The problems facing American Neo-Covenanting

There is much good in the Covenanter tradition, and this post will pain many (myself most of all).  But if they want an intellectual (Or even better, political) future then they need to own up to some challenges.  I honor and admire Richard Cameron and Alexander Peden (hey, they received extra-scriptural prophecy.  Anybody want to take up that one?).  I do not think, however, that the entire Covenanting tradition was able to hold the strings together.  And that’s not just my take on it. I think Moore argues the same thing (Our Covenant Heritage). These challenges are not simply my making up because people started slandering Christ’s elders in his church on Facebook (like Stonewall Jackson).  They point to deeper issues.

While the problems in the Covenanter tradition can easily point back to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (cf Maurice Grant’s biographies of both Cameron and Cargill; excellent reads), I was alerted to some of the tensions by T. Harris.  Again, I am writing this so Covenanters can work out the difficulties now instead of having to make hard and fast choices on the field of battle later.   You can be angry with me, but I am your best friend.

1.  The Hatred of the South

This is myopic and almost unhealthy.   Modern covenanting talks about how evil the South is and never once tries to work through the sticky issues of how best to help freed slaves.   Or slaves who didn’t want to be freed.  As evil as slavery might have been, simply throwing the blacks out on the street only it makes it worse.   The slave-owners (and many slaves) knew this.

And it really comes back to the question:  is the relation between master and slave sinful?  This is a very specific question.  This is why Freshman atheists have a field day with us.  But I know the response:  buying stolen property, especially human property, is sinful.  Perhaps it is, but didn’t Paul know this when he outlined healthy parameters for both masters and slaves?  How do you think the ancient Romans got slaves in the first place?  Democratic vote?  They were often prisoners of war, babies of raped women, and worse.  And does Paul say, in good John Brown fashion, “Rise up slaves and kill your masters” (though to be fair John Brown actually killed white Northerners)?

Northern Covenanters love to boast on how they “deny communion to man-stealers.”    Harris notes in response,

Athenagoras, defending the church against the pagan charge of cannibalism said, “moreover, we have slaves: some of us more, some fewer. We cannot hide anything from them; yet not one of them has made up such tall stories against us.” (Early Church Fathers, ed. C.C. Richardson, p. 338). But Alexander McLeod says to the slaveholder, “you cannot be in the church,” (p. 25) and this posture was eventually ratified by the entire covenanter church. On this point, their righteousness exceeded even that of our Lord and the apostles. And that is heady stuff.

Am I saying we should have slaves today?  Of course not.  But we need to seriously think through these issues instead of giving non-answers like “Christianity provided for civilization to move forward without slavery.”  To which I say, “early Medieval Russia.”

2.  The strange love-affair with Lincoln

This is odd, too.  Lincoln really didn’t care for Christianity and he routinely made darkie jokes.   He was the biggest white supremacist of the 19th century.  He ran on the platform, in essence, that he would not free a single slave.  My Covenanter friends–you are being deceived.

Someone could respond, “You’re just angry that the South lost.”  Perhaps, perhaps not.  That brings up another point

3.  Consistently outmaneuvered politically and militarily

Why is it that the Covenanters who have such a heroic (and rightly earned) reputation for godly resistance during the Killing  Times have routinely been outmaneuvered in the public square?  I’ll give three examples: Bothwell Bridge, Cromwell, and The War Between the States.

Bothwell

The Covenanters had already proved themselves at Drumclog.  Further, Bothwell Bridge forced the Royalists into a chokepoint.   While the ultimate cause for the covenanters defeat was lack of artillery and ammo, the outcome was in the air for a while.   The problem was whether to allow Indulged parties to participate.  Granted, the Indulged sinned and were under God’s judgment.  Cameron and others were right to resist elsewhere, but Bothwell was not an ecclesiastical act.  It was a military one.   Indulged ammunition wasn’t sinful per se.

Cromwell

Covenanters call Cromwell the Usurper.   It is somewhat ironic given that these Covenanters had fought a war of defiance (rightly so) against the very same king.  I have to ask, though, precisely what did you expect when rallying behind the (well-known) debauched papal pervert Charles II?  Granted, he vowed the covenants.  Granted, he should have owned up to them.   Still, anyone could have seen how this was going to end.

