Witte On Form & Freedom

Last week I finished John Witte, Jr.’s book ‘The Reformation Of Rights; Law, Religion, and Human Rights In Early Modern Calvinism.’ In my estimation Witte crafted his book so that the first half presented Calvinists who emphasized the need for a Calvinistic social order and structure, still admitting the need for freedom and liberties within that order while the last half of the book presented Calvinists who emphasized the need for a Calvinistic social order and structure to allow for expansive freedom and liberties within that Calvinistic social order.

This follows the idea of form and freedom of which Dr. Francis Schaeffer often referenced. Dr. Schaeffer argued that the countries that embraced the Reformation excelled because they found the proper relation between form and freedom. Expansive liberties can only survive among a religiously homogeneous people who can live within a set social order form precisely because they are religiously homogeneous. The danger, over time, of providing increasingly expansive liberties, is that the homogeneity of the people begins to break down thus causing threat to the very social order that generously provides the expansive liberties. To the contrary if any social order does not provide genuine liberties then that social order can only survive by dint of brute force and will constantly be in danger of being overthrown. Witte’s book testifies that the genius of successful Reformed social orders is found in creating a delicate balance between form and freedom.

The issue of expansive liberties applies especially to minority religious groups that exist among a majority expression. Questions arise as to how much freedom can be extended to them without overthrowing the social order. Ancient social orders such as imperialistic Rome solved this problem by allowing all religions as long as all of the religions worshiped Caesar. As such the religious homogeneity that provided the social order glue was Emperor worship with the the other religious expressions being submissive after thoughts to the true religio licita. All other religious expressions had to serve the lawful religion. The refusal of Christians to confess ‘Caesar is Lord,’ confessing instead that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ accounts for why the Christians were arrested for treason and sedition. Imperial Rome understood that Christianity, in attacking the lawful religion of the social order, was attacking the social order that was based on the religious homogeneity of the people.

Witte’s work reminds us that Reformed tradition through thinkers like Calvin, Beza, and Althusius, provided for a distinctly Reformed social order, while later Reformed writers like Milton and other English puritans with unfamiliar names like Overton, Lilburne, and Walwyn emphasized the necessity for expansive liberties.

“For by natural birth, all men are equally alike born to like property, liberty, and freedom, as as we are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, everyone with a natural, innate freedom and property (as it were writ in the table of every man’s heart, never to be obliterated) even so we are to live, everyone equally and alike to enjoy his birthright and privilege; even all where God by nature hath made him free.

[E]very man by nature [is also] a King, Priest, and Prophet in his own natural cirucit and compass, whereof no second [person] may partake, but by deputation, commission, and free consent from him whose right and freedom it is.”

The interesting thing to note though is that the men mentioned above were originally pushing for those expansive liberties against a prevailing social order that was not Reformed (King Charles’ High Anglicanism) though Milton continued to push for them in the new Cromwellian order. Further it is interesting to note that almost a century prior the very kind of expansive liberties that the Puritans pushed for during the oppression of King Charles and Arch-Bishop Laud their Calvinist forefathers had rejected in Geneva when they were pushed by the Genevan man of letter Jean Morley. Some might conclude that what was previously considered out of bounds in a Reformed social order a century leader was considered standard Reformed fare when pursued in defiance of an oppressive order that was anti-Reformed. Is this a case where Reformed views had changed or is it case that different circumstances call for different responses?

So great was the emphasis by Milton on rights and liberties that Witte notes that the Puritan era English Parliament would eventually group Milton and the ana-baptist Roger Williams together as radicals who deserved censorship. With this admission Witte calls into question John Milton’s Calvinistic credentials.

In a future post I will seek to highlight and summarize Milton’s appeal for far reaching expansive individual and personal liberties. Some would see in these appeals a template for future liberties that would be granted by future Democratic and Republican governments so coming to fruition in the West.

The Transitional Time Between Self Government & Tyranny

“A people cannot be debased in a single generation; and the Spaniards under Charles V and Phillip II proved the truth of the remark, that no nation is ever so formidable to its neighbors for a time, as a nation which, after being trained in self government, passes suddenly under a despotic ruler. The energy of democratic institutions survives for a few generations, and to it are super-added the decision and certainty which are the attributes of government when all its powers are directed by a single mind. It is true that this preternatural vigor is short-lived national corruption and debasement gradually follow the loss of the national liberties; but there is an interval before their workings are felt, and in that interval the most ambitious schemes of foreign conquest are often successfully undertaken.”

