On why CREC always lose to Anchoretism

I posted a comment at Orthodox Bridge on the Future of Protestantism comparing it to the Nevin-Hodge debate and they blocked it, saying it wasn’t relevant.  To anyone who’s read more than twenty minutes of American religious history in the late 19th century, it  is painfully relevant.

Further, he brought up Nevin in the original post, and I continued the thought on Nevin, and then I’m told irrelevant comments will be blocked. Wisdom is justified by her children.  I think they are beginning to see just how silly a hard realist-essentialism is, on which both Nevin and Orthodoxy depend, and knowing I was about to back the truck up and unload Hodge’s critique of Nevin, they took their ball and went home.  Or took my ball, rather.

I still have a number of issues which they won’t touch, probably because these issues can’t be addressed with copy/past quotations by Ignatius and Pelikan. They are ontological questions which require internal analysis, which is one of the reasons why I am not welcome there.

That, however, is not the point of this post.  I think the Future of Protestantism debate effectually demonstrated why the more “stout” FV/CREC guys will always lose the debates with Anchorites.  Once you admit that these traditions are in some degree normative today (by using languages and analogies calling them “mother”), and your only line of attack is, “Respect us, too! We’re hip. You need us,” you will always be fighting on a line of retreat.

Even Doug Wilson recognizes this and makes some fairly good points.  I Wish he would see the FV for what it is today and call it as such.

As the greatest genius of the War Between the States said, “Get ‘em skeered and keep the skeer on ‘em!”


Thoughts on Realdialektik, epistemology, and church identity

It would seem that most of Barth’s more brilliant insights are actually what he considers tangential to his program.   Barth’s epistemology is one of realdialektik, the indirect identity of God with the creaturely means of his self-revelation. (It is important to realize that Barth is not immediately talking about “the bahble.”  He is talking about the flesh of Christ, to which the Bible witnesses.  Denying this proposition, coupled with an exalting of one’s churchly status with God’s revelation, leads to antichrist.  If God becomes identical with the means of his self-revelation, and one then places the self-revelation within the “Church’s keeping,” then it is hard to see how the church has not already become god.  To borrow Mike Horton’s phrase, “In this case it’s hard to see how the church isn’t simply talking to itself” (and if you listen to some convertskii rhetoric, presumably about how wonderful it is–see Bradley Nassif’s excellent warning).

Review of Horton, Covenant Ecclesiology Part Two

Horton recapitulates the argument of his book in chapter 6. Chapter 1 argued the where of Christ’s presence (Ascension), chapters 2-5 argued the how of Christ’s presence (Covenantal Speech-Act), and chapter 6 argues the what of identity on earth. In what sense is the church one and many?

Horton makes several key distinctions between “unity” and “unicity.” Unity is a healthy respecting of differences best seen in a covenantal community. This can only be by the Spirit. Noting Leslie Newbigin’s poignant remark, when we make the church an “extension of the Incarnation,” we confuse sarx (Christ’s flesh) with soma (his body as the church). In such a move any union is at the level of fused essences flowing downward in a hierarchy (as is necessary in all Platonic and Dionysian visions; 187). Rather, our union with Christ is through the Spirit in anticipation of the age to come.

This has important practical applications. When faced with high-church claims to “unity over Protestant divisions,” one may rightly ask if unity is even possible on a Roman or Orthodox position? Does not their own version of unity reduce all to sameness, in a sense losing unity altogether for unicity? If they hold to a Dionysian ontology in which differences are overcome through an ascent on the divine ladder (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 34), do they not lose the many to the one? Indeed, to borrow a line from the postmoderns, does not differance become violence?

Throughout this discussion Horton engages in some very important analyses of John Zizioulas and Miroslav Volf, thus adding a particular relevance to his work

Horton correctly condemns the political maneuvering of Urban II (259ff), but fundamentally misses the point and result of the first crusade. While many knights did see themselves as waging war against the infidel, the first crusade is better seen as a sustained defensive measure against Islam (remember, the Muslims invaded first). Further, he then invokes–ironically, in almost a religious manner–liberal democracies litany of “bad guy countries:” South Africa, “colonialism,” and Serbia.

