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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Where The Reformed Church May Not Only Be Antinomian

Suppose you wanted to take someone's property but the Church prohibited from doing so unless you joined the right group, would you join that group? Or suppose you wanted to kill someone or destroy something and the Church told you that is unless you joined the right group, you were not allowed. Would you join that group? Chances are that if that is what you wanted to do, then you wouldn't care what the Church said. But the problem is that much of the Reformed Church works this way. And the resulting inconsistency is that while the Church will tell individual believers what they are not allowed to do, it winks at certain groups that violate moral laws which becomes very personal to the victims.

When an individual Christian denies their obligation to follow the moral law, it is called 'antinomianism.' This word basically comes from the Greek preposition 'anti' and from the root word for law, 'nomos.' So to be antinomian is to be against the law. To be more specific, to be antinomian is to be against the third use of the law of Moses. The third use of the law of Moses tells Christians how to live after being saved. And here we are specifically referring to the moral laws in the law of Moses (listen to the Heidelblog discussion on this subject by W. Robert Godfrey and R. Scott Clark by clicking here). 

Now maybe 'against' is a bit strong, but antinomian means that one does not believe that the Law of Moses applies in anyway to the lives of believers because who needs the law when one is already saved by grace. And most from the Reformed tradition strongly oppose antinomianism in certain cases. Note that we said "certain cases," an insertion to which  those same Reformed people would strongly object. They would ask, "When do we give antinomianism a free pass?" 

Those from the Reformed tradition allow for antinomianism when the government directs the violence or when the government colludes with the economic system to rob from the have nots and give to the haves. Note here that antinomianism is involved because the Church, as a whole, is neither demanding the government to stop engaging in wanton violence nor is it requiring the government supported economic system to stop stealing from the vulnerable. And when the Church as a whole does not challenge institutions to stop and repent, it is not challenging the individual Christians and nonChristians who make up part of those institutions-- remember that institutions consist of people--to repent of the sins they're participating in. In fact, if we take some of the lessons from WWII serious enough, those who witness those sins but say nothing are guilty too--remember how our troops would cause some town residents in Germany to walk through the death camps so they could see what was done in their name.

Thus what we have is a dualism. As an individual, one can be confronted by the Church and can face official discipline if one persists in sin. But if one belongs to the right group that makes up the system, then one will probably never be confronted by the Church even if that part of the system one belongs to is committing the same kind of sin which some individual Christians commit.

Why are the Reformed churches so vigilant regarding the sins of individuals but so lax about the sins of systems and institutions? The concern here for the Reformed churches whether they belong to the Two Kingdom or Transformationist models is to avoid suffering from missional drift. Churches from neither model want to be so caught up in lobbying for certain political causes that they forget to preach the Gospel. The only difference between the churches from these two different models is that the churches from the Two Kingdoms model will make fewer, if any, exceptions to this noninterventionist rule than churches from the Transformationist model. And note that the Transformationist model believes that the Church should only confront the government and system on rare occasions when it is crystal clear that the government and system are practicing injustice. 

The problem with the Church responding only to the exceptional wrongs practiced by the government and the system is that the bar for exceptional is relative and difficult to identify by those who are caught up in the system. Thus, many actions and policies that are clearly wrong will be tolerated because they won't be regarded as extreme enough.

There are logical problems with the reasoning being used by many from the Reformed traditions here. First, those from the Reformed tradition who follow the above rules seem to assume that to challenge specific policies or procedures, one must also offer substitute policies and procedures. Thus they don't challenge the current system in the first place. Here, people from the Reformed tradition might want to understand that one can criticize the system without being distracted by taking sides or lobbying for a another set of procedures. To critically look at whether sin is involved in the current way of doing things seems to be a very legitimate field of practical theology. And since Christians are always involved in the implementation of systems and procedures, the Church should always study what is involved in different system so as to advise it members.

Also, it is possible that those from the Reformed tradition believe that individual members of a group involved in the system are not responsible for the sins of the group if they are merely following the orders of those with authority. To that we want to remember the sense of responsibility our troops were introducing the German citizens as they forced them to walk through the death camps. Our accountability for the actions our groups practice is not directly related by the degree of injustice being performed. Rather, our accountability depends on both how much our actions contribute to a clear injustice as well as what we should have known.

We should note the latest example of lobbying for a cause taken by many from the Reformed tradition from both the Two Kingdom and Transformationist models. That action was to oppose marriage equality. So here, there was neither government nor system action being opposed. Rather, many from the Reformed tradition were trying to control the rights and actions of nonChristians who wished to participate in same-sex marriages. Thus, the Church was asking society and the government to restrict the individual actions of nonbelievers.

What should the Church speak out against? We could include the tremendous damage our society's way of life is inflicting on the environment. We could also speak against the growing wealth disparity and other economic injustices that come with the current economic system which we either enjoy or suffer from.  And we should study the 50 plus interventions our nation has leaped into, with some of those interfering with or even overthrowing democratic processes. With all that has been going on, why is it that the Reformed churches cannot authoritatively speak out against systemic sin except for the racism that still clings to the soul of our nation?

The Left has a disturbing answer for this question. It is because, according to the Left, the Church is just another institution of indoctrination to support the status quo for the benefit of those with wealth and power. And it seems to me that the more the Reformed churches are concerned with preaching the Gospel, which includes preaching repentance from sin, the more these churches would be concerned with proving the Left wrong. 

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