Mission of the Church (1)
The Locale of Theology
My subject this evening is ‘the locale of theology.’ Tomorrow morning, I shall speak on ‘the church militant.’ In these first two talks, I will be laying the groundwork so that in the third, ‘the full-orbed gospel,’ hopefully we can come to grips with that which concerns us all, the mission of the church.
Before dealing with ‘the locale of theology,’ I’d like to pass on to you a story that I shared with a few of you already, one told to me by my daughter, Martha. Since her husband is an Orthodox Presbyterian elder and the son of an Orthodox Presbyterian minister, it can’t be entirely apocryphal. It seems there was a dispute in heaven as the Presbyterians, the Catholics, the Methodists, the Baptists, Episcopalians and others strayed from their particular suburbs. Their theologians came together and very quickly were in a serious dispute. Whose theology best represented the throne? Oh, the dispute became a little heated and they decided they had better go to a higher authority to have it settled, and so they approached St. Peter, and told him of their problems, and asked for an audience before the throne, and Peter said; “Cool it, boys. Before you arrived, we already knew what the situation was, and we have a thirty-minute film, with all your questions answered and everything settled once and for all, authoritatively. So, do come in. Be seated. We’ll turn out the lights and we’ll show you the film, and that will settle all matters,” and he said, “Is everybody seated? Alright, flip that switch. Roll it, Calvin.” And I’m very, very sorry to report that I was unable to lay hold of that film, and I’m afraid that Dr. Harvie Conn will have to say the same, and I don’t believe it’s in the seminary library yet, either. So, we will have to struggle along with something far less authoritative, but I trust it will contribute something to your storehouse of knowledge, so that you might assess the picture.
As I said, our subject this evening is ‘the locale of theology,’ and first of all, I want to deal with one of the great revolutions of history, an unnoticed one. Great revolutions sometimes go unnoticed because they are so logical, and truly inevitable in some respects. They have far-reaching implications, both good and bad, and precisely because they happen often so gradually, people are unable to appreciate what has taken place or how to cope with it. This great revolution, which has had far-reaching implications for the Christian faith, has been the shift of theology from the pulpit to the school. It has had very serious implications for the faith. Once theologians were in the pulpit and on the mission field. Today, they are in the schools.
The first great shift took place in the Middle Ages with the rise of the university which, in itself, was a tremendous thing. The university is truly a Christian institution and it is now in decay and collapsing because it is no longer Christian. The very concept of a ‘university’ is only possible in a Christian context, because for Greek thought, a ‘university’ was impossible; there was no ‘universe.’ There were really polyverses, many worlds, that were possible, each with their own scheme of things, and it was only when the Christian evangel came forth with the presentation of ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism,’ that it was possible to think of a ‘universe.’ A universe of law, a universe of government, so that a comprehensive and unified body of knowledge was possible. Today, of course, that is collapsing.
As a matter of fact, although very few now recall this fact, in the 1950’s Clark Kerr, then president of the University of California, wrote a book in which he discarded the idea of the ‘university’ in favor of a ‘multiversity.’ The only thing impossible in a multiversity is Christianity, because it believes in a universe; one God, one world, one law. But, in a ‘multiverse,’ the only thing impossible is the God of Scripture and the faith of scripture, because it insists that a multiverse belongs to the world of polytheism and of anarchism. And of course, it was precisely that world of anarchism that Clark Kerr’s thinking, which caught on among the students, produced the student revolutions. One of the first casualties was Clark Kerr.
The university today is in a state of decay. It represents a great Christian achievement, but very early when it began, because it was an unnoticed revolution, Aristotelian thinking took over, and the university began to attempt to create what, in essence, must be a Christian institution on alien, Hellenistic premises. It destroyed Christendom. The Middle Ages self-destructed as a result of the work of the university, and it was, as it were, refugees of the university, scholars who gave birth to the Reformation. Luther was a university professor. Calvin was a scholar. All the secondary men of the Reformation were scholars who returned to the pulpit, who attempted to reestablish the foundations of civilization and of a Christian mission to the world in terms of the Word of God.
