So, it has come to this

Over the past year and a half I have been working with a group of people (about 4 families and a few singles) in Ann Arbor discipling them in their undoubted Catholic Christian faith. At one time there was hopes that this group might be able to form a core group of a fledgling Church but that hasn’t, to date, happened. These folks had been Christians a very long time but had only recently come to the fuller understanding of the Christian faith that is Reformed. I must say that in my 20 plus years of being in the ministry I have never encountered a group of people that were so hungry to understand what it means to be Reformed. They were reading books that many pastors never get to. I was and remain impressed and thankful to God.

When it became apparent that a fledgling Church wasn’t going to work out I advised them on some area ‘Reformed’ churches they might want to investigate. Being a Christian Reformed minister I was somewhat hopeful that the local CRC church might be a place where they could find a home.

After checking many of the area Reformed Churches they finally decided to check out the local CRC congregation. They came back with some very encouraging reports regarding the worship and liturgy of the services they attended and were finding some of the Sunday School classes offered to be encouraging. Eventually they decided to check out the prospective new members classes.

Welcome brick wall.

After one week of attendance one of the men was pulled aside with a request to meet with some of the leadership. Now it should be said that this gentleman is certainly one of the most well read and informed Reformed laymen I have ever known. Indeed it is my opinion that his breadth of knowledge of Scripture and passion for Christ outstrips most of the clergy I meet in this world. He was the one instrumental in teaching this little group the beginnings of Reformed Theology and Worldview and God used him to impact the lives of these families that gathered weekly around God’s Word. It was at this man’s request that I became attached to this little flock and I came to love all of the members of this Wednesday group like they were the family they were. I have known this man only a few years and yet I already count him as one of my closest friends.

It was his breadth of knowledge and his passion for Christ that earned him a meeting with the leadership who expressed to him their concern that he might be a source of friction in their church. In the meeting he sought to allay their fears and thought that all had been settled. That didn’t end up being true. After the following week’s prospective new members class he received a letter which I cite in part,

We do not typically ask new members to sign statements upon joining our congregation. However, we are asking you to sign the following statement because we recognize your intense interest in certain aspects of Reformed Theology. Our concern is that your views and opinions may cause divisions in our congregation. Throughout the years we have established a fellowship of believers from differing traditions of those who follow Jesus Christ. Differences of opinion and interpretation are accepted.

Now understand that nothing had happened to precipitate this letter. My friend had entered into some friendly discussions where some polite disagreements had been registered on both sides but there was nothing that even approximated conflict or friction. In the first meeting my friend made it known that he opposed women in office but as the CRC allows both views to be held he didn’t think that would be an issue. He also made it known in a kind of an offhand way, in the course of a conversation, that he believed in a young earth citing a book by Douglas Kelly as support.

So why this letter? Please understand dear reader that he’s being asked to sign a letter, promising to stay on a short leash, in order to join a Reformed Church, for the danger he represents in having an intense interest in certain aspects of the Reformed Faith. Oh the shame. Oh the disrepute. Oh the horror of such convictions. Next thing you know they’ll be asking a prospective member to leave a deposit if they show up having the Heidelberg catechism memorized.

Now what of the fear of upsetting the different traditions? First, just exactly what ‘different traditions’ are we talking about here? Does this mean that in our Church membership we have Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, and Jehovah Wittinesses who are all following Jesus Christ? Heaven to Murgatroyd … even — we wouldn’t want to upset that apple cart introducing somebody who really took the three forms of unity seriously would we?

Again, the paragraph cited above speaks of differences of opinion and interpretation are allowed… except apparently for a Reformed opinion or interpretation. And what of these differences of opinion and interpretation? Just how different of an opinion or interpretation can one be before one is told that is to different? Can one believe in Arminianism and be a member? Open Theism? Inclusivism?

Yeah, I’m a little pissed. Actually, more then a little. I would cut my right arm off to have this guy in the Church I pastor and what he is getting in another Reformed Church is the right boot of fellowship.

I am even more sizzled over the fact that this group of people can’t find a decent Reformed Church in a huge metropolitan area to Worship in without driving a sizable chunk to get to one.

