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?

Richard Sibbes is My New Hero

From his book, The Bruised Reed:

The Presence of the Heavenly Fire

  • First, if there be any holy fire in us, it is kindled from heaven by the Father of Lights, who “commanded the light to shine out of darkness” (2 Cor. 4:6). As it is kindled by the use of means, so it is fed. The light in us and the light in the Word spring the one from the other and both from the one Holy Spirit….
  • Secondly, the least divine light has heat with it in some measure. Light in the understanding produces heat of love in the affections….
  • Thirdly, where this heavenly light is kindled, it directs in the right way. For it is given for that use, to show us the best way, and to guide us in the particular passages of life; otherwise, it is but common light, given only for the good of others….
  • Fourthly, where this fire is, it will sever things of diverse natures, and show a difference between such things as gold and dross. It will sever between flesh and spirit, and show that this is of nature, this of grace….
  • Fifthly, so far as a man is spiritual, so far is light delightful to him. He is willing to see anything amiss that he may reform, and any further service discovered that he may perform, because he truly hats ill and loves good….
  • Sixthly, fire, when it is present, is in some degree active. So the least measure of grace works, as springing from the Spirit of God, who, from his operations, is compared to fire….
  • Seventhly, fire makes metals pliable and malleable. So grace, where it is given, makes the heart pliable and ready to receive all good impressions. Obstinate spirits show that they are not so much as smoking flax.
  • Eighthly, fire, as much as it can, sets everything on fire. So grace labors to produce a gracious impression in others, and make as many good as it can.
  • Ninthly, sparks by nature fly upwards. So the Spirit of grace carries the soul heavenward and sets before us holy and heavenly aims. As it was kindled in heaven, so it carries us back to heaven….
  • Tenthly, fire, if it has any matter to feed on, enlarges itself and mounts higher and higher, and, the higher it rises, the purer is the flame. So where true grace is, it grows in measure and purity. Smoking flax will grow to a flame; and, as it increases, so it discards what is contrary to itself and refines itself more and more.

Secret prayer

For the last few months, I’ve been re-reading Charles Hambrick-Stowe’s History book on Puritan devotions, The Practice of Piety. I ran across this quote-ridden paragraph today:

Regular secret prayer was not only a means of grace but also the primary and most necessary means. New Englanders continually pointed to the dire consequences of the neglect of prayer, making much of the failure, suicide, or criminal conviction of those who “never used Secret Prayer” and “frequently omitted Family Prayer too.” Thomas Shepard said that the voice of the Lord “singles a man out” and is heard by a divine and newly created “internal spirit of prayer.” The other means of grace, both public and private, were preliminary to the awakening of this ability to pray in faith. “Is it not the end of Preaching, that you may learn to pray?” John Cotton demanded. True prayer required faith, so that “a man must not fetch his prayer from his parts, as will, memory, understanding, or ability, but from the Spirit, who is the prayer-maker.” In fact, the English Puritan John Preston defined prayer as “the voice of God’s own Spirit, that is, such as arise from the regenerate part which is within us, which is quickened and enlarged to pray from the immediate help of the Holy Ghost.”


I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a mystic. But I’ve discovered that word makes some people, particularly non-charismatic evangelicals, nervous, so let me explain. By “mystic” I mean a person whose devotional life is characterized by intensely affecting spiritual experiences. These experiences may be in the realm of simple theological insight, or they may take more literary forms. At times they may cross over into the realm of prophecy; that is, dreams, visions, words, and phrases laden with theological context.

From a natural perspective, mysticism can come from two sources. It can be personal, or social: On the social spectrum, mysticism can be presented as something to aspire to. Some Christian traditions – the Pentecostals, the Orthodox, some revivalist traditions – present mysticism in such a way that it seems to be the only way to have a properly Christian devotional life. At the other extreme, some traditions, particularly the Reformed and Protestants as a whole, seem to perceive mysticism at best as something useless, at worst as something suspiciously unchristian, smacking of Papism, adding to scripture, even beckoning the demonic. On the personal spectrum, a person could be naturally predisposed to have certain kinds of experiences, or they could find themselves completely unable to do so, or they could be somewhere in between. (Please note that, for the sake of simplicity, I’m lumping what a person thinks about these things in with the social scale.)

The difficulty, of course, comes when a person’s natural predisposition doesn’t align very well with the tradition they find themselves in. Continue reading “Mystic”