Kingdoms and Cows

The most recent broadcasts of the White Horse Inn have taken up the subject that warms the heart of any two-kingdom believer: religion and politics. While the gateway drug out of broad evangelicalism to Reformed theology for most seems to be matters of soteriology, mine was the doctrine of the two kingdoms. Granted, I was pleased to find that about two feet into Reformed theology I ran into that which helped solve my own soteriological conundrums (and then ecclesiology and eschatology and worship); it was two kingdoms that made sure the smoldering wick did not snuff out entirely as I stood at the trailheads of Rome. And so, when I found out this was the topic at hand I felt I had every right to bow out of my Sunday night bed-time duties and tune in. I know where they dug up Darryl. But how did they find a Dem strategist and former Republican Attorney General that conversant in the two kingdoms? I need the WHI producers to help me comb beaches for gold, and there are some haystacks of mine that need needling.

The first and second broadcasts were all good stuff to be sure. In the second Horton finally got around to trying to make things more concrete and applicable by addressing that sacred cow in the living room: abortion. How does any of this come to bear on this issue? Is there anything the church has to say? If so, what and how? If anyone thinks this issue isn’t the queen mother-sow that puts two-kingdom theology to the test it might be worth noting that it was almost as if Horton’s other example, torture, was never uttered, so to speak.

The responses were varied and interesting and involved a lot of language about “caution and slippery slopes,” etc. But part of Hart’s response was to point out the crucial matter of jurisdiction. He made reference to his own OPC’s efforts in issuing statements on abortion. The church may and should really only make certain stipulations for those over whom she is ordained. The upshot here is that if a member of the church either has or performs such a procedure the idea would be that she or he could be subject to discipline, which got me thinking in another direction not necessarily intended by the discussion but one I have wondered about before.

The point of jurisdiction is absolutely crucial to any two-kingdom theology and is thus well taken. But while there is place for the matter of jurisdiction, I still have my own set of hesitations as to the wisdom of such official statements as those against abortion. Is what is going on in these formulations really about jurisdiction or a clever way to join in the fray of cultural influence?

Bear with me. I have a prescription to medication for eczema. Part of the instructions includes exhortations not to put the stuff into my eyes. Now, I can only presume that such an odd instruction has found its way to the printed litany of warnings only because enough people out there have mistakenly put this stuff into their eyes for whatever reasons. There are no warnings to not stuff into my ears, though it is entirely possible I might since I also have hay fever which causes itching in my ears and throat, which may lead dimmer bulbs to try and relieve their irritation with it. I reveal this sort of unsavory information only to make a point. It would seem to me that any organization, sacred or secular, puts forth specific rules about conduct only insofar as it perceives that conduct to really be more probable than possible. Otherwise, there is no end to exhortations. Are there really enough members of the OPC who are contemplating either performing or having an abortion to warrant the resources it takes to issue such statements? Given what I know generally about persons of both religious conviction and access to means and resources, I bet I would be hard-pressed to find a lot of members of the OPC honestly wrestling with these behaviors.

Generally speaking, much of the anti-abortion culture relies on a good dose of caricature as to what precipitates abortion. For lack of a better term, I call it the “sorority syndrome,” because it seems to lean on the idea that most abortions are the result of a sort of morning-after whim employed to cover one’s tracks; the people having abortions are not so much those without resources and means who find themselves in a complex situation as it is the hung over sorority girl who needs to fix her mistake tooth sweet. This is convenient reasoning in order to stigmatize the counter arguments. After all, if it can be established that what precipitates most abortions is something that offends the decency of most people regardless of their particular politics instead of a more difficult and involved set of circumstances the battle is much easier. To be fair, those with femme-politics tend to do this same thing, characterizing those with fetus-politics as liable in the “oppression of women,” something that equally offends the decency of most people. But casting the debate as between those who want to kill babies/those who want to save babies or those who want to liberate women/those who want to oppress women really only serves as moralist tactics to easily locate the good guys and bad guys.

