Skip to comments.Green Baggins, 2K, Westminster-West, gay marriage, and Calvinist politics
Posted on 03/22/2012 7:58:02 AM PDT by darrellmaurina
If you're a Free Republic participant, I already know you're a political conservative. If you're a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America, or United Reformed Churches, and if you don't know what "two kingdoms" theology is, you need to read this post.
What follows is the CO-URC version of posts I made today on the United Reformed and Orthodox Presbyterian listserves run by Christian Observer magazine. It responds to this thread on the Green Baggins blog owned by Rev. Lane Keister: http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/review-of-_the-escondido-theology_-general-considerations/#comments
You can find the OPC and URC versions of my posts here:
Brothers, what is being taught by some professors at Weatminster Theological Seminary in California simply is not in accord with our Reformed theological tradition of political engagement, and it isn't even in accord with the old (and now largely discredited) Southern Presbyterian "spirituality of the church" doctrine. As I say below, it comes very close to raising the white flag of surrender in the face of Satan's advances in society.
I do not believe R2K theology is heresy, and thus it's probably not something pastors should be prosecuted in the courts of the courts of the church for advocating.
However, if you are a Calvinist and you are politically conservative, you need to be aware of this movement. You need to ask your pastor what he believes about it. If you're an elder in your church and your pastor is not preaching on the major cultural problems confronting America today, you need to take him aside and find out why, especially if your pastor is a younger man or a Westminster-West graduate. If he's honestly unaware of the issues, you need to get him good solid Reformed material on political action (pretty much anything by Marvin Olasky is a good idea), and perhaps buy him a gift subscription to World Magazine.
If not stopped, the Two Kingdoms view will devastate the ability of Reformed Chriatians to respond to cultural wickedness, will capitulate in the face of the efforts of liberals to impose evil on the church, and will cause pastors to "hold their fire" when they need to be leading full-speed-ahead charges in their own congregations to prevent their members from developing seriously unbiblical or socialistic worldviews taught by secular college professors and schoolteachers -- and by too many Christian colleges and high schools.
Worst of all, when churches stop preaching against things like legalization of gay marriage, they often stop preaching against sinful behavior inside the church.
We need to stop the 2K movement, and stop it now before it causes more damage to the Reformed faith. It's embarrassing to have to say the Roman Catholics are doing a better job of standing up to President Obama's unconstitutional abortion pill mandates than too many Protestants, and that is only the tip of the iceberg if we don't make sure our pastors are leading the fight rather than waving white flags.
Many of us here (on the United Reformed listserve) remember the controversy over the Heidelblog, the now-deleted blog run by a URC professor at Westminster-West where a number of people, including our own CO-URC participant and URC elder Mark Van Der Molen, spent a lot of time arguing against two-kingdoms views. He and others tried to get me involved in publicly criticizing the Heidelblog, and I participated to some extent, but at that point I thought the 2K movement was a minor and larely irrelevant discussion which wasn't worth a lot of attention.
I no longer believe that. I've become convinced that the 2K movement is not only a minor annoyance but also a significant distraction from the Christian calling to fight evil and wickedness in the world, and in some cases it's even worse than that -- there are professedly conservative Reformed people seriously arguing that the Christian church should not speak out against gay marriage.
Over on Rev. Lane Keister's "Green Baggins" blog, a discussion has been taking place recently that is at least as problematic as the old Heidelblog. It involves a number of people who are well-known in the URC community, and a number of URC people including Elder Van Der Molen and Steve Zrimec, a former deacon at Calvin CRC in Grand Rapids who has recently joined the URC and has a long history of advocating radical two-kingdoms views on the internet.
Rev. Keister has closed comments on that section of his blog, which I didn't see until yesterday. The debate started out as a review of Dr. Frame's recent book on Westminster-West. That is not a subject that particularly interests me, and I didn't realize until yesterday that the discussion had morphed into a very detailed discussion of the issues involving the "Two Kingdoms" theology.
The discussion is here, and I'd strongly encourage people to read it: http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/review-of-_the-escondido-theology_-general-considerations/#comments
There's a lot of good stuff to help understand the issues with the "Two Kingdoms" view, especially that being advocated by some (not all) professors at Westminster-West. As is always the case with any internet discussion whose posts exceed 500 items, there's problems, too.
My concern is not Frame's book but rather the comments on the blog.
This whole "two kingdoms" discussion frequently confuses two very different issues: the role of the church as institute and the role of Christian citizens. If all 2K people want is for Christians to speak as individuals rather than through the institutional church except in cases extraordinary, I have no serious objection.