How else was Cromwell to interpret this?   He knew the Covenanters were militarily capable, so he is seeing an armed host rallying behind the dynasty against which both had recently fought a war.  But even then, the Covenanters could have held him off and forced a peace.   Their actions at Dunbar as as unbelievable as they are inexplicable.  They had the advantage of both place and time.  Ignoring that, they decided to meet Cromwell on equal footing.  In response, Cromwell executed one of the most perfect maneuvers in military history (that was still studied and practiced in the 20th century by America, England, and Germany) and in effect subdued Scotland.

To make it worse, Grant notes that Cromwell’s subjugation of Scotland allowed the kirk to flourish spiritually.  Ye shall know them by their fruits.

Lincoln (again)

I must quote Harris in detail for full affect.

“Most of its members were enthusiastically for the war and anxious to participate in it as far as they could without violating their principle of dissent from the government.” (p. 58) This despite the fact that Lincoln himself constantly said the war was not about slavery. We now know Lincoln was a pathological liar; the covenanters must have known this in their bones as well, and gave vent to their approval of the “real reason,” concealed by Lincoln. At any rate, it is hard to imagine them getting so excited about a war that was about enforced union. In view of their history, that would be ironic indeed.

However, they exhibited a certain naiveté in two ways which may go part way to explain the madness. At one point, they concocted an oath to propose to the US as a basis for enlisting in the army, an oath that would be consistent with continued resistance to full submission. “I do swear by the living God, that I will be faithful to the United States, and will aid and defend them against the armies of the Confederate States, yielding all due obedience to military orders.” (p. 58) The charming bit here is the notion of defending against the armies of the CSA — armies which were purely defensive, and which would have been glad to disperse and go home, if it weren’t for the invading and marauding union armies. Somehow, they had built up a mythic view of an aggressive South, gobbling up adjacent lands by force of arms.

Covenanting on the Ground

This is open for discussion.  How exactly is National Covenanting going to work today?  Surely it means more than strong-arming congress in rejecting the First Amendment.

Note Bene:  Harris’s quotations are from David M. Carson. Transplanted to America: A Popular History of the American Covenanters to 1871. (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, n/d).

Letham’s Westminster Assembly

With this volume Letham has established himself as the leading English-speaking Reformed theologian.

HOLY SCRIPTURE

Letham gives the basic Reformed understanding of Scripture.

Continuationism

It’s there, albeit in a mild form.  Letham notes that William Bridge, George Gillespie, and John Knox received (or claimed they did; or others claimed they did) prophetic revelation.  Letham is quick to point out this is only “providential” illumination of Scripture (127).  Letham is correct that the Assembly felt no need to deal with this issue (nor would they have affirmed it), but other studies clearly demonstrate that the Scottish Reformation (both in its First and Second phases) saw manifestation of prophetic gifts beyond that of simply “illuminating” Scripture.  When Cargill and Cameron prophcied the deaths of certain (specific) wicked men, they weren’t merely “applying” the general sense of Scripture.  If “prophecy” means illumination, then every pastor is a prophet!  In which case prophecy is still valid today, but nobody reasons that way.

Part of the Reformed world’s problem here is the presupposition that every prophetic utterance necessarily carries the full binding of God with it.   In another place Wayne Grudem shows that is simply not the case.

God the Holy Trinity

Without passions…

Letham is aware that a hard division on God’s not having passions must take into account the fact that the Incarnation brought into true union with humanity.  Jesus experiences human thoughts, human emotions, etc (162).  Letham is certainly on the correct path, but the problem is much deeper (and this isn’t a slam against Reformed Christology;  all Christological traditions hailing from the Chalcedonian definition must face this problem:  does our definition of what it means to be a person today include self-reflection?  If it does, then we are on the road to Nestorianism. If it doesn’t, is it really coherent to speak of person anymore?)

