Sunday, August 13, 2017

From the Arms of Robbers: Divine Violence and Salvation

Many people have deep unease, to put it lightly, over the violent sections of the Old Testament. There God seems to be the war-master, bearing the title Lord of Hosts. Well, that's because He is. God is a warrior who has no problem entering into the thick of combat, getting His robes bloodied fighting for Israel against her enemies, enemies that resist not Israel per se, but Israel's God.

Now this unease arises not only from current sensibilities, a mix of philosophy and custom, but also from the New Testament's peace ethic. As I noticed elsewhere, there is a new work by Greg Boyd on the theme of divine violence in the Old Testament. I like Boyd, but the work is not worth a penny. Ten years of intellectual fervor and wrestling for incoherence and stuttering. All of it trying to run away from the plain reality of the text; all of it rooted in stupid indignation. For it is the same Jesus that brings life, restores, forgives, heals, and takes the sword from St. Peter who killed the rebellious Israelites in the Wilderness (ala. St. Jude). Scholarship can be a form of institutionalized, engraved, madness.

Yet it is clear that divine violence does not go away in the New Testament, but it is fulfilled. As St. Paul will notice, we wage war not against flesh and blood. This Greg Boyd understands, without knowing the sense of Scripture's unity. Boyd knows that we are in a cosmic war, but fails to appreciate how this violence is in fact pedagogical. Christian saints ought to be as violent as the Israelite saints. Yet our violence is given a fulfilled form, revealed in the life of Christ. We have better weapons than the Israelites; bronze swords and chariots do not attack the true evil. The wars of the Lord in Canaan were meant for us, as everything in Israel's history. Those who invoke just-war, realpolitik or crusades are Judaizers; while those who despise all violence are gnostics. Neither understands Christ as Lord of Hosts. And at least theonomists believe God is the proper authorizing force to usher war. I can't understand those who herald war, but rightly see Christ as not bringing a sword. These people are half-converted at best; at least in the crusades, one thought he killed for God, but what worth is it to kill for prince, country, or state? That is sheer lunacy or disguised Paganism. If one sees the abundance of American paraphanalia in churches, and keeps in mind that the Romans believed Rome herself, the city and its government, was a god, one can sadly say the latter is prevalent.

Peacemaking is a form of warfare. Baptism is the drowning of judgement upon the sons of Adam, the soldiers of Pharaoh's army. Prayer and fasting is to wear the armor of God to combat Satan and his forces. Apologetics is taking all thoughts captive for Christ. Repentance is a daily battle. The victory is guaranteed on account of Christ, who like holy Moses keeps his arms raised for us to crush our sinful passions, inner demons, and selfishness.. This is all the form of love in a sinful world. I conclude with some words from Blaise Pascal:

498. It is true there is difficulty in entering into godliness. But this difficulty does not
arise from the religion which begins in us, but from the irreligion which is still there. If our
senses were not opposed to penitence, and if our corruption were not opposed to the purity
of God, there would be nothing in this painful to us. We suffer only in proportion as the
vice which is natural to us resists supernatural grace. Our heart feels torn asunder between
these opposed efforts. But it would be very unfair to impute this violence to God, who is
drawing us on, instead of to the world, which is holding us back. It is as a child, which a
mother tears from the arms of robbers, in the pain it suffers, should love the loving and legitimate
violence of her who procures its liberty, and detest only the impetuous and tyrannical
violence of those who detain it unjustly. The most cruel war which God can make with
men in this life is to leave them without that war which He came to bring. "I came to send
war," He says, "and to teach them of this war. I came to bring fire and the sword." Before
Him the world lived in this false peace.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"To the Pure, All Things are Pure": Belief and Unbelief in the Shadow of the Cross

Discourses on humility are a source of pride in the vain and of humility in the
humble. So those on scepticism cause believers to affirm. Few men speak humbly of humility,
chastely of chastity, few doubtingly of scepticism. We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction;
we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.

