Bishops must Rebuke Emperors

In the Year of our Lord 390, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I exacted retribution on the citizens of Thessalonica for an uprising. The Church Father Theodoret recounts what happened:

The emperor was fired with anger when he heard the news, and unable to endure the rush of his passion, did not even check its onset by the curb of reason, but allowed his rage to be the minister of his vengeance. When the imperial passion had received its authority, as though itself an independent prince, it broke the bonds and yoke of reason, unsheathed swords of injustice right and left without distinction, and slew innocent and guilty together. No trial preceded the sentence. No condemnation was passed on the perpetrators of the crimes. Multitudes were mowed down like ears of grain in harvest-tide. It is said that seven thousand perished.

St. Ambrose of Milan heard of the massacre and forbid the Emperor from entering the Church. The entire account can be found in Theodoret, but in part he says:

Fired with divine zeal the holy Ambrosius exclaimed “Rufinus, I tell you beforehand; I shall prevent him from crossing the sacred threshold. If he is for changing his sovereign power into that of a tyrant I too will gladly submit to a violent death.” On this Rufinus sent a messenger to inform the emperor in what mind the archbishop was, and exhorted him to remain within the palace. Theodosius had already reached the middle of the forum when he received the message. “I will go,” said he, “and accept the disgrace I deserve.” He advanced to the sacred precincts but did not enter the holy building. The archbishop was seated in the house of salutation and there the emperor approached him and besought that his bonds might be loosed.

“Your coming” said Ambrose “is the coming of a tyrant. You are raging against God; you are trampling on his laws.” “No,” said Theodosius, “I do not attack laws laid down, I do not seek wrongfully to cross the sacred threshold; but I ask you to loose my bond, to take into account the mercy of our common Lord, and not to shut against me a door which our master has opened for all them that repent.” The archbishop replied “What repentance have you shown since your tremendous crime? You have inflicted wounds right hard to heal; what salve have you applied?”“Yours” said the emperor “is the duty alike of pointing out and of mixing the salve. It is for me to receive what is given me.” Then said the divine Ambrosius “You let your passion minister justice, your passion not your reason gives judgment. Put forth therefore an edict which shall make the sentence of your passion null and void; let the sentences which have been published inflicting death or confiscation be suspended for thirty days awaiting the judgment of reason. When the days shall have elapsed let them that wrote the sentences exhibit their orders, and then, and not till then, when passion has calmed down, reason acting as sole judge shall examine the sentences and will see whether they be right or wrong. If it find them wrong it will cancel the deeds; if they be righteous it will confirm them, and the interval of time will inflict no wrong on them that have been rightly condemned.”

In a letter to the Emperor, St. Ambrose says:

Should I keep silence? But then my conscience would be bound, my utterance taken away, which would be the most wretched condition of all. And where would be that text? If the priest speak not to him that erreth, he who errs shall die in his sin, and the priest shall be liable to the penalty because he warned not the erring.

Ambrose believed that it is the duty of a priest to correct all those in error, up to and including the Emperor of Rome, lest the priest become responsible for not speaking the truth to him. He is referring to Ezekiel 3.18:

If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.

This is the testimony and example of the ancient Church handed down to us as a pattern of how to deal with tyrants who massacre their own people.

Ventrella on Sovereign Grace’s Deficient Cultural Engagement

I just ordered, and look forward to reading, Jeff Ventrella’s new book Church and Culture. The synopsis says:

Full-orbed response to a proposed statement on the church’s responsibility in culture by Sovereign Grace Ministries — and a valuable resource in elucidating a Faith that champions a comprehensive Gospel amid a church culture that all too often reduces the Gospel to personal salvation.

Sovereign Grace reflects a typical Annabaptist take on culture, so it’s good to see it called out in a public way.

We Must Obey God

Chaplains have a calling that I’m not sure is tenable in the long run. The State, in the form of the Army, silenced Catholic chaplains last week, see here.

The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains subsequently sent an email to senior chaplains advising them that the Archbishop’s letter was not coordinated with that office and asked that it not be read from the pulpit.  The Chief’s office directed that the letter was to be mentioned in the Mass announcements and distributed in printed form in the back of the chapel.

Increasingly, the Church is being called to a public witness that will result in consequences. Will Christians stand up, or go silent?

Small Groups as Part of the Good Life

Isolation kills. Spiritually, we are meant to live in community. One way to do this is through small groups, by whatever name they are called. There are many reasons to conduct and participate in small groups, but one I have not seen is to me central, and that is the definition of the good life given by Aristotle:

“happiness,” or the good life, which is to be attained in a community of family and friends who can satisfy one another’s material and social needs, behave justly toward one another, and, according to their capacity, contemplate the Good.

There are many nights when I don’t feel like going to small group. I’d rather stay home, avoid the drive and rest. But this definition springs to mind and helps me to focus on a primary reason for going. Contemplating “the good” – in our case, the Triune God – is done in some measure by being with other Christians and reflecting on God’s Word together. It’s a simple concept, but it has been held to be central to human happiness throughout Western history, and I believe that vision holds true today.

 

Sovereign Grace’s Evolving Polity

For some time, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) has had “Apostles.” Now however, things have changed and the apostolic team is now the much more mundane “regional leadership team.” This post has the details. It seems like most movements that begin with a charismatic, non-institutional flux end up with a tight structure and with their own institutions. The move away from using the term apostle is a move in the right direction. Now, why aren’t they honest enough to drop the “family of churches” for the dreaded “denomination”?

