Possessed by Seven: The Superstition, Cult, and Religion of Modern Times

The inspiration for this post is found in a short story that Jesus tells:

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12: 43-45)

Primarily Jesus was talking about how his own generation would morph and mutate into a further monstrosity. Before, the devilish spirit was the sinful murder of the prophets through the reign of wicked men in times past. Now, the Son of Man, the very Christ, would be put to death by a corrupt Temple authority, the means to heal the world were to be used to tear God’s Son asunder. Their wickedness, in murdering the LORD, would be seven, complete.

Yet not even that, the host of this possession had well ordered its house, but remained empty and void of life. Judea was restored by the Persian Cyrus, and the Jews remade their temple and their way of life in Jerusalem. They were reconquered, but the Maccabean revolt put a Jew on the throne, and maintained a reinstated Priesthood. Yet Jesus’ sweeping condemnation here is that it was for naught. They had continued to remain exiled, empty and void, until Immanuel was there. Without His Presence, the very purpose and meaning for the vast and complex Law of Moses, no matter how ornate, the host was empty. More demons would return and bring about a perfect and complete control.

However, Jesus’ parable has implications and applications to understanding our world that is the modern West.

Let me first preface this discussion that, in no way, is any modern society or nation directly comparable to the people of Israel, the Jews. The forms and rituals were not any sort of forms and rituals, they had a specific implementation and purpose for the coming Kingdom of God.

Anyway, we’re going to begin this story in the late 17th and 18th century. After the bloody Thirty Years War, many people were tired of questions of religion or of fervency in arguing them. This was the age of so-called ‘Dead Orthodoxy’, where the debates on very particular issues retreated into schools and quietistic piety, and there was a general tolerance towards differing religions. That is, rather, internationally speaking. There were no more crusades to reclaim German princedoms or England into the Catholic fold. The rule was ‘cuius regio, eius religio’, which is Latin for ‘whoever rules, his religion’. Thus, if the king or prince was catholic, the official religion was catholic, if Lutheran, then Lutheran, and so on and so forth.

I think that the 30 Years War (which has roots in the very fires of the Reformation) was the Judgement on the Whore-Church Babylonian society that Medieval Christendom represented. The Magisterial Protestants merely continued the tradition from Rome, and nationalized from the psuedo unity that Rome tried to foster. It was all a horrible disaster as the two sides demolished each other in a blood-bath that would psychologically scar Europe in ways that only the two World Wars would surpass. The killing-fields of Germany would see a third of her Teutonic sons perish in the fires of war.

Anyway, this, accompanied by an event such as the Lisbon Earth-Quake, would ignite a rejection of the skeletal bone-king of this state-sponsored ‘Dead-Orthodoxy’. This was not officially allowed, but this irreligion would grow and grow and blosom into main-stream French thought in the Storming of the Bastille in 1793 and the event known as the French Revolution. France would be a new nation, one without prince or priest, which would place reason above all things. There would be no temple (which Cathedrals represented more than any New Testament understanding of Church). There would be no throne. There’d only be opportunity for men to be men.

Yet this would ultimately result in rivers of blood and a whole sort of whacky re-sacralizing acts. I’ll never get over this, but Robespierre created a cult of Reason which would involve his play-acting as Moses and bringing the Universal Law of Reason down from a false-mountain built in Paris. The Calendar was reorganized according to a rational system. It became fashionable to wear Togas in honor of the mythologized past of Greece and Rome, which were considered as pinnacles of Human civilization and reason.

I focus in on the French Revolution as a pericope for what we see playing out in American society. I’ve already focused on the Empty Shrine theology of modern America, but here I want to show the progression that the United States will go through, and continue to go through, as it abandons its single-demon monotheism to a christic-cult of Columbia to the multi-demonic possession that it is in the thralls of now, leading to perfect putridity.

What do I mean by the “christic-cult of Columbia”? In modern writings, this is the heresy of Christian nationalism that is most idiotically symbolized in someone like David Barton. His life’s work is to prove that “America is a Christian nation”. He is partially right and wrong. Like all history, it is a complex mix of characters and motivations, and he, like many propagandists, try to sort it as a white-and-black dichotomy. There were many, and probably the majority, that saw in America a new future free from the modes and mores of Europe. While, again, Founders had differing visions (i.e. Franklin was more interested in tranquility and commerce, and Hamilton would’ve created a republican empire), there was a consensus that there’d be a de-sacralized political order.

Really, ‘these’ United States were, by many, originally intended to be a framework, a union or confederation, and not a singular Imperial authority. The Federal government was to be mediatorial and a place for debate and joint-prosperity, so that all states, sovereign as they were, would flourish. Of course this pipe dream was just that. It’s why the first attempt, the Articles of Confederacy, was worthless. It was an American UN that had no respect or teeth. I’m constantly impressed by a man like Madison, who could see clearly the constant tension that would be at play in maintaining a just society. He had a very adept understanding, yet the Madisonian republic would quickly dissolve under the weight of competing factions and man’s dreams of glory.

Of course, this was only a just society for the upper-class white merchantmen and farmers. Like Rome, the Patricians who had, and were content, would clamor for such a system. And as the same, ambitious men and the oppressed plebs would overturn it all. By the time Jackson was elected, and Van Buren’s first modern political machine humming along, Madison’s republic was over.

I mention all these facts to show a more complex picture of early American history. David Barton would say it was very different then that, and sacralize the whole project in a hagiographic lie. And, of course, he was right that these sorts of men existed. Amongst the more ideological, especially Jefferson, the Cult of Liberty would be something worth shedding blood for.

That’s right, I said cult of Liberty.

What David Barton doesn’t understand in his delusion is that these men, and he himself, use the word ‘Christ’, but they worship a different god and proclaim a different gospel.There was religious appeal to the destiny of America, spanning from sea to shining sea (as the song goes). I won’t display quotation on quotation, but its pretty blasphemous stuff. JQ Adams would even go as far to say that America is the embodiment of Christianity, essentially the incarnation that the world awaited.

America has been conceived messianically, and such a cult only would continue to grow. The Civil War cemented a new level of patriolatry, worship of country, and as the years waned on, the destiny of America would only increase. The invocation of ‘Separation of Church and State’ rings hollow. The implication is really that spirituality and faith are private and mean as much as favorite flavor of ice cream. As long as the law of the land is respected, and America is properly venerated (in the custom of the times), then doeth what thee will.

Again, this history is complex and confused. There have been men who followed the LORD and were muddled on account of the spirit of the times, and there have been men who were unabashed worshipers of Washington. I won’t list examples, but for your consideration, look over the Abolitionist movement. The writings seem similar to one another, but reading between the lines, one can see differing foundations. Is Slavery wrong because it goes against our conviction as Christians or as Americans? Many times, it’s a combination of both, but subtle nuances and phrases can give away what’s really at stake.

The attempt by the Enlightenment vision of a State and Nation divested of the demon of the Medieval convergence of crown-and-chasuble was a success. Yet this would only lead to the possession by seven demons. America was without a state-church, without an official priesthood, and would try to operate on a common-sensical approach of common law and natural reasoning. Yet it did not last, and today we see the cult continue within Conservative circles.

But the cult has mutated and become different now.

Now we have a hydra of nation-cult that has many heads and figures. The messianic proportions of America have, to some blasphemously, outgrown the old modes and forms of a bastard Christianity. We don’t merely have John Quincy Adams proclaiming that America is the divine fulfillment of Christ, or the David Bartons who think of America as having some sort of special relationship with the Divine. No, now the forms of the American cult include even those who are out-and-out atheists or agnostics.

A most bizarre, and funny (in a sick sort of way), episode of this was when the New Atheists advocated war in the wake of 9/11. Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris would ignorantly rage against the lunacy and murderous evil of “religion” (which they never were able to define), and then turn around and scream destruction. They would have the Middle East a glass crater until these people learned civilization. Of course, this is a fill-in god, a ‘concilium dei’, for the irreligious bourgeoisie.

Another illustration is from Noam Chomsky about American nationalism:

“[Hans Morgenthau] says, to criticize [America's] transcendent purpose ‘is to fall into the error of atheism, which denies the validity of religion on similar grounds’-which is a good comparison. It’s a deeply entrenched religious belief… And if anyone questions that, it leads to near hysteria and often charges of anti-Americanism or ‘hating America’- interesting concepts that don’t exist in democratic societies, only in totalitarian societies and [in America], where they’re just taken for granted”

I’d replace the word ‘totalitarian’ with ‘sacral’ and Chomsky would’ve nail directly on the head. He had in mind the societies of Fascist Italy, Stalinist Russia, and Nazi Germany, all of which were extraordinarily cultic regimes. All tried to reinstate a certain sort of religious fervancy centered on their reigns. Of course, Mussolini was an atheist, over and against Hitler who was a true believer, but even he saw the need to whip up faith. In fact, where Mussolini failed was that in trying to recreate a Roman Empire, he needed to reinstate the old pantheon, especially Roma, into the Italian psyche. The gods of the State are integral in any serious nationalism.

Of course, the christic-cult of Columbia, like the worship of the Caesars and Roma, is a pantheon cult that welcomes the worship of many gods and many religious apparati. There are the gods of vanity and physical perfection, with local temples (called gyms) set up to worship our own little egos, like the little house gods of old.

We have temples to Mammon, like Wall Street, that have fallen on hard times.  As Jacques Ellul eloquently put it, “[Money] finds itself being replaced in the hearts of the faithful by other social powers and other beneficient divinities, while its priests- bankers, money changers and capitalists- are pointed to as wicked magicians”.

