27 August 2008

Peace: It's What's for Dinner (in both kingdoms)

IN THIS POST, on the good and thoughtful Faith and Theology blog, contributor Kim Fabricus writes of the ten most influential moments in his life that pushed him on toward pacifism. There's no reason to summarize it; go on, read it.

First, let's give the dictionary definition of pacifism: "Opposition to war or violence as a means of solving disputes." Now, the government's policing efforts will not be brought into question in this post. Such is not the focus here, if for no other reason than what Saint Paul writes about it in Romans 13:4:

   "The government is God's servant working for your good. But if you do
    what is wrong, you should be afraid. The government has the right to 
    carry out the death sentence. It is God's servant, an avenger to execute
    God's anger on anyone who does what is wrong."

The fact that this was written before any major persecutions against Christians is beside the point. The apostle in that case might have more fully explained the "wrong" he was speaking of (or he might have tweaked it in the direction Saint Peter does in 1 Pet 3:13–14; 4:12–19).

What I'm interested in is a small, yet misguided statement by Kim (and perpetuated by a few responders) encapsulated in the following:

   "I should say that at no time did I have any truck with two kingdoms
    doctrine, in spite of clarifications and fine-tuning by theologians like
    Pannenberg. My thoroughly Reformed understanding of the universal
    Lordship of Christ over church and world (or state) precluded any such
    Lutheran 'compromises.'"

I'm of the opinion that this is flat wrong, as it rests upon an oft-promoted, yet faulty, assumption. In brief, Martin Luther's articulation of the two-kingdoms model (a model that discusses the role of the church in the world) has been grossly distorted. Many think that Luther taught silent, supine submission to the absolute authority of the state and thereby liberated the government from any form of moral constraint from the church. Ernst Troeltsch's massive study The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches popularized the view that Luther promoted state absolutism and moral dualism while the Reformed offered a vital interrelationship between church and state. This inaccurate stereotype was perpetuated in the English-speaking world by Reinhold Niebuhr, along with a legion of others.

In popular history, this perversion became the widespread explanation for the rise of Hitler and the failure of German Christianity to recognize and resist the evils of Nazism (coveniently ignoring the fact that those in the Lutheran underground church were arguably more patriotic than the Lutheran state church). But in actuality it was Fredrick the Great (1712–1786), not Luther, who paved the way toward Nazism (it, of course, must be recognized that in his late life, Luther was no friend of the Jews; yet we are speaking here of the two kingdoms model and whether or not it's dualistic — that is, whether or not the state is to be governed by a
completely different ethic than the church. We're starting to nudge up against natural law here, but that's a discussion for another day).

Frederick eventually left his Lutheran roots and became Reformed (of the theology-of-glory stripe); he also found himself increasingly enthralled with the Enlightenment. The culmination of his (and others') subsequent ecumenicity was manifested in the Prussian Union of 1817 (decreed by King Frederick William III on the 300th anniversary of the Reformation), which unionized the Lutheran and Reformed churches, essentially decimating confessional Lutheranism and along with that, the two kingdoms model (N.B. this is when major Lutheran emigrations to the U.S. started, and the
LCMS finds its origins here). Herman Sasse, a faithful confessional Lutheran, who played a leading role in the German Church Struggle against Nazi coercion within the church contends:

   "No, it was not Lutheranism as such, but a sick Lutheranism that gave
    National Socialism an open door into the church. It was a Lutheran 
    Church which was no longer capable of standing guard over the souls of
    its people because it had fallen asleep itself. It had lost its power over 
    demons because it no longer possessed the power of distinguishing 
    between "spirits."...We have noble families in which the grandfathers 
    were conservative and confessional Lutherans, the fathers were German
    nationalists and members of the union church and the sons joined the SS"
    (Stewart Herman, The Rebirth of the German Church, 50–51). 

Those who cited Luther in favor of subservience to the state no matter what were guilty of abusing and distorting the reformer's true position. Sasse asserts: 

   "They picked out of Luther's teaching those phrases regarding govern-
    mental authority which were opportune and which people wanted to
    hear; phrases concerning the dignity of divinely ordained offices and 
    the duty of obedience to them. But what Luther said about the sins 
    of governmental authority; about the tyrannous murder of man's soul
    by the authority which goes beyond its limits or about the boundaries
    of obedience — all that was whispered very softly in the first years of 
    the Third Reich, or not mentioned at all. …They supplemented Luther 
    with Robespierre" (Herman, 52).

The reason for all this banter up to this point is this: to show that the two kingdoms model does not preclude pacifism. It's arguable as to whether it demands it, but it doesn't preclude it.

And now, Luther's own words:

   "In all his works [the Christian] ought to entertain this view and look 
    only to this object — that he may serve and be useful to others in all 
    that he does; having nothing before his eyes but the necessities and
    the advantage of his neighbor" (from Luther's On Christian Freedom).