Now, the second occurrence of this great unnoticed revolution was the birth of the seminary, again a necessity. The university, after the era of the Reformation, began again to depart from the faith. One of the things that subverted it was, of course, sad to relate, the Puritan university, Cambridge. Because while they were aware of the danger from a variety of other sources, they were unsuspecting as they confronted platonism and neoplatonism, and in a generation, the Cambridge platonists destroyed Puritanism, and it collapsed in Britain. And little by little as the platonism from Cambridge seeped into America, it undermined the Puritanism here. The universities became areas dedicated to a hellenic kind of abstraction, so that abstract thinking began to be considered true thinking, but you see, in terms of Scripture, every fact in the universe is a personal fact, because it is the creation of the sovereign and personal God, and we do not understand it in terms of the hellenic category of an abstract idea. So that the truth about the universe is an abstraction. No, in total contradiction to everything that Greco-Roman culture, with its faith in abstractions represented, John declares in the first chapter of his gospel; “…grace and truth came…” Came? Yes, in the person of Jesus Christ, who himself declared later; “I am the Truth.” Truth, in terms of scripture, is totally personal. First of all, the personal God, our personal Lord, and a universe which is his personal fact, creation.
But the university, under the influence of the platonist influences, moved into abstraction, moved into anti-Christianity, began to be embarrassed by the concreteness of the Word. And so it was necessary, urgently necessary that no longer students go to the university for preparation for missions, and for the pastorate, but to a separated institution, and so the seminary was born to fill a very important need, an urgent need. But again, we saw imperceptibly, the transition of theology from the pulpit to the school.
The great theologians of the early church were in the pulpit. The Reformation was born in the pulpit. When we go back to the great missionaries of the early church, we find that, as they went out to the Slavs, to the Lithuanians, to the Anglo-Saxons, into Iceland and elsewhere, the men who went out were men who were the great thinkers of the church.
I recall reading, very much moved, the chronicles of the Slavs, and of the mission work, and of the missionaries who would be one day trying to rebuild the palisades and the fortifications around the place, because they were regularly attacked and assailed, and the next day going out after the heat of the battle, and trying to find some of the enemy to whom they could preach the gospel. And the extent to which they were presenting a full-orbed Gospel, the extent to which the whole weight of theology was felt there.
Consider the Anglo-Saxons. Charlemagne had a great deal of trouble subjugating them. They were a wild people, they practiced human sacrifice. Every time Charlemagne marched in and put them down, as soon as he had left, they rebelled again and reverted to their old ways. So finally Charlemagne came in, conquered them once again, and lined them all up at a river, and he said; “Take your choice; on this side is the chopping block with my ax men, on that side is the river, are you going to be baptized as Christians?” Well, it was one of the most successful revival meetings in all of history! Now, of course, Charlemagne did that, not out of any crude or ignorant motive. He knew that these people, and this was done, of course in Russia by someone else. But these people believed once they were baptized that now they belonged (they understood, you see, the meaning of baptism) to the Christian God. And if they were faithless to him, he would exact vengeance upon them, so that ended their human sacrifice.
Well, the missionaries who went in there did not just preach John 3:16 to them. They talked to them about the whole of the Nicene, and the Caledonian formulas and creeds, and expounded it. And they went through the whole of the word of God and applied it very systematically. This was not, you see, a thin gospel they presented. It was the whole counsel of God, or in the year 1000 A.D., when the whole matter came before the entire, what we would say, ‘parliament’ of Iceland, those who presented the Gospel not only spoke about some of the essentials, but they also went into the fact that when you believe this, you must put yourself under this as the law book of the Christian God, and you must change your family life, and your sexual practices, and everything about you. It was not a shorthand gospel, in other words. Theology was then on the mission field and in the pulpit, and therefore, in everyday life.
But in World War I, a survey was made of American soldiers. There were very few who had not grown up in Sunday Schools. They had all come from more or less Christian families, and yet their awareness of any of the most elementary fundamentals of theology was so vague, that those who made the survey wondered how many could be called “Christian.” They claimed to believe the Bible from cover to cover, but didn’t know what was between the covers. They had memorized a few Bible verses, or the twenty-third Psalm, but they did not know the plan of salvation, or the atonement, or any of the essentials, and so it was no surprise that, in the twenties, modernism galloped across the American scene and took over the country. There was too little theology in the pulpit, and too little, sometimes no more, on the mission field, and so today, the mission field is a very large one. It is not only the rest of the world, but it is here in the United States.