The problem is that I'm reading comments like this from the pastor of Faith PCA in Cheraw, S.C.: "I do think that all language of cultural transformations tends to lead to either social gospel or thenomy/Christian reconstruction. In either case, it often leads to the exaltation of politics to kingdom-level interest, which I think is a form of idolatry, whether one's politics are liberal or conservative." (Jason Van Bemmel, March 2, 2012 at 9:55pm)
Again, from OPC elder Dr. Daryl Hart: "2k critics are guilty of a theology of glory. 2k affirms a theology of the cross." (March 3, 2012 at 8:14 am)
Still another: "If you're amil, cultural transformation as the expansion of Christ's kingdom is, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, a misguided waste of kingdom resources and priorities. Actually, at worst, it is idolatry and spiritual unfaithfulness to Christ and His true kingdom, which He Himself said was not of this world and thus that His followers should not take up arms and fight for it. (Jason Van Bemmel, #158, March 6, 2012 at 8:35 am)
To accuse people of idolatry, advocating a "theology of glory," a "misguided waste of kingdom resources and priorities" or "spiritual unfaithfulness" is very serious and requires a serious response.
Jeff Cagle, a ruling elder at Mt. Airy (Md.) PCA, is entirely correct when he worries "that the "anti-transformationalist" net will sweep up more than just fish." (#115, March 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm)
Jed Paschall, who dropped out of Moody Bible Institute and now waits tables while being a member of Christ PCA in Temecula, Calif. and prolifically blogging on the "two kingdoms" position, summarized the situation correctly, though coming to the wrong conclusion: "The 2k position is not meant to downplay the importance of the politics of this world, rather it seeks to maintain the spiritual and other-worldly call of the church. I realize that there is much controversy surrounding this issue, but 2kers are not calling on Christian's as citizens to abdicate their responsibilities as such, or to withdraw their duty to neighborly love which does entail some concern for this world, we simply are asking the church to take her calling as the church seriously. Maybe the 2k position seems like an over-correction to many..." (#339: March 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm).
That's not too bad, but just a few comments later (#343, March 12, 2012 at 5:52pm) Jed Paschall makes the astounding argument that while churches may correctly bar pastors from performing gay marriages and bar such ceremonies from being performed inside the church buildings, it would be wrong for the church to say " Furthermore, we call upon the state to maintain the biblical, creational norms regarding marriage, by banning all possibilities of gay marriages, etc, etc." He goes on to say, "I would say that the church qua church has overstepped itself, because they now are seeking to exercise power in the civil realm by enacting or endorsing policy. I do not believe that this lies within the charter of the Church given by Christ in the Great Commission. Now if an individual believer, speaking as a citizen were to petition the state in this manner, I would argue that he is fully within his freedoms to do so."
Again, Jed Paschall wrote: "If the church is issuing these kinds of statements in order to sway the vote one way or the other or pressure legislative change, they are in effect overstepping the constraints of their call of gospel proclamation and disciple making." (#361: March 13, 2012 at 3:56 am)
I do not see how this can be regarded as anything other than an abdication of responsibility by the church. If calling members to oppose gay marriages is not a legitimate "case extraordinary" in the modern American political context where the church can and must speak out against evil, I don't know what is.
Unfortunately, that's not clear to others. The poster "Sean" (#347, March 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm) wrote with regard to Rev. Jason Stellman of Exile PCA in Woodinville, Wash., whose church is in a state that recently legalized gay marriage: "utter waste of credibility and misuse of office it would be for Jason or any other minister/s of the gospel to sacrifice/marginalize the redemptive office and ministerial function of the church to be just another of a few million salvos in the so-called culture war."
The stakes on this are high, and not only in one direction. Not only is the civil magistrate under the Escondido version of the two kingdoms doctrine free to be latitudinarian, he is also free to be wildly extreme in his punishments. As "Tom" said: "The fact is that under Escondido-style two kingdoms (ES2K) the state is left to make any law and any punishment it wishes. It is free to execute murderers, adulterers, child molesters, or habitual jaywalkers. It is free to cut off the offending hand of a thief. Or tatoo an "A" on the forehead of a wayward spouse. The ES2K magistrate can jail practicing homosexuals or grant them a marriage certificate. And you can forget about anything having to do with blasphemy, heresy, or Sabbath-keeping. There is nothing in the ephemeral "natural law" of ES2K to instruct the magistrate which laws are God-pleasing orwhich punishments are just. There is no natural law version of lex talionis. Obviously the magistrate under a ES2K system is far more arbitrary, ruthless, and fearsome (in a negative sense, not a Romans 13 sense) than anything the most militant theonomist could ever envision." (#358: March 12, 2012 at 11:42pm)
As another poster said with regard to "ZRim," otherwise known as Steve Zrimec, a former deacon of Calvin CRC in Grand Rapids and prolific internet supporter of the Two Kingdoms doctrine who recently joined the United Reformed Churches, " no wonder Escondido 2K is not well-regarded, and must be treated and seen as an aberrant, defective form of the historic 2K position." (Truth Unites... and Divides, #373: March 13, 2012 at 9:43 am)
ZRim, now a URC member, asks this: "Do we all need to be reminded that no-fault divorce is unbiblical, that fornication will not be tolerated? Or is there no similar concern for those things because they don't exactly inhabit the public mind?" (March 13, 2012 at 11:13 am)
Such a statement is simply shocking to me. Look at the percentages of young people and even older people in our churches involved in immorality. If our churches are not preaching on such matters, it is our own fault.
