Monday, August 5, 2013

Time To Get Over This World and Life View Stuff

Bye, Bye Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper

What is below is another "oldie goldie" or recyled Blog post from the Blog's early days. It is recycled for the same reasons others have een recycled: (1) The Blog has gained readers who may not be aware of earlier posts. (2) The subject is timely. This particular post at about 1500 hits is the second most read of all the posts, but a distant second to the first on the Battle Hymn which has about 1000 more hits. 

What is below is a slightly revised version of an article that appeared originally in The Nicotine Theological Journal ( It has some connection to an earlier blog on mercy ministries, but its scope is broader. Here I challenge the whole concept of “world and life view” as it is held and practiced by many Reformed Christians. Of course, I, in common with everyone, have a world and life view. Part of my world and life view has to do with the mission of the church and the Christian’s relation to this present world.

Christ is Lord of all. No doubt about it. The ascended Christ is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. And, though all things have not yet been fully subdued under His Messianic rule, they will be, for He must reign until all things are placed under His feet, until even the last enemy, death, is destroyed, as which point He will turn over the kingdom to the Father, and submit Himself as Messianic King, so that God may be all in all. That is a glorious vision of the present and the future. But what does it mean for the here and now life in this world?

More than 40 years ago I thought I had begun to understand. I began to grasp “A Christian World and Life View.” I learned that Christ is Lord over all the “spheres”, that there is a distinction between the kingdom and the church, the kingdom being larger than the church while the church is the central institution in the kingdom. This, of course, was a very moderate form of Kuyperianism. It might be called Kuyperianism mediated through Southern Presbyterianism with its historic emphasis on the spirituality of the church.

One could, or so it seemed, hold to a distinctive mission for the church while not abandoning a “square inch” of the world to secularism. Christ could be Lord over all of life, and there could be a distinctive Christian view of education, biology, astronomy, business, economics, politics, art, history, labor relations, and all the rest, but His church could be the church. Ministers could focus on the ministry of Word and sacrament, while encouraging Christians, individually, or corporately by means of voluntary organizations, to take the whole world captive for Christ.

However, from time to time doubts came and had to be suppressed. Could one still sing, “I love thy kingdom, Lord, the house of thine abode, the church our blest Redeemer saved with his own precious blood”? Or, should a Presbyterian officer, who held this kingdom and church distinction, express a scruple in his subscription to the Confession of Faith? “The visible church…is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” Hymn and Confession seemed to identify the church and the kingdom. If they were the same, then either our concept of the church was way too small (it would have to be in principle as big as the universe) or our concept of the kingdom too big.

There were inevitable questions about how far one could push the idea that there is a distinctive Christian view of everything. In The Spirit of the Reformed Tradition Eugene Oosterhaven gives an example of Kuyperianism gone too far in the existence in the Netherlands of a Christian goat breeders’ society. But why not?  Couldn’t there something distinctively Christian about a goat breeding society and perhaps about goat breeding itself (perhaps  something learned from Jacob’s goat husbandry)? Why could not an educator produce a series of articles entitled An Educational Commentary on the Bible (no doubt suggested by scary Gary North’s book An Economic Commentary on the Bible) and find significance for teachers’ dress in Joseph’s coat?

Then there were strange things that happened in Christian schools.  In a quest for a distinctly Christian curriculum, some schools, claiming a Reformed theological foundation, adopted the Abeka or Bob Jones curricula, produced by fundamentalists who are enemies of Calvinism. As one who had experienced the original Abeka education and is still in recovery, I might reasonably think, “If that’s all there is to the principles, content, and methodology of Christian education, I think I’ll take a pass.” Within the Reformed educational community today can one can hear that “classical education” is Biblical and unbiblical, that “outcomes based education” is to be embraced or damned, that phonics is the only or one way to teach reading, that memorization and drill produce disciplined or small minds. What's Christian?

Such questions as “Is there a distinctively Christian mathematics or chemistry?” kept rising to the surface. One had to hope that some smarter person could spell out the distinctively Christian view of them. One could become quite uncomfortable with the contradictions and absurdities to which folks were pushed to find a Christian view of everything having to do with education. (Of course, if my case is proved, we will still need Christian schools, to counteract the stupidity and irrationality of the state schools, to bring up our children in the context of Christian morality, and to add the Bible classes and chapels to “regular” courses.)

Then one had to ask how successful the church has had been in making itself Christian. In the days I learned about a Christian worldview, conservatives in the PCUS were battling unbelief and liberalism (including “the social gospel”). When that did not succeed and a new denomination came into existence, there continued to be a disconnect between the church’s confession and practice. Churches Calvinistic by confession practiced Charles Finney’s evangelism and taught his views of sanctification. It was not surprising then that the seeker service took the place of the invitation system as the updated, more sophisticated Finneyism.

In the PCA at least, changes of view and practice regarding some of the issues that brought it into existence have occurred. For instance the doctrine and practice of the spirituality of the church is now criticized as a pietistic withdrawal from the world; what would have been labeled the social gospel is now word and deed ministry; what once what was the inappropriate meddling of the church in civil affairs is now following the Biblical imperative that church must “speak prophetically” and “do justice.”(See the early publications by Presbyterian Churchmen United that argued the necessity of a new denomination and compare the practices condemned in them with the practices of the new denomination.)

The most nagging problem had to do with the New Testament. Where in the teaching of Jesus and/or the apostles could be found the exhortation for “Christian engagement” that is taught as a duty by Kuyperianism in all it permutations? Paul and Peter both taught Christians how to respond to the state, and in the process indirectly said something about the functions of the state, but where did they call for the reformation of the state? Is it really legitimate, for instance, to pour into the "good" of “minister for good”, referring as it did to the Roman Empire, all the content of Old Testament Law?   

