Heroes and Villains

I just finished watching my free copy of The Incredibles, and I was thinking…

In a world where there are super villains, there will be super heroes. That’s just a scatterplot of the graph of ability and morality. But where there are no super powers, the villains will inevitably have a finger somewhere in government. The question is: where do the heroes go?

scope creep

One of the honors my church has given me in the last few months is the privilege of writing study notes to go along with the Sunday Sermon. These notes are then available for use by home groups that meet throughout the week. We’ve been working through 1 Corinthians, and today I’m supposed to be working on the “how do you build on Paul’s foundation” part of chapter 3, but I’m stymied because of how hard this section pulls on my heartstrings. Build the church, man. That is what I am about.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

The second time I went to school to learn to be a minister was much better than the first. It was thicker, richer. And one of the first things that I realized was that my charismatic, independent, localized vision for the church was just too small. It didn’t even cover richness and breadth of the interconnected networks of secular society, and the church is greater than that.

Look, Nebuchadnezzar saw it. Daniel tells us his vision about the layered statue, with the golden head and clayey feet. The statue represented the governments of nations, and the stone which destroyed that statue was Jesus Christ. But what is the mountain that came from that stone, if it isn’t the church?

The shape of that mountain is important. It’s a single mountain that covers the entire earth. As I realized once in a conversation with some Mormon missionaries, it’s a single mountain, not a mountain range. So Daniel 2:” the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” No interruptions. That casts down any assertions that there was a true church, which stopped, and then an intermediate period with no church, or a false church, followed by a restored true church.

At the same time, the mountain is a good deal bigger than the statue. It’s a mountain, not a hill, so it’s taller than the statue, and it clearly covers more ground. I take that to mean that it lasts longer through the generations (hello? forever?), and that it touches more of society. Local congregations, private associations, friendships, national governments… all of these things, inasmuch as they are real and valid ways for people to relate to each other and work together and form a society, will be subsumed in the world-mountain that is the church.

All of it. I can’t read the news without my vision of the church getting bigger. I can’t read about economics without my vision of the church getting better. I can’t think about business, or logistics, or farming, without my vision of the church getting bigger.

And here’s Paul talking about building the church, like it’s all okay. Now, it’s not enough to be a component of God’s active retrofit of all of human civilization, he wants me (us) to build it. That’s exciting. It’s astounding. And it’s not too daunting, because as best I can tell, the church universal is still only made up of the church local. I build up the church by building up my church.

And, hey, look. I get to help build the church by writing review questions for a sermon about building the church. The challenge is following the sermon, and not the pictures in my head. (And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here…”) Talk about scope creep!

The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us (Pt 7)

It is hard to preserve just bounds of mercy and severity without a spirit above our own, by which we ought to desire to be led in all things.

How Those in Authority Should Act

In the censures of the church, it is more suitable to the spirit of Christ to incline to the milder part, and not to kill a fly on the forehead with a mallet, not shut men out of heaven for a trifle.  The very snuffers [wick trimmers] of the tabernacle were made of pure gold, to show the purity of those censures whereby the light of the church is kept bright. The power that is given to the church is given for edification, not destruction.

How careful was Paul that the incestuous Corinthian (2 Cor. 2:7), if he repented, should not be swallowed up with too much grief.  Civil magistrates, for civil exigencies and reasons of state, must let the law have its course; yet thus far they should imitate this mild king, as not to mingle bitterness and passion with authority derived from God.

Authority is a beam of God’s majesty, and prevails most where there is the least mixture of that which is man’s. It requires more than ordinary wisdom to manage it aright.  This string must not be too tight, nor too loose.  Justice is a harmonious thing.  Herbs hot or cold beyond a certain degree, kill.  We see even contrary elements preserved in one body by wisely tempering them together.  Justice in rigor is often extreme injustice, where some considerable circumstances should incline to moderation; and the reckoning will be easier for bending rather to moderation than rigor.

Insolent behavior toward miserable persons, if humbled, is unseemly in any who look for mercy themselves.  Misery should be a magnet for mercy, not a footstool for pride to trample on.  Sometimes it falls out that those who are under the government of others are most injurious by waywardness and harsh censures, so disparaging and discouraging the endeavors of their superiors for public good.

In so great weakness of man’s nature, and especially in this crazy age of the world, we ought to take in good part any moderate happiness we enjoy by government, and not be altogether as a nail in the wound, exasperating things by misconstruction.  Here love should have a mantle to cast upon lessor errors of those above us.  Oftentimes the poor man is the oppressor by unjust clamors.  We should labor to give the best interpretation to the actions of governments that the nature of the actions will possibly bear.

Church and State

Please forgive my tone in the next few paragraphs. I’ve been reading Puritan preachers lately, and I think it’s garbled up my syntax a bit. Nevertheless:

It is always the business of the true Church to order the secular government around. It is never the business of the governor to order around the church. Both church and state are concerned with government, and their spheres overlap, but it’s the authority of the church that necessarily presides over the power of government, provided that the church is truly the church established by God according to the gospel (with Christ as it’s chief cornerstone, and apostles and prophets as its pillars).

The church has as her weapons (1) the truth, authenticated by the scriptures and by the Spirit of God who confirms truth by conviction in the hearts of men, and (2) the power of the church’s members, given by the Holy Spirit, to humble themselves in obedience to the truth even to the point of death. The government’s only weapon is the sword, which can coerce only those who fear death but do not fear “the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Men who fear God are not afraid of guns and prisons, and in a fight between church and state, the church will always win, unless that church has lost its faith in the truth of the gospel. The church that has lost its faith in the gospel is of course no true church at all, but a bad forgery.

The framers of the US Constitution were wise to ban Congress from attempting to establish a church. Only God can establish the true church, and the government that attempts to establish a false church may in fact disestablish itself when the true church begins to rise. But this is a very different thing from attempting to separate church and state, which is as much nonsense as trying to separate light and air.

It’s a sad indicator of how weak we are as Christians that the above might seem to be a new idea, and that it’s necessary to take the next step toward application and point out that the churches in the West today have almost no authority over the government. Politicians ignore pastors almost completely, and preachers abstain from pointing out which candidate is more Christian than another on pain of taxation. This could only be possible if the church’s understanding of the gospel were so thin as to be almost negligible, like non-alcoholic beer or tobacco-free cigarettes. Or else, we are all false churches, and there is no true church in the West at all.

Has God taken away our lampstand, or is it merely guttering?