Then there are the Oprahites, and the sages of self-esteem, who preach a message of reconciliation with oneself to oneself by oneself. It’s a religion-in-a-box, DIY divining, and of course, when the window into the Cosmos is a mirror, it can be whatever you want. It’s your image of course.

Then there is the Martian cult of conquest and military. Our soldiers sacrifice their time and lives to make us free. It should be pointed out ‘sacrifice’ is a very religious word, with roots in ‘sacred’. A man in uniform is expected to be venerated and respected. Soldiers are indoctrinated and forced to learn new creeds, as they are baptized, by fire, into a new birth. They are catechized by their bishop-Drill Instructor, and expected to be prepared for that day when they are released into the world.

True enough, Rome’s treasuries were kept in temples, gymnasia were distinctly religious, and the military rituals were connected to proper worship to the Roman gods of war and victory.

What I’m not advocating is a Christian retreat to a ghetto, or the militant conquest of society. Like the Apostles, we live in a sacralized world, surrounded by gods, and we, like they, must constantly profane these religious objects. It was for this reason they were called atheists and blasphemers. They had rejected the whole mainframe of Roma, but they continued to carry on life. The governing authorities cared little for withdrawal to the wilderness, but those who rejected the means of the cult but did not flee would not be allowed to live unpunished.

Of course, the Christians would offer little besides this to be punished for. They did not threaten toppling Caesar, go about killing or stealing, yet the subversive subordination to the world as it was, under the judgment of the Resurrection of the Son of God, would be hated with fiery contempt.

The American Empire, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, drove out one demon to only be possessed by seven, a complete corruption. I call all followers of Jesus, wherever your work or your living, to remember this as we bend the knee to none but the Christ. He is our hope and our perfection. This Age will continue to perish, until our Lord returns. Be vigilant and meditate upon the words of the Apostle:

This is a faithful saying:

For if we died with Him,
We shall also live with Him.
 If we endure,
We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He also will deny us.
 If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.

god is dead, long live god: The Philosophical Scramble for Atheism

I recently just finished Terry Eagleton’s newest work on culture and atheism from the Enlightenment through the Idealists, Romantics up to Modernism and Post-Modernism. As usual, Eagletons’ dry English humor dotting an excellent narrative of thinkers makes the book an enjoyable read. Granted I said thinkers, not necessarily good thinkers. Many were blind-sided, or foolish, in their attempt to build their atheism. Ultimately, their attempts were nothing more than Nietzsche’s criticism that they had murdered god but trying to hide the body and wash their hands. That they acted in bad faith, denying the divine but still fashioning a world out of him, like a Canaanite myth of old.

Anyway, let me chart out a summary and leave my own comments along the way. I don’t think Eagleton quite, or even Nietzsche, grasps the rank Paganism that reigns amongst humanity  and that the ‘religio’ to Christ stands outside any other proclamation of an Almighty. But we’ll return to that.

Within modern Europe, the first attempt at a serious atheism was done by the Jacobins of the Enlightenment. These were people of the middling class of lower aristocrats and wealthy merchants. They would meet in salons and cafes, and convene clubs to foment their new opinions and philosophies. Let it be known that with them, as with all groups I will mention, there were many strands and dynamics. My broad-brush does not apply to all, and some thinkers in one era would easily fit in more with a later mood.

The Enlightenment saw itself as a liberator to all the monarchy and priestcraft that had gone one through the centuries before. There was a clarion call to the mythologized, and sterilized, past of Rome and Greece, an era declared to be the pinnacle of human virtue and reason. The latter was the chief concern. Enlightenment thinkers believed (I use this word specifically) that Reason (capital R) was the prime axis upon which man and cosmos turned. Within a frame of Newtonian physics, everything was mechanical and understandable beneath the magnifying glass. Humans were inherently good, evil only flowing forth from ignorance.

However, these new elite had mixed opinions to how the ‘masses’ could receive such a view. Could abstract and naked Reason stand alone before the soul humanity? Voltaire would try and hide his philosophy from his servants. The answer was no.

This would be a recurring theme through every movement of thought to hide the dead god somewhere else. There would be a respectable argument for the double-standard. The elite could receive the end of superstition and the death of god, but the peasants could not. They must be left with their rites and rituals even if they’re contrary to reason, culture, art, whatever may be the case. Thus philosophers would argue vigorously, from a position of unbelief, for the reasons to believe.

Anyway, even for these so-called Enlightened men, nude reason would be too much of a shame. Ultimately, it’s not because we blush for a naked Athena that reason had to be clothed in ritual, but because she has no body. Reason could not be contemplated abstractly, because reason is nothing but a created ordinance engaged with by created beings. Our minds may be immaterial, but our minds are tethered in corporal bodies.

Thus the Enlightenment attempted to strangle the last king with the entrails of the last priest, but only left new monarchs and clergies. The French Revolution executed the king, closed Notre Dame, and banned the worship of God, only to install a republican emperor, re-open the ‘Temple to Reason’, and compel worship to the Supreme Being. Reason had become a new god to replace the old French state-church. Robespierre would be a new Moses, descending from a farcical psuedo-Sinai in Paris, with new commandments for ‘liberte, egalite & fraternite’.

The next stage was during Athena’s quick rise and demise in the halls of Olympus. The next Greek god to replace the decrepit Jove was that of Apollo. The Idealists and some Romantics posited a turn towards the proclamation of universals outside the purview of an naively triumphalistic Rationalism. Kant and Hegel were some of the architects, but they took many forms and types, and they would rubbish one another. There is a diversity at work here that does not fit any simple categorization. I’ve not read Kant or Hegel directly, let alone many of the others.

Suffice to say that what cohered them was a rejection of reason as absolute, and a general turn to something more external. Culture, or some sort of spirit of the times, was what drove things and stood in as the next non-god to fill in the transcendent void. Culture and Civilization were the things that went all the way down, beyond the scrutiny of picking apart. This was not celebrating the hum-drum of peasant and village life, but in praise of high-culture. Art was the sacrament that signified this untouchable and unquenchable spirit. Still, there was little appreciation that the common-breed could ever appreciate such things.

Yet as much as these culture-critics would despise the crass materialism and unreflective blandness of the capitalistic bourgeoisie, they were situated only on account of it. The fortunes to produce such culture were found in the neo-imperial wealth of the industralists. Thus many worshipers of Apollo would sneer at the rat-like behavior of the democrats and politicians, and would engage in civilizational acts, which were seen as distinct. They were lovers of Nation, not state, Nature, not environment. All of these, too, would function as forms of divine transcendence. I think of Wagner’s opera in honor of the Volk, or Lord Byron’s comical adventure to liberate Greece. Or even Wordsworth’s devotion to Nature in his poetry.

Ultimately, even these would suffer beneath the hammer of Dionysus, the anti-Christ, as he styled himself. Nietszche would want nothing to do with these false attempts to prop up the dead Almighty like a sequel to Weekend at Bernie’s. What the world needed was an Overman, one who was not afraid to peel back the fantasies of Reason, Nature, Culture, Spirit, Nation, Whatever, and look straight into the Abyss. Embracing Nothing, and the foundationlessness to morals and civilization, would be the one who would stamp his mark, and not the signet ring of a dead noble, onto his decrees.

Yet to declare the king truly dead, instead of his councilors trying to pretend he’s alive and act for him, would create a whoosh of anarchy. Of course, Nietszche, Dionysiac as he was, embraced both the ecstatic joy and agony that such would produce. It was the terror and exuberance of being lost at sea without map, compass, stars, or shoreline. Everything was the same, as it always was and will be, calm and uncaring as the seas, but electrified with newness. Nothing mattered anyway, but we, when properly transcended of our frail moralities and civilities, can play pretend.

Yet, this chaotic Will To Power is a numinous lung-filling spirit. There is an order to the madness, there is godhead to the atheistic, there is the god of the vine laughing in the shadows behind this dancing on the razor’s edge. The lifting up of the Human, including the sewer and gutter, to the Twice-Born is very transcendent and divine act of self-ascension. Even if it doesn’t really matter, it does. It shapes not the Cosmos, but Man still sits on his throne of skulls. God may be dead, but Man is not, hail the new god. Not in the sense that Idealists verged on divinizing a Humanity. But rather in the capability to get beyond Humanity. The Overman was post-Human, he was the ideal of the Hellenic Hero-Cult, he was the new god.

One of Nietzsche’s children was the Post-Modern mood of total demolition and deconstruction. They took not his Dionysus, but they succeeded in bringing down the Apollo of modernism. There was a skepticism of all things universal. There could be no standard of art, or culture, or of civilization. There was no depth. There was not even a capital-H Humanity that could be spoken of. With the death of god, there could come along the death of Man. Of course this would lead to some head-scratching as to the question of “What now?”. Fouccault, a great demolisher of Western constructs, would engage in politics, social marching, and protest, but with little real justification.

Yet, I’d argue to build this meaningless universe would require a stage to set. It might not be much, but as all the gods lay dead on Mt. Olympus, there needed to be Morpheus the Janitor to put the whole thing to rest. The god of sleep needed to finish the job so to speak until the last candle of the human mind, after it had exhausted itself in mask-wearing and play-acting, was extinguished. There was still one god left, even if he snoozed away.

Of course, Apollo would pop in from time to time when some foreign and barbarous divinity would stumble into the marble halls of the Pantheon to raise a little hell. Thus the christic-Pagan West would, under the headship of the US, erupt when Allah rattled the cage. The Soviet Imperium and her gods died, but now an Islamic thorn would sprout to challenge complacency. Not everyone tolerated the Consumeristic monism of a corporate-global capitalism putting the boot over the world.