Letham gives a competent discussion on Creation, though one that will annoy many.  He admits, contra many Klineans, that the divines likely held to six solar days, yet he points out that the more pertinent goal was to reject Augustine’s view of instantaneous creation.  Further, what we must also admit, no matter where we land on this discussion, is that the divines did presuppose a geocentric cosmology which saw theology in spatial terms.  Indeed, one wonders if George Walker even knew that the world is spherical (Letham 191 n.50).

Christ and covenant

“Condescension”

  • Makes the Klinean meritorious reading strained.
  • CoW, while perhaps the correct reading, is not necessary to maintain Reformed theology.  It was developed over time and if Kline’s reading is correct, then huge swathes of Reformed theology would have proved defective before Westminster (233).

Covenant of Redemption?

Letham highlights a number of problems.  While he doesn’t note the problem of person, if person does not include mind (which is usually subsumed under nature), then does it make sense to speak of three individuals who all share the same mind making an agreement?  I’m not saying it is a wrong idea, and the CoR certainly preserves a few key values, but it does have problems.

Assurance

Great section on assurance and he places these (sometimes) painful discussions in their pastoral context, which context is often lost on critics of Reformed assurance.  For the record, I agree with Goodwin pace Owen on the Spirit’s sealing.

Law, Liberty, Church and Eschatology

Great section on Law and Liberty–and he avoids getting involved in the painful theonomy disputes.  Letham shows how the RPW should be read and interpreted in light of the Laudian imprisonment and persecution of Reformed believers.  On another note, he points out how the Presbyterians really failed on clinching and continuing the “liberty of conscience” victory it justly won.   I will elaborate:

Did the Solemn League and Covenant bind the consciences of those who didn’t vow it?  Said another way, was Cromwell later on obligated to establish Presbyterian government?  If he was, how does this square with what (Covenanter) Samuel Rutherford said, “It is in our power to vow, but not in the church’s power to command us to vow” (quoted in Letham 299)?  Maybe the two points don’t contradict each other, but the tension is certainly strained.

And it appears the Presbyterians couldn’t maintain this tension.  They chose to deal with the tyrant Charles I and supported (to their fatal regret later) the pervert Charles II.  Cromwell’s victory at Dunbar is fully justified.

Conclusion:

This isn’t a commentary on the Confession.  It is a theological exploration of the historical circumstances behind it.  Letham’s scholarship is judicious, measured, and quite frankly awe-inspiring.

Some other five points

The biggest defenders of TULIP today are not Reformed Presbyterians, but young, Reformed and Restless baptists.  The difference is that the former see TULIP, such as it is, within the larger setting of Reformed Worship and the Covenant.  The latter see it as a freer floating system of doctrine.

Today’s Five Points are the Five Points of Perth, an attempted imposition of prelatic worship upon the people of Scotland.  For the most part, they are not immediately logically connected with soteriology.  I highlight them, though, because the Reformation–especially in its Scottish and Reformed manifestations–was a Reformation of worship.  If you do not grant that point you will never understand Reformation Thought.

If we want to reduce theology to serieses of Five Points, why limit it to soteriology?   Why not go the Covenantal Route?  Or the worship route.  Below are the Five Points of Perth that the Reformers rejected.

  1. Kneeling at Communion
  2. Private Communion
  3. Immediacy of Baptism to Infants
  4. Confirmation by Bishops
  5. Recognition of Holy Days

The Reformers rejected (1) because it implied a worship of the host. I agree, but I will take the rejection a step further: it is the Lord’s Supper.  We feast and sit at a supper.  We eat and commune with one another.   Kneeling makes this all but impossible.

In line with the above, we reject (2) because it is a communion of the church with one another.  How can we commune with one another when we are by ourselves?

(3) is different.  Provided health reasons aren’t an obstacle, there isn’t a problem with immediacy of baptism,  The Reformers objected because the article implies extreme baptismal regeneration.  The only way to keep the infant from hell was to get him baptized immediately in case he died.

(4) This can get interesting.  If one is using bishop in the original sense of adminstrator, then this isn’t much different from a Presbyterial ordination.  If on the other hand the bishop is the dispenser of sacramental grace and mediates a higher reality to us lower realities, then it is wrong.  That is neo-Platonism.