I have these friends who rightfully are lamenting they can’t find a Reformed Church. I have my daughter in Florida who is living in a large Metropolitan area that can’t find a decent Reformed Church. Every where I go I meet people who say, “We don’t have a good Reformed Church in our area.”



“It is our traditional belief that man was given liberty to ennoble him. We may infer that those who would take his liberty away have the opposite purpose of degrading him…. Now we are at the point where regimentation, which used to be suggested with apologies, comes couched in the language of prerogative. The past shows unvaryingly that when a people’s freedom disappears, it goes not with a bang, but in silence amid the comfort of being cared for. That is the dire peril in the present trend toward statism. If freedom is not found accompanied by a willingness to resist, and to reject the favors, rather than to give up what is intangible but precarious, it will not be long be found at all.”

Richard Weaver — American Social / Political Philosopher

Here we find part of the reason that those who reject statism have such a difficult time in persuading others. Statists come to us in honey and sweetness. Those who are part of that system that just wants to ‘care for us’ are just trying to be ‘nice.’ This damn niceness is going to kill us all. It is exactly that observation, and the way it is stated, that causes others to recoil at those who are anti-Statists. Anti-statists reject the niceness of the government ‘help,’ and that rejection is seen as ‘not-nice,’ hostile, belligerent, and even mean-spirited. Those who are for the freedom that Weaver mentions are those who resist, reject, and who actively push away those Statists who advertise themselves as just trying to ‘care for people.’ The problem with the caring State, of course, is that, over time, it exponentially, discovers more and more reasons that people need to be cared for, thus perpetuating and increasing people’s need for the State’s care. The problem with the caring State is that it knows that once people get a taste for being cared for the invalid class will perpetually vote for their caretakers and against those who believe that people should be responsible to take care of themselves. The problem with the caring State is that it can only take on the burden for all this increased creative caring by increased destructive stealing. The problem with the caring State is that it knows what it is doing and what it is doing isn’t offering help but rather it is degrading men by making them slaves. And eventually all this caring is done more for the administrators then it is for the patients.

Those who see this agenda then react violently, and those who don’t see this agenda can only see the violent reaction and wonder at why these pro-Freedom people are so mean. Well, let me try to explain. The reason we are so ‘mean’ is that we love you. We understand that the more you let the State care for you the more what makes you noble is going to atrophy. We understand that all this caring is going to suffocate your humanity. We understand that ‘he who takes the King’s coin is the King’s man,’ and we’d kind of like to think you’d like to be your own man, beholden to nobody but Christ.

And being mean, and being free, we don’t like going silently into the night. So, put up with our dire warnings just a little longer. It will be soon enough and our breed will die out and you can go back to your velvet chains, and lick spittle obedience.

Back To The Form Of Subscription

Recently, I heard somebody of some import and seniority suggest that we should scrap the previous form of subscription for the new one based on the metaphor of chapel attendance. It seems that when this person was in college she was required to attend chapel and did much to avoid the requirement, and according to her testimony, her low views of Chapel were shared by many of her classmates. However, once she graduated college the college lifted the mandated attendance requirement and, mirable dictu, voluntary chapel attendance blossomed like thousands of acres of Tulips after a fresh spring rain.

Obviously the illustration was supposed to prove that requiring somebody to sign the Form of Subscription only makes them want to do everything they can to avoid what is required of them while, so the thinking goes, if we make signing less onerous then the result will be that everybody will take the Three Forms of Unity seriously, just as lifting mandatory chapel attendance resulted in massive chapel attendance.

Now, as one who could never be outstripped in finding creative ways to avoid mandatory chapel attendance I found this analogy intriguing. The problem though is the metaphor doesn’t really fit. First, requiring people to sign the form of subscription is more akin to requiring somebody to consummate their marriage after they are married. The attitude is not, ‘well, if I have to,’ but rather, ‘well, duh, that’s one reason I signed up.’ Just so with the Form of Subscription. A requirement to sign the document should be met with a ‘well, that’s why I’m here to begin with,’ and not a ‘well, if you’re going to make me, I guess I will, but boy promising to defend those Three Forms of Unity is like being asked to go to worthless chapel services.’