Quite frankly, if churches are not preaching on the major sins of American culture, they aren't doing their jobs.
Brethren, the stakes in these matters are serious. We can say all we want about pastors not being professional politicians and not being the best-equipped people to make political pronouncements. I might very well agree with that in many cases.
But the culture wars are real, they're deadly serious, and if we're not going to fight back we can't assume the devil is going to stop fighting just because we try to raise the white flag.
Darrell Todd Maurina, Member Gospel of Grace ARP, Springfield, Mo.
Call a spade a spade...r2k is heresy.
The point I'm making here is that those who ignore the culture wars, including gay marriage, are not going to be spared. They're in for a most unpleasant surprise. Even if they don't want to fight in this culture war, the war will be coming to them, whether they like or or not......and soon!
Since I attend a PCA church, I figured I’d read the post and linked website to see what the issues are. It’s like walking into a cafeteria at the end of a food fight and trying to figure out what the original argument was about.
Traditions of men expanding to overfill the entire creation; obliverating everything He says and does:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” Matthew 5:12-14
Let's be fair: that's an inherent problem of theology. Theologians write a lot and they're writing about complicated things. As Reformed Christians we're used to our preachers caring about doctrine in detail and that's not bad. We're not broad evangelicals who subscribe to a brief two-page statement of faith; we're Calvinists who subscribe to the Westminster Standards, Three Forms of Unity, or one of several other very detailed doctrinal standards with literally thousands of Scripture proof texts.
Also, “Two Kingdoms” advocates are all over the map on many issues. Some of them are probably more or less okay.
Others of them... well... let's let these quotes speak for themselves:
“In response to the question posed in #275, Pastor Stellman says that a pastor preaching on the sin of abortion and praying in pastoral prayers for the legality of abortion to be overturned wouldnt turn any heads or cause any concerns at all. Such ministerial activity falls within Escondido 2K boundaries”
OK, I can live with that though those aren't the words I would have used. I'm a little hesitant to say I like it given the context (see the following links for examples) but it's not too bad.
However, read this item by Jed Paschall and I think it frames the problem clearly. He's actually arguing that the church should not take a stand against legalization of gay marriage. However, read this item by Jed Paschall and I think it frames the problem clearly. He's actually arguing that the church should not take a stand against the legalization of gay marriage.
If that isn't one of the "cases extraordinary" envisioned by the confessions, I can't imagine what else could be.
If by speaking against gay marriage you mean, for example:
We, ministers of the Church of ________ assert that the Scriptures clearly affirm that homosexuality is a sin. Moreover, we also assert that the Scriptures clearly affirm that marriage is to be shared between a man and a woman. Therefore, we affirm, in line with Biblical teaching that gay marriage is a sinful distortion of the biblical intent for human marriage and sexuality. As such, our congregations will neither condone nor perform gay marriages within our membership or clergy.
Then, yes, I would say that this an important clarification of the churchs stance on a pressing cultural issues.
However, if we were to add to this example:
Furthermore, we call upon the state to maintain the biblical, creational norms regarding marriage, by banning all possibilities of gay marriages, etc, etc.
I would say that the church qua church has overstepped itself, because they now are seeking to exercise power in the civil realm by enacting or endorsing policy. I do not believe that this lies within the charter of the Church given by Christ in the Great Commission. Now if an individual believer, speaking as a citizen were to petition the state in this manner, I would argue that he is fully within his freedoms to do so.
Read my post #6 on this thread, which has direct reference to the mess in the Church of Scotland. While Roman Catholics are fighting against gay marriage in England, the Church of Scotland (which has its own internal homosexual problem) is avoiding speaking out.
Rev. Jason Stellman, a PCA minister in Washington state who is a former missionary in Europe and is a prominent “two kingdoms” advocate, was asked what he thinks about whether the Church of Scotland (and by extension other Reformed bodies in Britain) have the right to speak up.
His answer was interesting, and not too bad.
The more radical “two kingdoms” people continued, however, to say the church ought not to be talking about gay marriages since it's a political rather than a religious question.
That is simply not biblical or Reformed.
At best, it's an overreaction to the craziness of twentieth-century liberalism in which the assemblies of the church wasted tremendous amounts of time fighting over whether to endorse liberal political goals, and (in the South) a sincere desire to follow the old Southern Presbyterian tradition of avoiding political statements on things like slavery. I believe the Southern Presbyterians were dead wrong on that — slavery was a moral issue and the slaveholders were wrong — but I can at least respect people who are following what they believe is an “Old School” theological conservative viewpoint.