(5) I don’t have much to add on this beyond what is normally said.  What is interesting, though, is how this plays out.  I saw a generic evangelical minister argue that “If the church has a mid-week Christmas/Eostre service, then the believer is obligated to attend.”  He meant well, but this is nothing more than binding the conscience beyond what the word of God allows.

Orthodox Eschatology and the Problem of Putin

In a fascinating article by Vladimir Moss, we have a capable discussion of the Orthodox political theorist Alexander Dugin, particularly his relation to Vladimir Putin. Moss’s article is important because it is written by a conservative Orthodox scholar who hates globalism, modernist Orthodoxy, yet has suspicions about Putin’s conservative Christianity. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his twice-humiliating Obama (e.g., Syria and Ukraine) have forced conservatives to reevaluate their Russophobia and the future of international conservative thought.

I want to build upon Moss’s analysis, with which I mostly agree. My goal is to show tensions in Russian history that Moss doesn’t note and ponder the implications for Orthodox engagement today.

Who is Dugin?

Back in my Russophilic days I was watching Dugin’s career really take off.  Dugin had abandoned the National Bolshevism Party (!!) and started his own Party.  Eventually, he saw that Russia’s future was with Putin and cast his lot there.  My Orthodox friends were emailing me pdfs of Dugin’s books long before they were in print.  I was leaving any form of Orthodoxy at that point so I really wasn’t interested.

Leaving aside Dugin’s own political views, Moss highlights his “eschatological ecclesiology.”  Moss rightly notes that Dugin’s views cannot be understood apart from his Old Ritualist beliefs.  The Old Ritualists separated from the Moscow Patriarch NIKON in the 1660s because they saw Nikon modifying the liturgy (and they were correct–this has huge and embarrassing implications for semper ubique and an always united church).

Old Ritualists see the world as corrupt and expect a future, purifying catastrophe (a common theme among many Christian sects), even sacrificing themselves in the fire.  I hope you make the connection between their own suicidal deaths by fire and Dugin’s call for nuclear war.  It is not accidental.

Dugin’s own analysis of Revelation is bizarre (yet no more arbitrary and subjective than Reformed amillennialism) and while entertaining, largely beyond the scope of this essay. However, it does break down Christian history into three phases: Pre-Constantinian, Constantinian (and later Muscovite) and post-1660 Muscovite.  The middle period is the Millennial Reign and the Third Period is the Age of Antichrist.  This means, as Moss notes, that little good can be seen in the post-1660 Orthodox Church (which argument by the Old Ritualists is one reason I never joined).

Dugin’s analysis is strained when he comes to the Soviet era.  He can’t simply defend it because of its atheism, but he does give it moderate praise.  He sees God’s exercising a strange power through the Soviet world, but that doesn’t bother Dugin since he’s already identified America as the Antichrist (which is odd, given his dating of 1666 as the beginning of Antichrist).

Contra Moss, Dugin is correct to note that the “spiritual conformism” of the Nikonite patriarchs is no less revolutionary than the Sovietism of the Church. With exception of Fr. Raphael Johnson, very few American Orthodox have owned up to this problem.  Dugin sees the future Philadelphian Church as a combination of the Old Ritualists, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the ROCA church.  This is problematic, to say the least, since all of these churches have condemned each other for “schisming from the true faith” (this is a huge psychological problem for convertskii).

Dugin’s eschatology allows him to see Putin in a new, monarchical role, especially in opposing America.  There are many aspects of American liberalism that should be rightly opposed, but one gets nervous in reading the nuclear overtones of Dugin’s proposal! The rest of the article is an analysis of Orthodox and Dispensationalist eschatologies, which do not concern us here.

Orthodoxy Today

So what do converts to Orthodoxy say about Dugin’s analysis?  Few likely have heard of them and that’s expected.  However, everyone in America has to face up to Putin’s Russia, whether good or bad.  Some convertskii have pointed out many goods of Putin’s Russia: it refuses to tolerate sodomy and speaks out for oppressed Christians in the Middle East, much to the anger of the Beltway Alliance.