For better or worse, I would tend to believe that most situations in which termination is contemplated are the result of sexual misconduct, like fornication and adultery. And so another aspect to this issue I rarely find conservative religionists considering is that the Bible actually has a lot more to say about sexual ethics than it does about particular legislation concerning reproductive non/rights, Psalm 139 notwithstanding. Moreover, I realize the politico-sensationalism which attends this issue is much more exciting to entertain for everyone. But in the real world most inhabit a person who finds herself in the sort of situation that includes this possibility most likely isn’t proudly roaring about her individual rights but has come to the predictable end of a series of bad decisions and not a little dysfunction. And so, if the argument has something to do with discipline, which itself has a lot more to do with restoration, statements like these project about zero spiritual care and convey more a tone of moral vitriol and punishment. A concern for our own might actually result more in a silence in the midst of brouhaha than in joining the cacophony of pundits. Or do we seriously imagine that one of our own who indeed messed up would actually seek the comfort and balm of a church that carries on more like a pundit than a pastor?

Also, intermingling with more proper religious concerns, the statements against abortion co-exist with statements about women in combat and homosexuals in the military. Again, is there a plethora of homosexuals in the OPC who are demanding they be allowed to serve in the armed forces which needs to be beat back? Something tells me that there probably even less homosexuals railing for military rights in the OPC than there are religious women of means who have committed either fornication or adultery scattering left and right to obtain abortions. And if the reasoning for the abortion statement is to convey that discipline will result for those who participate, are we seriously to understand that any OPC females who fly fighter jets over Iraq will face the same sanction?

Well, at the risk of having to find a corner in the Outhouse, and while it would be nice to believe, it seems pretty plain to me that what is really going on with these sorts of statements is something more than exercising the implications of a proper jurisdiction. If we were really so concerned about the possibility that someone might do something morally questionable yet legal one has to wonder where all the statements against lending bad mortgages are. While they may be forthcoming, I suspect we won’t finally see any.

To be blunt, ecclesiastical statements against abortion seem more a way to circumvent the spirituality of the church than wisely govern one’s own. In every doctrine there is both a letter and spirit. Pastors may very well not be reading prescribed sermons from Operation Rescue or the Family Research Council, thereby innocent of not violating the letter of the law. But since the wisdom of such statements seems quite wanting, I can only conclude that these are creative ways to engage in the so-called culture wars without actually doing it. Lest it appears I am picking on the OPC I have long suspected that my own CRC is held fairly captive by the siren song of cultural progressivism. And what I have learned as I inhabit the CRC and watch encyclicals issued forth by the OPC is that across the board even Reformed and Presbyterian enclaves would rather be found standing up for one conception or another of justice than holding out the gospel, all the while murmuring something about salt and light. Like sin itself, it seems the desire to be culturally influential is an equal opportunity affliction.

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22 Responses to Kingdoms and Cows

  1. RubeRad says:

    First off, love the picture.

    Second, you’ve got a good point about homosexuals in the military. I bet there are zero OPC members who are both openly gay, and wishing they could enlist.

    But I think you underestimate the scope of abortion. I was never privy to such details, but you can ask Albino Hayford how many church parents he knows from his youth pastor days (or even perhaps his current senior pastor days) that have secured hush-hush abortions for their teenage daughters. It may be an effective rallying cry from the evangelical pulpit, but when it comes to Daddy’s little girl, it’s an entirely different matter.

    I won’t even speculate whether the OPC or PCA has superior sanctification than my old digs; there can be no question that there must also be plenty of OPC abortions as well.

    But I think the real question is about the intent of the OPC abortion report; is it primarily intended as a charge to the members of the OPC should they ever find themselves wanting an abortion? Or is intended as a white paper to the world, explaining why we need anti-abortion laws? Do you know? I’ve never read any of it.

  2. mboss says:

    Zrim –

    “I have long suspected that my own CRC is held fairly captive by the siren song of cultural progressivism.”

    Just curious, would the CRC’s drive, for example, to Embrace AIDS in Africa or the Sea-to-Sea bike ride to eliminate poverty fall into this category?

    Mike

  3. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    That it is more or less pervasive really has no bearing on my general point; even if it is as pervasive as you suggest I still maintain that nailing theses is no wise way to deal with it. And pointing to an evangelical like Hayford, whose tradition has no conception of the third mark of the church, doesn’t really help either.