A few years ago, I met a native pastor from Africa here in the United States, and he was horrified by what he saw here, and he said; “You know, I feel safer at home, out in the wilds, than I do among my own kind here, in the cities, and the white churches I’ve spoken in frighten me, because they are satisfied with so little.” So often today, churches work, if they are Reformed or Evangelical, for the barest conversion, for minimal Christianity, and in the mission field, we see the same kind of approach, a concern with minimal Christianity.
We are told, very often, by way of criticism, of missions that they import Western civilization. Is that charge true? Well, what is Western civilization? What was it before Christianity came? Tribes throughout Europe had practiced human sacrifice and had a very limited culture. Greco-Roman civilization collapsed, it self-destructed. So that Western civilization is indeed a product of Christian missions, but it has now deserted that faith for humanism, and what about our languages?
When I was a student at the University of California, to put myself through, I usually worked at one, or two, or three jobs, and one of the things I did, among others, was for a time, I was a reader, that is, I graded the papers in the linguistic courses. It was one of the great experiences in my life, and the professor, who was an ungodly man in many respects, definitely hostile to the faith, nevertheless got up one day and in the course of his thinking, referred to the Wycliffe Bible translators, as the greatest linguists in the world. No school of linguistics could equal them, and to this day, I thrill at the memory of that, and I said to myself then; “Good. In one thing at least we’re number one, and I hope to live to see the day when we’re number one in every area!” But he did say something interesting about our Western languages. He was dealing with the various schools, Indo-European school of course, being the Western languages, but he said; “They are all Hebraicized.” Hebraicized! Why? Because they have been the language of the Word of God for centuries, and of Bible translations, and step by step, these languages are no longer what they were in the old days, but have been Hebraicized. What we are exporting is not Western civilization as some kind of alien monster, but humanism, and with it, minimal Christianity.
And the result has been devastation. I will deal with that tomorrow noon. Some of the areas of devastation, because of this type of importation, which has not been only through missions, and what the remedy for it is. But you see the abstraction of theology from the pulpit, and from the life of faith, into an academic context, with a neoplatonic heritage in the academy, produces a like abstractionism in theological thought, and undermines theology.
Let me illustrate just with one illustration. For a long time, the Reformed community debated very intensely the question of lapsarianism. Infra, sub, and supra-lapsarians. Thank God, that controversy is behind us. Now, the key to that controversy is one that is really startling. All of them presuppose some kind of time sequence in the mind of God. And also they presuppose a pride, the assumption that human logic can penetrate into the mind of God and determine the details of the nature of his sovereign decree! Now, that’s not a valid question, it’s a Platonic type of question, and do you see how that type of theology has, over the centuries, abstracted theology from life? Thank God, our seminaries now are not so abstracted, but we have a long way to go to make theology again central, in the pulpit, the pew, and everyday life. I’m sorry that we still speak of practical theology as a department over to one side which somehow has less prestige, which it does, unhappily, when it should be the central area of theology, practical, because the word of God is the most practical word that man can ever hear.