Of course, unlike Europe, America had never the crisis of conscience over filling the void. Columbia, a personification of the Nation, would reign ever tall, holding all the strands of American life into one bundle. Now there is a unity, that regardless if you’re a Southern farmer, a Manhattan businessman, or a Rust-Belt factory worker, you’re all American and can speak intelligibly to one another about the rites and customs of our civil-religion. Europe, like Hellenistic Greece, squabbled and beat itself around the head with philosophical streams running this way and that. All the while, Rome slowly and steadily grew and conquered the World. You can believe anything you want in America, as long as you believe in America. Verily, Rome is reborn.

As you can see, I’ve dotted this little essay with tongue-in-cheek references to Greek gods. This is because, unlike Eagleton, I’ve never really considered Paganism to have left Europe. Of course, there was the Church present, post Constantine, even at the table of power (for as much as I am ashamed of Ambrose, I would still count him a brother). But generally speaking, even if done in the name of Christ, Europe’s god looked less like the Savior Jehovah and more like the Status-Quo Jupiter. Medieval Christendom, even after the retooling in the Renaissance, was apostate. It was not the pure virgin of Christ, hiding in the wilderness, who was in the spotlight, but a beast-riding whore who opened her legs for all the kings of men.

What was under assault by the Enlightenment was not Jesus but Jove, and Voltaire mocked Leibniz’s god, not Lazarus’. That doesn’t mean the quest for a new god, whether it be Athena(reason), Apollo(culture/civilization/Humanity), or even Dionysus(Will-To-Power), is validated, but we who call the Crucified One the only LORD may put their criticisms to work. Even a Pagan poet could point out that if horses made gods, they’d look like horses. Intellectually speaking, the sun shines on both the just and unjust.

From here, we must confess, for all of men, that indeed, humanity has murdered god and tried to do away with the body. But our god is not the powerless and polite one of the Bourgeoisie. He is the not one whom cultured theologians and philosophers cohere a system from his snoring, burping and farting. Our God raises from the dead, who proclaims a clear “Nevertheless” to the perishing cosmos we inhabit.  He sends prophets, not the genteel.

God died, but behold, He lives forevermore. No matter the twists and turns, that is the Good News. That we don’t have to paper over the void, or embrace it in madness, but be pulled through it by our Golden Chain. We don’t fear death, explain it away, or embrace it in ecstatic and cathartic tragedy. Instead we may enter through the Pit and find there is a Lord who has banged down the door and taken the captives free, holding the keys of Hades in His hand.

Such is the foundation of how we may begin to live, of how we may begin to be free, of how we may begin to be truly human. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Quick Meditation

I was reading through some of my old work when I stumbled upon this quote I pulled from Augustine’s Confessions. It reminded me of my own conversion from the torrent of darkness to the Son’s everlasting reign of Light. Without further ado, for your meditation, here is our African brother:

“You called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace.”

For those whose lips once dripped back-biting bile, curled over with cruelty, sneered with self-righteousness, to now be able to offer praise…wow.

It is a remarkable thing to consider.

The Cult of the Empty Shrine: American Enlightenment Theology

*This draws upon the work of William T. Cavanaugh*

Within the Civil Religion of America, there have been two major impulses that draw men to live and die for the glory of the country. Both have left deep and abiding legacies which continue to this present day. While one is more overtly Christic, invoking particular biblical language, the other is just as cultic with its own language to denote the sacred, the profane, and the gods who bless or curse. What we will ultimately see, is that the two, in our day, have become almost a seething singularity, unstable, but ubiquitous.

The first is what may be labeled Christo-Americanism proper. I’d reckon this sort of thinking truly begins in England with the rampant patriotism that was burned into the British psyche. Englishmen began to consider themselves distinct and different from the rest of the Constantinian christendom that was enforce throughout the continent. This ethos of “difference” is not alone English, as the French, then the Germans, and then many others, adopted similar attitudes. However, for our present purposes, England, in the wake of the Fall of Rome, was first to begin conceiving itself as individual, distinct, and, what is important, holy.

In the wake of the Reformation, some of the most gifted voices, who understood truths of the Gospel, were afflicted with a sort of proto-nationalism. Wycliffe may have been in favor of England’s lords over and against the other kings of Europe, Tyndale, coming later, would even conceive that England had a special relation with the Lord. England had a distinct covenant that it was to be faithful in maintaining. Thus England’s reformation was a hodge-podge of Lutheran and Calvinian theology, an ad-fontes attitude to the Scriptures and ‘Fathers’, and English nationalism. On top of that, theologies of the Reformation took on more nationalistic flavors due to conceptions of the Magistrate and place of the church in society.

This is one reason why I’m hostile towards the implications of Luther’s ‘Two Kingdoms’ theology over and against the implications of Augustine’s ‘Two Cities’. The former created and set a place for nationalism and a wrongheaded sacred-secular divide in the life of the disciple. Instead of all things giving glory to God through following the Christ, there were two orders that had to be balanced. Spiritually, the Kingdom of God made one demand, and temporally (and dare I say they considered realistically), the Kingdom of Man made another. Lost were the days where the kingdoms of men were rebellious substructures dealt in the mystery of the Lord’s providence.

Anyway, this division made sense for the contentious nobility of Tudor England. While the king wanted no restraints, especially not from a turbulent priest in Rome, many others were inspired to push against the demands of Papal rule. Of course many who took the Catholic side, besides traditionalism, were continuing out the conflict between York and Lancaster. Thus while Henry, the union of both, took to his reformation, the old Plantagenets, more full bloodedly York, would be the defenders of Rome.

I’m not endorsing Roman rule, but it’s a conflict that reveals where the seeds of English theology began and led. England could uproot itself, against many of her old ways and traditions, because she was in fact fulfilling them. It was never Rome, but England, which had a special place in the world. Scotland too took a similar stance in the near ravings of John Knox. The British Isle was destined for greatness as long as it covenanted with her god through the appointed king.

The messianic destiny of Britain would span until the collapse of the Empire, but we’ll focus on the Puritans. They were more virulently patriotic in a different regard and, while they were successful in the wake of Cromwell, many had fled the motherland before due to what they found was inadequate reforms and intolerance towards them. This had as much to do with theology as with nationalism. Puritanism was an ethos, and not all of it was the same. The Mayflower Pilgrims were looking to escape persecution in order to walk in the way of Christ. This had little national aspirations, but the puritans of the Massachusetts Bay had very strong desires to reshape the world, conceiving of themselves as a faithful remnant of the covenanted England.

Now when the American Revolution broke out over a hundred years later, there was discontent across the thirteen colonies. Yet two, Massachusetts and Virgina, led the charge. Virginia was a bastion of proud royalist sentiments, filled with clan-like disdain for restrictions from the motherland. Yet the ideological fodder came from the hotbed of Boston, the seat for the Puritan dream of a “New England”, a “New Israel”. That is why America is constantly conceived of in terms of Providential success and glory.

The new nation would be spoken of in terms of fulfilling the Christian dream, a postmillenial messianic nation conceived in liberty, brand new and unafflicted from the sins of past republics and empires. America had a god-ordained role to be a “light on the hill”, and a spreader of all the christian virtues. This was the Puritan vision mutated, reformulated, and promulgated to a new nation. Instead of the Bay Colony being the new Israel, it was the totality of these new colonies.

Did all the Founders think this way? No, of course not. You had some reasonable folk, like Franklin, Madison and Hamilton who thought more pragmatically. They had different visions of what the independent America was, but it was not something so religiously charged with a heaven-sent identity. It was supposed to be an independent, but not novel, space to continue worldly affairs unfettered.

However, some men, more along the lines of  Jefferson and Washington, had much more restrained and Enlightenment notions of what their country was to be. It was a rebirth of cut-and-tailored classical world. This is the root of second vision, the Cult of the Empty Shrine.

This new theology was a recast of, in essence, Pagan notions of the State, the Citizen, and the People. This took time, of course, to develop its own distinct language, liturgy, conventions, and differences. Jefferson is the grand-father of this vision, a true revolutionary of the time. He rejected the promotion of any particular denomination or creed for a more Enlightenment vision of Universals which were the heavenly blessings America was filled with. It was a sacred cause to die for Liberty, not Christ, and a sacred undertaking to fight and die for such.

This Jeffersonian vision took many turns and movements. We see language of Manifest Destiny in justifying America’s brutality and conquest of the Indians, in it’s militarism towards Mexico, Spain, and its involvement in many political affairs. Let it be known that this ideological framework did not create some high-minded, flowery idealism. Just like today, greed and power were as much the bread and butter of this idealism. But of course, the ends justify the means? The Plebs cannot be merely so content on mere concept of victory, there needs to be spoils. This is where political history and the history of ideas meets, and many times the one excludes the other. But in reality, men who may be sated with the idea of Liberty’s Glory will exercise the humdrum brutalities of any Empire.

But that’s neither hear nor there. The Empty Shrine theology has its name because of what it seeks to do. It is a framework that is accommodating and universal to the private particularities, but contains them all within the Shrine, and that’s what really counts. Rome had a similar theology. Romans could worship Jupiter, Isis, Oden, Baal, Serapis, or the Great Mother. That was fine. Yet all tribes and people must submit and worship the divinity of Caesar and the Eternal City. This was non-negotiable and why the Christians were considered atheists. They worshiped none of the gods within Rome’s Empty Shrine. See, one could fill the Shrine with whatever one wanted, but the point was that it was within the Shrine.

