political vengeance is an "ordinance from Christ" is very strange. Nowhere does Jesus say this. Or are you pulling the "all-of-the-New-Testament-is-the-words-of-Jesus" card?

Your flattening of the importance, or in your words, perfection of all God's commands is precisely where I disagree with you. That's why I cited the two Romans verses in my first comment. God's vengence is God's, and is therefore certainly not a bad thing. However, its exercise is clearly declared off-limits to Christians; it is quire clear that it is for others who are not Christian to exercise God's judgment (though unawares, in the manner of Cyrus).

And it is critically important that we do not flatten God's commands as all being of equal importance. Otherwise we have no honest choice but to become Judaizers, and you of all people are most searingly aware that such is not the nature of the Christian faith.

Emerson Fast said...


I will pull "the whole of the New Testament is the Word of Christ" card because it is a card which rests on the basic promise of Christ, in the gospels, that the Apostles speak the Word of Jesus rather than their own words (Lk.10:16). Your hierarchy of the gospel sayings immediately directs my attention to the apostolate under the most severe and fierce warning. If I reject Christ's appointed witnesses; I reject Christ. I can see no other way around this.

So the statement in Romans (and the similar one in 1 Peter) to the effect that the magistrates serve God by bearing the sword of wrath....this statement is an ordinance of Christ. The apostles recognize no other God than the God revealed in Jesus, and would undoubtedly take pains to qualify their political theologies with an "I say this, not the Lord" if they wished to publish them as disputable matters.

Paul's apostolicity....his administration in speaking the very words of God with all of their cosmic authority is not disputed by the New Testament. Luke heartily recognized it, 2 Peter called his writings "scripture", Barnabas eagerly brought him to the pillars of the church, and they (Peter, James, John) in turn extended the right hand of fellowship to him.

The recent venom directed at the Pauline witness in some Mennonite circles is entirely uncalled for on all grounds, especially given the remarkable similarities between Paul's ethical mandates and those given in the Sermon on the Mount. "He who rejects you rejects me." That is all I can say in response to this venom, and may God grant that it be thoroughly sucked out of our own guilty veins!

Judaizing seems to rest on a fundamental disability to distinguish gospel from law. Nevertheless, the law remains the law..the commandment remains the commandment, in all of its goodness, righteousness, and holiness.

I would see a huge issue of Judaizing here if someone were to say," Look now, the apostle's portray the magistrates as servants of God. Therefore in order to merit your salvation you must obey them. Indeed you will enter into covenant with God only on the basis of your faithful obedience to them."

Conversely, I highly doubt that any of the New Testament writers would say,"The law brings wrath, therefore completely disregard our ethical systems and be busy in your disobedience!" This is a form of un-paralleled anti-nomianism which I cannot even find in John Agricola.

Paul expects us both to obey the civil authorities and to see them as servants of Christ, discharging their duties (including the sword) as men who must give account. Even if they be as pagan as a Cyrus or a Nebuchadnezzar; their political office is not thereby harmed in its establishment from the hand of Jesus. Jesus expects them to use the sword, and if they will not use it in the necessary situations they will certainly find themselves outside of the perfection of Christ.

I recognize that you find this distasteful, and I am sorry that it is a cause of offense for you.

Theophilus said...

You don't actually believe what you're saying about the equivalence of obedience to Jesus' followers being identical to obedience to Jesus. If that were so, why do you disbelieve Brother Ratzinger's claims about exclusive qualities of Roman Catholicism? You and I both believe that Ratzinger is wrong in his claims about the nature of papal authority, yet we still count him a member of the Body of Christ. We believe that inasmuch as Ratzinger faithfully proclaims Christ, those who reject him reject Christ. To the extent that Ratzinger is in error, we are in no peril on account of rejecting his claims.

