Church and Community in History (4)
Church and Community
In every sphere of life and thought we are confronted with bad news. The problem with the church is that, too often, it has a Pollyanna attitude, not a Scriptural one. It does not want to hear bad news. It refuses to believe our Lord when he says; “In the world ye shall have much tribulation.” In fact, we have many who believe they are going to be raptured out of tribulation. I’ve encountered more than a few people (in premillennial circles the thinking is beginning to shift) who are ready to renounce it if there is no pre-trib’ rapture, because they don’t want to go through the tribulation. Our Lord said; “In the world ye shall have much tribulation, but of be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” We are on the winning side, we are facing judgment and I hope you’ve seen that from what I’ve said thus far. But, if we did not undergo judgment in the years ahead, there would be no salvation for us. Because one of the clearest teachings of Scripture is that judgment and salvation go hand in hand. The judgment upon Egypt was the deliverance of God’s chosen people. The judgment upon the sin of all the sons of Adam at the cross is our deliverance, our salvation. The cross is the total coincidence of judgment and salvation. So, as we see judgment in our day we need to rejoice, it means that God is at work. And while it will cost us something, and it will be difficult, you can be sure it would be a lot worse if God’s judgment did not descend upon our generation, it would mean we would settle into hell.
As we continue thus with ‘communion and community,’ we need to remember we belong to a community that has a guaranteed word from God that the gates of hell cannot prevail or ‘hold out’ against it. We are told that we are a community at war, but we are also told that it is a victorious community and the gates of hell can never prevail against it. What picture does that convey? Not of hell attacking us, but of us attacking and overcoming the very gates of hell!
Well, the idea of community as we have seen rests on something in common and what we have in common is Jesus Christ. And there is no communion nor community apart from that. The modern world, as we saw this morning, tries to find something in common among men apart from Christ, and thereby to build its community on that. But how can you have community in sin? Sin divides, sin destroys. Thieves have something in common in stealing and murderers have murder in common, but it doesn’t make them happy with each other! Sinners have sin in common, but it doesn’t give them any community. In fact, precisely the things that sinners have in common divide them; greed, pride, a hatred for their superiors and much, much, more.
We have something in common today in this country, shared by the overwhelming majority of the people, and this is true around the world in one country after another, Envy! And what is envy doing to the United States and to every country the world over? It is leading to laws which destroy initiative, laws which destroy property, laws which destroy community, laws which destroy one thing after another. In other words, if what people have in common is sin, community cannot exist. Sin divides, sin disturbs all relationships, and it leads to dissension not community.
The dictionary of sociology which I referred to this morning very significantly had no definition for ‘sin,’ none whatsoever. It does have a definition of crime. And it is that’ “crime is a violation of the conduct code sanctioned by the state.” So, if that state code says it is a crime to be a Christian, then it is a crime, according to the dictionary of sociology. So, in terms of this definition Christianity can be a crime, morality can be a crime, and much more. If the state is the definer of community it is the definer of law and of morality. The state has taken over all the functions of community and of God.
As statism rises we see community decline. The state replaces community with itself, because it sees itself as the source of law and as the source of commonality. The modern state has a doctrine of crime; it means any violation of statist laws. It does not have a doctrine of sin. Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us; “sin is a want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God,” which is simply a restatement of I John 3:4. The state can punish crime but it cannot eradicate the evils which lead to crime against man, property, marriage, peace or anything else, because it has no doctrine of sin, and no savior except itself. The state rather than furthering community furthers isolation, it separates man from man.
And with the rise of the modern state men has lost their sense of community and so we read a great deal about alienation, the communication gap, the loneliness of modern man and so on and on. The modern state has controlled or dissolved the many associations and agencies which once provided both community and government; Christian agencies, Christian means of government. Men are usually without the once-close and lifelong ties which once marked everyone.
Most Americans are in closer touch with the IRS, than they are with their own families. The necessary connections are now created by Washington. But community is a religious fact; it rests on communion as we have seen. Although the state is now playing God, it can no more provide a valid religious bond then Congress can resurrect the dead. It can only tax the dead, and believe me Congress is doing that with the inheritance taxes. But it has never resurrected the dead.