    Yes, I have read it. But that seems a bit beside the point. I am taking issue with the very conception of it. Agree or not, my strong sense is that things like this are, as you suggest, ways to send cues to the world which side of the culture war one is on. I find it disingenuous to suggest this is an honest and wise way to take care of one’s own. After all, I wouldn’t post a notice on our front door (or send letters to the principle) if I thought our daughters’ peers were running amok in bad behaviors (which likely was based on rumors and gossip) in order to prove just what I thought about these things. It seems to me, if we are serious about seeing the church as a family, better parents go about things differently.

    Mike,

    I’m so glad the bike thing is over.

    I’d say so, yes. To my mind, this is where the genius of two-kingdoms helps. It is one thing for individual members to privately take up whatever “cause” suits them, quite another for the church to either forget or compromise her gospel-calling and do so. Publicly commissioning bicyclists to eliminate poverty and publishing anti-abortion papers are equally appalling to me, to be frank.

    By the way, “eliminate” language is a red-flag indicator that modernity has a foothold. One can hear that same sort of language in the anti-abortion culture as well. Everybody wants to “get rid” of everything that makes them ill-at-ease. But if Jesus said we’d always have the poor with us then sometimes babies die.

  4. Rick says:

    Zrim, Good work as always.

    Let me ask a question, if I may (for discussion purposes): How does a Christian come to know that abortion is wrong? Sermons? The Law? The testimony of the Spirit? Seeking pastoral advice? Family?

    And slightly off-topic, “you will always have the poor” (Mt26:11) – how does a recon-postie grapple with that statement? It seems Jesus should have qualified it with an “…until you rebuild paradise” or something.

  5. Zrim says:

    Rick,

    Re your question, I might start with the point I made in the post, which was that the Bible has a lot more to say about sexual ethics than medical procedures. Do we have some sort of stake in making sure people “know abortion is wrong” or that covenant-keeping has more to do with the usual behaviors that precipitate such things? My sense is that, given our age, a sermon on abortion is less a way to exhort than it is a way to politic. Call that oversensitive, but given that so many of us want “Christian” to be instantly synonymous with fetus-politics I am only responding to that.

    But if your question is more “How does someone know right from wrong,” isn’t that why we have consciences?

    Re the poor comment, I try to stay away from saying what Jesus should have said. But I see him making an otherworldly point. It could be that those who wanted to keep the perfume for the poor really didn’t even have the poor in mind but their own piety (look at me and my bike eradicating poverty!).

  6. Rick says:

    Z, I agree,

    That didn’t quite go the way I intended – but you made my point, really. I was stabbing at this: Does the Church really need to tell people point blank (from the pulpit, denomination statement or otherwise) that pregnancy termination wrong?

    I need to hear a perspective that says, “folks don’t know that they shouldn’t do it, they need to be told…” Perhaps some think that an early abortion does not take a life or whatever.

    In Rube’s example, it seems that these people know the wrongness of it, yet act selfishly nonetheless.

    and, “I try to stay away from saying what Jesus should have said”

    no kidding. But don’t you see what I was pointing out there? The implied “until”

  7. Zrim says:

    Rick,

    The POV you are looking for to pipe up seems to rely on a less-than-Pauline understanding of natural law for questionable purposes. Even Juno made a U-turn out of the clinic, and I don’t recall her receiving a sermon or denominational statement beforehand.

    Yes, I got it, I was just being cheeky. I guess that didn’t go the way I intended either.

  8. Rick says:

    Zrim, right.

    Requiring denominational statements, abortions sermons, and thinking that everyone at Church needs to read a pamphlet or sponsor a life-walker comes from a less-than-Pauline understanding of natural law. Such a person might assume that we don’t know fetus’ have fingernails.

  9. heldveld says:

    Zrim/Rick,

    “How does someone know right from wrong,” isn’t that why we have consciences?

    Doesn’t HC 3 teach us that it is the law of God that shows us our misery or sinfulness?

    The HC also explains the 10 commandments with ‘What is God’s will for us in the..’ ?’s so the authors perhaps thought “folks don’t know that they shouldn’t do it, they need to be told…”

    “I’m so glad the bike thing is over.”

    But if it was a ‘success’ next year they will be walking, swimming or sitting on roof tops. Does that mean you didn’t attend the Shane Claiborne rally?

    Rick,

    For the reconstructionist ? I would say that living by Biblical principles does not ensure that one will not be poor. We obviously see many godly families that are poor. My thoughts (recon friendly) would only expect that they be properly cared for by the church in a Christian Society. I’m not post mil so I don’t expect paradise though.