You grant the New Testament writers a spiritualist access to Jesus after his ascension that gives them licence to make claims at odds with what Jesus said on this earth. This makes the New Testament into a sort of Jesus-centred Quran, the "word-made-text" unbound to what Jesus of Nazareth actually said and taught. I believe that the New Testament writers were faithful to the acts and words of Jesus which were handed down by Jesus' disciples and were later recorded in the Gospels to preserve them against the distortions in which you indulge. I believe that the authority of Paul derives precisely from his faithfulness to Jesus, as you acknowledge when you say that Paul's moral teachings are those of the Sermon on the Mount. I believe that Paul would denounce you for suggesting that his writings should be understood to challenge anything Jesus did or said, including Jesus' patently obvious rejection of violence for those who would seek after the Kingdom of God.

I am also flabbergasted that you do not grasp the distinction between Law and Gospel inherent in the divestment of the sword by Christians. Do you not see that it is the nature of law in general, not merely the Law of Moses, that brings death? Even a set of laws given by God himself is still rife with prohibitions and punishment rather than life and grace. It cannot be otherwise any more than a triangle could have four sides. Forsaking the means of the sword is a realization of grace rather than law, as the Christian who rejects violence rejects the death-dealing judgment of law in favour of the grace of Jesus.

Emerson Fast said...

"You don't actually believe what you're saying about the equivalence of obedience to Jesus' followers being identical to obedience to Jesus."

Yes, I do. This is the mystery of apostolicity. "He who listens to you LISTENS TO ME."

'...when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of god, which is at work in you....' 1 Thes.2:13

'I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.' Gal.1:12

That last verse is of particular importance for understanding Paul's apostolicity. He did not speak as one who was relying on previous traditions (be they from Antioch or Jerusalem) one who's words were only the WORD inasmuch as they could be tested against previous sayings of Jesus kept safe within the pre-gospel traditions. Paul does not rely on man for his authority....not even apostolic man (Gal.2:6). He became an apostle and thus a man with the authority to speak and write on behalf of God from a direct revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal.1:15-16).

All of these theological concepts are heavily rooted in Israel's prophetic tradition (as can be noted by a mere glance at Gal.1:15), which saw the LORD Almighty standing directly behind these men in an active totality. Take for instance the regular occasions of judgment breaking out against the Israelite's for disobeying, not the immediate God- but the mediator Moses. Similar currents to be seen in Elijah, Samuel, Isaiah, Ezekiel and perhaps most distinctly Jeremiah.

The spokesman of God has access to the heavenly council, both to receive and to proclaim the Word of God (Jer.23:22). I need not take you through the relevant Pauline literature to show you how co-extensive this truth is for the apostolate.

But to return to your first statement, I do not see this authority as being rendered generally to any old follower of Jesus, nor even a well-trained disciple, nor even one who fellowshipped with Jesus on earth. Apostolicity comes from a special call, and it is given to a select few (Mk.3:13-19)...the final person being Paul (1 Cor.15:8). I will reiterate that Paul's apostolicity was not disputed by Peter, James, John, Luke or Barnabas.

Ratzinger, though he is indeed a fantastic writer, and ironically a better theologian than most protestants in the 20th century, has not witnessed the Risen Christ, and has not received a clear commandment from the Risen Christ to be an apostle. I reject the idea of apostolic succession as being un-scriptural; located in a credential of humanism as opposed to the decree of the Risen Christ. Moreover, the example breaks down given that Ratzinger has made it clear in his dogmatics that," dogma as a single tenet proclaimed by the pope ex cathedra is the latest and lowest way of forming dogma" (ITC, p.279). My favorite pope would be loathe to see within his office any immediate ontological homogeneity with the scriptures and oral traditions of Paul. How much less any regular theologian or bishop of the last 2,000 years!

"You grant the New Testament writers a spiritualist access to Jesus after his ascension that gives them licence to make claims at odds with what Jesus said on this earth."

The ascension of Jesus does not mean the abandonment of his presence, the end of the office of the living word, or the conclusion of new revelation from the same (cf. Ac.10 for a lofty example). In fact, it may even be said in a certain sense that the ascension of Jesus signifies the beginning of the time of the Word, and not merely the Word in the form of recollection either (John 16:12). The sign of this is Pentecost, which also signalled the beginning of proclamation proper.

Emerson Fast said...

I contend with your idea that the apostles made claims that ran contrary to the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Or rather, wherever they do not qualify their statements as being purely their own speculations, we ought to regard their authority as deriving from none other than the living Christ. When this authority was rebelled against in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, death ensued. When this authority was challenged in Cyprus, a man was immediately stricken with blindness (Ac.13:11).