In the early church because the Lord’s Day was not a legal holiday, congregations met at home in the evening. Men went to the meeting place from work because it was not a holiday and the women and children met them with their evening meals. A love-feast or a potluck followed and then the preaching service. And sometimes the love feast or potluck was also the communion service. At the last supper, after the Passover meal, our Lord instituted the communion. And the early church had its evening meals in common each Lord’s day and then also communion. Paul calls attention to the failure to share one’s meal with poor members and he called attention to the gluttony of some. Apparently poor and hungry members were sometimes gluttonous. There were sins thus among the rich and the poor. Then Paul said in First Corinthians 11: 26-27;
“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.”
Now, in the first of these two verses, verse twenty-six, Paul tells us that communion and the bread and wine celebrate the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Of course, he only mentions the death, because that death is a victorious one over sin and the grave. So that, when you speak of Christ’s death, you are speaking of a victory over sin and death. It sets forth our Lord’s death. Our salvation lies with the sovereign grace of God. So, the celebration of that life-giving death means that the priority in our lives is not our own nor of us, it is the Lord.
Then, in verse twenty-seven, we have the logical conclusion which is drawn from this fact of priority; our lives are not our own, nor we do have the right to live in terms of our priorities. The rich and the poor saw the fellowship in Corinth in terms of themselves, not in terms of Christ. And Hodge noted;
“The way in which the Corinthians ate unworthily was they treated the Lord’s table as though it was their own, making no distinction between the Lord’s supper and an ordinary meal. Coming together to satisfy their hunger, not to feed on the body and blood of Christ and refusing communion with their poor brethren. This, though one, is not the only way in which men may eat and drink unworthily. All that is necessary to observe is that the warning is directly against the perilous and profane, and not against the timid and the doubting.”
There’s still another fact here. In more than one parable such as the parable of the great supper in Ruth 14:15-24 we read of the mandate to bring the people to the great supper. Communion has been historically associated therefore, with the remembrance of missions and of charity. In the early church every man in baptism laid upon himself three responsibilities. First; repentance, a renunciation of all sin and the devil and a changed direction of life. Second; faith in a belief of the doctrines of Christian faith. And third, quoting from an ancient cento; “A holy and constant obedience paid to the laws of this holy religion.”
In communion, certain other things were specified in the literature of the early church. First; faith with growing knowledge including knowing the meaning of the sacraments. Second; growth in repentance and obedience. That’s a very interesting point that the early church stressed, growth in repentance. As a man grew in faith, he grew in the awareness of what his sin had meant. Third; justice and restitution. Fourth; a life of peace and unity. Fifth; charity and mercy to the poor. Sixth; charity in forgiving enemies and in pardoning offenses. As a result, they saw communion as the motive for action. Because, being members of Christ, they now had to demonstrate they were members one of another.
Today, communion is seen as a mystical rite which is an end in itself. And I really feel fearful of communion now, because I think it is too commonly celebrated, and it’s an act of judgment on those who celebrate it. Communion sets forth the fact of God’s sovereign grace unto salvation. Having received grace we have a duty to manifest grace; “…freely ye have received, freely give.” That note is gone from communion, but this has been the function over the years of the deacons’ offering at communion, now is almost meaningless.
Calvin stressed very strongly this aspect of the life of the church. In fact, I believe in a very beautiful little book to be prepared thus going through all of Calvin’s writings collecting what he has to say on this subject. In commenting on Hebrews 6:10 on the labor of love he wrote;
“By saying that they had ministered and were still ministering, he commended their perseverance; which in this particular was very necessary; for there is nothing to which we are more prone than to weariness in welldoing. Hence it is, that though many are found ready enough to help their brethren, yet the virtue of constancy is so rare, that a large portion soon relax as though their warmth had cooled. But what ought constantly to stimulate us is even this one expression used by the apostle, that the love shown to the saints is shown towards the name of the Lord; for he intimates that God holds himself indebted to us for whatever good we do to our neighbors, according to that saying, “What ye have done to one of the least of these, ye have done to me,” and there is also another, “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.””