Paul taught Christian masters and slaves how they should conduct themselves as masters and slaves, but where did he call for the abolishment of slavery? 

What did the oft-used “taking every thought captive” have to do with exercising Christian dominion over the world of thought about everything? In the context it seems to have to do Paul’s ministry as an apostle for the church, not engagement with politics, or art, or economics, or any other sphere. One could hope to find the foundations of a Biblical world and life view in Scripture, but honest moments required admitting that, if it were there, it was by no more than implication.

The nagging problem also had to do with the uses to which the Bible was put. If Christ is Lord, and has a will on everything, where could one find it? Unless one believes in continuing revelation, then the expression of Christ’s will had to be found in the Bible.

But, is there a distinctly Biblical business model, or does one do business in a Christian way acting on moral principles such has having integrity and treating employees and customers right? (BTW, I have more than once observed that some “Christian businessmen” are less concerned for their employees’ welfare than some who make no Christian profession.) 

Did I have to say about economics that I believed in capitalism because it was taught in the Bible? Or could I not say simply that I thought it best conformed to the nature of man and his place in creation and that it seemed to work better than all other systems?

Did I have to say, as did D. James Kennedy, that Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem taught the necessity of the space missile defense system or just say I thought it a good defense policy?   

Could I not just say that the welfare system seemed not to work to help poor people in this country and that the welfare state is proving non-sustainable in Western Europe without claiming there is a revealed plan of social welfare?

Over and over I had the sense that the Bible was being forced to address subjects its authors never meant to address and that it was being forced to say things it never intended to say. (One can address to a document questions it did not intend to address and get answers, but the answers are not fairly considered those of the document.) The Confession clearly says that the Bible is the infallible rule of faith and practice. The Confession is not speaking about all things one may believe or all one’s actions, but about the Church’s belief and conduct. 

It says that the Bible reveals everything needed for man’s salvation and God’s glory, not everything we need or want to know. To say this is not to fall into the error of holding that the Bible is infallible only when it speaks on matters of salvation and not when it records history, but it does tell us something about the reason that history is recorded and what use we are to make of it.

What has been the consequence of this Kuyperianism on the church? It has blurred all sorts of important distinctions – the church and the world, general and special revelation, special and common grace, the sacred and the secular, worship and life, the calling to ministry and all other callings.

 The distinction between church and kingdom has proved impossible to maintain. The church now offers everything from “Christian aerobics” to “Christian financial planning.” The church must be strong in “word and deed” (as Jesus was). These ministries God has joined together and must never be put asunder. Deed is just as important as word. The church must do something for people – build homes, establish enterprise zones, teach job skills, advocate for justice on their behalves. No longer is there any attempt to draw the line between what the church does and what individuals, private organizations, and government do. The church and the kingdom are one, not in the traditional sense that the rule of God is displayed in the vital but limited ministries of the church, but in sense that the church may and should do anything and everything.

It has turned the church into a blabber mouth. There is not only very little the church may not do; there is very little about which the church may not express an opinion. A denomination whose historical roots are in one that insisted that the church could not condemn slavery because one could be a member in good standing in the apostolic church as slave or master, now apologizes for slavery – not for evil ways in which it was practiced but for the institution. (This writer 40 years ago served two summers as an assistant to an African American pastor in an all black congregation in the deep South. Later in ministry to students he had a fully integrated group when sister groups in his state had even one minority student.)

A church whose Confession teaches that church courts must not intermeddle in civil affairs and should speak to the state only if the state asks for an opinion or in extraordinary cases (one would guess that such things as the suppression of the gospel by the state were in the minds of the writers) and that the church and state are planets moving in concentric orbits, nevertheless has found itself compelled to express its opinion on women serving the armed forces.

Christians have come to believe that they worship God as much in their weekday jobs as they do on the Lord’s Day gathered with the congregation to pray, sing, read, and preach. In fact, Monday can be more important than Sunday. Sunday’s gathering is justified not by offering God acceptable worship and dispensing the means of grace, but only if it has some good effect on one’s work and leisure Monday through Saturday. 

Ministers who lead in worship, preach the Word, and administer the sacraments are doing nothing more important than the politician or housewife (or husband) or professor of physics or laborer.  In fact he may be doing something less important as he provides only the spiritual inspiration for those who really advance the kingdom. The Christian school is as important as the Church, perhaps more important if we want to prepare our young people to conquer the world for Christ.

The whole thing has led to a denigration of the traditional mission of the church. Churches are embarrassed to say that they have no more to offer than the ordinary means of grace. Ministers feel they must apologize if they do no more than preach the Word, administer the sacraments, show lost sheep the way to the fold, and help make sure the gathered sheep have the provision and protection they need as they make their way to the heavenly sheepfold. The world, it is contended, will rightly condemn the church if it does not see the “practical effects” of its existence (hence the church must distribute voters’ guides to promote Christian political agendas, create faith-based ministries to provide cradle to grave welfare, put on get seminars so everybody can communicate and have good sex, and offer concert seasons and art shows to provide the congregants and community with cultural experiences).

When we moved to the Washington D.C. metro area, I got off the Beltway confident that I would find a “landmark” and lead my family to our destination. One wrong turn led to another and soon we were lost and confused. It is one of those family stories oft repeated at my expense. Only when we got right directions and follow them did we find our home.

Perhaps it’s time to do the Reformed thing – go back to the Bible and ask for directions. Matthew 28: 18-20 would be a good place to start. Then see how the Apostles worked that out in there time and places. Perhaps if we ask the right question, get the right answer, and follow the directions, we can find our way to letting the church be, of all things, the church. And so we will do most to hasten the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

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