So too in the American theological scene is the Empty Shrine continued. That’s why we see the Chaplaincy of the United States be able to accommodate the major religions, all under one heading. They equally give blessings and prayers, and yet, if one listens to them, they’re non-distinct. What unites them is their context. It doesn’t matter if the little statue is of the cross, or the Magen David, or the crescent moon, or the Hindu Ohm, they’re all contained within the shrine. These religions are spokes connected to the hub of American destiny. America, the indispensable nation, the exceptional nation, the nation that is consistently on the right side of history (or briefly mistaken, but quickly corrected). All of this is a new language to describe a holy, chosen, blameless and providential nation, one that has a messianic destiny to bless the world.

Yet, as can be seen in some of the ritualism and the utilities of how the country progresses, the Nation itself (not merely the State, but deeper) becomes a god. This is the “Secularism” that is in America. Even Pagans like Madelin Albright will speak this way confidently. When it comes to half a million dead Iraqi children, the price is worth it. America’s mission is transcendent and beyond the accidents of the mere dead.

Yet this Empty Shrine, while in the past at odds with forms of the Puritan christic vision, has begun to rejoin with its discontented cousin. Just as Jefferson and Paine were Pagans of a deep kind, and yet found common cause with the Puritan legacies of Boston, so too are these different strands uniting. Not everyone is happy with such a confluence, but we see the majority rejoining themselves. Would the Puritan-types ever have accepted a Mormon, essentially a heretic if not a full-fledged non-believer, before? Even ten years ago? Yet Romney becomes the spokesperson of both types. Ayn Rand and Oliver Cromwell kiss in an unholy marriage of national idolatry.

For much of American history, the whore reigned, flirted and fornicated with the kings of men, and then the Beast had its time, now she has mounted him and the two are together in their rule. Yet the true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, is the true king of the world. Others, even non-believers, have recognized, in different terms, this unholy union. Yet they lack the hope of a Crucified King seated at the Right of Majesty. Heaven has received her Lord, and He will reign until all His enemies are beneath His feet.

We, His martyrs and confessors, conquer in the blood of our lamb, being willing to put off our own lives in the hope of Resurrection for the sake of the Truth. The powers and principalities still rule and reign, the Serpent still slithering throughout, creating the Babylonian shrine to bring all goods under her thumb. Yet Jesus will be victorious. The temptation towards apostasy is real, and the supposed beauty of the national vision can seem as honey when it’s really ash.

Let us remain faithful, the church as a colony of Heaven, salt and light, a Pilgrim people. We await a City, let us continue to hope.

“For the Joy Set Before Him”: Loving & Living Humanly

This post is working with some themes from this article.

When a man asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, the Messiah responds with love. He tells him, and us, his disciples, to love the LORD with all your soul, heart, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. This is the essence of the Torah, and while external to us, it is the heart of the Torah, carved on stone, that is carved on our hearts of flesh. The Torah was a gracious arrangement of the Good Life, but it also revealed our inability. It is holy whereas we derive ourselves from the flesh, and it convicts.

That is where Jesus, the Christ, comes in. In His teaching, He both comes bringing the commandment, and fulfilling the commandment. He is the Inscriber par excellence. For by fulfilling His Commands, we may go and do likewise on account of His Spirit. Thank the Lord for being the One greater than Moses! Jesus Himself is our Torah, and, as it was intended, He brings Life and it abundantly.

That’s why I call the commands the Good Life. I can’t beat this drum enough, but Christ is not so-called spiritual-man, or religious-man, or wise-man. No, He is Humanity as it ought to be, fully and completely. He is not the best of Adam, but He is a Second Adam all together. It’s not rejecting our Humanity but finding its fullness and reality. Following Jesus, being known as Christian, is about living humanly, not “being religious”. That is why Baptism is important and the entry sacrament of the Kingdom. It is akin to a second birthday, not an empty ritual but the very “waters of regeneration”, where the Spirit makes us new.

Yet the path of the Messiah is the path of life in a Fallen world of shadows.

That is why our lives reflect not abundance of success and feasting. We have joy, but joy tempered by a Not-Yet of our City to come. Eternal life starts now, Today is the Day where salvation meets us. Yet that takes us to emulating our King while we live in exile. All things have been completed, and yet the End, the Eschaton, is still away. We end up filling our days with fasting.

Why is that? It’s certainly not ascetic will-worship where we fill up our own righteousness and power with our heroic monkish feats of the will. Yet there will be some shallow, superficial similarities between the Messiah’s path and the Buddha’s. The former is built on love for the other in a world such as ours. That is why living humanly requires us, many a time, to lose. Seemingly.

That is what separates many Medieval monastic vows of poverty from the Poor of Lyons (Waldensian group). The monks took poverty, self-flagellation, deprivation in general, in order to seek perfection. For them, it was a process of climbing a spiritual mountain, ascending the ladder rung by rung, until they may catch a blessed vision of the divine. The Poor of Lyons instead sold their possessions in order to join the poor. Many of them were like their founder, Peter Waldo, who was apart of the rising nouveau riche merchant class.

Theirs was not in order to climb up, but to climb down. In fact, it was in this that they were closer to their Lord’s command. They were aware of this, for they utterly thirsted for the Scripture. The Dominicans even came into existence in order to counter the Poor’s preaching against the pagan gnosticism of the Cathari. The Waldenses called to a biblical faithfulness, which may or may not include a Roman Pontiff and a cohort of cardinals. None would hinder their preaching and their obedience to the Christ.

We’re to look to Jesus, as our Lord and as our Way. His way was not by ascending upwards and making a spiritual connect with God, whether it’s through the sacramental monasticism of Rome and Constantinople, or through Schliermacherian Pietism of finding the right feelings of God-awareness. Don’t get me wrong, feelings have a place, and self-denial, though un-monkish, is apart of walking after our Master. Yet it’s their arrangement within things that determine whether something has become toxic or is rightly ordered.

As I said, our loving our God and neighbors involves self-denial, suffering, bearing up shame, and many other dark and hard things. Yet these are not praised in-and-of-themselves for their own sake. It is the context that determine what love looks like. At the great feast of the Lamb there will be no fasting because all things will be restored. Our scars will glorified, and while they will remain, they will be transfigured. What was formerly seen as ugly will become beautiful. The Lamb is a Slain Lamb, but behold, He is alive and alive forevermore.

This is why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews spoke of Christ’s descending and humiliation on the cross thusly:

Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus took on the shame of the cross, not because cruciformity is a good in and of itself. It’s what it looks like to love in a dead world. It’s what it is to be human in the shadows. It’s for a joy that transcends the evil that this world is capable of and does. In such a dead world, we speak resurrection.

Therefore our love is not mere self-emptying for it’s own sake, but for the others. However even for others must be understood rightly and ordered accordingly. That’s why what some who are labeled Agapeists, such as Barth, Bonhoeffer, and even Luther, end up at Niebuhr. I’ll fill this in:

Agapeists posit that the only true love is a love that is completely empty of self-concern and fully given over to the other for the other’s sake. I use to think this way, and it sounds great in principle. Yet it is not realistic or sustainable, and will lead in dark directions.

One of these is that the fact that since we live in such a regard for the neighbor, we may be willing to commit wickedness in order to spare our neighbors. I find this conceptually attractive. We think of the anti-hero type that does the dirty work in order to keep others’ hands clean. Batman breaks the law so Dent may uphold justice through the law. The Dark Knight opens up the path for the White Knight (this doesn’t work).

I don’t disagree with the idea of zealous love causing us to plunge into hell for our neighbors and for the ones we love. It may result in our being labeled unjustly because we live in the dregs. Yet Jesus associate with such peoples, was called all sorts of things, was even our Sin-bearer, becoming sin(!), yet remained sinless. Jesus did not need to murder, or lie, or cheat, or steal in order to be for us.

The opposite side of this coin is a purity cult of Separatism. In Pharisaical form, one fears the unclean of this world in order. Some groups seek to hide and create their own little worlds, like the Amish. Other seek to conquer society and make it holy, like the Theonomists*. This is the other side of the coin and is most laughable in today’s moral discourse as idealistic and foolish, effected as it is by liberal Protestantism.

Niebuhr, as a chief moral theologian of the Main-Line, recognized that the love of Jesus, Agape, was so utterly other-oriented. But instead of the former approach, he saw it as the latter. This, in terms of social and political arrangements, was impossible and idealistic. In the economics of national dealings, he would pull the fall of the world as justification for rejecting the Messiah for Western culture. He would reject the Christ for christianized Paganism. He’d say he’s being a realist, but I’d say that Niebuhr was being a traitor.

In fact, the Agapeist sets itself up for failure because it misses the complexity of Jesus’ discussion on the greatest commandment. Loving the Lord, and one’s neighbor, as oneself. There’s a rightful ordering. The JOY acronym (Jesus, Others, Yourself) is a case of it. I’d say such an ordering is still off, but it is on the right direction. Instead of up and down a list of first to last, it’s levels of foundation. The love for Christ, being our center, compels us outward to love the other, which takes our overbearing self-love and places it beneath. It’s not self-abnegation, but putting our own wants at the behest of the other.

Augustine gets marked as a Platonist for using such a structuring, but I think he was utilizing the grammar in order to make the point in Scripture. Thus we may make ourselves poor, rejecting ambition, for others because of the joy that we will all take part of.

