Friday, September 18, 2009

Theses on Church and State in Protestantism

1. In rejecting the sacrament of order and preaching a priesthood of all believers, the Reformation rejects the division of labor within a community; with this, the Reformation rejects the the essential principle of modern society.

2. The modern insists that religion is a private affair; his world has therefore two authorities. The word of the Reformation is solus: it has but one God.

3. In the medieval and modern divisions of public and private, church and state, Christ's body is arrayed against itself and the individual believer is compelled to serve two masters. In the church of the Reformation, the body of Christ is one and the individual renders nothing unto Caesar.

4. In this way the Reformation is fundamentally opposed to the separation of Church and State. For Protestants, the paradigmatic moment on this issue is Constantine convening the Council of Nicaea, in which the Christian prince uses his political power for the good of the Church in the same way any other Christian would make use of his skills and position. For Romanists, it is Ambrose refusing communion to Theodosius, where the Christian prince, as a layman, submits to ecclesial authority. The Modern prefers the Roman picture, so long as Ambrose and Theodosius never speak.

5. Thus we may say that for the Reformation the Christian State is in the Church; for Rome, that State is under the Church.

6. For the Reformation, the church is thus totalitarian; this is a monastic impulse.

7. This totalitarian church of the Reformation is the martyrs' church of the first centuries. Tertullian argued for tolerance from the pagans and rigorism among the Christians; Augustine approved of the persecution of heretics and preached grace for all sinners in the church. Their mind was one and the same.

8. That this totalitarian church appears as a state church in a Christian society is a tautology; that it appears as counterculture in a godless society is inevitable.

9. We have need of a martyrs' church amongst the wreckage of the Reformation state, but we insist on thinking like Romanists and Moderns. We live in such wreckage because the Reformers 'gave, expecting nothing in return.'

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Sermon

Whether that can be rightly called a sermon which was neither given in the context of worship nor delivered to any real congregation may be honestly debated. Though the circumstances of this performance were those of the classroom, its genre, I hope, is undoubtedly homiletic.

The Scripture: Psalm 4

1Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.

2O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.

3But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.

4Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.

5Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.

6There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

7Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.

8I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.

The Sermon:

Success is an object of our desire. Not because we feel success will bring to us the pleasures of health or wealth, make our lives easier, or augment our happiness. O we often think that, but if we dig down deeper we will see that we human beings desire success because in success we find a certain empowering satisfaction. “A job well-done is its own reward;” this we know, just like we know the pleasure we feel when we admire ourselves in the mirror. To have done something is to feel alive. It is this self-esteem that keeps people dusting their cabinets and mowing their lawns. Because we’ve all stood on that summit, we’ve all looked out across the land beneath us with a victor’s eye. And O how we would like it if the delight of that victorious exertion never left us, O we can imagine what a bliss we would live out from that perpetual achievement. So hunger for this satisfaction drives us on, we seek and aspire to new accomplishments and new success. We would be conquerors forever.

But the world does not allow such things, now does it? In the boldness of my youth it may yet seem that life can only ascend, that on every triumph of mine another will be built and grander than the first. But there are others in this room who would restrain my eager heart, who would take down volumes from the study of their experience and show me: “Here, another passed me by. Here, my joys began to pale. Here, I could go no farther.” And even I, if I am honest with the memories of my heart and not its aspirations only, even I will know from the few but sunny pages of my youth that I have often, often cried “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? How long will ye love vanity and seek after lies?”

This shout from the Psalmist is not the cry of the abject and the downtrodden. This is not the cry of the man who cannot feed his family, of the mother who has lost daughters or the father who has lost sons. It is those who have had glory who can cry out when it is turned to shame. It is those who have friends who can cry out when their friendships fail them. It is a cry that people like us tend to make. This is the cry of a promotion which has inspired jealousy among the people who were merely once your co-workers. It is the cry of a long-awaited opportunity which our family had hoped we would never get. It is the cry of a romance that has severed the closeness of old acquaintance. “How long will ye turn my glory into shame?” we cry to those who trouble us. How long will you season my happiness with hatred? How long will you answer my success with your failure? How long will your sarcasm return my earnest joy? Can’t you let me take pleasure in what I have achieved, what I have earned for myself?

