This blog posting is a response to Erik’s excellent comment to the previous blog posting “An Orthodox Critique of the Cultural/Dominion Mandate.” Thank you Erik for contributing to the Reform-Orthodox dialogue!
As for the key to CR, Rushdoony states that “Because we are not God, for us the decisive power in society must be the regenerating power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us. Not revolution but regeneration, not coercion but conversion, is our way of changing the world and furthering the Kingdom of God. This is the heart of Christian reconstruction.” In this light Christian dominance, or Christians being the predominate force in all society or in every sphere, is not the means or even the end sought in and of itself but is simply the by-product of God’s sovereignty in a redeemed society. In other words it is the outworking or effect of a nation observing what Christ has commanded. It just stands to reason that if a society is mostly Christian they are going to elect Christian magistrates to govern said society; Christian rulers (like all Christians) in turn are obligated to submit to Christ’s authority and only sanction or institute laws He has ordained (e.g. outlawing things like murder, adultery, theft, etc.).
Erik, your summary of Rushdoony and noting that regeneration trumps governmental coercion is refreshing. I have made this point many times to those accusing Theonomists of a sort of Islamic Jihad mentality. Besides, Protestants do not give their clergy social power over the State. Also, from a Protestant perspective, your progression from God’s monergistic regeneration of people–who grow into a Christian community-and elect Theonomic magistrates-and build the Shining City on a Hill is an easy flow. The primary thing an Orthodox would find missing here – is the two thousand years of Orthodox doctrine and praxis, jettisoned by the Reformation. As we will see below, the whole Dominion mentality has decidedly Western roots and recent origin – not rooted in the soil of the Early Church, Desert Fathers, Church Councils, or the Liturgical and Sacramental life of the Church. Bear with me as I try to explain.
There comes a point in many discussions or debates where one realizes they can no longer keep the issue at hand truncated from a broader picture. Responding to you has forced this reality. The issues surrounding Dominion, Reconstruction and Theonomy cannot be truncated away from other more fundamental theological matters which lay at the root of the Protestant Reformation. We could continue to quibble about the exegesis of verses here and there, or which verses best make dominion and post-mil points. We could niggle about how much natural law and natural revelation effect the General Equity of the Law. Yet ultimately, we come to that place where we must realize these issues are connected to other issues more central to the Faith once delivered to the saints.
You most likely believe the Protestant Reformers were right to rebel from the corrupt Roman Catholicism of the late middle ages. Agreeing with you at this point, however, does not begin to address where the Reformers should have looked after repudiating Roman corruption. Nor does leaving Rome address the new doctrinal spins on theology, or the fragmenting denominationalism that arose from some of their fundamental commitments.
It has often been quipped the Protestant Reformation “threw the baby out with the bath water”. So before moving too quickly to social & civil realms of Dominion, Law and Reconstruction, we might consider more of the substance of just “what-baby-was-in-the-bath-water” that got thrown out. Though we will not pretend here to elucidate the whole of what all was lost, allow me a few observations.
First, the Reformers did not simply reject the sale of indulgences, papal authoritarianism, purgatory, icons and the veneration of Mary as Theotokos. Even the most modest of magisterial reformers would evolve and ultimately reject most of the Sacraments of the historic Church East & West – and remove them from their central place in the worship and liturgy of the Church gathered. That expository or exegetical sermons and bible instruction would ascend to the central place, and crowd out the former is indisputable. A few short decades would begin to show the Protestant Church primarily as a place for bible instruction and learning, with minimal accessories. Gone were the icon, incense, as were the centuries old prayers and rituals and ornate liturgies of the historic East or West.
These same Reformers would go on to reject and replace the episcopal structure of Church government. This would include the sacred historic place of Apostolic succession connecting Church leadership with the Apostles themselves through the laying on of hands. These are no small things – with no incidental ripple-effects for the culture at large.
Note again, there is more here than just rejecting papal authority. Not only was the whole system of liturgical and sacramental worship of the Roman Catholic Church rejected. The 1,000+ history of Orthodox Byzantium and Russian Church history, Liturgy & Sacramentalism was also rejected. Essentially (despite some extensive borrowing that would creep back in later) ecclesiastical history was wiped clean – only to be pieced back together by some Reformers in various ways. The Anabaptist would do little or no piecing back and were oddly forced to wear the label “Revolutionary”. This includes, of course, largely rejecting the early Church Fathers, Councils, Scriptures (Bible), part of the Creed and Orthodox Holy Tradition. Luther and most ‘magisterial Reformers’ would try to distance themselves from the Anabaptists, even making war on them. But here is the salient point, from a cultural and historic perspective – the mental paradigm was broken in a revolutionary way. At the root of Protestant cultural life the Anabaptists were simply more thorough, consistent and radical Revolutionaries than their more modest and popular Revolutionary first-cousins.