Edward Shepherd Creasy
Fifteen Decisive Battles Of The Western World — pg. 206

These United States are living at the tail end of Creasy’s interval.

How To Advertise Your Church

They just put up a new sign on the billboard that is 65 yards from the Church I serve. I’ve been told that the very small piece of land that the billboard is anchored into was thought to belong to the Church at one time but in some kind of contested setting it was determined that the sliver of land belonged to another party and they thought it was an ideal place to plant an eyesore.

Anyway… the new sign advertises a recent Church start up in Charlotte named ‘Real life Church.’ Twenty something, Randy Shiver is the ‘Pastor’ of this fledgling group. Randy is a Joel Osteen fan but comes across more like the Robert Duvall Character in the film, ‘The Apostle.’ I met Randy once and he told me that he had studied Theology at Crackerjack Bible College, and that ‘I try not to get into Calvinism and that other one issues. What’s important is that people need to get saved.’

When one looks at the sign one sees, arranged against a white background, four images positioned in a linear fasion from left to right, with each image following the previous image and connected by ‘plus signs.’ Each image has a caption underneath of it explaining its significance.

The first image is a picture of a spilled out bag of coffee beans with a cup of steaming coffee placed upon a saucer that has two sugar cubes placed upon it. The cup and saucer look to be fine china. Underneath the image is the word, ‘Beans.’

The second image is a picture of a Caucasian 30 something male and female who are dressed as if they are going to hit the night clubs. Underneath this image is the word, ‘Buds.’

The third image is a picture of a single pair of faded blue jeans. Underneath this image is the word, ‘Blues.’

The fourth image is a picture of a Caucasian 20 something guitarist wearing a cut off t-shirt and blue jeans. He is sporting a fro hairdo and is in a pose doing the splits in mid air as if he has just jumped off one of those huge amplifiers at a Rock -n- Roll concert. Underneath this image is the word, ‘Band.’

Underneath all of this is the name of their Church — ‘Real Life Church.’

Remember we are advertising a Church.

First, I want to look at some small matters concerning the marketing angle of this.

I was a bit surprised that all three people placed on the sign were Caucasians. In our multicultural era it would seem they would have had enough sense to put an Asian or a Black person on the sign. Still, we must keep in mind that Charlotte is a very white community and their marketing surveys probably informed them that non-Caucasian people on the sign might not be attractive in this community.

The second thing that surprised me was the coffee that was in a fine china cup sitting on a fine china saucer. I would have thought that in marketing to the twenty and thirty somethings they would have put the coffee in a Styrofoam cup.

Clearly though they are marketing their church to what young adults in our culture value. I noticed in their alliterative use of the letter ‘B’ in their captions they didn’t use the word ‘Bible’ to advertise their church. Hmmm…. I wonder why that is? Also I was of the decided opinion that they would attract more people if instead of a picture of coffee with the caption ‘beans’ they would have place a picture of a foaming stein of Beer with the caption, ‘Beer.’

The thing that should be noted is that the sign shouts that Church is about what people want. ‘Attend here and we will give you what you want.’ And yet, the problem with the fallen sinner is that they always want everything to be about what they want. So, this Church, like most Churches today, is selling itself as the place where you can go and be titillated. But in Biblical Churches every week the law damns those who attend and the Gospel brings them back to life. This church is one more version of, ‘what can I get out of church,’ while Biblical Christians worship with the mindset of, ‘we have assembled here to give praise to the Triune God.’ The former mindset sees church as being about those who attend. The latter mindset sees Church as being about God who is the recipient of Worship. The former never gets past the horizontal. The latter attempts to be vertical.

As I think about the sign and the prevalent churches that dot the American landscape that reflect what that sign is communicating I think about the old 1980’s sitcom ‘Cheers,’ and its theme song.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
your name.

Really, in these kind of Churches all you need to do is get rid of the sexual dynamics that were part of the series and their churches would be just like Sam Malone’s Bar. Pastor Randy is just an ecclesiastical version of a combination of the Cheers Bartender’s ‘Coach’ and Sam Malone. People in our impersonal culture are dying to be connected interpersonally with other people and if they can find that inner connectivity in a bar or a Church its all the same. Humans were made to be in fellowship. Indeed, it is an open question if it is possible to be human and not be in fellowship.

