Green Paganism (2)
Reconstructing the Church
Our subject is ‘reconstructing the church.’ With The Reformation much attention was given to redefining the church, major contributions were made to the doctrine of the church, excellent ones. But a serious error crept in with time. For teaching purposes, summary definitions began to be popular. As a result, The Reformed Faith was customarily and commonly summarized by the so-called ‘Five Points of Calvinism.’
Now these points we must certainly agree with, but they do not do justice to the full meaning of Calvinism. Calvin’s ‘Institutes’ covers a wide range of thinking, his other writings, some of which have never been translated, deal with subjects the Calvinists have totally forgotten, for example: Calvin’s very important teachings on the diaconate; very, very central to his faith, are all but forgotten. One man, a younger contemporary, adopted what Calvin was doing in Geneva in Milan. It was Charles Borromeo, the Bishop of Milan.
He felt that Calvin was right, in that Calvin saw that faith as something that ruled every sphere of life. So, imitating Calvin, he set up schools, he set up homes for the aged, homes for the homeless children, homes that abused women could run to for refuge and find help, and someone would deal with their abusive husband, hospitals, you name it. He created a government through the faith, so much so that the Spanish crown, even though he was a relative, prosecuted him, tried very, very hard to put him out of work. Because he was doing what Calvin and the early church had done, create a state within the state, a government in terms of the whole of God’s law. Now, that was Calvinism, as Calvin practiced it. Do you see why to reduce it to five points, which are totally true, still deforms the Reformed Faith?
Then, with respect to the doctrine of the church, it is commonly defined in terms of three things; the faithful preaching of the word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and church discipline. All three are necessary. But what have you done when you restrict the meaning of the church to those three things? It is seriously limited. It defines the church as an institution, a very serious weakness. And all the activities of the church are limited to the pastor and the elders. So, first you’ve made the church an institution, and then you’ve put all the power in the pastor and the elders, and you’ve said in effect; “they are the church.” And this kind of defining has been a curse! The pastors and the elders preach and teach the word, they administer the sacraments and carry on the discipline, but the church as a whole is reduced from a mighty army, to a passive audience.
General William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army is one of my favorite people. And he once said that the purpose of the modern evangelical church is to convert people, and then mummify them so that they will sit quietly in the pews, capable of no more action, and not very good at that, than of reaching for their wallet when the plate comes by. He was a marvelous man. He wrote a remarkable book; ‘In Darkest England, and the Way Out.’ And in that book he raised some very telling questions. He said some of his converts were the young daughters of prostitutes that had lost their virginity years before they had reached their teens. And young boys who before their teens when seven and eight years old had been taught to steal and pick pockets from their earliest days as soon as they could learn it. Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ barely touched on the evils that Booth saw every day. And Booth said; “the church is irrelevant to the challenge. Save these children, yes, but what are they going to do with them when they are saved?” “The church was an institution,” he said, “that had become an end in itself. And it had thereby cut itself off from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Great Commission has a threefold requirement of the church; first because all power in heaven and earth is given to Jesus Christ, we must go into all the earth to establish the crown rights of Christ the King. This term; ‘The Crown Rights of Christ the King!’ was the battle cry of the Puritans in Cromwell’s day, a magnificent one, it’s a battle cry that we should return to, and assert the crown rights of Christ the king in every sphere.
Then, second, having gone into all the earth we must teach or disciple all nations beginning with baptizing. This means becoming washed of our sins by Christ’s atonement. We are baptized, we are made members of Christ’s new humanity, we are members of his new creation. The goal of going forth into all the world is to make fallen men into new creations in Jesus Christ.
And third, having being taught to convert men, we now teach them to do and to keep whatsoever our Lord commands us, in the whole of His word. Because we are the people born of his saving grace, we are therefore his law-people. And when we obey His great commission, then His promise is; “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, amen.” Christ does not indwell where the church is an institution, but where the church is truly His presence on earth, however much or little it is organized. The church is not to be reduced to an institution, and that’s what we have done.