The above quote is from Blaise Pascal in reference to philosophy. For Pascal, the ultimate utility of philosophy is that it reveals the confusions and contradictions of man. All schools of philosophy are valid, because each tells a certain point. To quote another brilliant insight: "If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and I always contradict him, till he understands that he is an incomprehensible monster." Philosophy at its best reveals the Gordian knot with desperation; it has no answer besides chopping at it with a sword, mutilating mankind in the process.

However, more to the point, Pascal as a Jansenist believed that fundamentally Scripture reveals two categories of man: belief and unbelief. We might say that all of mankind is revealed when Jesus is on the cross between the two thieves. There is one who repents and throws himself upon the mercy of Christ, the other scoffs and mocks. In the moment of crucifixion, both die, but both see radically different worlds. To the one, there is translucence, Light that is shining through all, even the horror; to the other the world is opaque, fully enthralled to the devil and oriented only towards suffering, confusion, and death.

Pascal's Jansenist vision is stark, but helps make sense of St. Paul's sense that "to the pure, all things are pure", and that while all things are not beneficial, all things are lawful, according to the law of Christ. Libertines like to quote these without appreciating the Apostle's qualifiers. This is not merely according to some utilitarian purpose, but how all of created life exists through proper sight. Per the example above, in unbelief, a story of humility involves the two-sides of pride, arrogance and despair. One reads these and is stirred towards competition, sneering, or complacency, the other turns to tears, fear of judgement, and horror. Both reject a life of faith. Thus, one can hold together both the life of Antony, the first desert monk, and Luther's Reformational breakthrough, a total rejection of monastic life. While Antony can reveal a life turned against lust for wealth and prestige, Luther does the opposite, showing how a monastic life based in pride (in his case the despair side) becomes a tool of Satan.

Protestantism has a tendency to downplay many "monkish" practices. Fasting is mostly disdained, celibacy as anything but a precursor to marriage is seen as freakish, among other practices. Yet these are firmly advocated within the New Testament canon. I understand the whiplash of the Reformers, even if this pendulum swing has become institutionalized into both worldly asceticism (the Bourgeois practices of restraint documented by Weber) and a conscientious rejection of restraint. Fasting in unbelief is arrogant and vile, and so is feasting. All things not of faith are sin. The Jansenists understood the radical dichotomy in the wake of the Messiah. This is key to unlocking both a Christian sense of anti-thesis, and also a Christian sense of being, and remaining, firmly within the World.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Let the Queen Rest: Mariology, Biblical Theology, and Leaps of Logic

I've been reading a lot of great Biblical theology over at "Apologia Pro Ortho Doxa", which is a great source that I've linked to the sidebar. It's definitely worth checking out and soaking yourself in. However, I find it interesting that there are some gaps that one is almost swept across without noticing it.

For example, on a recent post on Mariology, he goes through a list of titles. There's a lot that's solid biblical connecting that has been enlightening. He does a good job connecting numerous Scriptural passages, with their concurrent types, patterns, themes, and logic, to argue that the Bible presents a pretty developed high Mariology. On this, I think he's right. There's sufficient warrant to call Mary Queen-Mother of Heaven, the Ark, Theotokos, etc. It's even warranted to consider Mary as the Ever-Virgin. All of this reflects early piety and ought not to scandalize biblically minded Christians. On the last point, a number of Reformers maintained a belief in Mary's perpetual virginity.

However, right in the middle of the article is the question of Mary's Dormition. The Orthodox do not go as far as Rome: though Mary lived a sinless life, she still was under the curse and was in-sin and had to die. Yet, after three days of laying in uncorrupting slumber, she was raised to life and assumed into Heaven to join her Son. The author makes a weak appeal to a reference in Revelation referring to the presence of the Ark. While, yes, it may be a reference to Mary, it's much more probably a reference to Christ. While there are references to Mary as the Ark carrying God's Glory, namely Christ, it is also equally valid to see how Christ, who was the Image of the Father, was Himself the Tabernacle as well. The classic opening lines of John 1, "The Word took flesh, and tabernacled amongst us", is proof enough. Even if this is a reference to Mary, since Christ bears her humanity, her flesh, this would still only mean that Christ, in the flesh, was present in the Heavenlies, centered in the throne of God's temple.