And when these words have done nothing—if we even spoke them at all—we take the complaint to God. I’m sure that everyone in here would have brought their joy to the Lord as well, but those people out there, well, they’re going to come to God with anger and it’ll have been a long time since they spoke. But us, the ones who pray, we who know we have boldness to approach the throne of our Lord Jesus through his blood, we who know that “the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself,” we who know that “the Lord will hear when I call unto him,” we have a right to expect some justice when we bring our indignations to the Lord. So we say “God, why can’t I just be happy? Why must I suffer sorrow with my joy? Life, I know, will have its pains, but Lord, why can’t they come in their own time? Why can’t I just love and be happy and successful right now for a while and after that let sadness wait its turn?”

And how does the Lord answer us, how does the God of Love, how does the one whom we call Father answer us? Does he cradle us indulgently? Do his words console the weeping child by affirming what they cry for?

“Stand in awe, and sin not;
Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.”

“Stand in awe of me,” says the Lord, “and you will not sin.” Kneel, and you shall not fall. For I know, says the Lord, that your desires are the children of your fears. But it is not by raising yourself to the heights that you will never sink to the depths, it is by acknowledging the depths of God that he will raise you to the heights of his blessedness. Look deep into yourself, look deep into yourself and you will find no cause to doubt the Lord’s direction of your life. Drop down an anchor into the waters of your soul, and you will nevermore be troubled by the tempests, for at the bottom of that sea is the strength of your God. For when you have communed, as the Psalmist says, with your heart upon your bed, when you have filed past all the agitations of the day, when you have laid down all the troubles that you found within your heart at the feet of Jesus Christ, then, then, and only then you will be still and you will know that he is God and you will look for nothing further. When you have said to the demons that drive you all your hours, demons like pride and desire, demons like jealousy and fear, demons we call friendship, demons called duty, demons called success…when you have said to them all “Be gone!” and you have wept and you have sobbed at the pain of their leaving, when you have weathered all the whirlwinds and the earthquakes and the scorching flames of fire, then with a still, small voice, if you are still enough to hear him like Elijah, he will whisper to you softly “I am God. Put your trust in me, just trust me, and all with you shall be righteous and right. But put your heart in mine and never bitterness shall bite upon the sweet, for I shall be yours and I am the fullness of joy.”

There are many who say “who will show us any good?” They have looked at the pain that hounds all the achievements of this world and they say there is no pleasure on the earth. But for them we say “Lord lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us, for in thy light shall we see light! Lord, thou hast put gladness in my heart more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. I will both lay me down in peace and sleep in security, for thou O Lord only makest me dwell in safety.” We say to them you can only see pain in this world because you have only seen this world, you can only see sorrow because you do not look for Joy, you cannot love life because you have not attended to the life that was lived in Love. You have yearned for sweet nectars from a rock, when the orchards of the Gardener stood ripening all around you.

O Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us! Let us see your face! For there indeed do we know we shall have gladness without measure and joy without end, a pleasure without interruption. Then our joy will surpass the happiness of prosperity and the contentment of health, the thrills of achievement and the glory of success. For in the light of your face they slip thoughtlessly from our clutches and we look for them no more. And when we have this gladness in our heart, when we have the faith of Jesus Christ, the love of our heavenly Father, and the comfort of his Holy Spirit, then we will lie down on that bed, that bed of tears where we communed with our own hearts and found the stillness of the Lord, and we will stretch out there our bodies in his peace and sleep with the contentment of a child, for we shall know and we shall know it in our heart, and we shall know it in our bones, that the Lord alone is our success, that the Lord alone makes us to dwell in safety. Amen.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

9-5 Theses

1. We ought to treasure everything we hear about Jesus in our innermost hearts, as Mary did. This is why God forbids us to use his name in vain.

2. Robin Goodfellow in Milton's "L'Allegro" and Frere Jacques in Mahler's 'Titan' model the same process whereby the common may be made acceptable matter for art.

3. Ideas of known authorship can never be profound without idolatry. When the author is known, we know the idea is a fiction, a thing made. But when the author is unknown, there is the sense of something unmade and eternal.

4. The modern state is a monarch. As such it can only remain in power by exciting antagonisms between the rich and the poor, and restricting the freedom of the rich to exercise their own power.