Now, I think camaraderie is certainly part of a living and vital Church but such camaraderie has to be based on a shared vision of the transcendent and exalted God of the Bible by a people who are counter-cultural. The problem with ‘Real Life Church’ is not that it wants to provide camaraderie. The problem with ‘Real Life Church’ is that it makes that camaraderie its teleological end.

Having said all of that, I firmly believe that ‘Real Life Church’ will soon be one of the biggest Churches in Charlotte.

Didn’t somebody say something about cisterns that cannot hold water?

Congressman Johnson & Pastor McAtee Chit Chat

Dear Pastor McAtee,

Thank you for contacting my office with your concerns regarding House Bill 5912. I greatly appreciate hearing from constituents and other Michigan citizens about issues of importance to them because it helps me know what I need to be paying attention to. Your willingness to communicate with us allows me to be up-to-date and aware of those whom I represent.

HB 5912, introduced by Representative Clack on March 19, is much less an intrusion on privacy and more an accounting mechanism to see who is learning where. The bill would require the parent or legal guardian of a child being educated at home to furnish the following to the superintendent of your local school district: the name and age of each child who is being educated at home, the number/name of the school district and the city/township and county in which the parent or legal guardian resides and the name and address of the parent or legal guardian. The very same regulation is already required of those that attend nonpublic school.

Please let me assure you that this bill would not affect the way you teach your children or limit your choice to home school. If the intent of this bill were to do so I most definitely would not have cosponsored this bill. The bill would simply bring home schooling under the same umbrella as other nonpublic school entities. This “umbrella” currently does not nor does it seek to regulate non-public schools. This bill is not an effort to ease in regulations on the home schooling community.

The concern of home schooling parents, children, and other advocates is reasonable, though I urge you to consider the positive aspects of the present bill as written, rather than the possibility for negative legislation in the future. If this bill is passed, the children who are home schooled in a mischievous manner will be recognized and helped. Although these children make up a very small percentage of those who are home schooled, we cannot justify leaving these children behind and letting their guardians get away with neglecting our youth’s education.

Once again, I thank you for contacting me about House Bill 5912. I assure you that your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions will be considered when I am asked to vote on HB 5912. Please feel free to contact me again regarding this or any other issue.


Bert Johnson
State Representative
District 5


Dear Representative Johnson,

I am a homeschooling parent. I do not want to be under the State’s umbrella. The State has no more business in regulating how I educate my children then I have any business in regulating how the State paves roads. In short I don’t want to be under your umbrella and you have no constitutional authority to try and force home schoolers under your umbrella.

Your ‘accounting mechanism’ is an intrusion of my privacy because it is none of your business and it requires me to compromise my privacy by forcing me to report to busybody school districts! Since I don’t owe the State anything as it pertains to my children’s education your bill is most certainly a intrusion of privacy, your protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

My advice remains the same and that advice is that when the State shows itself able to implement an ‘accounting mechanism’ that actually leads to government schooled children being educated past the level of moron I will be glad then to consider the possibility that home schoolers will need to have an accounting mechanism. You complain about the home schooled children who might be educated in a mischievous manner and yet every day in thousands of schools throughout Michigan children are consistently educated in a mischievous manner. I continue to believe that students not educated at all would be better served then students educated in Michigan Schools — such is the abysmal state of government education.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. I wish your response would have reflected more common sense on your part. I know you have good intentions Congressman but you need to provide solutions for what your are responsible for (Government schools in Michigan) before you take it upon yourself to be responsible for what is not your responsibility.

Leave my children alone,

Bret L. McAtee
Pastor — Charlotte Christian Reformed Church

Obama A ‘Good Man’?

“Good men don’t turn a blind eye to unrepentant ex-terrorists; support vile, anti-American bigots; lie about their core beliefs; and look down on traditional Americans. Most significantly, good men don’t allow beautiful babies — the least among us — to be discarded like refuse and die miserable, lonely deaths in dark utility rooms. In fact, if we cannot call Obama a bad man, there is no such thing as a bad man. And calling him a good man doesn’t just strain credulity, it puts it in the hospital in traction.”