But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world (I Cor. 11:28-32).
Christians today are humble people. They have much to be humble about, as Winston Churchill supposedly said of Clement Atlee. (He did not actually say this.) Christians pride themselves on their humility. Matthew 5:5 rings in their ears: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” They do not perceive that meek in this case refers to meek before God. (They also do not perceive that inherit the earth means inherit the earth in history.) Meekness before God produces a confident, activist faith: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4). Instead, Christians perceive “meek” as meaning “meek before men and institutions.”
If this perspective were true, why did the Psalmist say, “I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed” (Ps. 119:46)? Why did Solomon the king say, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men” (Prov. 22:29).
A Denial of Covenant Theology
Why have Christians achieved so little culturally in the last two centuries? Why, with the unique exception of Wyclifte Bible translators, have Christians not built institutions whose accomplishments dwarf those oi their rivals? I think it has something to do with their progressive abandonment of covenant theology, with its five points: the absolute sovereignty of God, the doctrine of hierarchical representation, the doctrine of biblical law, the doctrine of God’s sanctions in history, and the doctrine of inheritance. The church does not preach it, and so it shivers in the shadows of humanist society.
The doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty is proclaimed today only by a tiny handful of Calvinists. Similarly, the doctrine of the continuing authority of biblical law has been denied by almost every Christian group, including the Calvinists. “No creed but Christ, no law but love” is the antinomians’ battle cry of cultural surrender. The doctrine of long-term inheritance–postmillennialism–is having a revival today, but for well over a century, Christians have affirmed pessimillenniallsm: that until Jesus comes again bodily to reign on earth, the church will experience a series of inevitable defeats.
Why such pessimism? Because in a world in which autonomous man rather than God is believed to have the final say regarding personal salvation (“decisions for Christ”), law (“natural”), and inheritance (“pie in the sky, by and by”), what else should we expect? So, what can we do to persuade ourselves and others that such a view of history is wrong? I suggest that we examine the twin doctrines of authority and sanctions as they apply to the church of Jesus Christ.
Sacraments and Authority
God blesses His church. This is a positive sanction. It is His church, the Bride of Christ, that He will elevate above all other institutions in eternity. What is generally denied today by Christians is that God also elevates His church progressively in history. In this sense, they stand arm in arm with modern humanists, who also take a highly skeptical view of the authority of the church and God’s blessing it in history.
Christians acknowledge that the church alone will survive as an institution in eternity. Both the family and historical civil governments will disappear in eternity. Non-Christians have no biblical doctrine of eternity, so they deny this unique status to the church. This is why both familism (patriarchal clans) and statism have been the chief rivals of the church in history.Others believe that Jesus will have to come back and dry up all the world’s bogs by the blast of his fiery breath. No more bogs! So, both these groups lend to recommend standing pat. Worse: if the ground were not so wet, they would recommend sitting down. At best, they insist, we can expect to be found standing faithfully in the bog, eyes forward, confident that Jesus is personally against bogs and plans to get us out of this one, one way or another.
Judging from the history of the church for the last three centuries, Jesus is content with bogs. The bogs of life are good testing grounds. The church is bogged down, and God expects it to gel out of its soggy predicament by the light of its torches and its faithfulness to the compass.
If the church marches forward long enough, it will get out of the bog. God’s assignment to us is therefore threefold: 1) don’t stop marching forward; 2) don’t ignore the compass; and 3) don’t drop your torch. How long? For as long as it lakes. Longer, surely, than copyright protection for Dave Hunt’s Whatever Happened to Heaven?
There Is No Standing Still
The Christian who finds his feet cold, his ankles wet, and his legs tired can gain only limited solace from the fact that previous generations experienced much the same thing. If anything, they experienced the sensation of getting ever-more deeply mired in the bog. What had seemed like solid ground — natural law, widespread Christian moral attitudes, a legal structure governed by at least the basics of biblical law (capital punishment for murderers, for example), Bible reading in the public schools, literacy in the public schools, and abortionists only in “back alleys”–turned increasingly into bog.
(For the rest of my aryicle, click the link.)