  10. Zrim says:

    Held,

    Shane who? I guess I didn’t. Something tells me a didn’t miss much.

    Re HC 3, knowing right from wrong is a different matter from knowing that only God have we offended to his face. I know plenty of really good people who hate Christ, though they might not put it that way.

    But do I also detect in your answer something against the God-created thing called a conscience? If a conscience isn’t good enough to guide a person then his eyes must also be inadequate to get him through his day. Should everyone close his eyes until he is converted?

  11. Chris Donato says:

    Great. Now I have images of you not only be-bopping to disco next to a red-and-white Ford Torino, but now I envision your elbows to be overrun by reddish bumps and scabs. Thanks a lot.

  12. Chris Donato says:

    Oh, and I completely agree here. Yet the problem is that such, er, “social” issues have become politicized, don’t you think?

    Aren’t there default (other-worldly) positions for the church in this world? Might we agree on this principle but disagree on what those positions are? And is that valid? For the sake of argument, such positions would be based (at least) on Jesus’ own teachings, no?

  13. heldveld says:

    “Shane who? I guess I didn’t. Something tells me a didn’t miss much.”

    Claiborne spoke at the Sea to Sea rally in GR.
    http://www.crcna.org/news.cfm?newsid=409

    “Re HC 3, knowing right from wrong is a different matter from knowing that only God have we offended to his face. I know plenty of really good people who hate Christ, though they might not put it that way.”

    Different but related. If we don’t know right from wrong how can we know we offended God?

    “But do I also detect in your answer something against the God-created thing called a conscience? If a conscience isn’t good enough to guide a person then his eyes must also be inadequate to get him through his day. Should everyone close his eyes until he is converted?”

    I don’t have anything against the conscience. I’m just not going to rely on it to be my only guide in right/wrong decisions. A lot of people’s consciences might tell them not to eat meat, or not to drink, that they have to ‘go green’ or they can steal from work because they don’t get paid enough.

    As Christians I just see us as having more tools; the Bible, the Holy Spirit and teachers/pastors to help us make more informed right/wrong decisions.

  14. mboss says:

    Forgive me if its already been discussed here or elsewhere, but what about a local church’s mercy ministries? Under the two-kingdoms approach, it seems fully within the jurisdiction of the deaconate to help a member who’s unemployed, needs food, etc. But is it blurring the jurisdictional lines if the local church, which is placed for example in an urban setting, opens up clinics/support groups for people in the congregation and the community who suffer from substance abuse, AIDS, pregnancy crisis issues, or sexual identity and mixes in the gospel with such treatment? Under the two-kingdoms approach, is it correct to say that if you’re in the visible church, you’re subject to the church’s help and/or discipline and if you’re not, the church as an institution doesn’t have a similar obligation?

  15. Zrim says:

    Chris said, “Oh, and I completely agree here. Yet the problem is that such, er, ‘social’ issues have become politicized, don’t you think?”

    Chris, yes, that is what I call the phenomenon of a moralized politics and a politiczed religion in America. I get tempted to ex-patriotism almost daily. But I have concluded that ex-patriotism is to simply perpetuate the activist spirit to akin to the problem. That plus it’s not a good time to be selling a house.

    Held said, “Different but related. If we don’t know right from wrong how can we know we offended God?”

    The conviction of the Holy Spirit. You know, calling, regeneration, conversion, etc.?

    “I don’t have anything against the conscience. I’m just not going to rely on it to be my only guide in right/wrong decisions. A lot of people’s consciences might tell them not to eat meat, or not to drink, that they have to ‘go green’ or they can steal from work because they don’t get paid enough.”

    I never said only guide, I just said guide. I can’t tell exactly what you’re doing with your examples—since I don’t see what is wrong with being so persuaded about food, drink and colors, the stealing one I get though—but I suspect it is to make the case that a conscience can go wrong, thus is not to be trusted. But so does my mind go wrong, my eyes, my feet, my mouth, etc. So what? I still trust them to do their intended jobs. If I didn’t I’d sit in a box all day waiting for God to make them all function just right. But, while I may not do them very well, I have things to do.

    “As Christians I just see us as having more tools; the Bible, the Holy Spirit and teachers/pastors to help us make more informed right/wrong decisions.”