It’s sad that today, people who profess the Reformed faith have forgotten the great stress that Calvin placed upon ministering to widows and orphans, to the needy, to the sick, and to others, and this was done by the Reformers, without exception. Calvin continued to say with respect to Hebrew 6:11;
“…that there are two parts in Christianity which correspond with the two tables of the Law. Therefore, he who separates the one from the other, has nothing but what is mutilated and mangled.”
He went on to say that our faith requires both faith and love, a responsibility one to another. Calvin emphasized that need very strongly. He called for supporting the poor, encouraging the faint-hearted and bringing people into the communion and peace of Christ. To fail to recognize this fact in our Christian heritage is to falsify history. At one time Christians took care of all social needs, and this was true of Catholics and Protestants.
A little after Calvin in Milan, Italy the bishop there, St. Charles Borromeo, took care of the poor, he took care of little children who were homeless. He had a fund to provide dowries for girls who otherwise could not have married because there was no funds, consider that. He even had a home for wives escaping from wife-abusing husbands. There was not a social need or an educational need or a ministry that he neglected. And what he did, while he did it with greater intensity and passion then most, was routine in the church in his day. Communion and community, for Christian faith, begins with God’s grace to us in Christ and our duty then to manifest grace to others, this is what godly community is about. In the absence of community in the modern world is very well summed up by a character in one of James Joyce’s stories who insists that; “The modern spirit is vivisective.”
This is very true. This dissecting spirit is basic to the modern world and to humanistic education. My university days go back to the early and mid-thirties when education was better than it is now. But the amazing thing to me then that I’ve never forgotten was that the students were routinely asked to critique Milton and Shakespeare and other writers when the students could not even critique the comic strips in good English. But they were to sit in judgment on everything as little gods, and the whole of humanistic education is geared to create sinners who will sit in judgment on God and man. Not understanding, not appreciation, but critiquing, sitting in judgment was and is the essential educational goal. It’s the attitude of the intellectual elite.
It should come at no surprise to us that in February of 1988, very recently, about two hundred parents signed a petition protesting the Ripon, California elementary school, that children eat their school provided lunches, everything, because it was a design to teach nutritional habits, and the children were prone to go for the meat or the potatoes or the bread and leave the vegetables. These were children in grades one to six. But nearly two hundred parents signed a petition in Ripon protesting this, and Ripon is one of the most Christian and conservative communities on the entire West Coast. However, such behavior is common to the home as well as to the school.
How can community be possible when a child’s self-will is so readily indulged? It began with a child refusing carrots, I believe. We have a society that goes to court over everything because all want their way, and will tolerate no restraint. Hence, there is no community. But the Bible speaks not only of the necessity of “being members one of another,” but of forbearance. Paul says for example;
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
Without patience and forbearance, no community is possible. Because the foundation of our standing before God is His grace, it is not ourselves. Grace and forbearance must mark our lives and only then is community possible. The basic premise of fallen man is his will to be his own God, to determine good and evil, to ordain law for himself in terms of his premise; “my will be done!”
On this foundation there can be no community, only conflict. And the ultimate end of humanistic man’s premise of community is hell. In hell there is no communion nor community. The very words in Greek and Hebrew for ‘hell’ are ‘Hinnom,’ and ‘Gehenna,’ the dump-heap of Jerusalem. In a dump heap, nothing is related to anything else. All you have is a vast collection of miscellaneous junk, so that the remnants of a broken typewriter can be next to a broken chair, nothing has any relationship to anything else. This is what hell is about, there is no community, nothing is related to anything else and it is a place of total isolation. It’s sad that the best account of hell in our day was by an existentialist, a humanist, Jean Paul Sartre in his; No Exit. In which everyone sits in hell talking to himself wondering whether the door is open or shut and nobody tries it, they are there in perpetual self-isolation. Heaven is the great community of our Lord. Hell is the absence of all community.