Unfortunately for your argument, it is not even appropriate to use the four gospels as a litmus against the other New Testament documents, given that the four gospels are some of the oldest and last documents written in the canon. I won't go this route...that can be left to the blasphemous historical critics who deny the integrity of the gospel texts. But if you are going to pit one New Testament document against another, holding one higher as a means to boast over the others (I follow cephas! I follow apollos! I FOLLOW CHRIST!), you should be made aware that your surest access to what the historic Christ actually said, did and taught comes from the creedal statements attached in the pauline literature, and secondly the pauline literature itself. These are our earliest documents, and since inspiration for you is a matter of human faithfulness to the human Jesus's kerygma you may wish to heed the humanistic logic of my chronological argument. Paul, not the four gospels, brings us closest to the faithful witness of the earthly Jesus. But I will enclose my paragraph with a sound disavowal of this way of thinking, since it rests on the fundamentally repugnant premise that the Spirit and the Word lose their legitimacy via an elapsing of time from the Christ event.

My discovery of the co-extensive nature of the Sermon on the Mount with the Pauline ethos rests not on an appeal to human faithfulness, but to the Spirit of Jesus who stood behind the writing of the Gospels with the same impartial authority as He did with Paul.

Your final paragraph rests on the presupposition that the Law of God is no longer in effect for the community of believers and the world at large. I agree with you that the principle of the sword rests on the cosmic premise of the killing letter. I also believe that the killing letter is good and holy and pure, and that Christ stands behind it (Mt.5:17-19). Jesus is the Law-giver, just as He is the Savior. One can be no adherent of his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and overlook this point. In the passage following 5:17-20 Jesus makes it very clear that the Sanhedrin, the Judge, the Officer and all of the civil punishments that derive from each are legitimate and to be feared by His disciples. Nowhere does he contest their functions as being "outside of his perfection".

Nor does the Baptist who precedes Christ in the infallible power of the Spirit demand of any Roman officer or Tax-collector that they give up their civil functions should they wish to be prepared for the arrival of the Great King (Lk.3:13-14). You would think Luke would select hortatory content more in keeping with the so-called "evils" of the political sword had he wished his readers to see that John was not happy with the perpetration of violence among the soldiers of Rome. The same applies to the Centurion in Mt. 8 whose faith found no critique from Jesus. Still outside of the perfection of Christ? I'll glady sit under the feet of this violent man who trumped the faith of the whole of Israel and won such high accolades from Jesus!

In short, I find zero evidence in the New Testament documents that a soldier, a judge, a magistrate, a king or a centurion is "outside of the perfection of Christ" in the simple discharge of his tasks (which most certainly includes the use of the sword).

Richy said...


I find your post charming in many ways, but I think we need to consider some helpful reservations.

-Constantine didn't actually set up imperial programmes for making Christianity the state religion. All he did was legalize Christianity and encourage the Church to be unified so that the disparate provinces would have some level of religious consolidation. Emperor Theodosius (it would make a great middle name, no?) was the one who made Christianity the "state religion" so to speak. Not that this significantly changes your point - just a note.

-I agree with you that the "wretchedly banal thing called the 'pluralistic era' or the 'post-colonial' phase of communist laziness" is not closer to what God would want in regards to the relationship between culture and religion than Christendom. But human culture is always going to be subject to the sinfulness common to man, because it is the product of man. Christendom, by its social/political/geographic characteristics is obviously a product of human culture, which subjects it to the problems of sin. To impose the Christian faith on to humans in the midst of culture has some endemic issues. If we look back on the last three centuries, we see that it has caused Christians to establish their faith on a purely rational basis so that it could be demonstrably true to all people in order to teach it in a systematic, cultural way (which we know can never work as is shown by theology as well as history; when Kant came along, everything came crashing down). There are many issues relating to this very question (between 1750-1900 especially)) which make me think that a return to Christendom is not possible or preferable. Does this mean that Christendom failed when it had hegemony? Well first we need to ask ourselves what success is. God is the only one who seems to have good answers to that! But culturally speaking, Christendom produced cultural forms that are the envy of the world. We need to be far more thankful and respectful toward our Christian forefathers!!!