Looking at the situation a bit further, notice that SGM has four men on their overarching “Leadership Team”, see here. This team is above the regional leadership team and its eight men. It’s funny as someone who believes in the episcopacy to watch these groups bump around until they find something roughly equivalent to episcopal ministry. C.J. and the Leadership Team are Archbishops, while the regional leadership team are bishops of their regions.

I find the very existence of the group alongside the seemingly similar-in-belief Acts 29 and the Grace Network to be a bit puzzling. Is there no degree of catholicity possible, even amongst churches with identical beliefs? Do atmospherics count for that much? Does John 17 figure at all in our theology these days?

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11 ESV)

Needy Churches

Father Dan Claire has a good post up at RenewDC on how healthy churches should be needy churches. He says in part:

A healthy church grieves the departure of members not because of the loss of revenue, but because of the loss of gifts. Departures drive the remaining members to their knees to pray for new body parts, so that the body might be complete, and the church might fulfill her vocation as a kingdom outpost. Likewise, when God sends new people to a healthy church, there are legitimate holes to be filled and everyone rejoices in the Lord’s provision.

Losing Old Church Buildings

I’m hearing that the court case against the Virginia CANA churches may not go well. Truro, Falls Church and others may be forced to leave their historic buildings. I’ve never been a fan of the “defend the property” strategy, but this is still very sad news. Turning these buildings over to heretics is akin to the North African Church falling to Islam a long time ago.

With that said, it occurred to me today that one reason that it is such a blow to lose these venerable buildings is because there is so little chance of replacing them in our lifetime. Our theology of architecture is so impoverished, and the buildings that we typically build as Protestant churches are generally so awful, that losing these old buildings is a great tragedy.

Most new church buildings are ephemeral, not durable. They are ugly, functional, “multi-purpose” facilities where people worship in the gym. There is generally no art, no stained glass windows and nothing that would really differentiate these buildings from the prison-like school buildings that we build today. On the other hand, places like Truro have a simple elegance and exude a sense of tranquility and “churchiness” that is lacking in most modern Protestant facilities. It seems that Catholics have kept their senses and are producing some great buildings even today. I live down the street from one and I’ve seen many others, such as the gorgeous Holy Apostles in Meridian, Idaho.

So if we are going to continue to think that buildings don’t matter or that we need to build the cheapest, ugliest thing we can get away with and call it good, then losing the old places like Truro (and the many, many United Methodist parishes in Virginia that are gorgeous and given over to heresy) is a very sad event indeed.

A Church Home At Long Last

We have been wandering in the Wilderness for four years. Moving out of range of a good church was the worst decision we ever made. We left The Church of the Resurrection and weren’t willing to sacrifice to stay closer. We tried to hack it at unfriendly churches, shallow churches, churches with bad theology, or all the above combined. We got to go on a grand tour of what is wrong with churches today.

Being liturgical, sacramental and whole-Bible in the Kuyper/Van Til/Jordan and Leithart way limits your choices. For the first time in our Christian lives we experienced the total despair of essentially giving up and not going anywhere for almost six or seven months. And I didn’t miss it. I didn’t miss the clueless worship, lack of Bible, historical ignorance, Great Commission absence or lack of community. If your church has no community, then staying home on Sunday isn’t much different from going on Sunday morning except for the lack of driving and going through the motions in a service that grates on you from beginning to end as people ignore you on the way in and the way out. I can’t justify not going – I know the commandment and I know I was not keeping it, but I didn’t see any way to keep it and stay sane.

And then, sort of out of the blue and not painlessly, God allowed us to move. This move is life-changing in many ways, but the best of them is that we get to go to a church that gets it. Last night we went to The Church of the Ascension (AMiA) in Arlington. A place with people who talked our ears off after the service – some old friends and some new. We almost had to tear ourselves away to go home. A place with clergy committed to evangelism, discipleship, the sacraments, the liturgy, and to sound theology in a Reformed via the 39 Articles way. During the entire service I was thinking, “this is it, this is where we belong.” It is almost too good to be true and I am grateful in ways that I can’t fully express for this long period of trial to seemingly be over. There will be challenges no doubt, but it will be worth the fight.

It’s hard out there in American churches if you have any sort of convictions beyond “I want a rocking praise band and programs for the kids.” I don’t know how people do it in much of the country. My suspicion is that they give up like we were and stay home. Read a book, mow the lawn, watch football, do anything. What are they missing? A goofy guy with a goatee trying to be relevant? Not much of a loss. I hope that in the few decades I may have left on the earth, people everywhere will at least have one good local option that is robustly Protestant, sacramental, liturgical and Bible-saturated. I guess that would be some form or revival, and it would be welcome.

I Can’t Interpret the Bible but I Can Interpret History

Perhaps responding to recent apostasies, Mark Horne put the problem with certain conversions to Rome and the East perfectly:

You are not impressing anyone when you claim that you don’t have the ability to read the Bible for itself but you do have the ability to study all of Christian history and identify the supernatural office that can tell you what to think.
If you can really read and argue from history in the hope of persuading others, then why not simply argue for your views from Scripture?  If you aren’t following your own authority in deciding which church to submit to then how are you following your own authority when you read the Bible and believe what it says? If you are willing to argue over the meaning of the last papal writings, why not argue over the meaning of Scripture?
The fragmented nature of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches gives the lie to the “unity” narrative. And yes, you think you can interpret history perfectly, but not the Bible…patently absurd.