    That always sounds good and pious, but I perceive those tools to function as ways to hold out the gospel to me, not help me figure out my life. Those are two very different projects that ought not be confused.

    Mike, re mercy ministries, etc., good question. I think there is an essential difference between what might be called charity toward the wider world and what begins to move toward transformation or even social gospel. That line can get really fuzzy really quick, especially in American religion. Charity, it seems to me, has a whole different perspective, one that understands when Jesus says the poor we will always have with us. Transformationalism/social gospel is repulsed by such an idea, finds it defeatist and pessimist. It seems to me that those who see their function as more charity than social gospel don’t tend to open up clinics and resource centers. The project of charity seems like it would much more low-key and humble.

  16. RubeRad says:

    Forgive me if its already been discussed here or elsewhere, but what about a local church’s mercy ministries?

    Yes, that is the topic of one of the oldest Outhouse posts ever: here.

  17. R'na says:

    coming out of John Mac Arthur’s church and going to a reformed church where the pastor would not point blank bind my conscience drove me nuts. considering the context i was coming out of where Johnny Mac told a group of us college students that we shouldn’t be listening to secular music, blah, blah blah i was co-dependent on the church for more than was called for.
    it took me a while to finally get what my pastor was doing and appreciate it, but the theonomist elder we had sure complicated issues. it was one step forward and two back at times.
    when i moved and went to other churches i realized how good i had it and how entrenched in american culture and moralism other churches/ pastors/ sermons are.

  18. heldveld says:

    Zrim,

    “I never said only guide, I just said guide.”

    What are the other things that guide us?

    That was my point that the conscience doesn’t always work properly. It can bind us in places where it shouldn’t, which unfortunately as R’na points out can spill into the church. As well it can make us trivialize our offenses against God.

    Now obviously we use our God given traits in daily life. Yet if I wake up one day and my vision is blurry I go to the Dr to get help. When a person is converted they realize they need help. First we are driven to the cross and graciously forgiven for all seeing that we cannot fix the problem on our own. Then we realize also that our conscience needs help.

    “Those are two very different projects that ought not be confused.”

    They certainly are and as depraved humans a proper balance is hard to find.

  19. Zrim says:

    R’na,

    Yeah, theonomist elders are tricky that way.

    Held,

    I think it is too introspective to suggest our consciences bind us. I prefer a more extrinsic approach. It is sinners who bind our consciences improperly, the Holy Spirit who binds it properly.

    Most days my vision isn’t blurry and I don’t have to go to the doc. I do, however, have a standing appointment every Sunday for a check-in. That may not be good enough for you, but it’s what God actually prescribes.

  20. Chris Donato says:

    So, I’m left wondering if those on one end of the 2-kingdoms spectrum (yes, I think there’s a spectrum in play here, especially since I consider myself under its umbrella) have intentionally stripped down the “default (biblical and non-political — in the modern sense) praxis” of Christ communities to mere platitudes so that it becomes distasteful to say anything at all about said praxis in the public sphere (say, for example, speaking up about certain injustices affecting the marginalized)?

    Oh, my. Was that just one sentence?

    If we agree in principle that the church has a particular praxis that defines it, what’s to stop us from “speaking up” (or living out) about said praxis out in the open? Not talking policy wonking here, just standing up for what’s right — in God’s eyes. Even YHWH’s covenantal prosecutors had something to say against Egypt, et al.

  21. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    It may the result of having traveled several hours with a surly girls club (my wife and daughters) on a Friday evening, but I can’t say I am quite clear on what you are saying. But let me try…

    Are you asking, from my 2K POV, if there is such a thing as having a conscience? Short answer is yes. But there is a distinction that has to be made between institutional and individual conscience. It just isn’t clear to me what exactly the church (institution) has to “speak up about” or “stand up for” besides the gospel.

    I hear things like “standing up for what’s right in God’s eyes” and my first question is, What does that look like? And if perfectly unbelieving pagans can do it, what stake do we have in it? Lots of pagans want to save babies, protect women, hide Jews and make sure folks have civil rights. Only one group in the world seems to think it has something to do with water, bread and wine. And I’m never quite sold on the idea that “policy wonking” is somehow different from “standing up for what’s right in God’s eyes.” The former is how some try to do the latter.

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