Churchmen possessed by political certainty: lessons from history (I)

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:

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I felt that punch all the way down. Humility is a grace of God and I still need heavy doses regularly.

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Oh, but they do in the way they handle the words Moses left behind for those upon whom the end of the ages has come.

And why not? God’s own prophet expressly doubted how He was arranging the affairs of Israel (cf. Habbakkuk)!

In this venue, however, I assay to throw aside my cotton wool cloak, to strap on my rusty skates, and to venture out on to very thin ice so as to ask this question:

Premise: Most of the Reformed I’ve met espouse some version of Post-Millinnarian eschatology. Even if that area of their theology is tentatively murky, even if it be Amillennarian, their civil agenda leans toward some tincture of the theocratic prior to our Lord’s Second Advent.

Query: For the leadership among the modern Reformed commonwealth, is there not a nigh-irresistible impulse to influence all civil authority (even in minor and local occasions) in order to propel the body politic toward whatever end they deem it to cohere with Biblical standards and patterns?

I apologize for the density of this question. The question is an honest one.

My dear brother, Fr. Bill, so tickled pink to see you here! Get well each day. We need you!

To your question, it’s been my observation that, like Falwell before them, although they hype their leadership by citing Scripture and demanding law conform to this or that aspect of God’s law (their demands, though, are never very consistent, nor do they ever dare to propose any systemic solutions), their actual goal is to gain disciples for themselves. Scripture’s authority in law and polity is cited in ways that scratch Christian rebels’ ears, and not in a way that has even a pretense of projecting a way forward for the politas. Take the anti-vaccine, anti-mask movements as a for-instance. Take the abolitionists as another one. Love,

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Fr. Bill,

How dare you accuse a Reformed doctrine or tendency of being irresistible!?

On a serious note, my understanding is that amillennialism has been the majority report among Reformed churches. The boundaries between a- and post- can be very porous, so perhaps my attempt at a qualification is no qualification at all.

If you want to say there is something about Reformed theology that leads one to earnestly desire the whole social order to conform to Scripture, and this something is more present in the Reformed or Puritan camp than in other movements, I believe you are right. I have never thought this to be a demerit against us.

Measured on a scale, I would say the churches of Evangel Presbytery are more activist with regard to civil life than the typical evangelical church in this country, and my particular church in the presbytery is likely the most activist church in the presbytery. Andrew Dionne has done yeoman’s work on a human life bill in South Carolina, so it may be his church surpasses us or equals us or something like that.

Again, I don’t think it is wrong for Reformed people and Puritans to read the Bible and seek to apply it to civil life. From what I know of the history, I am not a Cromwell supporter, but I do believe the Parliamentarians who opposed King Charles did so bravely and to a good effect. It is a blessing of Providence that royal absolutism did not take hold in England as it did elsewhere in Europe. The chain of events begun there led, in fits and starts, to the founding of the United States, which I regard as another blessing of Providence, even if one may say the Revolution was fought on specious or unbiblical grounds.

The Puritan influence in the United States is both positive and negative. I don’t have all day to offer what I believe those positives and negatives to be, but I will say, mimicing Chesterton, that we should not tear the Puritan fence down before understanding why it was there in the first place. And second, that while the Puritans failed, it is better to do something badly than not at all. Yes, I know Chesterton was anti Puritan but his quips are free for public domain use.

Christians tend to go back and forth about how the Church should influence political life. There are lots of different views. I would say infant baptism has certain implications for one’s view of the social order, and whether the order itself may be baptized. Christians who take a more quietist or above it all view rarely hold that view consistently when it is something they really care about. Christians who would call themselves more activist may be apathetic about this or that.

If we love Jesus with a true and living faith this will lead us to seek to obedient to Him in all of life, including civil life. However, this need not require us to believe in us ushering in a postmillenarian City on a Hill golden age. If Fr. Bill is saying the postmil utopianism is more common among Reformed people, I concede the point. What I am saying is that there is a more modest reformist impulse that is at least latent among all Christians. Jerry Falwell was an Arminian Baptist, for example.

Where a culture war rages, I don’t think Christians, especially those who hold to infant baptism, can just sit it out. How we fight matters. Why we fight matters. A quietist or Kellerite above it all third way approach are both unsatisfactory.

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Oh my, dear brother. But of course, you were still a child when we were doing our work. Love,