Well, today we have many attempts to give a theology of missions, which again have this element of abstractionism. One of these is ‘liberation theology.’ Another, which I’ll touch on tomorrow, is ‘dynamic equivalence.’ At the heart of liberation theology is the doctrine of praxis. Kostas defines praxis as; “…action based upon reflection, or the actualization of theory.” The Gospel is praxis. The other writers; Father Gutierrez and others, insist also on the centrality of this doctrine of ‘praxis.’ But praxis rests on dialectics, not on Scripture! Besides, what does ‘praxis’ mean to the man in the pew and the man on the mission field? It’s the language of Marx and of Hegel, and there is a conflict between the doctrine of praxis and incarnation. Praxis comes from the Greek word whose root-meaning is; “to do.” Well, that sounds promising, because of course, we believe in the practicality of our doctrines, of their total relevance to the life of man, but to do what? Kostas defines it as; “…the actualization of theory.” Now, here we have the world of Plato and of Hegel, the idea, the Hellenic pattern or form, or idea, which must be taken and concretized, and contextualized in the world of matter. Now, that’s radically opposed to the doctrine of incarnation, and to the Biblical doctrine of creation. The world is not two kinds of being, idea and matter, but the uncreated being of God, and the created being of the whole universe, and it is God the Son, who becomes incarnate in this world. God the Son who is from all eternity. That’s different from an idea that man conceives an abstract concept and concretizes. It’s an entirely different faith! The Bible does not speak of a theory of idea seeking actualization through us, but rather of a living Word of God, Jesus Christ made flesh. In ‘praxis,’ man frames the idea and man actualizes it, or incarnates it, in life and action, it is man who gives it being, and the Bible, the Word of God, incarnates himself. Actualization is the work of man. Incarnation, in Scripture, is the work of God. For Scripture, there is already the given, living Word. God the Son and his enscriptured word. Faith is the gift of God, not an actualization by man, and it is dead without works, and its work is to do the will of our Father in heaven; “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Praxis, thus, is an assault on reality in the name of an idea. Now, that idea can be ‘equality,’ it can be ‘liberation,’ it can be any number of things, but the Word of God is the restoration of truth and life, to a world dead in sins and trespasses. Praxeology is antinomian, because it replaces God’s law-word with man’s idea. The Dictionary of Philosophy defines ‘praxis’ very simply; “Activity that has its goal within itself.” In other words, it’s an existentialist concept, not Spiritual. ‘Praxis’ it the concretizing of ideas, and its activity, its ideas, and its goals are existentially derived from within man’s own being, and his own situation, and his own determination of his needs without reference to the past, or to anything beyond this world, or to anything other than what he determines he needs.
Liberation theology, thus, manifests existentialism. Its orientation is the here-and-now, the existential moment, not the eternal God and His Word in judgment and healing for the moment.
As a result, today the mission of the church is, very often, devitalized by all these varieties of alien thought, and the life of the school too often becomes a succession in many cases of debating schools of though; Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Barth, Bruner, Altizer, Moltmann, Pannenberg, and so on and on. Each in turn setting forth alien suppositions and offering abstractions in place of the living God.
The result is that those who go overboard for these really sociological cults lose their sense of mission at home and abroad, and have another gospel, and it leads them to the embarrassing absurdities of Clark Pinnock who has actually written; “The Handwriting is on the Wall, and the words of the prophets are on the subway walls. Let us rise and seek God’s kingdom and his justice!” Is that any kind of commission for the people of God? Any kind of good news for the people that walk in darkness?
Now, I do not want to be misunderstood. As I said, the school, the seminary, has been a necessary development. It has a necessary place in the life of the church. It was created to meet a need, and a desperate need. But we cannot allow the school and the classroom to take priority over life. It deeply distresses me when I find ministers and missionaries telling me as they go out, that; “Well, what Dr. so and so taught me at the seminary may be well and good, but I’m going to preach the simple gospel.” Well, it gets so simple it’s irrelevant and it’s unfaithful to what the Word of God which, as Augustine said, is indeed shallow enough for a child to wade across the stream, and deep enough to drown an elephant. And it is that whole word that we need to present to a world, and that mission field is all around us, and too often, it confronts us in the pews of the churches, and of church colleges, which I found, and I speak in a great many schools, are often the most difficult places to speak, and sometimes a secular university will produce more hearing ears. Often because they’ve never heard the Word before.
Faith does not come by critical analysis, nor by academic disputations, but by hearing, and Paul tells us that; “hearing comes by the Word of God.” Theology is a declaration and the application of the Word of God to every area of life and thought. Moreover, just as faith without works is dead, so, too, is theology. The works of theology cannot be humanistic plans of liberation, but the whole counsel of God. Indeed, we can speak of scripture as the theology of liberation; “If the Son make ye free, then are ye free indeed.” And our Lord speaks of the slavery to sin, and that no man is free until he be born again in him, but if we only present Scripture and the gospel as a theology of liberation, we do not present the truth. Because the theology of the Bible is also a theology of purchase; “Ye are not your own for ye are bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.” We, who are his people, are doubly his, we are his because he created us, we are doubly his because he redeemed us, he bought us at such a price, so that our freedom onto ourselves and a theology of liberation which speaks in terms of politics and sociology, of the freedom of man, is forgetting that man is freed from sin and death, purchased by God and is the property of the Lord Jesus Christ, that in baptism our parents acknowledging that they were the Lord’s property because to say the word “Lord,” is to say he is God, an absolute property owner and sovereign, slave master, that if we are His servants, His slaves, then alone are we free, and that we who are His property, so that we are not our own, all that we are and all of our substance, all of our income is his. We come to him and give our children to him because they, too, must be His property, and so, too, our mission. So that we proclaim indeed, a theology of liberation, but it is also a theology of purchase.