I suspect American Orthodox will break down in several lines on this question. The hard-core convertskii will understandably praise Putin(and by extension Dugin).  They will see Russia as the last bulwark against the New World Order.  The more moderate convertskii, those perhaps enamored with Schmemann, Thomas Nelson Publishing, and Ancient Faith Radio, might find Dugin’s analysis embarrassing.  Yet he can’t simply be dismissed:  if you accept Putin as a normative figure you have to account for Dugin’s influence on him.

Is Putin King Arthur Redivivus?

I used to think he was.  I like him better than Obama, to be sure, but I do not think the future belongs to Russia, no matter if it is secular, Orthodox, or Communist.  Putin divorced his wife and has taken up with a young and attractive gymnast.  Hardly the actions of the leader of conservative Christendom. While Russia’s own situation has improved since the 1990s, it’s future is far from certain.  The abortion, suicide, divorce, and prostitution rates in Russia are abysmal.  Civilizations have been destroyed for far less (Boer Afrika had its problems, but they didn’t have the decadence of today’s Russia, either, yet they were destroyed by the Marxist torturer Nelson Mandela.  Maybe South Africa did sin.  She was formally covenanted to God).

I thought about doing a sociological analysis on Russia’s birth-rate and related variables. I used to have the info for that, but those days are long gone.  I will give a snapshot analysis:

  • While Russia’s energy reserves are formidable, she needs markets. While she has Western Europe by the balls, energetically speaking, her economy is fragile and severe enough sanctions could tip the scale.
  • Even though her birth rate has improved, much of it is from Central Asian Muslims, not white Orthodox Christians.
  • Most importantly–religiously–she does not appear to have the “want-to” to survive.  Though Bulgakov and Dostoevsky could speak in eschatological veins, Orthodox theology is more inward, mystical, and onto-focused; overcoming estrangement. I realize I am speaking in generalities, but history’s bears it out.  Where is the “Protestant” work-ethic–so famous and so maligned–among the Slavic lands?  It was the Protestant understanding of the Covenant and the law of God that allowed them dominion in Europe and the New World.
  • Finally,and I realize few will share my analysis, God doesn’t reward the worship of images.  Civilizations that are built on language and communications are healthier than those built on fetishism.

A Contrast

Even the best of civilizations fall.  If the criteria of success is longetivity, then few will last.  However, we can analyze the nature of their lasting and the religious impulses within it.

Covenanteroes

While I reject as naive those narratives that say the Covenanters produced modern republicanism, the impulses which drove the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians did create a New World.  Jock Purves writes,

The United States of America, too, is a great result of the further development of the Reformation in the orderings of the most High.  It might have been settled by the Spanish or Portugese, and therefore, now been as South America, Romish, backward and dark. But in genius and constitution, in its strong depths and grand heights, it is a Protestant land.  This is because of a people, such a people, in moral and spiritual stature incomparable, the finest expositors of Scripture ever known, the English Puritans (42).

Whatever else you say about Protestantism, ask why all of the economic and political developments for the common good in the modern world happened in historically Protestant lands? Whenever there is a crop shortage in Russia, why does it always turn into a catastrophe?  Even under the decimating reigns of the Clintons and Obamas, America hasn’t had that.

I can only wonder what would have happened if King James I hadn’t murdered Sir Walter Raleigh at the behest of the Spanish Ambassador. Raleigh was talking of settling Latin America.

Only religion can bring life to a land.  I hope and pray that Orthodoxy in Russia stops women becoming Prostitutes and aborting their babies.  But it will take more than 10% of the population.

 

On the Soul of the South

This is a hard post for me to write.  Somebody will be offended.  Since there is no avoiding that, the only fair thing to do is to piss everyone off.    And a warning note: some of the language I use will be coarse, but when I am using it I will be quoting Yankee generals, who as a general rule despised black people (contrast that with Stonewall Jackson).

This article has several goals:  I will use the thought and “soul” of High Southern culture to show the inadequacies of the Confederate position, the sinful hypocrisy of the North–which continues to this day, and to show the utter bankruptcy of modern Conservative thought (I like the moniker “High” as contrasted with “Old,” “New,” or worse, “Paleo.”  I will explain why below).