At worst, this refusal to take a stand on “political questions” it's nothing but an attempt to carve out room in the church for liberal political positions.
(And no, none of you are on any kind of formal ping list; I'm simply sending this to people who I've noticed commenting on Calvinist postings and may be interested in the Reformed faith.)
When things have gotten to the point that there are “Two Kingdoms” advocates who profess to be conservative Calvinists but are seriously arguing that the church ought not to take a stand on gay marriage because it is a “political issue,” it's time for conservative Reformed laymen (and especially elders) to stand up and say, “Enough is enough!”
I have a long history with the URC and Westminster-West — up to and including being accepted for admission to the seminary many years ago and then deciding not to go for personal reasons totally unrelated to this “Two Kingdoms” issue. I have great respect for the seminary's founders, several of whom I know personally. I'm particularly pained because some of these “Two Kingdoms” advocates are deserving of real credit for many years of work done in the church to fight liberalism and heresy.
However, these views on politics being advocated by some of the Westminster-West professors (not all) are not just wrong but dangerous. They are harming the reputation of the seminary as well as causing problems in the church, and they need to be fought against now.
The stakes are simply too great to let politically uniformed pastors muddle things up for our churches. They may mean well, but they're causing major problems at a time when we need to be unified to fight against the culture wars that threaten to destroy what is left of biblical Christianity in America.
We are commanded to spread the Gospel. That alone will change hearts, not passing laws.
We certainly don't disagree that the gospel alone changes hearts, but it's a matter of both-and, not either-or. Surely we should preach the gospel to liberals and pray that God converts them, but we also need to stop them from imposing their evil wickedness on society through congress, the courts, and lower legislative bodies.
2 posted on Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:06:24 AM by crghill: “Call a spade a spade...r2k is heresy.”
I can't agree, crghill. Take a look at the posts by guitarplayer1953 and gamecock. This is part of why I won't call R2K heresy — it's close enough to the old Southern Presbyterian “spirituality of the church” view that even some people here on Free Republic, who can be assumed to be right-wing politically active conservatives, are saying things which John Calvin and John Knox likely would have regarded either as anabaptist or as tending toward anabaptism.
Calvin and Knox believed in imposing not just general Christian principles but explicitly Reformed principles through civil law. I'm not advocating that for a long list of reasons, but there are issues where there can be no compromise between crystal-clear Christian values and the values of secular liberalism, and it's those issues on which I believe Christians must fight in modern America.
12 posted on Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:03:45 PM by guitarplayer1953: “Yes that is true and that is why Ben F. said you can not legislate morality.”
Benjamin Franklin was not a Christian by any evangelical definition of that word. The idea that government can't legislate morality is totally false: government will **ALWAYS** be legislating someone’s version of morality. The only question is **WHOSE** version.
Leftist liberals typically value personal choice over all else, and therefore advocate things such as homosexual marriage and women's “rights” to choose to abort their babies. They may call it “human rights” or “values” rather than morality, but there's no difference between liberals passing laws in accord with their values and conservatives passing laws in accord with our values.
Christians can't get around these issues. Either our government will say women have a right to kill their babies, or our government will say babies have a right to life and should be protected. Same for gay marriage. There is no middle ground. Christians have to either follow the anabaptists and say Christians have no need to be concerned about government (in which case, posting on Free Republic is quite inconsistent) or we have to fight against wickedness in our courts and legislatures and congress.
9 posted on Thursday, March 22, 2012 5:28:57 PM by guitarplayer1953: “One question did Christ ever speak out against Rome (government)? No He spoke out against the religious leadership.”
Jesus was not a Roman citizen and had no right under Roman law to speak out against the government. Paul, who was a Roman citizen, could and did demand his rights under the law.
Look at this, for example:
Romans 16:35-39: 35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: Release those men. 36 The jailer told Paul, The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace. 37 But Paul said to the officers: They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out. 38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.
The fact that we participate on Free Republic is proof that we want to change our government's seriously wrongheaded views and want to stop liberals from legislating their version of morality.
It's time we speak up and stop letting liberals run our government, and to the extent that they've wrongly taught our ministers that Christians can't speak up, we need to convince our ministers that the Bible not only allows but arguably requires Christian citizens to try to stop evil in the world around them.
I don't have a problem with saying that the church isn't typically the best organization to speak out officially and formally. Individual Christians are usually better equipped to do that than the church as institute. However, the leftists aren't satisfied with emasculating the church and want to stop all Christians, not just institutional churches, from speaking out against evil, and unfortunately, they're being aided and abetted by some people advocating R2K views inside some Reformed churches.
But it's also true that bad laws do change hearts, and in the wrong way.
