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.


steve said...

Am I one of your fellow 2K naysayers? I absolutely agree that Luther was completely raped and betrayed by goosetepping yahoos. But, truly, truly I say unto you, the only ingredients you should be found holding are water, bread and wine—those are the ingredients to peace, and that not as the world gives. It’s really an easy recipe, it amazes me how complicated we make it for fear of screwing it up.

For my part, I’d rather heed the wisdom of him who said there is a time for peace and a time for war. I agree that Christendom is a horrible mistake, but it can be repeated as long as one maintains the principle that true religion has any direct or obvious bearing on the cares of this world. That means that pacifism is just as un-obvious an implication as conquering the pagans for Jesus. How the “peace of God” translates into more cease-fires in Gaza or Georgia is about as clear to me as how Psalm 139 has anything to do with the decisions of 1973.

Chris Donato said...

Thanks for stopping by, Zrim. Of course I agree that the only (okay, primary) ingredients are pan y vino. If there's ever a convergence between the two kingdoms, it's there (and in the other sacraments).

But do keep in mind that I'm speaking of pacifism with respect to the church — not the world (rendering your point about Gaza and Georgia and all that kind of moot). As such, it's ridiculously obvious that conquering pagans for Jesus is right out. I just figure that's part and parcel of what it means to be salt and light.

How this translates to an individual Christian's life, I've not attempted to spell out. But I think the dots are there to connect. Being a pacifist does not conflate the two kingdoms.

steve said...

I know I am breaking my own rule against using the tired template of the Third Reich, but, to your mind, does “pacifim with repect to the church” mean we tell Hitler what a dirty bastard he is or keep silent?

I don’t think being a pacifist is a conflation either; I’d just rather hear an appeal to natural law than holy writ to make the case. But “…the reason why it's best for a Christian to not be a soldier is precisely because of the inherent injustice of that vocation” sounds an awful lot like a spelling out. And as much as I personally find the military culture really odd , I have an even harder time telling Christian soldiers they probably should contemplate honorable discharge if they want to be pious. And what about the believers who are cops?

Maybe this all has something also to do with not sharing either a patriotism of affirmation or a patriotism of dissent, but ending up “waving flags or burning them” as Christians instead of Americans just doesn’t seem right. I think the best of two-kingdom lets believers as citizens of earth to either without much begrudging.

Chris Donato said...

…tell Hitler what a dirty bastard he is or keep silent?

Good question. Again, my working definition of pacifism in this post was "opposition to war or violence as a means of solving disputes." So, either one of the above would suffice, even if one of them might be a more fitting response.

I'm tracking with you on making the case for "civil goods" with natural law. But as Christians, we must admit that even natural law qua natural law doesn't exist. If I'm to make the case within the church, and if I'm going to use arguments based on natural law, they're inevitably going to be supplemented, or, rather, sifted through the law of Christ.

But “…the reason why it's best for a Christian to not be a soldier is precisely because of the inherent injustice of that vocation” sounds an awful lot like a spelling out.

Yeah. Let's consider it more like a strong suggestion. You know, trying to persuade and all that. And I'd suggest that Christians, in general, ought to stay away from professions that might require them to take another's life. It has little to do with subjective piety (understood in modern terms), though, and everything to do with being salt and light, objectively speaking. Again, I feel I must hearken "observant Protestantism" in this matter. It comports perfectly.

Maybe this all has something also to do with not sharing either a patriotism of affirmation or a patriotism of dissent…

I really do agree with you here. A thoughtful, tension-riddled, paradoxical relationship with culture ought to be the lot of all Christians on this earth.

John Schaefer said...