Second, the metaphor doesn’t fit unless what is included is that the new document really means that the requirement is that you don’t have to uphold the three forms of unity any more. In the above metaphor it was the release from attending chapel that supposedly freed people to attend chapel. If the metaphor is going to fit we would have to say that we no longer require a form of subscription, in any sense at all, believing that the results would be that deacons and elders would instantly begin to defend the Three Forms of Unity. With the new ‘covenant of ordination’ we haven’t released people from going to chapel, unless of course that is really what the subtext is.

Still, if the whole denomination is consistent with polling I recently read where only 17% of a small sampling of denominational Ministers, Elders, and Deacons, have read the Three Forms of Unity in the last ten years, I’m not sure why we should have a Form of Subscription, a Covenant of Ordination, a note from Mother excusing us from swearing allegiance, or any other kind of promissory process.

Now, I need to finish this so I can get to Chapel. You wouldn’t believe how many of those things I have yet to make up.

Is California Setting The Table To Pursue Homeschoolers?

Recently a court case in California has once again thrown the spotlight on the State’s attempt to dictate to parents what they can and can’t do regarding how the parents decide to school their children.

We should note that it sounds like this case might involve a troubled family. At least that is the way the legal argument frames the discussion. Still, we must keep in mind that any decision in this case can easily be appealed to as legal precedent against families which are not troubled and who likewise home school their children.

Apparently a lower court ruled that the ‘L’ family could not be required to send their children to government schools. That decision was appealed to a higher court that apparently overturned the lower courts decision in favor of the family.

In the appellate decision the Judges noted that the lower court ruling had sustained the interest of the parents to home school even though the lower court noted that were the children to be required to attend government schools,

(1) they could interact with people outside the family

(2) there are people who could provide help if something is amiss in the children’s lives

(3) they could develop emotionally in a broader world than the parents’ “cloistered” setting.

This reflects typical Statist bureaucratic reasoning. Speaking to the first point, we would say it fails to note that interaction with people outside the family in a government school setting, would likely include, interacting with gang-bangers, druggies, brain dead teachers, and youth culture in general. One reason many parents home school is so they can control the interaction of their children with people outside the family. Speaking to the second point above, we would say it misses the fact that outside of family supervision children are just as likely to meet people who provide input that will cause something to be amiss in the children’s lives. Speaking to the third point above, we would first note the pejorative attitude towards the family (it provides a ‘cloistered setting’) articulated. On this point we would ask why it is assumed that emotional development (whatever that is) happens more successfully when it happens in the broader world.

The Judges in this case go on eventually to say,

We agree with the Shinn court’s statement that “the educational program of the State of California was designed to
promote the general welfare of all the people and was not designed to accommodate the personal ideas of any individual in the field of education.”

We need to keep in mind that the Judges here are building a case that the State of California, despite popular legal opinion, does not require that home schooling be allowed. The citing of the ‘Shinn case’ reveals the Statist inclination of the Judges. The reasoning being used here is that the promotion of the general welfare of all the people (can you say Rousseau?) through the educational process has priority over personal and individual freedom. The State and its will has priority over the will of the individual, even in cases touching parental decision making for their own children.

Having articulated the State’s right, the Judges introduce the State’s stick if the State’s will is not submitted to,

Because parents have a legal duty to see to their children’s schooling within the provisions of these laws, parents who fail to do so may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program. (§§ 48291 & 48293.) Additionally, the parents are subject to being ordered to enroll their children in an appropriate school or education program and provide proof of enrollment to the court, and willful failure to comply with such an order may be punished by a fine for civil contempt. (§ 48293.)

Here we have in stark relief the reality that government is organized brute force. The court is saying here that if parents will not give them their children then parents will be subject to monetary fines and brainwashing classes that no doubt will teach political correctness in the realm of child rearing. The reader should be very clear here that the implication of this is that the State owns the children born in the State and parents who get out of line will be dealt with summarily.