It's also true that there's such a thing as objective moral truth (also called "natural law"), and civil laws ought to correspond to that objective moral truth unless there's a very, very good reason not to in specific cases. (For example, because the government is sufficiently corrupt that it can't be trusted with the additional power.)
Why? Well, for one thing, correspondence to objective truth ("reality") is the definition of sanity. Laws permitting, e.g., abortion are literally insane, and it's insane not to oppose them.
Don't forget the "community effects". Laws that permit (or worse, encourage) bad things mean that you and your family have to live in a society where those bad things are tolerated. Straight from scripture: "Bad company corrupts good morals." Well, a society that legislates bad things is "bad company".
Finally, God judges nations as well as individuals. Much of the Old Testament was written to tell that story.
Being crucified as a political rebel wasn't his mission. Jesus was a member of a subjugated people in a state which was effectively a more-or-less benevolent (and utterly pagan) dictatorship.
Is that the kind of America you want your grandchildren to inherit?
Infiltrate and destroy from within.
Read your bible the last days will be as the days of Noah, the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket and that is the way the plan is, all of creation groans for the day of the new heavens and the new earth.
As a conservative, I certainly affirm what the First Amendment says, namely, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” I am in no way an advocate of official state-sanctioned established churches with government-paid clergy, and I don't want to have civil rulers prohibit members of Catholic parishes, Unitarian churches, or Jewish synagogues from exercising their faith — though precisely that was happening in parts of colonial America.
I strongly suspect that won't answer your question, so let's clarify my answer with the original intent of the founders.
John Adams wrote that “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion ... Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Seems pretty good to me.
Let's take a look at the views of another Founding Father who, in addition to being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, was a governor of Virginia, then one of the most powerful states. Perhaps especially important for this purpose, Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, probably the most “liberal” of the colonial documents on that subject apart from the two historically tolerant colonies of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.
Jefferson had certain views about homosexuality. He was the head of a committee which wrote this law: “Whosoever shall be guilty of Rape, Polygamy, or Sodomy with man or woman shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a woman, by cutting thro’ the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half diameter at the least.”
I think I might argue that Jefferson's penalty for homosexuality could perhaps be modified to be a bit less harsh, and I think I might argue, contra Adams, that an atheist can be a good citizen of America, but Jefferson and Adams give pretty clear indicators of how the Founding Fathers would have applied their views of religious freedom to our current discussions in modern America.
In this regard, I ought to add that Jefferson was a Deist and Adams was a Unitarian. These were two of the most religiously liberal Founding Fathers.
If castrating homosexuals and saying atheists can't be good Americans is included in the proper “original intent” definition of religious freedom, I think it's pretty obvious that modern Americans use the words "religious freedom" very differently from what the Founders meant.
I've given you facts which show pretty clearly that America today has greatly changed from what the Founders intended. You may think that change is good, and to some extent I may agree with you. What you can't do is argue that my views are something out of line with the Founders — except that they might consider me to be too liberal in my views of what should be tolerated.
OK I nominate this for the ‘most unusual FR headline in the last 90 days’ award.
There's a difference between what Congress has the power to do and what Congress should do.
Given the views of the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute for Virginia on Religious Freedom, it looks like the original intent of the Constitution would have allowed Congress not only to prohibit polygamy but actually to castrate all the polygamists in the federal territory of Utah.
I certainly don't advocate such things in a modern political context, and I probably wouldn't advocate them in the context of 1800s Utah, either. However, I have read books at the time of the debates over what to do with Utah arguing that Mormonism needed to be dealt with as a criminal rather than a religious matter, and I believe the federal government had the constitutional right to prohibit polygamy.
Was that a good idea in late 1800s America? Maybe yes, maybe no. In a modern political context, I've got better things to do with my time than try to prosecute breakaway non-LDS Mormon sectarian groups. Gay marriage is the pressing issue today, not plural marriage.
I do believe marriage should be limited to one man and one woman for secular, moral, and religious reasons. I believe the history of the First Amendment gives me the ability to demand far more than that, but as a matter of practical politics, I'll leave the issue there and not try to argue for prosecution of polygamists and homosexuals unless there are other crimes involved.
I trust you will recognize the allusion involved in my statement that while under the Constitution many things are lawful, not all things are helpful.
When I say that, I hope it's clear that I'm taking a position which is far more “liberal” than that of the most liberal Founding Fathers of the United States. For my position today to be considered a right-wing Christian viewpoint shows mostly how far America has fallen.
However, this information is widely available elsewhere on the internet. Some gay rights organizations cite this as an example of what might be called the “bad old days.” On the other side, conservative organizations have cited this precedent to point out that not only was gay marriage unthinkable to the Founding Fathers, laws existed forbidding gay sex acts and imposing severe criminal penalties. Jefferson's role is particularly significant because he was a good example of a liberal among the Founding Fathers.