-Theologically speaking, culture is man's. Sin is in man. Therefore culture (Christendom) cannot be Christian in the end. Christ can transform cultures to the extent that its members have indeed had an encounter with God's self-revelation. But - and here's the kicker - that has to be on God's initiative. People cannot impose Christendom on others with any level of success with regards to the gospel. Sin is in man, but grace is in God.

Emerson Fast said...

Good to hear from you Richy B!

Sorry for the error on Constantine. I've been reading too much anti-constantine lit. and have thus developed a skewed perception of the man myself! He appears to be even cooler than I had originally conceived.

To be sure, mankind as we know it today is sinful mankind. Thus it will do him no good to set up a Christendom and think that in so doing he has brought God's kingdom to earth. Nay my friend, nay. However, the fact of God's freedom in bringing the kingdom as He so pleases is by no means a provision for societal disobedience and idolatry. Religious freedom is this freedom...a freedom to be idolatrous, and the scriptures do not recognize this freedom as valid. God does not bless the right to be idolatrous, neither in the household or in the political sphere. He has already marked a day where the wicked spirits of all these blasphemous religions will be cast into the lake of fire. In the meantime, the duty of the nations is to consider this settled fact, repent, and believe. God help all of us!

This is why I welcome political efforts towards establishing Christianity as the state religion. If all of the demons are heading towards Gehenna, why are we tolerating their free reign in our societies? Why do we build them temples and sacred sites of worship? When did God authorize the leaders of this land to do such and such?

Richy said...

I think that the most responsible thing to do, is to say that all religion is not the religion of God. Even (or especially) Christian governments need to understand that they are provisional and flawed.

I don't know how much of a Yoder-ite you are, but he thinks that we as Christians should be the conscience of the state rather than the law of the state. At the very least, I think that that is a much more doable task that has a clear mandate in the NT. Furthermore, if Christians choose to consolidate through coercive means, they would be violating every one of the fruits of the spirit, and would certainly not make "the teaching of God our savior attractive."

Emerson Fast said...

We need to remember here that the Holy Spirit also came upon members of the elect community of Israel just as they were going to war. In the same context, the Spirit was given to appointed men of Israel to become judges (sopetim) and leaders (mosiim): Jdg.3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25. And of course, the same Spirit descends on the chosen King of Israel that he may have the strength to discharge the duties fitting for his kingship: 1 Sam.10:6-7.

The New Testament by no means disowns or distances itself from these properties of the Holy Spirit. My interpretation of Gal.4:6 is that the "Spirit of sonship" given to ALL Christians is directly correlated to the ANE concept of God appointing "kings" to be his "sons" (ps.2). The goal of all Christians is kingship, as is very clearly stated in 2 Tim.2:12 and multiple passages from Revelation.

I'll take a provisionally Christian leadership over a secular, Sharia, "pluralistic" Mormon, Jewish society ANY day of the week. Yoder can say whatever he wants. I Yodel to a different tune, and am not about to change it either because it sounds cool.

Richy said...

The question of peace and war is not one that I can treat now, though it would be an important one to consider further (I'm sure we can conversate over this one during Christmas; I look forward to it). But I will say this: the New Testament does not distance itself from the mandates that it gave to the theocratic kings of Israel and Judea, but it does seem to re-evaluate them. Christ radically advocates the love of enemies, and the absurd submission to suffering and death. Combat seems to be largely spiritualized as far as Pauline ethics go.

Maybe you don't yodel, and I'm still struggling to see whether I'm going to subscribe to that rural artform, but both of us in the end actually agree. I would definitely take a Christian government over the other ones you mentioned. I would just include a long list of reservations and qualifications. Anyhow, who knows: if it's a reformed government, maybe we could all have an increased likelihood of finding Calvin girls...

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mark for this stimulating post. Without someone like it is easy to forget the words of the Great Commission: "Therefore go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And whenever possible use coercive means to do so. The more coercive the better"(Matthew 28:19-20). You just can't argue with this, the ineffable word of God.