One of the pastors here present comes from a church where I have preached twice, and in that church, because they are sick and tired of institutionalism, there is no membership there. But they are doing great and remarkable things for The Lord, because the emphasis is not on an institution, but on being members of Jesus Christ.
The church, however, has reduced itself to an institution, and our Lord has therefore reduced the church to impotence. To view the church primarily as an institution is to warp the Bible. As Westcott wrote of Hebrews 12:22-23;
“Over against the material and kindled fire of Sinai is set the mountain and city of God, his palace and the whole of his people shown in images by the earthly Zion and Jerusalem. In this heavenly archetypal spiritual mountain and city, God is seen to dwell with His own. He is not revealed in one passing vision of terrible majesty as with the giving of the law, but in His proper dwelling place. Zion is distinctively the Acropolis, the seat of God’s throne, and Jerusalem the city. Sometimes Zion is spoken of as the place where God exercises sovereignty, and from which he sends forth deliverance. In the spiritual reality Mount Zion represents the strong divine foundation of the new world, while the city of the living God represents the social structure in which the order is embodied. God, who is the living God, does not dwell alone, but is surrounded by His people. His majesty and His love are equally represented in The New Jerusalem. The description of the scene of the divine kingdom to which Christ’s Christians are come is followed by a description of the representative persons who are included in it, with whom believers are brought into fellowship. These are angels and men. No longer separated as at Sinai by signs of great terror, but one vast assembly.”
These verses, Hebrews 12:22-23 assert; first, that the church is but one vast assembly, with angels and men in one fellowship. Our view of church membership stops at the doors, and so to does our power. But our forms of government are not unimportant, they can be seriously detrimental if we define the church in terms of them. The Lord has never limited his workings to any standard forms of polity, he has never limited it to episcopacy, to presbyteries, or to congregations, nor can we.
We cannot give priority to forms or to the life of the church. Then; second, the church is described as “the general assembly, and the church of the first born,” and this means supremely of course, Jesus, “the first fruits of them that slept,” and the beginning of the new creation by God. We are the first born as members of Christ, our names are written and enrolled in heaven, because it is God’s electing grace that redeems us.
Then; third, we have a grim warning given; “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh, for if they escape not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.” The voice in both cases is the voice of God, but in the first instance the speaking on earth, it was though Moses, in the second speaking from heaven, we have God incarnate in Jesus Christ.
For disregard of Moses, we are told, God spoke, and Israel perished in the wilderness, the generation that would not believe. How much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Jesus Christ? He is the one who spoke then, and speaks now, and he must be obeyed!
Fourth; Christians are not merely an audience having a man preach to them, they have a commission. We read in Matthew 10:7-10 that;
“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.”
In the main, these words of course would apply to the apostles and to the clergy, and our Lord is very plain in his declaration; “The Laborer is worthy of his hire.” Paul tells us in I Timothy 5:17-18, that;
“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.”
‘Double honor’ means literally double pay. The Greek word translated as ‘honor’ has that double meaning, due honor, by paying properly but notice our Lord’s words; “Freely ye have received, freely give.”
As recipients of grace, Christians must manifest grace. Repeatedly, the law and the prophets stress God’s requirement that widows, orphans, and the needy be cared for. The early church at once assumed this duty in its own community. We read this in Acts 6, and I Timothy 5:5-16, we are told that families have a duty to care for their own. Those needy ones without families are to be cared for by the Christian community, “…but if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” Caring for one’s own thus means, not only those of one’s own house, but of one’s own faith. In terms of this most churches and church members today are worse than infidels.
The early Christians, a persecuted handful, provided care for the elderly, homes for the homeless; young and old. They ransomed captives, saved abandoned babies, and more. This they did for two or three centuries, before they ever had a church building. They were hated for this by Rome, because they were an empire within the empire, under Christ their king. They did not see Christ as a future ruler but as a very present one. He is, they said; “the blessed and only potentate, the king of kings and lord of lords.”