We do not subject ourselves to the Powers that Be in some sort of fatalism, but because we know that the Lord Jesus is victorious. The martyrs did not carry a somber look on their face, but considered themselves champions and warriors. They were participating in the victory over the devil. The bishop Cyprian did not respond with “Thanks be to God” at his execution because of some self-hatred, but by finding himself on Christ’s way, he was fully himself. He was speaking the truth, confessing Jesus as the Christ, which is a part of being Human. Therefore, it’s better to die living than continue to live dying.

The realism of being in a Fallen World will get us marked as wretched and fools, yea even villains, but not because we are. To the world we’re such, but in the eyes of our Lord we are rich, wise, yea even heroes. Faithfulness is not an idealism that is impossible and for the so-called spiritual champions. It’s a way of life for the every-man who has declared Jesus as Lord.

It’s not finding solace in this age, but in the age-to-come. It’s not the impossible of tossing out our “self” but placing it under the authority of the Master, and placing our insatiable self-concern on level with the outsider, the alien, the enemy. The survivor impulse we naturally work with is not destroyed, but re-purposed to serve the neighbor, because they are as we.

Just as the King, for the joy set before Him, scorned the shame of the Pit, let us run our race accordingly. For the joy of an eternal home with unshakeable foundations, we live as Pilgrims in this age. In a world of death, with sin wrapped about it, we live in light of the resurrection. This might mean losing as the this age defines it, but in the eyes of our Lord, we’re truly victorious.

We are candles in the darkness. Sanctify us, O Lord, for the Coming Dawn.

*I’m not saying the Amish or the Theonomists are Agapeists. This is actually not the case. Yet the Agapeist, spiraling to the Niebuhrian position, will label them as the outworking of such. Niebuhrians will strawman some like Yoder as being a contradiction, or a hidden Amish separatist idealist. They can’t see that there is a different way to consider things, and thus they beg the question and poison the well from the get go.

Grabbing Egypt’s Gold: Truth & Culture on the Way (Addendum)

In the last post, I primarily spoke of how as Followers of the Way, we are freed from our particular cultures, and yet also able to use them for an ‘apology’ and proclaiming the Good News. However, part of the imagery of ‘plundering Egypt’ that I described begged a certain question: the use of those things ‘outside’.

In other words, why do we assume Egypt has gold worth taking? Why isn’t re-telling the story of Israel enough? Well, as Paul demonstrated, he utilized Hellenic art, be it the idol or the poet, to make a point. While these are not necessarily universal quandaries, and are specific to the Greek mind at the time , they’re still put to good service. Paul doesn’t try to convert the Greeks to the history of Israel, yet he does give them a crash course through the Biblical arc over the world. One may call this a metaphysic, but that word carries a lot of baggage and I have no need for it. Suffice to say, there is a behind-the-world truth in the Lord setting times and boundaries for all peoples.

Yet this only feeds into the point that I’m getting at. Egypt does have gold because of what some may call a ‘Common Grace’. That is to say, in some sense as Jesus does, that it rains on the just and unjust, the sun smiles on the sincere and the wicked. In terms of wisdom, while we’re bereft of Heavenly wisdom, and ultimately darken our own minds with our clamoring, the Spirit moves none-the-less. There are treasures used to make a point and to be used for the Kingdom of God.

However, as I can’t stress enough, discernment and wisdom must be exercised, and these are gifts that the Lord of Life provides to His people. Thus, Paul doesn’t just, as some do, take the wisdom of the Greeks and present it as it. He quotes a poet to show that the Greeks understood that the feeble gods of the masses were not the rulers of the cosmos. There must’ve been something bigger, something “in which we move, and live, and have our being”. This was none other than the crucified Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. But this is clearly not that quote intended when first spoken. Yet it’s pressed into service, Egyptian gold plundered, for those on their way out of Egypt.

Also too does Paul highlight not only the deposits of treasure in the Hellenic world, but the foolishness. I take the Apostle’s discussion of the idol to the unknown god as scorn, not praise. It was not affirmation, a congratulations for being so close. Rather, how foolish were the Greeks, offering up sacrifices to gods they didn’t even know. The wisdom of men being foolishness comes to mind. Considering that the account describes the Apostle being deeply troubled as he walked through the city, seeing all its idolatry and will-worship ever-present.

For us today, let us continue in the way of Paul who would use Greek poets as he preached to Hellenic pagans. Or Augustine who used Vergil and Varro when making an apology to the pagans of Rome (c.f. City of God). Or Sundar Sadhu Singh who used Sikh traditions and ways for the purposes of preaching the Good News to his fellow Indians. In fact, he took the robe of a holy man (a sadhu) in order to have a place to speak amongst his people. Of course, this earned him contempt. It’s similar to Justin Martyr wearing the Palladium, professing that Christ is the Truth, and the real philosophy. Or evenPaul circumcising Timothy so he may preach to the Jews!

Again, discernment and wisdom in the exercise of this. It can easily consume one’s identity and there becomes a blend of the Gospel of Grace with whatever earthy philosophy, or moral-code that one uses. They’re means to an end. Sundar is probably a good example, whereas Justin was more apt to confuse the two.

Listen fellow pilgrims, grab gold from Egypt and take it for the trip into the Promise Land. May we all continue in Wisdom, and remain faithful as we await a City not built by human hands.

Grabbing Egypt’s Gold: Truth & Culture on the Way

Tertullian once asked, forcefully, what Jerusalem has to do with Athens? His question, with all the rhetorical flourish he could pull, was to rebuke the attempts to bring in Hellenic philosophical scopes into the apologetics being provided. Apologetics, written by the “patristics”, were not really like the ones put forth today. Peter tells the church scattered throughout Asia Minor to be able to adequately defend their faith. This is not intellectual rigor, but the honest request that those who believe know why they do so. Thus when Pagans or Judaizers inquired, the Pilgrim may give an answer.

Now on the one hand, there were those who provided defenses that accommodated much to the intellectual milieu of the day. Thus the pathways of Greek philosophy were constructing the right frame, but missing the correct answer. Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria are two examples of this. Of course, there are different approaches to this. Justin would accuse Plato of taking his ideas from the Hebrew Scriptures while he traveled in Egypt. Clement, on the other-hand, would consider the ‘Philosophers’ (Socrates and Plato especially) as God’s prophets amongst the Greeks, providing a proto-evangelion, a pre-gospel.

On the other, there is the seeming remark of Tertullian that Greek philosophy has no place amongst any believer. It needs to be thrown in the trash as utterly worthless. Now, I’d argue that Tertullian is read out of context here, because he clearly utilized certain philosophical categories in his apologies and doctrinal (read ‘teaching’) works. However, that strand has and does exist amongst people over time. Of course, it has taken on odd contours that are, inherently, flavored by whatever culture, ethnic, or society the iconoclasts are emerging from.

It’s similar to the attempts of a Quest for a Historical Jesus. After all the accusations of Hellenic mutational mysticism, the Jesus these scholars discover looks a lot like them, and answers questions that are particularly, and suspiciously, relevant to the things of today. Their Jesus is a production of their own minds. But, some may add, aren’t all Jesus’ just products of a society? By pulling the post-modern epistemological skeptic card, they’ve completely destroyed the purposes of what their own work means. I sigh, and digress.

However, perhaps another path, carefully treaded, can be taken that doesn’t give such overwhelming supremacy to what fallen man has constructed, yet take it seriously, and use it. For that I quote a seemingly obscure passage:

Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.  (Exodus 12:35-36)

How this has been read, figuratively, is that the Disciple may take, pull apart, and re-package the culture of whichever world, whatever that may be, and use it as both a means to explain our trust(faith) and to proclaim the reign of the King. I’m not sure where there is allegorical interpretation originated with, but I’m familiar with Augustine’s appropriation of it. Thus for him, by using Vergil, or examples of Roman African society, he had “plundered Egypt” for the purposes of the Kingdom of God.

This can be a treacherous approach, and many have claimed such a means in “interacting with culture”, but many times there are major flaws which result, using the words of Revelation, in drinking the wine of Babylon’s whore.

However, no matter how difficult, it comes as apart of the Spirit’s gifting to Jesus’ People. This is a feature of discernment, and while not all possess such seeing, it doesn’t detract it’s placement amongst the people. James teaches us that if we ask for wisdom, and seek after it earnestly, then we will grow in such. That is wisdom from on high, not wisdom from down below. Anyway, all gifts are received as such and regardless if an individual has such, should rejoice.

Yet, I caution again, that one can look out at blogs and books, and see all these “culture warriors”, “culture watchers”, and those who are trying to be “relevant”. Honestly, a lot of it gets me rolling my eyes at self-proclaimed knowledge of current events. Many times it’s pre-made material from a propaganda mill, and foolishly, they respout it as clear-cut fact. It’s many times just idiotic, simplistic, or half-baked. I won’t go to say deceitful, because there’s no way to see into their mind.

However (and here we flip back), this doesn’t mean discernment of the times, and being able to utilize what is around us, is something wrong. False prophets do not invalidate all prophecy. Foolish discernment doesn’t mean there is no place for discernment of the things that move about us. Yet if we, as Jesus People, seek to utilize such facets as entertainment, art, mores, habits etc. around us, then there are some things that ought to be kept in mind. I’m not laying down principles or law, but trying to create a conversation to wade beyond the foolish and belligerent.

When Paul was in Athens, he proclaimed the Good News before the city’s intelligensia, who were the highest kind of pagans. They were stoics and epicureans, some of the most influential philosophic schools throughout the Hellenic world. Paul, in speaking to them, discusses their own cultic devotions, and tells them a new story in terms they’d understand.

In pointing out the statue to the unknown god, the Apostle is challenging them on their own game. Even more so, he quotes a poet as an authority that they’d respect. Not as inspired, but turning him to a new purpose. All of this is to illustrate how exactly Paul engages this people.