The paragraph below emphasizes again the absolute sovereignty of the State over parents.

Jurisdiction over such parental infractions may be assigned to juvenile court judges. (§ 48295; Welf. & Inst. Code, § 601.4.) Further, under section 361,subdivision (a) of the Welfare and Institutions Code, the juvenile court has authority to limit a parent’s control over a dependent child, including a parent’s right to make educational decisions for a child, so long as the limitations do not exceed what is necessary to protect the child.

We should note in (a) above that it is the State which gets to decide what constitutes ‘limitations that do not exceed what is necessary to protect the child.’ As such all talk about court restrained ‘limitations’ is utter tripe, since it is the court itself that is deciding what constitutes appropriate limitations and what doesn’t constitute appropriate limitations.

The superior court also deals with first amendment claims the Judges
dismiss such claims by not so subtly suggesting that the parents are just using religious belief as an excuse to home school their own children,

The parents in the instant case have asserted in a declaration that it is because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs” that they home school their children and those religious beliefs “are based on Biblical teachings and principles.” Even if the parents’ declaration had been signed under penalty of perjury, which it was not, those assertions are not the quality of evidence that permits us to say that application of California’s compulsory public school education law to them violates their First Amendment rights. Their statements are conclusional, not factually specific. Moreover, such sparse representations are too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to home school his or her child.

The omniscient Judges here are saying that they know the minds of the parents and that the parents are not really serious in their religious convictions. This is *$^&_&% incredible. Parents only have first amendment rights when the State determines, by reading the minds of citizens, when they are genuinely invoking First Amendment rights.

If I lived in California I would be nervous.

Rowan Williams & N. T. Wright & Sharia Law

Some of you may have missed it but recently the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams suggested that Britain might need to consider adopting portions of Islamic law (Sharia) to govern in Britain, particularly in the context of Islamic communities within Britain. Now, Williams went out of his way to say that the bad parts of Islamic law shouldn’t be allowed, insisting that only the more benign parts be considered as potentially valuable contributions. It seems what Williams was contending for was the idea of a pluralistic society embracing supplementary jurisdictions, while still being, in some fuzzy unexplainable way, responsible to a overarching universal law. This would be, in Williams words,

a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that ‘power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents’

When someone introduces the notion of individuals retaining the liberty to choose the jurisdiction they will be adjudicated under one gets a vision of market place legal arrangements where individuals can shop for the best overall deal.

The Arch-Bishop ended his lecture by saying,

…if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it (supplementary jurisdictions) seems unavoidable.

Now here we have some observations and questions.

1.) Who or what determines the common good? An Islamic answer to what is the common good is going to be different than a Christian answer to what the common good is. A culture of feminism is going to define the common good differently then a culture of Muslims. Whose law or what law or which law will be used in order to decide that question?

The Arch-Bishop assumes a common understanding of a common good. That misplaced assumption is the sand in the gears of his thinking on this subject.

2.) The Arch-Bishop seems to be awakening to the difficulties of any culture being anything but homogeneous. The genesis of the Arch-bishops difficulty is that heterogeneous people are sitting up shop in the same geographic location and that is creating the kind of problems one would expect to find when people of vastly different worldviews become neighbors. His answer is to set up competing but complimentary law systems, which I would think in time would have to give way to competing religious systems, competing familial systems, etc. The Arch-Bishop seems to recognize the problems of the ‘secular’ State providing the totalistic structure under which diverse people are governed. The Arch-Bishop’s answer seems to be to try and find ways to set up competing law systems, but I have to wonder if competing law systems would lead to an amelioration within individuals of conflicted loyalties between culture and state but rather would lead to an intensification of competing loyalties between culture and state due to the inevitable balkanization that would of necessity occur.

3.) Williams seems to understand that if non-enculturated people have to choose between the culture they belong to or what they perceive to be the alien State that is ruling over them the culture will win every time. His suggestion to solve this is to make the State more alien culture friendly by introducing supplementary jurisdiction. One can’t help but wonder though if this becomes a story of the puppy who was allowed to sleep only on the corner of the bed, who, once he got older, ended up covering so much of the bed that the owner was the one sleeping on the corner. Having acquired a taste of ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ why won’t non-enculturated people keep demanding more and more and if they do how do the host people say ‘no’?