Rome could have controlled and destroyed the church as an institution, and it tried. It could not cope with a supernatural empire under God the Son’s authority and power. When we reduce the church to the ministry of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and discipline we are limiting it, we are reducing it to an institution, and we are replacing God’s power through us with an organization, and a structure. There is nothing wrong with organization and structure, but to identify the faith and the church of the living God with that, is to limit it.
Paul’s command to the Corinthians to set up their own courts to handle conflicts has as its premise this blunt statement; “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” Look up that Greek word translated as judge, it means to rule, to govern. It is translated as ‘judge,’ used in the ancient Old Testament sense of ‘one who rules by administering the law.’ The Judges of The Book of Judges, for example. It is God’s law by which the saints are to rule, the successor to The Roman Empire was Christianity, and for six centuries it provided the essential law and government, education and welfare, while slowly bringing converts, the barbarians, into maturity in Christ. The barbarian states, mostly Germanic, were ruled by men who treated the state and their office as king as private property, to be divided among their heirs at their will. As the church replaced its mission with institutionalism, its effectiveness waned, and they began to imitate the barbarians.
In our time, as often before, the Christian perspective has shifted from serving God in our place and calling, to self-fulfillment, non-involvement, peace of mind, and other similar egocentric goals. A statement by a non-Christian actress could be echoed by many church members. Helen Lawrenson, prominent in the 1930’s and later, wrote in her memories quoting a character out of a Conrad novel;
“Have I not always been like Axel Heyst in victory? Inwardly the detached observer, no matter how involved I might be outwardly.” Conrad says; “It was the very essence of his life to be a solitary achievement, accomplished not by hermit-like withdrawal with its silence and immobility, but by a system of restless wandering, by the detachment of an impermanent dweller among changing scenes. In this scheme he has perceived the means of passing through life without suffering and almost without a single care in the world, invulnerable because elusive.” I first read these words of Conrad when I was seventeen, and even then I realized that this was what I too was doing, and that for me it was the secret of how to live.”
In the late Greco-Roman world many pagans in deep revolution against the evil world around them, sought non-involvement by fleeing into the desert, and then the Christians copied them, imitating the pagans, non-involvement. The modern pagan reaction as epitomized by Helen Lawrenson is non-involvement in a different way. It is a continued participation in the moral depravity of the world, with an inner, thorough, non-involvement. The secret of living, in her words, is “…with the detachment of an impermanent dweller among changing scenes.” Both men and women now see life in the same way, with an inner detachment, absorbed totally in themselves. But, this same attitude is prevalent in the churches in another way. Confrontation with problems is avoided. In The United States many pastors and people looking to such authorities as Andrew Murray, and the old Keswick Conferences, regard efforts to confront and solve problems as unspiritual. They run to prayer as an escape rather than communion with God, and this is a form of blasphemy. It is a refusal to adopt and apply God’s plain word to problems, and it is a call for miraculous deliverances instead of work.
In all of this there is an absence of growth, in sanctification. For too many churches, prayers, spiritual experiences, and hour-long devotional exercises have replaced maturity and growth.
I knew one man, a good many years ago, who got up at five O’clock in the morning for two hours of prayer before he went to work, and twenty years later he was as childish a Christian as when he got converted, because he never applied his faith. All he was trying to do was to rise above the problems and the corruption that surrounded him, not to confront it.
One American writer, Miri Reuben, said of England and Europe between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries; “Every Christian writer, preacher, priest and layman would agree that charity was the love of God expressed on earth through love of one’s neighbor and for oneself, it was the greatest of virtues, without which faith alone was imperfect.” This view was corrupted by the revival of a view common to Ambrose and other early church fathers, that property and ownership were products of the fall, and charity was a way of undoing the damage. Ambrose was a great man in some respects, but he was a communist also, sad to say.