In fairness to Jefferson's defenders, it does need to be pointed out that while Jefferson's revised law made castration the maximum penalty for homosexual acts, but that was less severe than the death penalty that existed before him. I guess modern liberals could say Jefferson was moving in their idea of the "correct" direction.
Bottom line: There is no way to get anything remotely resembling modern liberal concepts of religious freedom by reading the Founding Fathers. Yes, they wanted an end to tax-supported churches and clergy. Yes, some of them wanted to allow Deists and Unitarians to have full civil rights. But even the Deists and Unitarians had a view of state-enforced civic morality that is stricter than what Jerry Falwell or the Christian Coalition would advocate today.
I think it would be fair to say that as a general rule, the New England colonies were much stricter in their actual enforcement of moral codes, while in the South, the Episcopalians took more of a “live-and-let-live” approach. What I showed you in Virginia was much less strict than the civil law codes of colonial New England. The only colony which had religious freedom in any form recognizable to modern America would be Rhode Island, which was explicitly founded to advocate religious toleration and unlike Quakers in Pennsylvania, who also advocated religious toleration, Rhode Island didn't have a dominant unofficial church from the start.
Each of the colonies was different. Each had different origins, each had different developments over the century and a half prior to the American Revolution, and church-state relations ranged from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, where even **AFTER** the ratification of the Constitution the states continued to maintain official state-established churches until the last was disestablished in the 1830s, to Pennsylvania and Rhode Island where religious freedom was a key principle of the founders.
Things were not always what modern people might expect. In Dutch-ruled New Amsterdam (now New York), Jews were allowed to build a synagogue when Catholics were not allowed to build churches. That makes no sense until one realizes that Jews had full freedom to practice their religion in the Netherlands and often had good relations with Calvinist theologians who even let them use printing presses to print Jewish books, but Catholics were viewed as a political threat in the Netherlands based on a long history of Hapsburg Catholic efforts to exterminate Protestants before the Netherlands became independent. (Also, Oliver Cromwell was a strong supporter of letting Jews live in England based on theological reasons and a shared respect for the Old Testament.)
Understanding this wide diversity helps understand why the federal Constitution was designed to bar establishment of religion by **CONGRESS,** not by the states. Maryland Catholics, Virginian, Carolinian, and Georgian Episcopalians, New England Puritans, the Dutch Reformed in New York, and the Quakers of Pennsylvania may not have agreed on much, but they all agreed that the federal government had no business telling states what they should do about religious matters.
The problem was that by the late 1700s, none of those states was unified internally in religious matters.
Even before the American Revolution, Ulster (Scots-Irish) and Scottish Presbyterians as well as German Reformed and German Lutherans were well on their way toward overthrowing the Quaker consensus in Pennsylvania. In New England, the rising power of Unitarianism was taking control of the wealthy east coast churches and had captured Harvard College long before the “official” break with orthodoxy which came a generation after the Revolution. The Dutch Reformed had once run New York City and still controlled its social and commercial life in the late 1700s, but the English conquest had put English and Scottish leaders in key government leadership positions of New York and New Jersey. Farther south, backwoods Presbyterians had become a minority influence even in the late 1600s and early 1700s, but as the Revolutionary War broke out, Presbyterians proved incapable of supplying enough ministers and the Anglican clergy were viewed as being pro-British, Methodists (who at that time still considered themselves Episcopalians) swarmed into vacant pulpits and Baptists started churches in places which had no church at all.
The Second Great Awakening made the situation even more convoluted, with Campbellites, Baptists, and other groups with no history of participating in the establishment rising to prominence throughout the South. As Methodism detached itself from Episcopalianism, it started to aggressively plant churches throughout both the North and South, taking people away from older churches regarded as “dead” and starting new churches on the frontiers where the older denominations were not doing their jobs.
I don't know of any major political or religious leader who, by the 1840s, seriously argued that there should be state establishment of any particular denomination. That would have been impossible in the new states, and virtually impossible even in the older states. Massachusetts was the last state to give up its established church, and that was not out of anti-religious motives but rather because the conservatives in rural Massachusetts, after winning the battles against Unitarians to drive them out of Congregationalism, realized that having an official state church was doing nothing to help conservatives and only helped the Unitarians in the wealthy east coast churches.
What most of these various denominations shared was a common commitment to the basics of what we might today understand as evangelical Christianity. Even the Unitarians and Deists had a strong view of morality, and the Roman Catholic minority, while distrusted by nearly all Protestants, was certainly strict in the 1800s.
If we're going to understand religious freedom as freedom to practice religion without state interference, that's okay with me. I'm not interested in telling people they can't go to a church I don't like.
On the other hand, it is simply not true that religious freedom means freedom from morality. I showed you a few posts ago how even radical liberals like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams held views that would be ultraconservative today.