In an essay on apologetics, John Howard Yoder would speak that the ‘Apologist’ approach was one that begged the question of Constantinian Christendom as valid. Thus when it’s most proficient systematizers, such as Aquinas, would go to work, they’d try to construct such a linguistic market-place where there is some Universalistic Nature that was accessible to all. This was constructed, in Thomism, in Aristotelian logic. All had access to this, and divine revelation would top off what was visible to the eye.

What is presupposed is that there is some universal language every person would be able to make sense of. This is being deconstructed by pluralistic post-modern impulses, that want to dismantle any Enlightenment notion of Universals. This would always mean European Thought was the standard for the Cosmos, as it was most rational and benign.Let me say that the Post-Modern mood tends towards something similar, but I’ll get there.

Instead, as Yoder would note, there are only provincial constructs, and no matter how large and encompassing one is, it does not give it the purchase of Universal. This, he argued, was not how the Christians, as a minority community, preached.

There is validity here. How many apologetics begin is assuming there are universal problems that need a fix? In the scholastics these would be problems proclaimed universals in terms of logic. After Kant, Schliermacher would point to the emotions we feel as universal personal problems. In fact, the Secular Pluralism of today, as liberal and friendly as it seems, is another one of the same. It imposes that all truth is relative, and thus like blind-men around an elephant, human knowledge approximates the world and the divine. It’s another Western Universal construct, and it is a lie. It’s just as provincial as anything else.

Yet, there will be much surface similarity with what the alternative is. Instead, Paul takes the Greek philosophical construct, with its own problems and answers, and floods it with something else. Paul sought not to find Christ within the world of the Epicureans or the Stoics. Instead, the Messiah invades that world and from within, a new story is proclaimed. One that pays attention to the problems, but resets the terms. This did not flatter the intellects of the academy, it in fact got them laughing.The dead do not rise!

Paul did not try to relate the resurrection to an Epicurean doctrine of the eternality of atoms, or to the Stoic ‘Logos’ and the rebirth of the world in fire. Perhaps there’s a way to do that. Nevertheless, he did not. This should chasten our discernment of how we preach and defend what we call our faith. But it does not invalidate using what is outside the Gospel story.

In fact, we must not be so stupid and foolish to talk about ‘culture’ as something outside and foreign. On the onehand, there is a part that may be considered such. The ways of the City of men are not the way of the City of God. The former rewards deviousness, pride, arrogance, and the latter sincerity, humility, and the truth. Yet, we were all a part of such darkness. Not only that, but we live within the physical constructs of our individual Babylons.

There is no escape from this, we live in the world, though not of it. What we do is blaspheme and profane what we formerly called sacred and turn from the demons. We no longer put reverence in princes or flags, but in the Son of David. We can eat sacrificed meat because it is merely meat and nothing else. All these things must be done with wisdom, but nonetheless, they can be done.

Anyway, culture is therefore not some sort of alien substance that we look at with microscopes or analyze. This merely makes us fools, and the quest for ‘relevance’ only makes us irrelevant. These are the ways we breathe, the construction of particular, provincial means, mores, and methods. It is into such that we proclaim a Christ seated at the Right, one whose light breaches every pondering of the human heart. The problem is not that there isn’t a Universal, but that this is a fallen and disconnected world where every mind can not apprehend the Truth.

Thus on surface, the Constantinian assumption and appropriation, which began in figures like Clement, and the Apostolic one seem similar. Yet their roots are different. One accepts Babylon’s universal rule and justify it, the latter laughs and patiently waits for the it’s One Lord.

There is a lot more to unpack, but regardless, we may thieve Egypt’s gold for the purposes of the Good News. It’s not a return to Egypt, it’s not a fair bartering, but a Messianic march to the promise land. This is not a triumph, but a people in the Desert. One day we will arrive, but as we’re leaving Egypt, let us be faithful.

 

“Blessed is the Man…whose Heart is set on Pilgrimage”

The title comes from Psalm 84, where it is sung:

Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my God.
 Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
They will still be praising You. Selah

 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
 As they pass through the Valley of [Crying],
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion

The purposes of the song is that the People of the Living Lord find no home or house outside the very Kingdom of God. This is an eery and discomforting dynamic. For such a People feel at Home only within the Temple of the Lord of Hosts. Where is that Temple? In the days before the Messiah, there was a physical location for the Israelites to find respite in the presence of their god and king.

Such was the center of their nation, that is why the ten northern tribes abandoning Judah, and Jerusalem, was so heinous. The sin of Jeroboam was to think that he could operate outside the Lord’s ordinance. He built his own Temple sites at Bethel and Dan. These were nothing but frauds. Attempts to grant legitimacy to the new regime.

The King of kings, and God of gods, is not at the beck and call of men, malleable like all the other gods. It was for good reason that this Judge would only be found where He said He may be found, and this was not open to debate. This is similar to many pluralistic arguments today. “God” (whatever that really means?) is talked about and utilized to be a thing, by both the regnum and the theologian-priestcraft.

How can someone say that the Creator is only to be found in Jesus Christ, they say. The key-word being ONLY. It was for the same reason that the rather tolerant and accommodating Rome would, occasionally, crack down on the Jesus movement. They claimed exclusivity, but, unlike the Jews, they seemed novel and thus lacked the antiquity that the Romans had to grudgingly respect and admire.

That is why so many ‘apologies’ began with Israel. Whether it’s Paul, Peter, or Stephen in the inspired account of Acts, or the works of Justin Martyr or Irenaeus, both proclaimed the ancientness of their faith. The Messiah was the heart of Israel’s faith, nothing less than his promise was what they hung upon, and now that promise was for all, the Messiah fulfilling the prophecy to be a ‘light unto the Gentiles’.

This exclusivity of the Temple and the exclusivity of the Christ Jesus are not mere coincidences. Jesus is the new, fulfilled, true Temple over against the physical building which eventually was scorched to the ground in 70 AD. This is why Jesus made the cryptic remark about raising the Temple if it’s torn down in a mere three days. The Apostles understood after the Resurrection he was referring to His Body. Even this has a double meaning, both meaning His physical resurrection, and the resurrection of a People. Yes we face a future resurrection in the End, but we also live the resurrection with renewed minds and spirits. Just as Adam’s body was made first, and then he was breathed upon, we receive a re-breathing, and eventually, a re-bodying.

Thus the eery and unsettling thing, mentioned above, is that our rest is in the Lord of Life, and that has no geographical presence. The writer of the Epistle to Diognetus would say it that the Christian is a stranger in his homeland,but at home wherever he is in the world, especially foreign nations. Of course, that is extraordinarily difficult, and the desire to settle in is deep. To put it one way: it’s hard to remember Jerusalem when you live in Babylon long enough. It’s hard to hang on to the Lord’s promise for a City, and not the temptation to conquer or capitulate.

Providence is an easy cover for either of those erroneous impulses. Many Jews, in the wake of the Hellenic cultural empire, would chalk up such an expansion to the Lord’s will. Thus an embrace would only be right. The same with the Roman political victory, with many of the ruling Sadducee party bending over backwards for their new overlords.

The Pharisees and the Zealots, at least, understood that this was wrong. Of course, that is why their alternative was so damnable. They rightly understood a Hellenic culture or Roman government was not the Lord’s will, but they didn’t know the Lord to whom they turned! They preached violence, self-righteousness, racism, and hatred as opposed to the witness of the prophets and the very coming of their King.

Providence has continued over the years to be a similar cover in settling for Babylon.It may result in the sanctification of a particular city, country, or nation. Rome and Constantinople became “holy” cities, even to the point that Constantinople was considered an ‘ikon’, an image’, of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The Roman race, be it the composite of the psuedo-Hellenized East or the Latinized Franks, was also claimed to be God’s people over and against the barbarians.

Yet the Establishment of Rome or Constantinople were not alone in such ways. In the Hussitism of the Taborites, Czechdom was considered godly. The Armenian church promoted such a racial purity and identity. In the Reformation, the English would eventually create an Anglican establishment that flaunted Englishness as the Imperial Standard. Sundar Sadhu Singh, a Sikh who abandoned his gods for Christ, would complain the same after time in a British seminary. The Indians, his people, wanted to drink Living Water, but necessarily out of British vessels. Yet the two were molded as the same. To be Christian was to be English. Babylon is to become Jewish, so say the Constantinians.

Or, as is also the case, the Jews are to be Babylonians. An obvious example is the so-called converted Germanic or Celtic chiefs would still retain their rituals, but throw a quick gloss on them. The gods become saints, and everything is ok. So, at his coronation, the chief copulates with a white horse for fertility and proceeds to a royal Mass to celebrate his reign. Such is the crude form of such syncretism. The old river god that needed obeisance in order to cross the bridge now became a saint, in whose name a tithe was offered, so God may have favor. We laugh now.

Yet look at the ‘non-denominational’ alliance of chaplaincy that the religions of America provide. What brings about them all is devotion to the divinity of America’s Empire. It’s never put this way, but that’s what it is. America is a “light on the hill” with a mission to bring hope and freedom to the four corners of the Earth. So whether it be theological liberals, Evangelicals, Catholics, Rabbis, whoever, it’s all a clarion call to defend Americana, the true god in all of this. For many Christo-Americans, their identity as Christians is part and parcel with their identity as hard-working, liberty-loving, good-natured Americans.