Now, as we continue in our final section, our subject is the moral foundations for true community. I mentioned earlier the book published recently by a former state assemblyman, then a state senator, a man who has been a university professor, and who gives us some of the political wisdom of his legislative associates and friends. This is James R. Mills in A Disorderly House. And his political wisdom is that you vote against tax increases but for appropriation while promising to cut the fat out of government to pay for the appropriation. That’s the way to fool the taxpayer. It means recognizing, he says, in a democracy people always want more than they will pay for and you give it to them. The basic rule with regard to one’s associates is and I’m quoting Mills literally; “Always kick a man when he’s down.” And to remember that; “In politics, appearances are the only reality.” These are the common operating premises of the modern state. But they are hardly the premises of operating community life. And with the state dominating our life today, and practicing these and other operational premises that Mills sets forth, you can understand why our world is going from bad to worse.
And all the while people keep looking to the state as the saving agency. Beginning with the Enlightenment, people began to see man and society on the edge of chaos all the time and reason and the modern state is the only way of salvation. Well, we have seen that the humanistic plan of salvation at work from 1660 approximately ‘till 1988, and God’s patience is beginning to wear out. He gave the Canaanites four hundred years and he’s given almost as much time to modern humanism. But modern humanism is apparently taxing the patience of God even more than the Canaanites did.
The state has seen itself as the source of reason, it has seen its purpose as giving direction to human social life. Law they held very early had to be a product of human reason, and all social institutions had to be rational constructs. And human reason it was held could in time supply all man’s needs, and solve all man’s problems. The sufficiency of reason was an article of faith. In time, grafted onto that was the idea of scientific reason. About the same time that this began New England Puritans were affirming a very contrary faith. Edward Johnson, 1598-1672, held that it is; “As unnatural for a right New England man to live without an able ministry as for a smith to work his iron without a fire.” In other words, they said, you can live without anything but you can’t live without the church of Christ. This is the foundation of community and of life. And all things require the foundation, they held, of the ministry of God’s Word; the state, the family, the school, foundational to all, they said, was the ministry of the Word of God.
But, from the Renaissance on, modern man outside of the Reformation agreed with Francis Bacon, that by systematically studying nature man might in some part ‘recapture Eden,’ that was their phrase. Where, by his fall, he had lost his dominion over creation, so said Bacon.
In time, politics from being a subdivision of religion became a form of new religion, a humanistic faith. Whatever gap existed between lords and their peasants from the Middle Ages, was still bridged by their common membership in the church; they were alike the people of Christ.
Given the precedence in favor of the modern era in our schools, most people have trouble recognizing how great was the decline of the status of the common man from the Middle Ages to the modern era. Because, once he was separated from the faith, he fell to the bottom of society and he fell economically, his motive was gone. A dramatic dehumanization set in to society with the Enlightenment. We must not forget that it was commonplace in the eighteenth century for the poor to line up day after day to abandon their children in foundling homes or to quietly kill them. The gap grew so between man and man that anyone who was a commoner was regarded as subhuman. And noble ladies thought nothing of dressing and undressing in the presence of male servants because they did not consider them as men in a relationship to themselves as women, they were a lower order of being.
Before the division between men was religious not political or racial. To this day, outside the areas of humanism’s influence, racism does not exist. The blacks of more backwards parts of Africa do not subscribe to black racism, their divisions are tribal and cultural, and they do not see the difference in color but in association. When Europe began to think of itself as European rather than Christian it began to divide and it began to have prejudices towards those across a boundary, and Christian community began to disappear.
More’s Utopia set forth the premises of the new humanistic and statist order. More’s Utopia has three premises; first, evil is social in origin, so that to eliminate evil a new social order and a new environment must be created. Second; the new environment will curb and eliminate evil and make men good. Third; the timeless rules of reason can be discovered and will enable men to design the right social order. For More and others, community was no longer a religious fact but a political and rational construct. Christ was being left out of education step by step; out of politics, out of economics, out of any planning for man. Moreover, this kind of approach removes morality from the person, from the individual, in a very radical way because if evil is social in origin, if it is environmental, then Biblical morality is wrong in declaring a man to be accountable for his sin. They are then not sins, but social reflexes. To have a moral person, if you can use that term in humanism, requires the right kind of social control through the state. Robespierre drew the logical conclusion when he said; “A single will is necessary.” The dictatorship of the proletariat. Centralization, concentration of all power increasingly, into one hand, or one agency because, given the right dictatorship of reason evil can be removed from society and men.