I hope that's of some help in showing that lots of secular liberal American education about religious freedom simply cannot be backed up with historical facts.
It is important to remember that while this theology is being advocated by key professors at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, and it's giving the seminary a bad name, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey (the seminary president) is not in agreement with these things. Many of us who are longtime fans of Westminster-West need to pray for the seminary to get rid of this theology, which is being advocated by a fairly small minority but is causing real problems.
If we want to know how bad this “R2K” (Radical Two Kingdoms) theology, sometimes known as the “Escondido theology,” can get, read these posts where an Orthodox Presbyterian minister is actually saying it's okay for OPC members to vote for abortion and that it's okay for church members to advocate eliminating laws against sex with animals (bestiality).
Where is this stuff coming from? Certainly not out of the Bible or the Reformed confessions.
Darrell Todd Maurina
My post (the following text) is here:
The post being referenced is on the Puritan Board, here:
I believe that our own CO-URC Elder Mark Van Der Molen’s interaction with OPC pastor Rev. Todd Bordow, pastor of Rio Rancho OPC in New Mexico, is instructive. Those who don't understand the dangers of the “Escondido theology” or “R2K” or “Es2K” position need to read this.
Van Der Molen asked this: “If we assume the church member's intent is not to divide the church, but rather to pass laws in the civil sphere to sanction homosexual marriage and abort as many babies as women may see fit, the session could not step in under the R2k ‘liberty’ principle?”
Bordow responded with this: “If a member confessed with the Bible that homosexual behavior and lust is sinful, and himself did not practice such things, but decided to vote to allow homosexuals thr right to marry, we would not discipline him. These are always opportunities to teach if necessary, but we wouldn't have the Bible's authority to cast them out of the kingdom for such political views. In reality it is none of our business as clergy to know the voting practices of our members ( I know one could come up with some extreme or absurd example where this might not be true - fine - it is generally true).”
There's something really wrong when I have to commend the Roman Catholic Church for warning Catholic pro-abortion politicians not to take communion, while conservative Presbyterians are saying that's not a proper subject for church discipline.
Most of the time pastors will not know how their members voted in the voting booth. But when a church member stands up and publicly advocates gay marriage or baby-killing, it is no longer a secret sin but a public sin.
Churches need to deal with public sins, even if (arguably especially if) they are sins by people in public positions where they can do a lot of damage.
Things got worse later in the debate between Rev. Bordow and Elder Van Der Molen. Not only is consenting homosexual sodomy a matter of indifference to Rev. Bordow and shouldn't be subject to civil penalties, even the kitties, doggies, and cows and pigs aren't safe:
“Not being a theonomist or theocrat, I do not believe it is the state's role to enforce religion or Christian morality. So allowing something legally is not the same as endorsing it morally. I don't want the state punishing people for practicing homosexuality. Other Christians disagree. Fine. That's allowed. That is the distinction. Another example - beastiality is a grotesque sin and obviously if a professing member engages in it he is subject to church discipline. But as one who leans libertarian in my politics, I would see problems with the state trying to enforce it; not wanting the state involved at all in such personal practices; I'm content to let the Lord judge it when he returns. A fellow church member might advocate for beastiality laws. Neither would be in sin whatever the side of the debate. Now if the lines are blurry in these disctinctions, that is always true in pastoral ministry dealing with real people in real cases in this fallen world.”
Guys, this isn't blurry at all. I don't care how much you want to distinguish between natural law and revealed law — no way in the world can anyone argue that sex with dogs, cats, cows, pigs and goats is something which the civil magistrates have no natural law to tell them it's wrong.
Why are we even discussing this in conservative and confessional Reformed circles where our ministers and members can be presumed to believe the Bible? Aren't some things so obviously wrong that even most unbelievers today still understand they need to be prohibited and punished? Granted, back when I was a reporter in New Mexico and attending an OPC a few hours away from Rev. Bordow, I was writing newspaper articles about a court case of a woman accused of creating pornographic photos of her daughter having sex with dogs. In a generation unless something changes, we may have a whole industry in America with people paying for sex with dogs and babies — all the more reason why we as Christians need to speak up now while we still have a chance to win the political fight.
I think R. Martin Snyder said it best over on the Puritan Board: “Wow, I appreciate this thread. If the R2Kers are really advocating some of the stuff in this thread that I think I am reading and understanding, I know why it scares me. The lines of discussion keep getting moved and law and Society are disjointed. Kind of like law and the gospel in modern reformed thought. It even seems I can join a church and be a rabid Marxist, homosexual. and abortion on demand supporter and not have to worry about being disciplined. Something just isn't adding up here.”
Darrell Todd Maurina
Gospel of Grace ARP, Springfield, Mo.
Those of you who are Roman Catholic may want to note how I commend your church for taking a stance on politicians advocating obviously anti-Christian public policy: “There's something really wrong when I have to commend the Roman Catholic Church for warning Catholic pro-abortion politicians not to take communion, while conservative Presbyterians are saying that's not a proper subject for church discipline.”