Of course, the cash-out for our friend is that this affirms Orthodoxy and (partially) Rome's doctrine. While I'm not opposed to post-facto reasoning as a jump start to a question, there is danger in it. There are several other posts that make other hops (or leaps) from certain biblical constellations to certain doctrines. One can see this similar leap appear over other doctrines. Yes, even God commands Abimelech to ask Abraham to pray for him in order to lift impending judgement, and yes the saints replace angels in God's divine chambers in Revelation. There may even be a distinction between greater and lesser prophets. Yet, nowhere in Scripture is it clear that God's people communicate with the reposed, or should call on their name for help. Considering this was strictly prohibited in the Old Covenant, one would expect some treatment of this. The same with iconodulia of the Orthodox variety, with canonical standards and rubrics. I understand the logic, employed most powerfully by John Damascene. But considering how crucial they are to proper worship, it makes sense that the legend of St. Luke as a painter must exist if Orthodoxy wants to remain grounded in Scripture. If the New Testament Church lacked icons, then the worship was, at best, improved upon, if not, at worst, inferior. These are a few examples of the leap.

Of course, this negation does not offer a strong and grounded alternative. Many Protestants may not pray to, or invoke, Mary or the saints, but they do not offer reverence for their holy lives lived and offered to God as a sweet incense, turning to smoke and becoming that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds Christ. In other words, there needs to be a robust biblical theology, but one that remains within the logic of the text. While Scripture may draw together a picture of Mary, the humble-but-exalted Queen-Mother of the Heavenly Man, there is little warrant to beseech her throne. The pattern ends there; we are turned to Christ as our mediator, our greatest prophet.

The blog is still brilliant. It's a good place to cut your teeth on biblical patterns and canonical reasoning. However, even so, it's easy to be swept across a gap to something else. Indeed, as many Fundamentalists know, the prophets excoriate the offering of sweetcakes to the Queen of Heaven. Perhaps that's a typological warning.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Felling the Donar Oak: A Personal Allegory

The story of the Donar Oak is a fascinating one. In it, St. Boniface, a missionary among pagan Germanic peoples, came to a challenge of faith. The pagans held that a certain tree in the village was holy, consecrated to Thor. Boniface offered a challenge to their god: if he cut down the tree, or at least attempted it, Thor in his fury would crush him. This would be proof of the god's power and mastery. However, if Boniface's God was true, then no such harm would befall him. As the story goes, Boniface swung at the tree, making a deep cut, which was followed from a gale force that blasted the tree down, splitting it into four pieces, forming a cross. These pieces were used for the construction of a church, which many Pagans, in awe, renounced their god and turned to Christ.

I don't know if this story is true, though on historical grounds, not because I don't believe the Spirit works miracles. However, I enjoy the story a lot, and have a picture of it I like to ponder. As I was looking at it, I had a flash of insight about it. I recognized the story as an allegorical reflection of my own life.

I've always found the Norse gods interesting. First and foremost, the gods are mortal; they suffer pain and can die. In fact, they not only can die, but are ultimately doomed to die. The gods, among their many allies, including the honorable dead allowed into Valhalla, know they will perish. They know the prophesy of Ragnarok, where the Ice Giants will rise up against Asgard. The gods and their allies will put up a valiant fight, but they will lose. All of the worlds will be consumed in ultimate destruction, and the Giant Serpent, coiled around the World Tree, on which all worlds dwell, will be destroyed.

I've been drawn to the kind of existential dread this cosmic view produces. There's a kind of stoic nihilism about it. Similarly to the Stoics themselves, there is the belief that one day the entire world will be engulfed in a conflagration. However, unlike the Stoics who believed this was the end point of an endless cycle, where out of the ash the entire process would begin anew, the Norse had no such belief (though there are some glosses that a new humanity would be born from the ashes). There was a hard-faced determination to face death, despising it as it claims you. It's not that the gods or the warriors of Valhalla wanted to perish, but there was, perhaps, a kind of grim glee in knowing that one died without giving an inch. At least that is the warrior's illusion.