Chris, thanks for this posting! I read both and learned a lot. Three points:
1) Democracy: How does the development of democracy affect these 16th century models? Now that the voters are ultimately responsible for the war-makers, how does that affect Christian voting? (particularly when the more warlike of the two options is also the one ostensibly based on Christian values).
2) And coming at pacifism from the other (anarcho-syndicalist) side, how can we continue to support states, since they are ultimately based on protection rackets and the legitimation of the use of violence?
3) And then coming at pacifism from an anti-prescriptionist side, whatever our personal (bourgeois, Western, liberal-democratic) predilections against the "ickiness" of violence and desire for pacifism, how can we pretend that this sort of approach is always or even usually a preferable alternative for people who are attacked and provoked daily by less seemingly benign neighboring or governing states?

Chris Donato said...

Hey, John. Glad you enjoyed the posts. Regarding your very good questions:

1) There is no easy answer here, which ranges from practical voting (the lesser of 2 evils) to not voting at all (which, despite opinions to the contrary, is indeed a vote).

On this issue in particular, it would seem that yes, it would behoove Christians to vote without checking their faith in at the door, but in this election year as in any other, there's no real difference between the two main candidates here. Neither of them are non-interventionists, so I think one vote is as good (or bad) as another in this regard.

I'm no single-issue voter, so this alone won't affect my vote.

2) This is a great question, but potentially outside the scope of my post. "You say you want a revolution, well, you know…." I'm tracking with you on this point, but anarcho-syndicalism, to my mind, is not the church's business — the constituency for such ideas is far more broad than the church, and, as such, natural law would need to be employed to make the case.

That said, this is where "electing not to vote" potentially comes in. Sometimes, the church's relationship to the world might look like withdrawal (but not mere); it may be that our day and age is perfect for this. As Saint Paul wrote: "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…."

While this principle might look different from within the church (as it should have in the case of the German church resisting Nazi coercion from within), it probably shouldn't from without (i.e., the church ought not be identified with anarcho-syndicalists, even if individual Christians might be).

3) Finally, though it's easier said than done, counting it all joy to be in the midst of suffering, it would seem to me, doesn't include taking up arms against your oppressors — no matter what day or age this occurs in. This reminds me of the movie The Mission. Both reactions toward oppression are expressed therein, and it says what I've tried to say here in a much, much better way. There is a clear "victor" by the time the closing credits begin to roll.

Thanks again for engaging this post, John.

Evan said...

Wonderful post, Christ, thanks for directing me to it. I'm going to append my own piece about progressive politics to include your post as well as Halden's and Michael's.

I will have to reread it and digest it some more as well. I lack the benefit of a more strictly denominational upbringing and so I gather many of these pieces together late in the game rather than imbibing a particular tradition from the beginning. I think what you've laid out here is incredibly helpful, though- it addresses my both my qualms about pacifism and any other alternative to it. I think that your complete lack of acceptance of the normal tropes about what a two kingdoms doctrine means and what pacifism means is a necessary first step in addressing the issue.

Evan said...

...also, I'm very glad that you used Herman Sasse. I've been interested in reading more of him. I'd love to look at his interactions and disagreements with the work of Bonhoeffer and others of the confessing church opposition to Hitler. I think Sasse had a very keen sense of what was appropriate and inappropriate to say for the differing church polities that worked together against the Nazi regime. Much more mature, at least, then the amorphous kum-ba-ya that ecumenical political statements offer in our own day, to the detriment of a clear idea of what the Church is and how it should function in the world.

Chris Donato said...

You do me an honor, Evan.

Regarding Sasse, I concur. He's recently resurfaced on my radar as I began looking at the two-kingdoms model once again last summer. As as an aside, the September issue of Tabletalk employs a few writers who pretty much presuppose the two-kingdoms model as they engage with that beloved American slogan: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

I look forward to any further comments or criticisms you may bring to the table.

Nathan Smith said...

Very good thoughts. I think the entire two kingdoms discussion can be seen as a commentary on the tension between two themes in scripture:

• Peaceable, nonviolent, citizen of a city whose builder and maker is God, sojourner
• God ordained government, pray for its leaders, don't quit your job as a soldier

The latter tells me that it must be permissible for a Christian to participate in government, but the former tells me it is a risky vocation.

Chris Donato said...

Nathan, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I concur: it's risky indeed.

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