Normally, I would let it slide but since I probably know more about Serbia than 90% of Americans, I feel compelled to expand the point. Serbs before 1999 simply did not see themselves as King David. Milosevic remained an atheist until shortly before his murder in The Hague. He only claimed the mantle of Tsar Lazar on Kosovo Poltje in the final days of the war–and that for political, not religious reasons. As Orthodox theologian Vladimir Moss points out, Serbia was the most secular post-Communist country in the 1990s (with also the highest abortion rate). As C.I.A. analyst John Schindler (Unholy Terror) remarks, “The sad irony is that Serbia was already close to Hilary Clinton’s vision of a secular state in the new world order.” To make the irony worse, Serbia only became interested in its religious heritage as a response to Hillary’s War. I only belabor the point because it seems to contrast with Horton’s earlier (and admirable) resisting the collapse of cult and cultus. Is not his endorsing–however seriously he meant the statement–the litany of liberal democracy a similar collapsing? (To be fair, he later critiqued the nigh-ubiquitous equation of the Kingdom with liberal democracy, p. 287 n.100) I share his suspicion to Christian Reconstructionism, for example, and I am equally skeptical of Van Tillians’ chanting “No neutrality,” but this may be the one area they actually have a point.

Concerning the Temple (or “Temple-speak” as I shall call it), Horton is correct to note that the person and work of Christ replaced the Temple economy with its sacrifices (268ff). Further, he is correct that we should not as Christians seek a rebuilt Temple. While Horton’s final conclusions may indeed be correct, the inference does not follow that because Revelation “spiritualizes” (whatever that word means) a Temple that all prophetic references to “Temple-speak” are necessarily about Jesus. What then is the point of a temple, one may ask? The answer to that question hinges on several eschatological presuppositions, but those aside, one may posit that a newly-built temple, while having no relevance for Christian worship (indeed, it would be blasphemy) is necessary to Anti-Christ’s false covenant with the Jews.

Oddly enough, Horton quotes Jurgen Moltmann with approval (Moltmann elsewhere has given one of the most penetrating critiques of ideological amillennialism). At this point, almost without warning (270-271), Horton shifts from his “spiritual temple” to why Christian activism in politics is wrong.

While his section on “Holy War” has much promise, I am skeptical of Horton’s invoking Meredith Kline’s “intrusion ethics” (272). Whatever merits intrusion ethics may have, and while it does mitigate some of the harsher passages in the OT for today’s application, I doubt it would have been of much comfort to the Canaanites! (Admittedly, Horton realizes “intrusion” is a terrible ethical term, as it implies relativistic ethics. His use of “irruption,” while perhaps not allaying all of the difficulties in his position, is much better and doesn’t have the situation-ethics overtones). While “irruption ethics” sounds good in broad, general outlines, it is by no means clear that it automatically follows “mean texts” (which itself is a subjective judgment). Horton, in responding to Kant, says that “imprecatory psalms” are delayed because God delayed his judgment (277). Maybe so, but he is reading that into the passage.

Intrusion ethics becomes particularly troubling in this quote, “Other examples of intrusion ethics appear in the ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac and Hosea’s marriage” (ibid). Admittedly, these are ethical nightmares (the former more so than the latter) for any systematic theologian, but Horton’s position at this point seems to reduce to a voluntaristic Divine-command ethic, which is odd given his commitment to natural law.

While perhaps not a criticism of Horton, in another place we see how tenuous the sharp divide between cult and cultus is. While we should be wary of “killin ‘em terrorists for Jesus” (GOP?), Horton himself shows, even if does not realize it, how difficult it is to dichotomize one’s life: “As throughout the history recounted above, the cosmic battle is waged through earthly agents; personal and institutional; religious and social; cultic and cultural; rhetorical and political. Yet the church knows the real enemy behind behind these penultimate agents” (283). He is correct that this battle is taking place in history. And he is correct that we cannot take an AK-47 against the “real agents,” but the unspoken conclusion hangs heavy in the room, a conclusion I suspect he would disavow: may we not, acting as good citizens in the Kingdom of God’s Left Hand (actually a good name for a political party!), take the AK-47 against the penultimate agents? On a 2 Kingdoms ethic it’s hard to see why not (all other things . Even more, as Horton states this battle is in history, we are historical beings (per his correct critique of Karl Barth), we cannot divorce our lives from this history. As Aragorn tells King Theoden, “Open war is upon you, whether you wish it or not.” This has always been the fatal flaw in neo-Two Kingdoms ethics: as long as the state says its not acting as the church, it’s hard to see how any one program the state is wrong. Natural law ethics helps but only to an extent.

Outward Unity Visible in the Marks of Suffering

This is a healthy meditation when looking at the (sometimes splintered) unity of the church.   If someone says to me, “Well, what about your million denominations?”  The best response is, “And?”

For us, the unity of the Christian Church has never been manifest except in her marks, in the same way that the divinity of Christ, during His humiliation, was not manifest except in His marks. The cross marked Jesus, as could nothing else, as the Christ, the King of the Jews.