In someways, this Pagan view of things was the seed of the German Enlightenment. This began with Kant, but sprouted truly with Fichte and Romanticism, with its blending, twisting and turning, within the rationalism left over from the French and Scottish Enlightenments. Herder, Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger. These men and many others, in diverse and sometimes contrasting ways, produced the mood of what we might call the neo-Pagan, or perhaps the post-Christian. It was less about explicit rejection of Christ (though there was sometimes that), but it was more proceeding through Him to something new. Beginning in the German Enlightenment, continental philosophy is a kind of rebirth of something old and ancient.

I'm constantly lured to continental philosophy, a veritable labyrinth and maze for the mind. It is forgotten that philosophy has almost always never been severed from some larger holistic project. Rather, philosophy has always been attached to cult, not as something standing outside of it. While Socrates lampooned the foolish devotions of the prols and their justifications, he believed himself possessed of a spirit that spoke to him. Plato turned Socrates into a cult-leader, seeing man's origin and end, and lifting him up. While Plato did believe in the utility of false myth, this was for the purposes of double-doctrine, a manufactured street religion exists for pedagogy while the philosophers worship at the true cult. Elites of all times and places have set a part mystical and magical rites to seek the secrets of the cosmos. Neo-Platonism was not a mere philosophy, but a religion. The Renaissance revival of antiquity studies came with a revival of Hermeticism and esoteric cult rites. Again, this is not necessarily hostile to Christianity, but it reconfigures Christian doctrines, symbols and rites into a different picture.

One must keep all of this in mind when one examines continental philosophy. It occurs to me that perhaps the style of writing is so strange, verbose, and winding for its experiential weight. It has a sacred aura; the word has some goal to accomplish, and to grasp the word, one must study, not merely read, the text. The Bible is similar, and one has to enter into it, wrestle with it, be present within it, to gain understanding. Of course, the Bible leads to Christ. The post-Christianity above rather leads to anti-Christ. One emerges through a torch lit labyrinth to find men wearing animal masks, naked virgins, and a bloody altar. At the center stands the oak, adorned with symbols of the god.

All of this has led me into sins, of both arrogance and cowardice. I've polluted my mind with foolish readings, I've compromised time and again in social settings, I've neglected weighty things for vain conjuring. In the depths of my heart there is a Donar Oak, consecrated to those pathetic, nihilistic gods of yore, full of madness and lust.

But I'm not this oak. Rather, by the blood of Christ and radiant light, I am Boniface. The Christian's life is a life of repentance, every day turning to our God and King. Everyday Boniface must lay an axe to the root of the Donar Oak. Everyday I have to drive out these dispositions. A fool like Schliermacher tried to etch a cross on the Donar Oak; Christ hands us an axe. The only answer for these things is destruction. The inner druid, the harrying of Satan, must be humiliated by the Gospel everyday. And victory belongs not to my swinging, but to the bolt of Divine fire which blows apart the tree. The Lord lifts my hands, and supplies me with heavenly aid.

And as the tree fell, it formed the shape of a cross. The wood was collected and repurposed to build a house for the church. Thus, continental philosophy is not totally useless, it can serve a purpose. But to a purist, for someone who reads the texts as a devotee, who builds their career as a philosopher, expositor, and builder, this is anathema. The reading I have done is not a waste, it can be split open, ripped apart, mutilated, losing all shape and form of its organic beginning, and turned to the comfort of God's purposes. Indeed, Ragnarok has come, but it is in the form of the cross, and I find myself not with the gods and their Asgardian allies, but against them, breaking their teeth, triumphing over them. Worship and praise must be erected in my heart, and the demons banished. My existential constitution is turned inside out, and the core of it is radically undermined. For the axe is laid to the root.

This is an allegorical interpretation of a saintly story. It may sound odd and seemingly conjectured. Rather, while it is a post-Biblical hagiographical story, it parallels with numerous Scriptural themes (namely holy Elijah versus the Baal priests). In addition, the flash of insight connected a lot of dots in my mind. Much of the details of my struggles have been left out, though I will say, being mostly of Germanic heritage, this story has a certain fittingness for me. It marks the struggles I've had and, time and again, God's gracious aid especially in times of darkness. May this story bless you as well as it has me.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Be we as heroic as we like": Eternal Questions and Human Vanity

I don't have much of a gloss to add to this. Pascal responds to those who have no desire to understand eternal questions, those Dawkins-types who shout, "There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life". Here, Pascal's thought radiates with fire and clarity. It is concise, full of power and grace, the perfect twinning of intellect and emotion. It's worthy of reflection.