Some in the late Middle Ages went so far as to justify stealing in the case of need, because all property was theft. The Reformation corrected this, but with the rise of Pietism, the church became an end in itself, and the believers life one of spiritual exercises, retreats, anything but confrontation. It has been well said by a Catholic scholar that modern Evangelical and Reformed churches most closely resemble Medieval convents and monasteries, but with this difference, the members are married but they are equally withdrawn from the world. This particular Catholic scholar by the way has said that the battle of the future will be between two men in essence and their thinking; John Jacques Rousseau and his humanism, and Calvin in his theocentricism.
The church has been guilty of trivializing Christianity. Calvin was very hostile to the Anabaptists, and to the iconoclasts of his day for majoring in minors, often false minors at that. Now Calvin declared the violence against images of the saints and the virgins, God’s commandment, he made clear, was against the worship of graven images. There were graven images in the temple and in the tabernacle. We have today in The United States, many churchmen whose vision of faithfulness is to damn even a cross on a church. And when we had the symbol of the cross put on The Chalcedon Report, we were called ‘worshippers of the whore of Babylon’ by more than a few. Now that is trivializing Christianity. A theology for living has been replaced by either a theology for triviality, or a theology for controlling people. The church has not only trivialized its concerns, but it has allowed itself to be secularized.
Owen Chadwick in his very important work, ‘The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century,’ gives a very, very telling account about how priorities have been shifted in our civilization from Christianity to politics, and Christianity reduced to the church, and the sphere of the church. No longer a faith governing every area of life and thought, we are governed now by politicians, not by our faith.
Whereas The Enlightenment effected the few, secularization is of the many, and therefore has become total in its sway. Secularism does not necessarily mean atheism or infidelity, it means that the priorities of life are derived from this world, not from The Lord. Law comes from the state, not from God, the test of things is pragmatic, not theological. The life of faith has receded to the inner life of man, and as a result, moral virtues have been reduced mainly to those relating to sex and the family.
In the 1850’s, one French journalist and philosopher, Paul Desjardins, expressed his fear of men and churches of strong faith, and he said; “Anything with a strong moral life has a will of its own, anything with a will of its own embarrasses government.” The church must be faithful, must be faithful to Christ as priest, prophet and king. Surrendering or offering all of life to Christ as his priestly people, declaring the whole Word of God to every sphere of life and thought as his prophetic church and congregation, and setting forth The Crown Rights of Christ our King over every sphere of life, by means of the law-word of God. An irrelevant church is a dead church. Rome hated and then feared the limited number of Christians in The Empire, because they were a people who brought every area of life and thought into captivity to Jesus Christ. One of the earliest depictions of Christ was as a world emperor, holding the world in His hand.
The churches were built from the earliest days of stone, and as basilicas, that is, the dwelling place of the King. As the throne room of the basileus, the king, people stood when scripture was read because it was the king’s law-word. Paul spoke of himself as an ambassador, the representative of the great king. The Early Church spoke of its ‘parish,’ and the word is in the Greek of The New Testament, it comes from a Greek word referring to the property of a foreign power, with extraterritorial rights. The embassies in London all have extraterritorial rights. The police of London can not go into those embassies, the law of the country prevails there, and the church claimed to be the area of Christ the king.
This is the nature of the church. We must reconstruct the church therefore, in terms of this fact; that it is Christ’s parish, His embassy in the world. It is the world that he claims as his own, and we are here as His army to conquer that world, peacefully. We therefore, are the most relevant of all peoples, with a mission to every sphere, to all things without exception, because our lord and savior Jesus Christ is king of kings and lord of lords. We are more than an institution, we are a new creation. We are the people of the king of all the cosmos, members of the cosmic Christ, whose cosmic rule shall prevail, and we dare not get in His way. How fearful a thing it is when the church gets in the way of the king!
“Behold,” Our Lord says; “You are neither hot nor cold. Repent, or I will spew thee out of my mouth.” Thank you.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books. Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder