Posts tagged with: Christian Church

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
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bookIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “Piety and Politics: The Church’s Social Responsibility,” I take up the Kuyperian distinction between the church conceived as organism and as institute and point out some ways in which such ideas can help us navigate the dangerous waters of social and political engagement.

When the Letter to Diognetus describes the diffuse influence of Christians in the world, it uses the living imagery of the soul:

What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world.

Hunter Baker has more recently argued that “the church is the soul of the system.” If this is not to be understood in a clericalist sense, then it must refer to the organic church as the soul of the polis, so to speak.

Abraham Kuyper presents the organism/institute distinction in his sermon, “Rooted & Grounded,” which appears in the forthcoming anthology On the Church, part of the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Kuyper’s ecclesiology can well be understood as the crux of his public theology, and the organism/institute distinction is at the core of his conception of the church in its relation to God and the world.

In “Rooted & Grounded” Kuyper observes that both realities the distinction points to must be kept together. We have to do justice both to the dynamic, living, organic aspects of the body of Christ as well as the structural, formal, and institutional expressions of this community.

Thus, says Kuyper,

“Rooted and grounded” unites organism and institution, and where Scripture itself refuses to allow any separation, it weaves them together. By means of the person who sows and plants, the metaphor of vital growth overflows into that of the institution; by means of the living stone, the metaphor of the building flows over into that of the organism. The church of the Lord is one loaf, dough that rises according to its nature but nevertheless is kneaded with human hands and baked like bread. The church is called a multitude of priests, legitimated through birth but consecrated only through anointing. A bride brought forth by the Father but accepted by choice. A people, finally, who indeed sprouted from the living trunk but nevertheless are organized with wisdom and guided with self-motivation.

Just as body and soul are united in the human person, the church as organism and institute are united in the people of God and, ultimately, in union with Jesus Christ.

As Americans face an increasing wave of pressure on religious liberty here at home, Christians around the world are enduring unprecedented levels of persecution.

According to We Stand With Them, a new group focused on “standing with those who stand with Jesus,” 100 million Christians were targeted for their faith in 2015, including a 136% increase over the previous year in believers who were killed for their faith. Last year was “the worst year for Christian persecution on record,” according to the group.

In a powerful new video, they aptly illustrate the situation:

As the narrator explains: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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icon_41487So the “Young Adult Leadership Taskforce” (YALT) of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and Reformed Church in America (RCA) put out a list of their top 40 under 40 (20 from each denomination), and they put me on it. I am still under 40 by a few years, but that cutoff is approaching quickly. I figure that once you turn 40 you aren’t eligible for lists like this anymore. You start to be “over 40” and part of the “irrelevant” nation.

Angst about kids these days isn’t anything new, of course, and goes to show that teenagers don’t have a monopoly on such anxiety. As Marvin Berkowitz, professor of character education at University of Missouri at St. Louis, puts it, “There are quotes going back at least three or 4,000 years in which adults lament that today’s youth are the worst, morally, ever.”
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Forgotten FaithToday at Ethika Politika, I review Fr. Philip LeMasters’ recent book The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights from Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity.

With regards to the book’s last chapter, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” I write,

… LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:

Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.

He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life.  He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.

This is a point, I believe, worth dwelling on. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, November 7, 2013
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ChristendomOur ideal as Christians is a social world that encompasses everyday life but is oriented toward God and the good, beautiful, and true in all its aspects, says James Kalb. “In our time,” says Kalb, “the phrases ‘culture of life’ and ‘civilization of love’ have been used to refer to basic aspects of such a world, but Christendom seems the best name for it overall.”

Has this ideal of Christendom gone away?

Christendom may be gone as a matter of public law, and perhaps in the consciousness of most believers, but it’s still here as a substantive reality. Obedience and loyalty form a hierarchy for Christians, with God at the top, the Church and secular connections farther down, and natural law helping to sort and order the pieces and hold together the ones that can be used. If something in our present life finds a place in that hierarchy, it’s part of Christendom.

Read more . . .

Babel-2000In a recent review of Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, Paul Louis Metzger wonders, “What leads people to associate with those who are similar, while distancing themselves from diverse others? What causes us to categorize other groups in distorted ways?”

I remember reading H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism early in my seminary career, and Niebuhr’s analysis made a very strong impression on my admittedly impressionable sensibilities. It was clear to me then, and still is now, that much of what constitutes disunity in the Christian church is imported from the broader culture and has nothing to do with a people in which there is “neither Greek nor Jew.” These concerns for principled ecumenical unity are in large part what animated my later book Ecumenical Babel.

And yet in denouncing the tribalism that is an endemic temptation for all forms of fallen human community, we must be careful not to embrace a simplistic, milquetoast version of Christianity that papers over our real differences, and our uniqueness as individual persons created in the image of God, each one of us with our own perspectives, callings, hopes, fears, and trials.

We need to embrace an understanding of diversity without falling into disunity, a diversity within unity that mirrors in our own creaturely way the call to unity expressed in Jesus’ high priestly prayer.
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Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by St Ambrose To Enter Milan Cathedral (Anthony van Dyck, 1620)

In the latest issue of Renewing Minds, a journal of Christian thought published by Union University, I examine two different visions of religious liberty. They are roughly analogous to the two versions of the “empty shrines” of secularism described by Michael Novak and George Weigel, respectively, as well as to the visions of the American and the French Revolution. One has to do with the freedom of the church from state control, and the other has to do with freeing the public square from religion.

My piece, “Principle and Prudence: Two Shrines, Two Revolutions, and Two Traditions of Religious Liberty,” is one of the freely accessible preview articles available at the journal’s website. Check out the rest of the contents for this theme issue on religious liberty, and consider subscribing for the rest of the fine content.

After examining some of the premodern history of religious liberty, I pivot with a query about the relevance of Neuhaus’ law:

Given the developments since the sixteenth century, we might wonder if there is a secular corollary to that axiom from Richard John Neuhaus, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Neuhaus wrote this in 1997, and was talking specifically about orthodox doctrine within the context of the church. As he concluded, however, “Almost five hundred years after the sixteenth-century divisions, the realization grows that there is no via media. The realization grows that orthodoxy and catholicity can be underwritten only by Orthodoxy and Catholicism.”

As a devotee of neither Orthodoxy nor Catholicism but who is deeply concerned with orthodoxy and catholicity, I am inclined to wonder if Neuhaus’ Law, as it has come to be called, applies only to Protestantism. In fact, given the secularization that both Kuyper and Gregory point to in their own ways, it seems worthwhile to consider whether Neuhaus’ Law might be applicable outside the church, to the liberal political order as such. If so, the recognition that there is no via media might well apply to the purported neutrality of the secular state.

I conclude that these two visions of religious liberty are, in the end, irreconcilable: “We are faced then, with two competing and ultimately antithetical visions of religion and society. One is the way that leads to life and the other the way that leads to death.”

Read the whole thing at Renewing Minds.