This means that, while we must indeed concern ourselves with the needs of Christ’s flock, and the diaconate needs to be revived and strengthened as never before, and we need to reach out, we can never forget that there is a priority.
I shall be speaking very soon, as I have before and before and before, at a trial of the church, because it has a nursery, and the welfare department wants to control it. It does not see it as a part of the ministry of the church, and I shall go into the theology that is involved, which includes the theology of baptism, and I shall also be telling the court what the early church did. The early church had three battles almost immediately with Rome. One was its refusal to allow the state to control it. Rome wanted to control the church. Rome told the church, “We do not want to persecute you. We believe in all religions.” One emperor, as I told some of you last week, actually had in his private chapel, a statue of Jesus, and he let it be known to the people, that; “You see, I pray to your Jesus. I’m not against him. Why are you bucking licensure, regulation, permit, and control?” and the answer of the churches was; “Because Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.” That was one battle.
The other great battle, because they were moving into a world of radical humanism was over abortion. In many areas, they declared that because it was murder, the person performing an abortion or having it performed, was therefore, under sentence of death before God, but on repentance, they indeed were received into fellowship, but could not partake of the bread and wine at the Lord’s table, because they were the living dead. Some said seven years, some said ten, some said for life, but the idea was to bring home to them the seriousness of what they had done.
The other great area was what they did among the ungodly, and they came into conflict with Rome. The most notable was going out in Rome under the bridges who could not be aborted and were unwanted were abandoned. In other places, it would be at a different location, and the Christians picked up those babies, parceled them around, and reared them in the Lord. They also took care of many of the cast off aged of the ungodly. You often read that the Christians were accused of cannibalism at their communion feasts. Do you know why that story was spread? Because the impact of this bit; saving the babies, was so tremendous on the pagans, that the most ungodly were impressed, and so the propaganda was spread; “they collect these babies to use them in their communion feast, as human sacrifice. They eat them.”
For a time, it was actually prohibited to Christians to collect these babies. At first they had a hang-up because legally, these children didn’t exist, like slaves, they were non-people, but it was such an embarrassment, they finally made it illegal to collect them, but that backfired on them, because it called attention to their hardness of heart, and to the faith of these Christians. That was the sense of mission that the early church had, a mission that took people to the far corners of the world. Paul says; “The world is gone throughout the world,” and I believe that’s literally true. To all of the known world, we know, apparently, St. Thomas did get to China, and his tomb still exists in India. They went out with a full-orbed Gospel. It was the Gospel above all else of salvation through Jesus Christ, a Gospel, a theology, of purchase, and this is the Gospel of power. The Gospel of Christ is the “power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth,” and so as we face a world that is in desperate need of a true mission to it, we must go out in this power in terms of the centrality of Christ’s purchase. We live in a world that is dying, which is in the death throes of humanism. We live in the bloodiest age of all history when a higher percentage of mankind has died as a result of famine, slave labor camps, war, revolution, torture, and so on. A higher percentage of mankind has died in this century, and the worst may still be ahead of us. We are on the death throes of humanism.
Therefore, hear ye the word of the Lord. “Go ye therefore into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Let us pray.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy grace and mercy has called us who are dead in sins and trespasses to be thy people, and who has purchased us at the price of the blood of thine only begotten son, Jesus Christ. Make us ever mindful that we are not our own, that we have been bought at a price, that we have been given a great calling to all the world, and with that calling we have been given power in thy name, power through thy Spirit. Send us forth, O Lord, in confidence, in holy boldness, in joyfulness at our so great salvation, that we might be more than conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord, that men, women, and children, tribes, tongues, and nations may be brought to a saving knowledge of him. In his name we pray. Amen.
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