As I said, it’s an understandable impulse, but it is either, in it’s ultimatum, apostasy or bending the knee to Satan for the kingdom of men. Sometimes it’s neither, a church can’t apostatize if that was always what it was. The Lord of Life can’t take away a candle-stick that He never gave.

Let it be said, I am an apostate and infidel when it comes to the church of America. I was a Nationalist bordering on Jingoist, and was willing to spill blood for my country. I have left such idols behind, but the path is hard. I have repented my ways, but such repentance is daily. I’ve put down the flag, but the ways of such gods still lay dormant. For me, this is especially true in recourse to violence as just means. I must grow in the paths of forgiveness, not a cheap mercy but blood-bought and self-sacrificial.

Truly, blessed is the man who finds his strength in the Lord and has his heart in pilgrimage. May we who confess such a Jesus take confidence and continue on.

For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

“Out of the Abundance of the Heart”: Faithfulness & Language

The post is in light of this particular saying of Jesus, upon which I’ve been meditating upon. Here He has taught His disciples concerning the true life in the Kingdom of God, apart of what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount”.Thus He says:

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

What our Lord teaches here is that our words, and our speech, reveal the content of the heart, the seat of the Human person with all his thoughts, reasons, understandings, and emotions.

On the outset, I agree with the regular interpretation about the words we say. When  we cuss out someone after thinking hearing Christ telling us to love our enemies, it shows there’s a disconnect. Paul Tripp published an article on this “Spiritual Schizophrenia” speaking to the same effect. Or as Luther would understand it, every wicked deed or sin is at root an act of unbelief. And while we live here in a sort of limbo, awaiting the resurrection of the dead, these sorts of things will continue to occur.

Yet it’s not a justification for these actions either. Rather each time our words reveal what we’re really trusting in, or what we really see, it should drop us to our knees in repentance. There is no room for a kind of Gnosticism where what we say and do have no real connection to what we really think. In fact, Jesus draws the lines very strongly the other way. There is no other way to judge but by what one sees or hears.

Of course, that’s also prefaced by a call to cautious judgment and self-criticism over and above pointing out the problems of others. Both the “Judge not…” and “Pull the Plank…” passages can be warped to be calls to individualism. In other words: leave me alone, you have no warrant to say anything to me.

Of course, that’s not it either. We’re to not judge because in such a way we too will be judged, and to pull the plank so we may, in fact, see better. Of course, many church bodies have sold-out to the right-hand of a Nation instead of serving the One at the Right Hand of Majesty, or have become insular, pharisaical, and sectarian. What that produces has been the judgmentalism that has rightly caused disgust among pagans who want nothing to do with such a toxic environ.

Many unfaithful churches have licked the boots of the powerful and oppressed the weak and broken. They have reserved judgment for the kings and poured it out on the least of these. Instead of proverbially flipping tables in the Temple Court, they fawned over the rich and praised the industrial spirit present in those selling and trading. Instead of blessing the least of these, they have offered empty words, of both hate and saccharine love, to those with empty stomachs and empty souls.

That’s the other part of this saying that is crucial. The words that Jesus speaks about are not merely feckless comments, but more to how one uses language in general. How we speak about anything and everything must be accounted for, and it may, sometimes, reveal our own frameworks for how we understand (or don’t) things.

First, let me caution that this doesn’t mean we need to scrutinize every word we use, or try and play psycho-analyst with every word someone else says. That would be an abuse of what I’m calling for.

Instead, how we formulate our words and utilize our language reflect the way we would engage with ideas. There are no “pure ideas”, but are language-based creatures. So when we try and dialogue with one another, these patterns can facilitate growth, or, they may breed disconnect and misunderstanding.

John Howard Yoder commented that this was James’ meaning when he wrote about the uncontrollability of the tongue and a warning to teachers:

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.

The tongue was more than the thing in the individual mouth, it was rather an idiom for language. The power of language has the power to build or to destroy, not only through harsh or kind words, but through how we speak about ideas and things. How our language is utilized may wrongly join two things together that are separate, or divide two things that should really be together. The implications are weighty and the accountability before the Throne of David will be high indeed!

An example of this, which I’ve considered over the past couple months, is language that utilizes the word “Christian” as an adjective. This has caused all sorts of mischief.

One error is applying it to material things. Thus there is “Christian music” or “Christian art”, which can be understood in two ways, and they blend. This may be, as it is in much of American evangelicalism, a ghetto way of thinking that links up so-called praise-music inside a little ghetto of Christian merchandise. The other error is marking it culturally, for some reason or another, in an attempt to claim certain cultural constructs as belonging to the Church. Either way, it is an attempt at a power play. It doesn’t matter if it’s an attempt at world-straddling Christendom such as there was in the Medieval period, or a little ghetto chiefdom, both misunderstand the Kingdom.

The use of “Christian” as an adjective continues up the ladder through less tangible things, such as careers, activities, and hobbies, culminating in the ridiculousness of “Christian life”. This one seriously baffles me, because it’s as if the Pilgrim’s life can be divided up into sections, as if prayer and repentance are somehow less woven up with raising kids, going to work, studying, being with friends etc etc. Again this misunderstand the Kingdom.

Yet the language of using “Christian” as an adjective, which seems rather common-place in our day and age, is unveiling a categorical error and a misapprehension of the Kingdom. It is not in a gnostic, separable existence, anymore that body, soul, and spirit can be trichotomized and trissected. Neither is it in taking over the culture, the world, or the social order, or whatever. The Kingdom is in this world, but not of this world.

I’ve made this error as well, asking people how they were doing “spiritually”. As opposed to what? We ought to think in terms of holistic unity, where when someone asks “How are you?” prayer, repentance, growth, finances, emotional flux, and on and on all make sense and woven together.

Jesus did not come to bring about an addition, a mere lacking, at the top of the Human person. Or in Thomistic terms, he did not bring about some grace to touch up nature. Or in other words, he did not take man, as he is, and give him religion. That makes a mockery of the whole Gospel story.

Rather, Jesus, as the Second Adam, came to recreate. Through His death and His resurrection, there is a new humanity. Yet that’s not enough, in Jesus there is true humanity. Humanity as it ought to be. Thus we do not get a mere dusting to our already immortal, but dysfunctional spiritual souls. It’s recreated continuity. Still human, but reordered, from the ground up.

Thus our spirits were wayward and dead, our minds corrupt, our understanding confused, our bodies perishing. Our hearts were stone. But through the Spirit, behold, He makes all these things new. And in the Eschaton, we see them all complete.

Yet without the proper use of language, we will still talk foolishly. Yes, there are limitations of what already exists, and the errors already made. Thus I still expect Pagans to say “I’m not really religious”, though they actually are. I still expect to hear, “I don’t believe in God”, when they do have gods, or “I believe in God”, which is one of the many demons that exist as shadows.

What they are not is united to Christ, which is living humanly. The ways of the World lead to death and alienation, and yet the Lord made us for life and friendship.

This is not deny the particularity of our being Jesus People, as over against Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists etc etc. and we understand all things through the lens of our Messiah. Yet it doesn’t change the thing done, but the heart in the midst of it.

Not everyone will want to engage in parsing through this, but neither is everyone called to be a teacher in the Kingdom. Teacher as apostolically defined, not some careerist vocational understanding. But with good teaching would come better and truer words, and thus would convey the heart better. Our faithfulness could be better understood. Perfectly? I won’t answer such a silly question.

And let it be known that there are many other gifts that are present and necessary in Life in the Spirit. Teaching is one that many would seem to recognize, but it gets flooded in loyalty not to the Tradition of the Apostles, but such defined, clouded and limited man-made constructs. Teaching is not utilized for a wild and life-giving Truth, but for the promotion of a party or sect without recourse beyond.

May we avoid such errors and be blessed with good teachers. Yet the Lord’s will be done nonetheless.

Constantine’s Children: Constantinianism Through the Ages

If you’ve read a few of my pieces regarding Constantine, you’ll realize they have very little to do with the Roman Emperor who reigned throughout the 4th century. Rather it has to do with a way of thinking, a way of conceiving of the Kingdom of God, where the church becomes somehow linked up with the progress of the state, the culture, the society. In reality, the three are not so distinguishable. However, as you’ll see, the evolution of Constantine’s victory transition throughout these, while trying to appear disconnected from such a legacy.

The first form of Constantine, which formally began with the man himself but wasn’t in full form till Theodosius, was the confluence of the Roman world with the church. The old idea of the Roman Empire had changed into something much more personal. When the Imperium had begun with the victory of the Republic over the Etruscans and their Latin allies at Lake Regilius, it was little more than control of the Roman patrician class over subservient cities and their regions. Over time more of Rome became enfranchised until, symbollically, Caesar had invited Gauls into the Roman Senate. By the time of his adopted son, Rome was the “world” (c.f. Luke 2:1).

This was the time and space that Jesus had entered, and interestingly. While much of the biblical language of the Messiah’s reign had precedent in the Tanakh, it also had a double meaning within the Roman “world”. When Caesar won a battle, he would send forth “apostles” and “messengers” (or literally “angels”(!)) to tell his “good news”, his “gospel”. Jesus’ disciples’ message maintained within it a challenge to this world. If Jesus is Lord, then, by default, Caesar is not. Of course this did not mean in the same way as Caesar. Jesus said His Kingdom was “not of this world”. As his disciples would teach, there was no direct challenge to the authorities. They were rebellious and wicked, but maintained in the providential authority of Jesus Christ.