In order to attack [doctrine of God's existence, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but
without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of
her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I
venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are
of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when
they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some
priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books
and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is
insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we
should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all.

The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us and which
touches us so profoundly that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing
what it is. All our actions and thoughts must take such different courses, according as there
are or are not eternal joys to hope for, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and
judgment unless we regulate our course by our view of this point which ought to be our ultimate
end. Thus our first interest and our first duty is to enlighten ourselves on this subject,
whereon depends all our conduct. Therefore among those who do not believe, I make a vast
difference between those who strive with all their power to inform themselves and those
who live without troubling or thinking about it.

I can have only compassion for those who sincerely bewail their doubt, who regard it
as the greatest of misfortunes, and who, sparing no effort to escape it, make of this inquiry
their principal and most serious occupation.

But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and
who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince
them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion
is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although
obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look
upon them in a manner quite different.

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves
me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say
this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to
have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see
what the least enlightened persons see.

We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and
lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly,
that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years
under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy.

There is nothing more real than this, nothing more terrible. Be we as heroic as we like,
that is the end which awaits the world. Let us reflect on this and then say whether it is not
beyond doubt that there is no good in this life but in the hope of another; that we are happy
only in proportion as we draw near it; and that, as there are no more woes for those who
have complete assurance of eternity, so there is no more happiness for those who have no
insight into it.

Surely then it is a great evil thus to be in doubt, but it is at least an indispensable duty
to seek when we are in such doubt; and thus the doubter who does not seek is altogether
completely unhappy and completely wrong. And if besides this he is easy and content,
professes to be so, and indeed boasts of it; if it is this state itself which is the subject of his
joy and vanity, I have no words to describe so silly a creature.

How can people hold these opinions? What joy can we find in the expectation of nothing
but hopeless misery? What reason for boasting that we are in impenetrable darkness?


Nothing reveals more an extreme weakness of mind than not to know the misery of a godless man. Nothing is more indicative of a bad disposition of heart than not to desire the truth of eternal promises. Nothing is more dastardly than to act with bravado before God. Let them then leave these impieties to those who are sufficiently ill-bred to be really capable of them. Let them at least
be honest men, if they cannot be Christians. Finally, let them recognise that there are two
kinds of people one can call reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because
they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Apostles were Fishermen

Sometimes I'll hear the refrain that the Apostles were fishermen, blue-collar toughs, who went out into the world with no education and turned it inside out. This is usually an anti-intellectual barb, thrown out at professional theologians and seminarians. The apostles lacked education, so why waste time with so much nonsense? The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles all that they needed. Instead, Christians ought to focus on missions and evangelism.

Now this concept has ancient pedigree, going back to St. Gregory of Nazianzus. And I would agree with the concept on the surface of it. Indeed, seminaries can be all too worldly, fitting comfortably within the education-industrial complex that is imploding all around the United States. Ministry has become perverted into a "career" or "profession" that one gains skills in. In a way, this a particular problem spawned from the Reformation's concept of vocation. However, I despise the anti-intellectual bent of this phrase, and its mechanical and misanthropic view of Human being and development. Here are some points on why the Apostles were not merely fishermen.

1) They were Jews. What this means is that they were immersed in the Scriptures from birth. Especially for those living in the Hellenic age, Jews felt a particular type of defensiveness and anti-thesis; the world they lived in was foreign and strange. The system of synagogues helped inculcate living as God's chosen people. The average Jew would memorize large portions of the Torah, even if they were illiterate, from congregational readings. Thus, the Apostles would've been deeply sculpted by the Scriptures and possess great familiarity with them, even if, as the Gospels testify, they did not understand them. Sadly, the same can not be said for many Christians of all stripes. There are many who are biblically illiterate, not having any basic sense or grasp of chronology, signification, pattern, or logic. While the Apostles were not formally educated, their minds were not foreign to the Scripture, but were rather molded by it.