Now with this shift of evil from man to his environment, men began to despise all talk of duty and responsibility and to talk instead about rights, of their legitimate claims against other men and the state. Even six or seven year olds are now talking about ‘rights’ under the leadership of our schools. As, for example, the right to refuse the lunch which represents a balanced diet. Rights have replaced moral duties in the modern world and a demand-society has replaced community. Community presupposes morality, it requires the observance of the Ten Commandments and the whole of God’s law which is the premise of true community. Our lord declares;
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
But our Lord is saying is that we have moral responsibilities and moral towards God and, in God, towards all men. The duty of the church is the ministry of the word. Its work includes training up a godly people to preach to all believers. God’s law is to become basic to the inner man in all his royal priesthood. As Wycliffe saw; “Every man is responsible for keeping God’s law.” And by God’s law Wycliffe meant the Bible. The emphasis was on dominion by grace.
Man is the responsible agent. But he cannot be responsible without regeneration, he must be born again. And being regenerate, being faithful to God’s Word, this is morality! And there is no other biblical standard of morality than God’s law. But we have today two major forces undermining this fact. First, the humanists deny that man is morally accountable to God, they reject the doctrine of sin, and they see evil as environmental. So, social planning replaces morality, then second, antinomian churches undermine the moral foundations of the faith. Paul in I Timothy 3:15 speaks of the church as; “…the pillar and ground of the truth.” But how can an antinomian church do other than subvert God’s kingdom? Too often has substituted humanism for God’s law. And one writer, James Turner, in Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America has said that modeling Victorian sentimentalism led to heart religion to replace the old Calvinism, and in Turner’s words; “The will of God became the good of man.”
There is too little morality in many churches today because there is too little law, God’s law. In some churches it is forbidden to read or teach the Ten Commandments, is it any wonder that even evangelical leaders are beginning to admit that with regard to sexual morality alone there is no difference between the young people in the church and outside the church in many of the evangelical churches. We read, however, in Leviticus 19:15,18 God’s rule:
“Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, thou shalt not respect the person of the poor nor honor the person of the mighty but in righteousness thou shalt judge thy neighbor, thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grunge against the children of thy neighbor, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, I am the Lord.”
Now against this remember what James R. Mills, our state senator of a few years ago said, “always kick a man when he’s down,” the first rule of good politics. Well, this seems to be the de facto rule in some churches as well, I won’t go into specifics but I’ve known of a number of sad situations of that sort. And there’s no question which rule makes community possible, our Lord’s, not Mills.
Our choice is more and more a very clear one. Christian moral foundation makes community possible, whereas humanistic statism undercuts morality by making evil an environmental fact, and by seeing this solution to our problems in social planning and engineering.
The goal of the modern state is power not community. In the court of Louis XIV, because of this worship of power, courtiers debauched themselves and their families to gain access to power. And Charles Blitzer, a historian has written;
“Nobles and prelates of the most exulted rank, plotted to introduce their daughters and nieces and even their wives into the royal bed, for to be related to the kings mistress was the source of inestimable prestige. For those who had only sons there were similar favors to be gained from the kings homosexual brother, Philip of Orleans.”
There’s reason to believe that this kind of thinking is known in the modern state, for the world has not changed much since then, it will not change until we as Christians take God’s every word seriously; “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” And if we live by every word that presides out of the mouth of God we take the Bible, not as an inspiring book, because it isn’t always inspiring, especially when it hits us between the eyes with regards to our sin. It’s an inspired book, it is a command book, it is marching orders for the church. It is the word to govern us whether we feel inspired by it or not. We have our marching orders. If we obey those marching orders, and by faith move ahead we are going to see indeed God’s judgment fall on this generation. But we shall be like the children of Israel let out and delivered. Do we want deliverance? If we do, let us hear the every word of God. 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