There would be only one Lord, and yet He saw fit to operate in a world of monsters and demonic princes. Yet in this, the parallel between the Roman “world” and Christ’s “world-to-come” was possible. Both claimed catholicity, and so it is easy to see how bishops would bow their necks to an Emperor and, in Eusebeian fashion, place the victory of the ages within Constantine’s victory over his half-pagan co-emperor. The vision of unison between Christ’s reign and Rome’s seemed to be validated with the reign of so-called christian Caesars. Though I think this was a delusion from mouth of the dragon, there is a certain nobility to it. Even if the constitution of the Kingdom was flooded with unconverted pagans, at least a bishop could call an Emperor to account. Such was Ambrose and Theodosius.

However, this is a consolation, and not a happy or good thing. While I won’t go to say that there can’t be kings, emperors, or presidents that are believers, I find it usually hard to believe. Jesus, the only King, taught us that by the fruits we know the tree. These heads of states are under the same command to take up their crosses and die. The allure of power is heavy. We can’t know the heart, but the love of sex, power, bloodsport, and conquest has been the hallmark of so many. Let that be enough.

Well when the Roman world exploded with the split between West and East becoming more serious and the Germanic and Arab invasions leaving lasting impacts, Constantine developed and transformed once again. There now began multiple nodes of power, usually rooted in a particular throne. That could take the form of the Byzantine Emperor, the Holy Roman Emperor, or even the wild ambitions of some Caesaro-Papists. All of these were divisions from the original Roman unity.

In this split, the East was maintained, generally, by the constant threat of Arab or Turkic invaders. The West, however, fragmented at a higher rate. The conflict between Emperor and Pope would exacerbate the fragmentation, and the rediscovery of ancient texts and learning would solidify it. Rank Greco-Roman paganism returned to the public mind in the Renaissance. Thus while earlier political thinkers tried to explain through misapplied and misunderstood Scripture, the newer ones reembraced the old. Machiavelli was a symbol of this approach. In his work pragmatics ruled the day, there was now flowery masquerade of state violence behind idealism. Besides this, many powers began to doubt any sort of legitimacy in the interdict of the Pope, and the power of the Holy Roman Emperor had eroded substantially. In hindsight, it’s easy to see the West was prime for a cataclysmic shift.

In Protestant myth Luther thundering the 95 theses on Wittenburg’s cathedral was the hallmark of a major shift. While few people would take this event as symbolism, I do not necessarily share the enthusiasm some have for what the major players in the Reformation accomplished. I’m enthusiastic to hear a return to a gospel of grace, unshackled from a priestcraft and a magicked sacrament that was constituted from the worst parts of neo-platonic theurgy and semi-pelagian boostraps-theology. However the Reformers engaged in yet another form of the Constantino-Babylonian monstrosity. The erosion of catholicity between West and East to particular thrones/nodes had broken down even further.

The Reformers tried to maintain a unity and a catholicity, but the young Luther and Zwingli gave into the demands of princes and the seeming reality of death that lay around the corner. There was no guarantee that these men would not be strung up on a pillar and set ablaze by a vengeful Roman pontiff. Besides the theological differences, there was ethnic/cultural hostility. Germans (which included the prince states of what make up modern Germany, and the Swiss) hated the perceived decadence and iron-fisted taxation (religiously called the ‘tithe’) that was imposed upon them. The Papacy may have been batted between Rome and the different Italian families and the French throne, Germans lost out continually. With the popularity of Luther spread through Gutenberg’s printing press, many were willing to take up his cause for politics. Sadly, Luther was willing to comply.

I can’t blame him, though I lament the choice. But this represents the heart of the magisterial reformation and why they so viciously attacked their former allies, which are lumped together as ‘anabaptists’. Many people don’t understand why they were so hated. It wasn’t that they merely re-baptised, or that they promoted believers-baptism. Some who were re-baptised were still pedo-baptists, and they re-baptised their children. What they had stood against, and why they were turned against, was they denied the legitimacy of Christendom. They challenged Constantine’s dream.

However, the anabaptists and the radical wing of the Reformation never posed a serious threat. Theologically yes, but the princes only used this as a cloak. The real enemy was a resurgent Roman catholic power. Thus, which is the birth of a new Constantinianism, the 30 years war ended in utter blood-shed and solidified what had already began to take place before the clash. That is a nationally and culturally defined church. This is not pure novel, but it was complete at the end. The Dutch had their reformed church, the Spanish retained their devout form of Papism. Hell, the Anglicans have ‘English’ in their denominational name. The French had a confused battle, but eventually a state-formed Romanism won out over the Huguenot princes.

That’s right. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but Roman Catholicism is just as nationally and ethnically tinged as Protestantism in this era and beyond. In the Enlightenment and the advance of the Nation-State, this would become even more the case. To be English was to be Anglican Protestant, to be Prussian (and eventually German) was to belong to the Lutheran-Reformed State abomination. To be Polish was to be Catholic, to be Serb was to be Serbian Orthodox. Even in the United States, to be American was to be a particular type of Protestant. The Irish, Italians, Jews, and Slavs were excluded on this principle. The church was defined by border. Of course, whose church was this at this point? Christ’s or a particular king or government?

Even within these major Constantinian organizations, the evangel would break lose. Thus a fellow like Wesley would break outside the designations of the Anglican hierarchy and preach everywhere to everyone. The spirit of the United Brethren, though swamped with conforming to the dominant and magisterial Lutheranism and Reformed traditions, would reemerge at Herrnhut. It wasn’t the same anti-Constantinian community, but it too would reject the attempt to be ruled by a prince (even if maintained on a prince’s estate). Moravians would preach to Indians and slaves to the irritation of those who tried to keep the church as a pet of whatever Babel was being built.

In the context of our American Babylon project, this should be eye-opening for those with eyes to see. The companions of Wesley would continue his circuit riding and preaching, even to the expense of any particular revolutionary cause. There was no concern about liberation from Britain and, even more so, they had no will to pick up arms in general. The gospel made no demands, contrary to the voice of some founders, to establish any new country or politically liberate any exclusive group of wealthy white planters and merchants. Of course this would morph over the ages, and the dream of an “Empire of Liberty” would be intermingled with the proclamation of the Messiah’s victory. Thus the Temperance Movement, the KKK, the Native Soil party, and the social-gospel movements all revolved around a single concept: a national Constantinian vision. There is ample evidence that much of the ideological fodder for the Civil War, on both sides, was this same source. Who was God’s nation? The North or the South, or a unified Both?

Yet, in the world over, this nationalized Constantinianism would come to a halt. The hyper-growth of the Nation-State to world-straddling colonial Empires would end in mutual destruction. The princes of Europe, who collectively ruled the world, would massacre each other in two world wars. I’m among those who consider the both to be two-parts in a single conflict, with a two decade intermission.The fall-out restructured the world into the dual super-power split known as the Cold War. Though of course many pulpits in the US would continue the nationalized vision, many, both in and outside the US, would restructure Constantine’s dream once again. Now it came in the vise of anti-colonialism, liberation-theology, and empowering the formerly oppressed.

Now let it be know that there is a sort of justice in what is being called for. I’m all for the formerly victimized becoming self-sufficient communities, no longer owned by a colonial master. Of course, the official policies of anti-colonialism within the Cold War context were only pragmatic geo-political chess moves. The US and the USSR may support this or that liberation movement, or oppose it, but it was for the purposes of power.  But the point is that bodies like the World Council of Churches would embrace a much softer version of the Constantinian system, but with democratic socialism as the new paradigm. This particular concept has remained, though highly diminished, and hides within particular visions and hopes for a future.

These Constantinian creatures are not merely chronological. In the US, the nationalistic vision is still strong, the Russian Orthodox establishment has recently been thriving within Putin’s return to Russia’s more historic Tsarist placement. Even in China, the government has shown growing interest in Christianity. Will the many underground-churches trade faithfulness to for State sponsorship, and being enveloped by the growing power of a global Chinese Empire.

The problem is not that a government official or ruler has bent the knee of Christ, or that persecution and minority status ended. These are strawmen that those opposed to anti-Constantinian thought throw up to counter. They say, don’t you appreciate your freedoms? Your livelihood? Your ability to worship freely on Sundays? This is the spoils of an authority sympathetic to the Christian way. You can’t keep your tolerance without Constantine’s sythesis, such is a liberal pipe-dream of secularity.

I can only shake my head. While Rome, as an example, was cruel, proud, and conquest-driven, what did society look like? The Romans were rather tolerant, they wanted a social peace and stability, they wanted increase prosperity, not only for the powerful, but regular people. Why? Because one can not crush and crush and crush and expect to maintain control. Even a small and paltry dog will bite when pushed into a corner.

The problem is faithfulness, and the reality of living in the world, even though the Lord purifies us from being of it. Anti-Constantinians have conceived things differently. People like Tertullian or Chelcicky believed a Christian Emperor was a contradiction in terms, and the allure of power would overwhelm any sinful man. Yoder was more open to how a disciple, if he was the emperor, would rule. Not to create a christendom but to remain obedient to Christ. I’m not sure where to draw the line.

Yet the Biblical image is that we are all pilgrims awaiting a City from On High. Babylon is not to be remade and transfigured, but a structure in which we remain. We’re not to be indifferent, seeking justice and peace, but it is not absolute. Constantine’s dream is an invitation to Jesus People to sell their souls to the Devil, just as he tempted the Son of God in the wilderness. I have hope there will always be a faithful remnant, either hidden within sold-out institutions or in the underground.

Whether it’s a catholic “world”, a nationalistic colonialism, or a left-wing socialism, all attempts to define the Kingdom as apart of Babylon blaspheme the Messiah. You who seek to rule Babylon, kiss the Son, lest you be dashed to pieces in His return.