As to the actual legitimization of the Confederacy I have no wish to enter that debate.  I can give a passing answer: in terms of the Solemn League and Covenant, neither the Federals nor the Confederacy were ultimately legitimate.  See? I can make both sides angry. I will make a few passing remarks on the Confederacy, though.  I really don’t think Jefferson Davis was a competent leader.  No doubt he was morally superior to Lincoln, but Lincoln was a true genius; Davis was not.  Davis made a better martyr than he did a leader.  (Trick question:  If the Confederacy was necessarily treasonous, how come the US Government refused to try Davis for treason?)

A few words about slavery.  That the Bible does not categorically condemn slavery is another instance where the sons of this world are wiser than the sons of the kingdom.  Not only does the Bible legitimize forms of slavery, it is quite specific and provides details on how slavery (or indentured servitude) can better society.   I remember at RTS Jackson we got to Philemon in Pauline Theology.   Everyone was quick to point out that the Bible made it possible to get rid of slavery:

Me: Really, what verse?
RTS:  (Silence)

Don’t get me wrong:  I think a theology of dominion can place the discussion of slavery in a better light.  Following Rushdoony (Politics of Guilt and Pity) I believe that regenerate man is dominion man; he is a priest-king ruling over the new creation.  It’s usually better if he were free.  Of course, modern Reformed people are scared of dominion, so they really can’t combat the secularist on this point.  Chalk another one up to the sons of this world.

One thing I do not intend to give is a naive, pollyannish defense of “The Old South.”  I do think it was strong in areas we are weak.  Further, I think it’s existence (at least mentally today) sheds painful light on modern conservatives.  It is schizophrenic for modern American conservatives to condemn Obama’s big government yet praise Lincoln.  What was Lincoln but the consolidation of Federalism?  And while I love the Covenanters–and I consider myself in the Covenanter tradition on the Establishment Principle–and while I understand their desire to end slavery, I do not think they were wise to support Lincoln.  They are absolutely correct to condemn the anti-Christian nature of the American state.  How on earth do they support Lincoln, who further empowered this anti-Christian State beyond Richard Cameron’s wildest nightmare?

Conclusion

So where do we go from here?  As the current government spirals out of control the issue of secession will be inevitable.  I only pray we can have wise thinking beforehand.

regenerate and renewed south can sing with Dr F. N. Lee,

Now the Triune God must never be forgotten!
Again He’ll march through the land of cotton
and from here, Dixieland — we’ll yet win, America! 

For the Brave New World that now is so perverted,
in God’s good time is going to get converted
and the Earth, will get full — of the fear, of the Lord! 

Our God will yet revive us
and our King will bring
both Dixieland and Yankeeland
and all the world to serve Him!
Don’t shirk, let’s work,
and live the Gospel Story!
Begin, we’ll win,
and give God all the glory!

 

The Covenanters Embarrass Modern Reformed

I do have some critical questions, not necessarily of the original Covenanters, but of those who take up the mantle today, but it is interesting to watch modern, respectable Reformed interact with claims by the Covenanters.   Normally, someone would post the Covenanters’ political theory, and a bourgeoisie Reformed would cry over Protestant Inquisitions or something.  There is a thread on Puritanboard on whether the fact that Rome’s miracle-claims negate the Reformed continuationist.  To put it in perspective, I am not really a continuationist.  I think the arguments for cessationism are horribly bad and fallacious, but beyond that I really don’t care.

Still, I posed the question, “What about the miracles of the Scottish Covenanters?”   The responses were hilarious.  Some them outright denied them.   That’s one option, I suppose, but those kind of moves began to build up massive levels of cognitive dissonance.  Others took a better route, “Yeah, well that might be true, but what about Rome?”  To which I replied, “Who cares?  Paul says Antichrist will work signs and wonders.”

See the problem with openly distancing and disagreeing with the Covenanters, at least for Anglo-American Presbyterians, is that you run the risk of theological bastardization.