2) They were taught by Jesus. When Christ rose from the grave, He remained for forty days before His Ascension and the coming of the Spirit. In this time, the Gospels repeatedly testify to the fact that Jesus instructed the disciples on the meaning of Scripture, teaching them that the Christ was to die and rise on the third day. Obviously, this does not mean that Christ Jesus merely taught them this as cipher or a code. Rather, He taught the Twelve to see with new eyes, not how to apply an alien fact on top of the text, but to see how this very truth emerges from the entire body of Scripture. I think it's fair to say that Christ did not sit down, have one Bible study with the Twelve, and they never needed to think about it again. Rather, they spent the rest of their lives in the text, growing, learning, perceiving. What we have left of their teachings in the gospels and letters of the New Testament is Spirit-breathed, infallible, the manifestation of what Christ had taught the Apostles, worked out through their lives and in their own pens.

Pursuing a healthy and strong life of the mind is key to good teaching in Christ's Body. This does not mean formal, accredited, academic instruction (though that's not necessarily a bad thing). However, it doesn't mean an unreflective, anti-intellectual, turns towards pride. What I mean is that one must not only sit down with the Bible, but learn how to read and see. This is the benefit of tradition, particularly a living tradition. Teachers of the faith teach us, who in return teach others, and so on. The perspicuity of Scripture is not in opposition to the fact that one needs guidance in understanding it. This is clear in the number of atheist blogs that claim to have all sorts of proof-texts for the incoherency, immorality, ineptitude, and inadequacy of the biblical text. In some ways, this is God's judgement on unfaithful mutilation of His holy writ.

While you may not need to read philosophy, literary theory, biology, etc. to become a faithful teacher of the flock, you need to be an intellectual, mentally captive to the Word of God. You must be learned, and to do so is not a self-proclaimed task or title, but done by sitting at the feet of those who've gone before, whether living or dead, preserved in writings. Part of learning is purgative, a purification process which helps drive out our own vanities and conceits to make room for hearing another voice. Learning is a receptive activity, involving submission and patience. These are necessary virtues. While the Spirit gives teaching as a gift to His church, I have no idea why some would presume to think this is in opposition to temporal striving and struggle. Instead, may we listen for the Shepherd, in the midst of His flock, teach us, and may we devote our whole mind to loving God to His glory, and our good.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Illusion of a Vocation So-Called

A most important thread in American life is work. It's usually one of the first things people ask you after your name, "Where do you work?", "What do you do?" etc. And this is not inherently bad, work is a part of creaturely life. However, the mistaken is to confuse God's calling, our vocation, with this sort of thing.

To even use the word "vocation" is to conjure up an evil theological ghost, created during the Reformation and mutated to the present day. Many of the Reformers wanted to abolish the secular-religious distinction for peoples, where the latter were the truest Christians and the latter submitted to the Church and followed a watered-down ethical code. This was just as evil, and why many Reformers blasted monkery as a grave error. However, due to maintaining the structure of Christendom, the Holy Society, Church and State formed into a single nation, this began to mutate into the idea of a certain sort of professionalism. It's not that you happen to be a merchant, but God called you to be a merchant, in a special way, and not in His general providence.

While the idea is that God cares about you in all your pursuits, it turns into a sanctification of worldliness. It's not as much a calling for you to follow Christ in your mundane and normal affairs, or to act according to the truths of the faith in all that you do, from the home to the worksite. Rather, one's religion becomes attached to a certain profession, whether it's "blue-collar" or "white-collar" type of work. This only continued the problems of Medieval society. It's part of the reason, or so I think, why "Sunday-Christian" is a phenomenon and why men are many times absent from devotional and ecclesiological life. But I digress.