As for Dominion, Reconstruction and Theonomy, we see what ultimately happens when historic Liturgical and Sacramental Worship is expelled from the Church – they also lost the Liturgical and Sacramental Life in the civil realm as well. However unintended it might have been, this marked the beginning of the secularization of Western culture. Subsequent Protestants project(s) of theological-minimalism and reducing The Faith to various lowest common denominators began. What did this do to life in the polis? What did this do to vocation, and ultimately the very telos or purpose of man on earth?
Reformed Christians have been zealous to mend the breach ripped opened by this truncating of life. But by making the sermon and bible knowledge substitute for the Saints, the ancient calendar, the writings of the desert Fathers, the whole place and importance of suffering, dying to self in the ascetic life, the centrality of the Sacraments — have been a losing cause.
Protestant Christian Man now stood in the public square without the secure and ancient ecclesiastical moorings. Increasingly, this was a culture without mystery. With a fresh new work ethic he might now be increasingly Individual-man, or, Productive-man, Legal-man Medical-man, Engineering-man, Family-man . . . . on and on. But there is little place left in Protestantism for Sacramental-man. Some have argued that the Reformation, by its rejection and loss of the Sacraments – secularized all life, especially life outside the ecclesial realm. The loss here (though difficult to articulate in ways easy for a Western protestant mentality to grasp) is far greater than many have realized. Indeed, the partial realization of this loss is likely behind Federal Vision theology and Jordan and Leithart’s rediscovery of Sacramentalism in the writing of Alexander Schumemann, Vladimir Lossky, John Zizioulas and other Orthodox and Roman Catholic writers. Sadly, their solution was to sew their favorite selected liturgical quilted-patch on to their new Protestantism to make it more historic. It is destined to fray and rip apart.
The de-sacramentalism of Worship would ultimately de-sacramentalize all Creation (nature). The loss of liturgical & sacramental life at the heart of the public square and polis was in the mix, lurking secretly in the recipe of the loss of liturgical & sacramental worship at the heart Protestantism. Gone also from the life of the Christian is all asceticism and battle with the passions – especially if these involve prolonged and historic sacred fasts. I do not recall ever seeing quotes like these in the writings of my favorite Theonomists.
Seek within yourself the reason for every passion, and finding it, arm yourself and dig out its root with the sword of suffering. And if you do not uproot it, again it will push out sprouts and grow. Without this means you cannot conquer passions, come to purity, and be saved. Therefore, if we desire to be saved, we must cut off the first impulse of the thought and desire of every passion. St. Paisy of Neamt
Or, article like this one recently making the Orthodox rounds: What Can We Do to Nourish Our Experience of the Transfiguration of Christ?
The ascetic struggle with the passions or any zeal to enter into the deeper spiritual life of the Faith are absent, or ridiculed as childish pietism in most theonomic and Recon circles. Such striving after Christ is dismissed – relegated to a Legal category.
When we compare Rushdoony’s writing with that of the early Church Fathers, what is strikingly absent is the sense of mystery. Rushdoony and his followers have much to say about God and His law-word, life in the legal and judicial realm. But where is the Eucharist wherein we receive the Body and Blood of Christ? Where is the blessing? In Genesis 1:28 and 2:3 we read that God blessed Adam and Eve, and the Seventh Day. These blessings marked the climax of creation. Then we read in Mark 14:22 that at the Last Supper Jesus blessed the bread. The act of blessing turns “mere” matter into a means of divine grace. God intended creation to be sacramental, a means of grace in which we come to know God’s love and goodness and to share in the life of the Trinity. For this reason the Liturgy (the work of the people) lies at the heart of the Church. The Liturgy reconciles fallen humanity to God and restores fallen matter to its original calling to be a manifestation of God’s love and goodness. Alexander Schmemann argued that the “original sin” consisted not so much in disobedience to the divine command but rather that man ceased to hunger for God, to live life as communion with God.
In our perspective, however, the “original” sin is not primarily that man has “disobeyed” God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God. The sin was not that man neglected his religious duties. The sin was that he thought of God in terms of religion, i.e., opposing Him to life. The only real fall of man is his non-eucharistic life in a noneucharistic world. The fall is not that he preferred world to God, distorted the balance between spiritual and material, but that he made the world “material”, whereas he was to have transformed it into “life in God”, filled with meaning and spirit. [Source]
Orthodox Byzantium would know and develop the concept of a Symphony – the holy cooperation between the Civil realm and the Ecclesiastical realm. Yet it did so without any sense of de-sacramentalizing either realm, and ending with a Cartesian rationalism that altogether demystifies true Christian Faith, and secularizes Life. This is why we appeal to the fullness of Orthodoxy. Rather than minimalism and reduction – Orthodoxy maximalizes the full depth and richness of The Faith, once for all delivered to the Saints.
“Come and see!”
David Rockett was an elected Elder at two dynamic Reconstructionist churches for thirty years.