What will be the most prominent cultural identifiers of the Faith?
This is a repost of a three-part series I did a few years ago. It had a particular context that had a lot to do with certain Presbyterians and Baptists forming a new denomination together and making constitutional provision to negotiate baptism, because the pressing need of the hour was abandoning corrupted denominations and standing strong against culture.
Part 1. What will be the primary markers of collective Christian identity in our witness to the culture and the world?
A minister-friend shared a brilliant observation with me. I see the insightfulness of that observation prove itself over and over again. I see it when two schools of thought collide among Reformed Christian brethren. To paraphrase and refine what he said to me:
Ministers who have a high view of the sacraments see the life of the church at worship as ordinary and effectual means of grace. Such a manner of life is the central indicator of our Christian identity and society. Preachers who have a low view of the sacraments resort to combative rhetoric and cultural warfare. These become their chief indicators of Christian identity.
We must seek and find our common citizenship in the Kingdom at the Lord’s Font and the Lord’s Table. If we don’t, we’ll seek it from ideological loyalty tests to a personality cult.
Some Christians treat fellowship of the Spirit embodied in worship and daily community life as trivial. Such is a peripheral concern in light of the supposed great need of this dark hour. And that great need is confronting false worldviews. Making sociopolitical alliances becomes the most vital need.
This is not about setting aside the importance of good doctrine. This idea is a doctrine in its own right. This is about recognizing two different trajectories in making manifest the Kingdom in this world. One looks to the public ministry of the Word and the Sacraments. To prayers and psalms and thanksgiving as salvation in the midst of sacred sociology. The other promotes an attitude of perpetual polemical posturing. It defends a curated official worldview as the tribal mark of Christian faithfulness. And it’s often accompanied by the implicit norms of a niche microculture.
The former promotes the Peace of the Christian Faith. The latter promotes the War of the Christian Worldview. The one trusts in the rituals and rhythms of rightly ordered public worship. These call to the nations and reveal the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The other trusts in the rant and rhetoric of rigorously asserted performative standards. These shame and goad men and women into compliance and call down vengeful holy fire from heaven upon the earth.
The one says,
The Gospel, the one Faith, and the one holy catholic and apostolic Church are as broad as our common participation in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s shed blood is thicker than the claims of amniotic water. Indeed, baptismal water is thicker than the claims of familial blood. The bread we eat and the wine we drink make us one Body in Christ, because we consume the same spiritual food and imbibe the same spiritual drink.
The other says,
Agreement about whose baptism we affirm and who can commune at the Table with us isn’t that important to the Christian public life. What matters is rallying around public policies to make our stance known. Our unity is found in our opposition to sociopolitical evils.
Sacramental saints have a meaningful ecclesiology. They have corporate worship practices that retrain and reform desires. They build habits around a common love and vision of the Good Life of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Worldview warriors have ethics and norms that modify behavior. They impart acceptable patterns of speech and action. These signal membership in the worldview tribe.
As for me, I’ll stick with the classical marks of the church:
- Word rightly proclaimed
- Sacraments rightly administered
- Body rightly nurtured and disciplined
That is how the Church is to be known and recognized by the nations in the world.
Part 2. Does Christianity-as-Worldview have a ‘Gnostic’ conception of the corporate Body of Christ?
I was thinking more about the way the presence and the politics of the Kingdom of God and its citizenry are to be known. Or ought to be known. Known by its Sacraments more so than its Worldview Warfare.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
– 1 Corinthians 10:16–17 (NKJV)
It strikes me that sacramental saints see and speak of things in terms of the Faith and the Body. By contrast, worldview warriors see and speak of things in terms of Christianity. So I suspect this is a part of what Peter Leithart was getting at in Against Christianity. At least, it’s certainly what I’m taking away from it!
The Sacramental Faith is premised on a theology and a ritual practice of the Church as the corporate mystical Body of Christ. She knows rites and routines order our everyday lives. She knows the physical body of the individual matters. She’s very attuned to the language of her need to be washed and clothed as a corporate entity. She has ears to hear the sound of corporeal language applied to her life in the world and for the world. She understands herself as a she. She’s premodern.
Worldview warriors have little or no awareness of or need for a practiced reality of a Body. In my experience, corporeal symbology isn’t at home in the mind of a worldview warrior. It’s a hand-me-down from the One Ancient Faith. Such a warrior sees “Christianity” first and foremost as an abstract assembly of teachings and truth claims. His “Christianity” is mental, abstract, ghostly, phantasmic, ethereal, incorporeal. It’s a product of the Secular Humanist Modernism he claims to be opposing. His “Christianity” is a formal systematic theology textbook and a comparative worldview table.
