Thursday, 4 September 2014

Douglas Wilson's Letter From Moscow

When St. Paul Was Fourth and Long

Douglas Wilson
August 28, 2014

Before getting into the appropriate Christian response to the tyrannies of the arbitrary administrative state, we have to set aside a particular objection that can be marshalled from the Bible. Not only can it be marshaled, let us acknowledge that it frequently is.

When I say that Christians should stand for liberty, and I do, and I say that they should work and pray for it, and that preachers should preach with this in mind, the objection comes back that this is not what Jesus did, and this is not what the apostles did.

What I want to do here is highlight what this objection is actually doing, which is ignoring the cumulative flow of history. It is treating the strategies employed by God, Jesus, and the apostles as a fixed constant, when it is their faith and demeanor that is actually the fixed constant. If we lock down on the strategies, we will refuse to alter anything based on where we are in history. But this is like insisting on punting because St. Paul was fourth and long. Yes, I might reply, but we are third and inches.

I don’t really care that the early church punted a lot.

So it is quite true, and perfectly obvious, that Paul never organized a political party, never wrote a letter to the editor decrying the Stamp Act, never picketed a slave market in Charleston, never opened a crisis pregnancy center, and so on. But the fact that he never did such things does not mean that we shouldn’t. Neither does it preclude our obedience to his teaching requiring us to do things he never did.

The constant things, the permanent things, of course do not change. Faith, hope and love remain. Learning humility felt very much the same in the first century as it does in the 21st. Forgiving an enemy does not change. Repenting of sin, and trusting in Christ results in the same cleansing as it ever did.

But the Christian church, same as everybody else, has to play the ball as it lays. What would you do if you were the third Christian ever to enter the city of Rome, and the two others had come with you? You have been there ten minutes. As you enter the city, you see crowds flowing to the Coliseum in order to watch some hapless slaves fed to ravenous beasts for entertainment purposes only. What is your responsibility? Punch out one of the ticket takers?

No, you follow the example of Paul. You pray. You plant churches. You disciple converts. You teach the way of Jesus. You subvert the dominant paradigm. The first wave of our assault on paganism is a true assault, but it is the assault of the sappers. We tunnel under the city of man, and place there the explosive worship of the triune God of Scripture. We are not compromising simply because our military engineers are not the first ones to attempt scaling the walls.

But suppose our evangelism successful. Now there are not three of us in Rome, but rather 200,000 of us. We are well-organized and coordinated. We worship together weekly. Our people have stopped attending the bloody spectacles. Nevertheless, there are still enough pagans to fill the stadium, and still enough slaves to provide them with the requisite entertainment.

Is it an argument that 200,000 should not do anything about the slaughter because three could not possibly do anything?

Of course not. The apostle Paul taught the Corinthians that they were supposed to conduct themselves within the polis of the church in such a way that revealed that they knew that one day they were going to have greater responsibilities. “Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?” (1 Cor. 6:3). And when we have received greater responsibilities — as we most certainly have — we must discharge them. Millions of evangelical Christian Americans cannot pretend that there are “just three of us.”

The early church, the great martyrs, are part of the Christian story, a glorious part. We stand to honor the martyrs. But I also stand to honor the veterans of the battle of Lepanto.

The establishment of Christendom involved more than just the first wave.

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