For reflection, here are some words from Pascal, on the illusion of finding some purpose or transcendental meaning in our common labors:

97. The most important affair in life is the choice of a calling; chance decides it. Custom
makes men masons, soldiers, slaters. "He is a good slater," says one, and, speaking of soldiers,
remarks, "They are perfect fools." But others affirm, "There is nothing great but war; the rest
of men are good for nothing." We choose our callings according as we hear this or that
praised or despised in our childhood, for we naturally love truth and hate folly. These words
move us; the only error is in their application. So great is the force of custom that, out of
those whom nature has only made men, are created all conditions of men. For some districts
are full of masons, others of soldiers, etc. Certainly nature is not so uniform. It is custom
then which does this, for it constrains nature. But sometimes nature gains the ascendancy
and preserves man's instinct, in spite of all custom, good or bad.

98. Bias leading to error.—It is a deplorable thing to see all men deliberating on means
alone, and not on the end. Each thinks how he will acquit himself in his condition; but as
for the choice of condition, or of country, chance gives them to us. It is a pitiable thing to see so many Turks, heretics, and infidels follow the way of their fathers for the sole reason that each has been imbued with the prejudice that it is the best. And that fixes for each man his condition of locksmith, soldier, etc. Hence savages care nothing for Providence.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Successors to the Apostles: An Apology for the Figure of the Bishop

This post is an argument for necessary role of bishops, as the common English translation for the Greek, in the life of the Church. However, I think how many have argued for bishops is woeful. This is an initial sketch, so bear with me. Part of this is post facto reasoning, based on the longevity of the separate role of bishops throughout Christian history. Yet, I hope to open up new avenues of discussion. Now, on with the show.

My position depends on figuration, seeing the words and concepts of Scripture as being Real, finding their universal ground in Christ Himself, in an almost naively surface sense. That means, contrary to Platonizers, there is no hidden Real behind the text of Scripture. The very words of Scripture reflect this Real. However, they do this because they find their referent in Christ Jesus, who is both Author and Subject of the totality of Scripture. All the diverse forms, arcs, and models of Scriptures are found in Christ, either as reflections of His glory or as shadows cast in a sinful World. Thus, our discussion of bishops refers not a monarchical principle, but to the fact that Christ is our ultimate bishop (c.f. 1 Peter 2:25).

Now I also believe that Scripture, in its totality, has purpose. There are no mere loose bits, even if the authors of Scripture did not intend much by them. Thus, there's a reason why St. Paul ends his letters the way he does, even to ask St. Timothy to bring him pen and parchment. I don't know what this means or why it's included, but I take that if, indeed, all of Scripture is inspired, then this too fits within the canon of Scripture.

Given the above, I assume explanations of Apostolic authority, and St. Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus are significant. As some research has postulated, Timothy and Titus were not merely elders of the Church, but had a special warrant, from Paul himself, to act in his authority. Thus, as Christ commissioned Paul, thus Paul commissioned Timothy and Titus with Apostolic authority (see this for some more details). However, I am not a dispensationalist. Yes, there are two covenants, but I believe as much because Scripture testifies between a temporary form and an eternal fulfilled form. However, I do not believe that there is a distinct Apostolic period which closed at the death of St. John. Rather, we are still living in the age of the Apostles, though indeed there are no more Apostles. In similar vein, the Israelites in, say, 10 BC, lived in the age of holy Moses, being still under the Torah, and awaiting the Christ to come. Moses was dead, there was not another law-giver, but it was still Moses' age. As an aside, it is perhaps fitting to not think that the age of Moses ended, as much as it was eclipsed or swallowed up, the way Moses and Elijah vanished before the three Apostles on Mt. Tabor, leaving only Christ.

Thus, I go even a step further to say that the bishops are successors to the Apostles. But what I mean by this is different than what Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox mean by this. I do not claim that there is an unbroken chain of bishops that organizationally preserve Christ's Church. I also do not believe in Augustine's mechanical theory of grace being passed along through ordination. Rather, it is that bishops function in the Apostolic role, not as direct emissaries of Christ, but as emissaries of the Apostles, whose writings have been preserved as Scripture. Thus, I say more than some who advocate bishops as merely good government, or fitting to a particular time and place.