What Williams is realizing is that law is religious and that culture is totalistic and when alien cultures are introduced to homogeneous cultures what transpires is either conflict or change, and if change is what transpires then change has to come in the direction of the host culture or in the direction of the alien culture. Williams is, in effect, saying that the host culture must change in the direction of the alien culture.

Apparently many Englishmen, at some level understand that is what Williams is saying and have, understandably, raised a huge stink about what the Arch-Bishop has said.

Coming to the Arch-Bishops defense is another Anglican Bishop, N. T. Wright.

Wright offered the following in his defense,

Second, the fundamental issue Williams was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen. For 200 years it has been assumed that these operated in separate spheres: the law regulates my public life, faith or religion operate in private. This was always a dangerous half-truth, since many of the great world faiths, including Christianity itself, actually claim that all of life is included within religious obedience. As some of us used to be taught, if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. In recent years various governments, including our own, have pushed the other way, to suggest that the secular state is itself master of all of life, including religious conviction….Rowan was going to the roots of these problems and coming up not only with fresh analysis but fresh solutions, particularly what he calls ‘interactive pluralism’. The question of how we live together as a civil and wise society while cherishing different faiths is a deep and serious one and can’t be pushed away just because people take fright at certain misunderstandings. His point was precisely that neither the secular state nor any particular religion can ‘monopolise’.

First the great problem here (a problem that also exists in Williams Lecture) is the assumption that the State can be Secular. What Wright calls the secular State is not secular but rather is derivative of some kind of religious conviction. The problem is not one of the Secular state trying to be master of all of life, including the private sphere vs. alien religions trying to be master of all of life including the public square. The problem is that it is a contest between two different competing religions. The Secular State provides its own religion and that religion impinges upon the private realm of citizens causing conflict with citizens who don’t practice the civil religion of the State. On the other hand competing religions, being totalistic in their reach, will challenge the current State because it is not derivative of the alien cultures religions to which the adherents subscribe.

Second Wright’s problem is that he is still trying to carve out some kind of neutral realm where no religion or where all religions prevail. But even if he finds a arrangement where ‘neither the secular state nor any particular religion can ‘monopolise,’ he will have created the monopoly that requires that nobody can have a monopoly. Even if such an idee fixe could be created the requirements that it would take to maintain that idee fixe would constitute a monopoly that any other religion would not be allowed to go beyond. In short, totalistic arrangements or cultural monopolies are unavoidable and inevitable. The problem that Wright and Williams are rubbing up against is their reluctance to recognize that somebody’s religion must be in the ascendancy. The answer that they are offering to avoid this is to find a compromise religion (the ‘no monopoly religion’) that all can sincerely subscribe to while they pretend to give allegiance to their part time gods. Wright was correct when he said that ‘Jesus is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all,’ and to try and discover some system where Jesus wouldn’t be Lord of all, reveals that Wright has some problems in his Theology.

Third, Wright assumes that it is societally proper to cherish different faiths. That assumption is a religious one (the religion of multi-culturalism) and it may not be one that people of other religions cherish. Muslim societies don’t cherish other faiths and depending upon what Wright means by ‘cherish’ I’m not sure a genuinely Christian society should cherish other faiths either.

Look, when one gets right down to brass tacks some faith system is going to produce some law system. That law system will either reflect Muslim Sharia or it will reflect Christian Law categories, or as is most predominant in the West today, it will reflect humanistic law categories. The Islamic presence in the bowels of the West are presenting problems for the West precisely because they, unlike many Christians, have retained genuine allegiance to their God.

It sounds like the answer of Bishops like Williams and Wright is to yield to the demands of aliens in their midst. I don’t suppose that the option of turning away from both the law monopoly of Islam and the law monopoly of the pagan State and turning towards the Lordship of Christ in the area of law occurred to either one of them.