And this means Christianity-as-Worldview is Gnostic in character. It’s not Gnostic about the bodies of individual persons in the way ancient Gnosticism was. Christian worldview warriors (rightly) care about what we do with our bodies on moral grounds. Or at the very least, they have a short and clear list of do’s and don’ts. But Christianity-as-Worldview is Gnostic about the corporate Body that is the Church and the Bride.
The worldview warrior understands Christians to be united and identified by the cultural positions we take. And by the battles we fight. More so than by the bread we break and the cup we bless. These are different notions of the nature of our communion with Christ and with one another.
Part 3. What is the true nature of our warfare?
I previously pondered how the presence and the politics of the Kingdom of Heaven and its citizenry are to be known. They’re known by their Sacraments more than their Worldview Warfare. And I considered how Christianity-as-Worldview has a Gnostic attitude toward the corporate body of the Church.
So, am I saying this is an either/or situation? That there is only peace and no war? That the Faith is to have a sort of spiritual pacifism toward the world? No. I’m not denying the need to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Nor the need to fight principalities and powers who have the world in their clutches. I make a distinction between the weapons of our spiritual warfare and the carnal weapons of this world (cf. 2 Cor. 10:4–6). But the irony is Worldview™ Warfare, which praises that passage as a mission statement, wields carnal and worldly weaponry.
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Some talking points on cultural, spiritual, and liturgical warfare:
1. If I’m in a culture war, then who’s my enemy? Is my neighbor with a face and a name my enemy? Well, I remember a little something King Jesus said about that. Love of neighbors is the disposition of the Kingdom that saints are to have.
2. For the saints in Christ, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood”, and “the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly”. The sooner we get our minds back on that simple fact, the better off we’ll be. Demons and the deceit in which they traffic are the real enemy. And our neighbors are their captives.
3. Israel of old waged war on fearsome giants inhabiting the Promised Land. That was a typological precursor to the church going to war in the heavenly realm. Against demonic world-graspers in the darkness of this age and spiritual wickedness. Know your enemy; name him and his center of gravity.
4. The church has been seduced by this culture. She’s embarrassed in this culture to name Satan and his minions. Embarrassed to denounce them as the enemy. This is why she has joined in with the culture of demonizing human rivals in the absence of real demons.
5. Yes, it’s true; the church in the contemporary West is plagued by niceness. It lives under the structures and values of the surrounding corporatistic-consumeristic culture. And the church could generally use a good shot in the arm of the Stalwart vaccine.
6. Yet some of the most vociferous internal critics of this epidemic (with syringe in hand) are a wee bit too eager and enthusiastic. In their disagreeable polemical apologetics, they need to take a Chill Pill for their fervor fever.
7. The warfare of the church militant is liturgical in its character and practice. It’s done in public worship. We ascend by faith into heaven, and we call on God to bring his kingdom upon the earth. We worship in the heavens, and God acts in judgment upon the earth. He vindicates and glorifies his Name and his saints who bear that Name.
8. The church brings heavenly kingdom politics into the earthly political realm. This is the “heavenization” of the world. Assembled worship of the body and nurture of its individual members is the starting point of that transformation. But if Christians circumvent those means, it doesn’t work. It’ll be a futile and worldly undertaking.
9. God’s people are to assemble to praise his Name, seek his Face, hear his Word, and feed at his Table in the Day of the Lord (i.e. the Lord’s Day) every week. That is the greatest, the most central, the most countercultural public display of the Kingdom of Heaven there is.
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The faithful ministry of the Word and the Sacraments is (among many other things) the church engaged in effectual warfare in the world. Liturgical warfare waged from heaven. The classical marks of the church are the marks of a church engaged in spiritual warfare:
- Word rightly proclaimed
- Sacraments rightly administered
- Body rightly nurtured and disciplined
It’s not that we don’t know, defend, and teach what the Faith believes. And it’s not that we don’t pursue wisdom and engage in polemicism. To be sure, much theological precision is owed to polemical apologetics. It’s the furnace in which it was forged as a tool and refined as precious treasure. It’s only that we must resist the urge to supplant the classical marks of the church with this alternative scheme.
- Worldview™ rigorously weaponized
- Culture rigorously combated and countered
- Partnerships rigorously promoted and policed
This alternative scheme is a fiery furnace that consumes but does little else.