Perhaps an insistence–perhaps an ahistorical one at that–on outward unity at all costs is itself reflective of a theology of glory, not a theology of the cross.

The antinomy of the CREC

The CREC allows both paedobaptists and credobaptists (and paedocommunionists).   How can their be true church unity on any level beyond that of the local congregation?   The Presbytery (which word is kind of cheating, since it reads non-Baptist presuppositions into the debate) apparently simultaneously affirms the following propositions (presumably said between any group of elders), “We disagree on the essence of church membership but we agree to have union on the church level.”   I suppose, to be fair, it is not a strict, logical contradiction, nor is this the biggest issue with the CREC.  Still, it does present a tension which eventually snaps normal minds.

God-sanctioned outlawry?

The following post is not claiming divine authorization for any church moves.  Nor is it saying that such practice is normative for all times.  It does, however, clearly rebut the claim that it is always evil sin to “break away” from God’s chosen communion.  The meditation is taken from 1 Kings 12ff.  We can note several things:

  1. God “schisms” his “church” (he raises up Jeroboam in response to Israel’s stupidity).  Much is made of the fact that God’s people is akin to a seamless garment.   The Old Testament is actually quite familiar with that metaphor.  God routinely “rips” that garment.
  2. A division in government is not necessarily a division in covenant people.  Rehoboam is sternly forbidden against “forcing” them back into the covenant fold (1 Kings 12:24).

Works Cited

Leithart, Peter.  1&2 Kings.  Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006, p. 90ff.


Theological Ellipsis, part two

An Ignatian Problem

St Ignatius of Antioch said, “If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Ep. Phil. Chapter 3).   This would become a problem in the 20th century.  The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad rightly resisted the “Sergist Compromise.”  They broke off from the established Orthodox Church (I might be mistaken, but I am fairly sure that ROCOR and ROCA were not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate).   Now, one could argue that the Bolsheviks were Satan’s Incarnate Presence on Earth (funded by London Bankers and Wall Street, let’s not forget) and one had to separate.  Well, I agree.   At that point, though, the rhetoric is essentially the same as the Protestant who separates from a corrupt Papal church.

Here is the problem, though.  As ROCOR’s actions look a lot like schism, so do St Ignatius’ words apply or not?  Few would argue that St John Maximovitch is not going to inherit the Kingdom of God. This same problem was complicated when the Soviet Union fell.  Does the MP have grace or not?  The same people who rightly resisted the MP 40 years ago and still remain in the catacombs say no.   Others say yes.  How can the outside observer make a clear and informed decision when eternity is on the line?

Continuing that above thought:  the Old Rite in 17th century Russia resisted +NIKON because he tampered with the liturgy, and also for other substantial reasons.   They later resisted devil-worshiper Peter the Great.    In a very real sense these guys carried on the faith and tradition, yet on a surface level reading of Ignatius, they are schismatics and destined for hell.

Outside the Church…or just on the Front Porch?

Outside of a few passages from Augustine, the most famous line in church history must be St Cyprian’s “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”   The Orthodox scholar John McGuckin (2010:  263ff) says that other Church Fathers like St Basil held to a wider interpretation than what Cyprian allows.   Basil’s Letter to Amphilocus suggests that those who aren’t “in the church” aren’t necessarily deprived of the grace and the Spirit’s working in their lives.   Basil’s recommendation for receiving them into the Church suggests that he doesn’t simply view them as “going to hae-yul” until they “join.”   Yes, they need to repent, but not all non-Orthodox are on the same “pre-convert” level.

Does that mean I am in error until I join the Orthodox Church?  Possibly, but it also means I am not in the same category as the Arian, Nestorian, or Moonie.   It also means I can work faithfully where I am, leading my family into a deeper knowledge of Christ, reject Nestorian Christologies, etc.

The Current Scene—and Chaos

If I am outside of canon law and am, at best, an “irregular Christian,” it also appears that the Orthodox Church in North America is also highly irregular, if not uncanonical.  Wasn’t Ignatius’ vision “One city, one bishop, or at least one metropolitan”?  To be fair, I don’t know how the Church could have avoided that situation, what with America being a nation of immigrants and all.

That, and quite frankly it would be impossible to bring my family into the local parish.  The liturgy is almost entirely in Greek; there are seven people there, there is no sermon (contrast with the example of Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzus) and when I pulled into the parking lot I saw cars with pro-choice politicians’ bumper stickers.  Okay, so that last line doesn’t imply squat about Orthodoxy, but it does say a lot about what kind of local church I would be entering.