As a Calvinist I believe in total depravity, and we've got our own problems in conservative Reformed circles.
Believe it or not, there are now conservative Reformed ministers saying it's okay for church members to vote in favor of abortion and even for bestiality. Apparently not only babies but also the kitties, doggies, cows, goats and pigs aren't safe!
Some of this is due to an unbiblical view by some that Christians shouldn't be involved in explicitly Christian political activism. If all they mean is individual Christians rather than the church as institute should be involved in politics, fine. Typically pastors don't have the skill sets to be involved in politics anyway. But to say there is no Christian position on the key issues in modern politics and that we ought not to participate in the the culture war is not just wrong but dangerous.
Bottom line: We need to be spending our time fighting Satan's agenda wherever it shows up, and given how bad things have gotten in the United States, those who actively discourage Christians from fighting the culture wars are doing something very dangerous and must be stopped. Our freedoms as Christians are under assault, we're fighting rear-guard actions to protect what is left of our freedom, and America in a generation may be unrecognizable if the liberals win this war.
It is actually a worldwide phenomena, these days, depravity and ethical degradation, if not spiritual blindness. Those who are conservative, but not comfortable with the concept of universal truths or moral absolutes, will find themselves uncomfortable with some social conservative candidates for office, such as for President and what-not.
My apologies for the delayed response.
The short answer is that the Fourteenth Amendment has been used by the courts to apply rights enumerated in the federal constitution to the states regardless of what the state constitutions might say. Just as elections have consequences, wars have consequences, and those of us who affirm original intent of the Constitution cannot deny that the post-Civil War federal constitution, as amended, gives considerably less latitude to the states than was the case pre-1861.
That is entirely legitimate with regard to slavery, with regard to civil rights and citizenship for blacks, and related matters. The Constitution probably did have to be amended to undo the 1857 Dred Scott decision, and it's much better to make major changes by the formal process of a constitutional amendment than to have shifting majorities on the Supreme Court make such changes based on political considerations rather than the expressed written decisions of Congress and state legislatures.
The longer answer — and this is the crux of the problem — is that the Fourteenth Amendment, whose clear original intent was to bar racial discrimination, has been grossly expanded beyond any conceivable intent of all but the most radical and extreme leftist politicians in the 1860s and 1870s.
While it's true that American religious life included more radical elements in the 1860s and 1870s than it did in the era of the Founding Fathers, and open atheism as well as cultic religion and spiritualist movements with seances were in existence (think Abraham Lincoln's wife, for example) I cannot remotely imagine most Unitarians or Transcendentalists in 1870 wanting to bar religious symbols from public places or remove them from state and city emblems.
Even the Blaine Amendments of the anti-Catholic era of the late 1800s, which were intended to prevent tax dollars from being used for promotion of “sectarian” doctrines in public schools in areas where Roman Catholics were the majority, didn't anticipate that a certain type of lowest-common-denominator Christianity would not be taught in the public schools. The consensus conservative, moderate, and liberal political position in the late 1800s and much of the early 1900s was that religion and morality were essential to a well-ordered society, so while it might not be a good idea to talk too much about the Trinity in a New England public school or about consubstantiation in a public school in heavily Lutheran area of the midwest, religion and morality certainly **WERE** being taught in the public schools so long as it was not “sectarian,” i.e., promoting one denomination over against another.
One needs to look to the role of John Dewey and radical movements of the early 1900s to find any hint of the anti-religious positions which have now become common in jurisprudence. I do not believe that can even remotely be defended with a strict constructionist view of the federal constitution.
Not everything that happened in the late 1800s and early 1900s was necessarily bad — for example, I don't have a problem with the courts extending the long-term allowance of draft exemptions for religiously motivated pacifist Quakers and Mennonites (which date back to the Founding Fathers) to atheists and agnostics who have a philosophical objection to war comparable to religiously based pacifism. I think a very good case can be made that legal tolerance for explicit atheism and irreligion is quite compatible with the Founders’ obvious original intent to allow toleration for Deism, Unitarianism, and other liberal religious systems.
My problem is not that atheism is being tolerated — I have no desire to force people to be church members or profess a faith they do not possess — but rather that the courts are ruling that not only “sectarian” religion but also basic morality must be excised from public actions and discourse.
Nobody can credibly argue that even the most liberal of the Founding Fathers intended that. Not only men like Witherspoon (a Presbyterian minister, president of what is now Princeton, and a right-wing Calvinist by modern standards) but also Unitarians like Adams, and even “freethinkers” like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin believed that. The founders were far from unified on their religious beliefs, but they believed morality was essential to maintaining a free republic. They were right, and to pretend that morality does not typically have a religious basis is to ignore virtually all of human history.
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