This, arguably, puts duty to fellow humans before any other secular duty — even the obligation to one's country. It may be that pacifism is only implicit in Lutheran theology during the Reformation, but it nevertheless seems to be well-founded upon the non-dualistic two-kingdoms model. The model emphatically does not necessitate playing the part of judge, jury or executioner (as both Article 16 of the Apology and Article 12 of the Formula of Concord explicitly endorse). Alternatively, the two kingdoms model does, in fact, necessitate always carrying one's Christian faith everywhere, which frees the Christian up for positive ethical involvement (like pacifism) in the world. It is not a "confusing of the two kingdoms" to suggest this, as Gene Edward Veith asserts here. Remember, pacifism does not (cannot!) preclude the policing efforts of governments; it refuses to see war or violence as an option to resolve disputes. This message is the church's own, as it stands as prophet in this world. The church's business is not to promulgate some notion of a "Christian nation" or "christen-dom" (an oxymoron both in Lutheran and apostolic terms). It, in fact, needs to confront christendom with the ethics of the kingdom, the already/not yet, the paradox, far more than it currently does. The two kingdoms model enables and informs this work. And the reason why pacifism is a valid Lutheran position is both because pacifism is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and because there are no just wars, not now, and, arguably, post the resurrection of Christ (I have an eye on old covenant theocracy here), not ever. (Maybe the world's involvement in WWII could be pointed to as an exception. But it'd be just that — an exception.) So, the reason why it's best for a Christian to not be a soldier is precisely because of the inherent injustice of that vocation — both in christological and practical terms (remember the obligation of which Luther spoke quoted above). Some more Luther:

   "Beyond that, however, he [that is, the pastor] does great and mighty
    works for the world. He informs and instructs the various estates on 
    how they are to conduct themselves outwardly in their several offices 
    and estates, so that they may do what is right in the sight of God. …To
    tell the truth, peace, the greatest of earthly goods, in which all other 
    temporal goods are comprised is really a fruit of true preaching. For 
    where the preaching is right, there war and discord and bloodshed do 
    not come; but where the preaching is not right, it is no wonder that 
    there is war, or at least constant unrest and a desire to fight and shed
    blood" (from On Keeping Children in School).

You might ask, then, in light of this, what is the purpose of the two kingdoms model? Well, and this might surprise you, it's for the church's protection. It's to be held out in front of us so as to protect us from suffering under the delusion that even our best efforts here will produce some kind of golden age before the return of our king. This by no means is to be equated with that old cliché: "Why polish brass on a sinking ship?" The ship doesn't have to sink, and, indeed, it won't, as a result of the intervening and gracious hand of Christ our Lord. Our vocations as callings are clear: bring the future hope into this present darkness, whatsoever ye do. But the two kingdoms model takes seriously the collective sinfulness of nations, institutions and well-meaning Christian politicos, pundits and activists and guards them from perpetuating Constantinian notions of christendom.

Would you like a slice of pie with that? For what it's worth (and to calm my fellow two-kingdoms naysayers), peace will be served in God's coming kingdom, but he's apparently called us to start preparing the dish. Who knows? Maybe all he'll have to do when he returns is add some special sauce. But on the other hand, maybe he'll have to throw it all away and start from scratch. I really don't know, and, what's more, I don't think we can know. I just don't want to be standing there like an idiot when the head chef starts demanding ingredients I haven't prepared.

08 August 2008

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus

{This originally appeared as "Church Covenants" in Tabletalk 27.5 (May 2003): 48}

On a Lord's Day not too long ago, my wife and I stood in front of our fellow congregants to be received as members of the church we had been attending for more than two years. The pastor, smiling, yet with all seriousness, asked us the following five questions (and I paraphrase):
  1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners, justly deserving God's displeasure, without hope save in his sovereign mercy?
  2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and do you rest upon him alone for salvation?
  3. Do you now promise, relying upon the Spirit's grace, to endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?
  4. Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
  5. Do you submit yourselves tot the government and discipline of the church and promise to study its purity and peace?
Publicly answering each of these questions served as our entrance into a solemn covenant with Christ and his church.

The only problem with this idyllic scene is that I failed this covenant miserably in the short time since I made the commitment. Sure, the first three questions are Sunday school no-brainers, but they are ironically no more important than the last two, for in them the first three questions are realized or lived out. That is, a life of grace that hopes in God's sovereign mercy, made available by Christ alone, and perpetuated by good works in the Spirit, manifests itself in a life that supports the church's worship and work, and that submits to the government and discipline of the church, and therefore promises to study its purity and peace.

Most important, whether other churches verbalize these five questions or not, this oath transcends denominational lines, thereby drawing our focus back to God's prescribed means for promulgating the gospel—the church. If the church is to remain true to her calling, membership in any local congregation must mean entering into covenant with God, simply because a congregant ought to be, by definition, a bond servant of Jesus in the family of God.

Since the church is the radiant bride of Christ, how much more should she expect the commitment of saints who are more concerned with worshiping the Almighty in Spirit and in truth than attempting to convince the world that church-goers are everyday, ordinary people?

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