What role did the Apostles play? If we look at the life of  Paul, we see someone not shackled to particular place as the head of a community. Rather, he circled a region, expanding in its mission, where he maintained oversight of the communion he shepherded. As an Apostle, he received a distinct and special commission from Christ, as did the rest of the Apostles. Bishops, as successors to the Apostles, possess a vocation similar to the Apostles, given the task of oversight, maintaining communities' health in worship, teaching, and sociability. The role of the bishop involves pastoring pastors,  watching over a multiplicity. Christ, the Bishop of bishops, exercises this role when he commends and rebukes the churches of Asia.

It should be obvious that the development of bishops as princes or provincial governors is an abhorrent mutation of the Biblical figure. Rather, I take the Waldensian "Uncle" as a good example. The Waldensians were "heretics" during the Middle Ages. While groups of them existed across the south of France, the Cottian Alps, and into the Black Forest, Uncles, distinguishing themselves from the Roman titular "Father", traveled to support these groups. The Uncle would preach, recite Scripture, solve communal difficulties, and report news from the faithful. In recompense, some groups of Waldensians offered food and money to the Uncle, as he traveled, in a circuit, to other congregations. This particular circuit, to put it crudely, was his diocese.

The bishop has a distinctly missionary role as well. In someways, the modern circuit preacher, from the Wesleys to the Revivalist living out of his car, fulfill a similar function. Of course, self-appointed authority can be dangerous, and lead to personality cults. However, the circuit preacher inadvertently provides oversight in his visits, bringing the community together and shaking up its constitution. Even groups without bishops recognize the need for this outside accountability to diverse congregations connected together. Presbyterians have enacted the role of bishop through bureaucratic mechanisms and panels of elders who oversee a certain geographic region. Sometimes a session elder pops in to make sure the preaching meets an orthodox standard or the community is not in pure anarchy.

In a similar way to the countryside, many early bishops had a role in smaller geographic circumference of the city. They exercised oversight over the many churches of a city, too big to gather as a single corporate entity. Of course, with the creation of specific areas and buildings for worship, the bishop's wandering style was reduced to a "throne", from which he preached and exercises his role over the Christians of the city. This is not exactly a bad thing, but its contingently static form morphed to permanency as bishops were considered ecclesiastical governors. From this, the diocesan structure emerged as a parallel to Imperial provinces. Again, not in an of itself a bad thing, but easily a slip into thinking Christ's churches are conjoined to particular temporal government, which is but the City of Man, doomed to frustration and failure, and manifesting the Devil's reign over this present age.

Oversight is key to the functioning and health of Christ's Church. It is a means of missionary expansion and the unity of multiple congregations. The insider-outsider life of the bishop exercises a key check against congregational inbreeding, stagnation, and corruption. The bishop is both close enough to form discerning judgements, but distant enough to not be sucked into local politiking. In addition, the personal nature of the office helps curb denominationalism, the dying modus vivendi of most of modern Christianity. Oversight is contained in an office inhabited by a man, not a superstructure of clerks and bureaucrats, many times lost in stacks of papers, and wrapped into the mindset of a corporation.

Now, not all bishops fulfill their role, some function very well as higher ranked bureaucrats with fancy robes. But Christ's many churches, as they are becoming His Bride, fail in many forms they are to inhabit. Offices exist for a function, and their abuse does not signal their uselessness. Rather, as Christ was Bishop, Presbyter/Priest/Elder, and Deacon of His people, fulfilling these roles in their diverse forms, they remain indestructible against Human corruption, vanity, and sin. These three roles are not essential for a church to be a church, but they are crucial to the well-functioning of the church, especially as it grows and connects with others.

This was a brief, tentative, and incomplete sketch of why I think Christians ought to reconsider the office of the bishop, as many assume it in its grotesque Medieval form as the norm. As long as Christ reigns, such will never be the norm. And, as it has appeared through some of my historical examples, the office of the bishop continues to be exercised, even if it lacks the explicit name. I hope to recover such a glorious name to keep such roles within a biblical grammar. The Father's purposes cannot be stopped, even in the face of Human weakness, which many times becomes the very means the Spirit brings them about.