Politicizing the Church- Part IV

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Politicizing The Church

The Crumbling ChurchIn the last e-zine, I explored the idea of the church as the body of Christ.  Not in a nominalist sense, but somehow in a real sense.  I observe some interesting indicators of this in contemporary Christian thought as it pertains to politics.

It seems the only valid reason to seek change in the nation through political means is because the political realm has the power to change things.  Now this concept of power is a powerful one and often mistakenly applied.

In the Bible power and authority are connected.  To have authority was to have power.  Jesus said, “All authority is given to Me” (Matt. 28:18).  Was he speaking as the Triune God in general, or more specifically as the second Person of the Trinity?  There is a fine difference, because Jesus and the Father are One, in essence if not in their functions.  But Jesus appears to indicate all authority belongs to Him as Second Person of the Trinity.

Recently I was a prayer meeting and the pastor was reminding everyone that we have the power of the Spirit.  This got me thinking.  Is the source of our power in Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, or the Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity?  Interesting question to be explored more a little later.   Meanwhile, think of the implications of these two concepts.  If you believe Jesus is the source of all power and authority, and you can wrap your mind around the idea of the church as the body of Christ in some real sense, then it seems to that the church becomes the place to find power.

The alternative as indicated in the pastor’s statement above, is that the individual has God’s power available though the Spirit.  Now these may not necessarily be two competing claims, but when it comes to saving society, it needs to be asked do you really believe the church has the power of Jesus embodied in it to change the world.  Intuitively, apparently, people recognize that the individual does not have sufficient power in himself to change the nation.  Corporately, however, Christians can change many things.  But is that corporation to be the church — the body of Christ manifest in the flesh — or some other entity?

If nothing else, there’s an historical backdrop to our culture that indicates this “real” view of the church as the body of Christ was part of the success in transforming the world from paganism to Christianity.  Unfortunately, so much evidence is lost as to how the early Christians evangelized into Asia and the African continent.  All we do know is that the Gospel reached places such as India or Ethiopia very early in the Christian era.

But it seems their concept of spiritual power was superior to our own.  Here’s why.  They had some significant success.

We, on the other hand, have several hundred years of Nominalist failure to deal with.  And the result is a culture that is becoming less Christian as a result of the inability of individualistic Christianity to overcome evil.  Something has to change.

God bless you this week in your activities for His kingdom.

Ian Hodge, Ph.D.

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Politicizing the Church- Part III

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Politicizing The Church

The Crumbling ChurchSince the Protestant Reformation there has been a growth of Nominalism in Christian communities.  What is this?

In its historical context it arose in philosophy from the time of Plato.  The discussion arises when you try to determine if things in the mind, such as beauty and strength, have an objective existence.  You can find plenty of information online for a more detailed discussion.  My purpose here is to get you thinking about the church and its eventual politicization.

The Positivist philosophers, Hume, Mill, and Spencer, for example, and later Emmanual Kant, could not put the jigsaw puzzle of mind and matter together.  For Kant, the noumenal realm (the mind) had no correlation to the phenomenal (external) world.  There is no contact between the mental constructs of the mind with external things.  And our postmodern world is primarily nominalist as a result — especially large portions of Protestant Christianity.

In Christian theology the symbols of baptism or the Lord’s Supper become questions of nominalism and realism (realism is the opposite to nominalism).  Are they merely symbols?  How you answer this question determines whether you accept the idea of baptismal regeneration (i.e. more than just a symbol) and the Real Presence in the Eucharist (i.e. more than just bread and wine).

But the church itself is subject to this issue as well.  When St. Paul says we have become dead to the law “through the body of Christ” (Rom 7:4), what did he mean?  This verse makes no sense unless there is some kind of reality behind the mental construct “body of Christ.”  Elsewhere he declares that the breaking of bread is “the communion of the body of Christ” (I Cor. 10:16).  Again, is there an objective reality to these words, or are they merely mental pictures?  And if the words are real, what do they mean?

The historic church of the early centuries was not nominalist.  It believed in the Real Presence, that baptism had an objective reality to it, and that the church really was the body of Christ in some real but mystical way.  There was no necessary agreement on how, for example, the Real Presence was really present.  But it was accepted dogma in the church, east and west.  And that was the message of the church to a pagan world.

In this context, the idea of a politicized church is just a crazy idea.  You cannot politicize the real body of Christ.  And if the church is the real body of Christ on earth, then its politicization must be resisted.  This is not the same as saying that politics and the church should not be tied  together in the Faith.  That is taken for granted.

But it does mean that if you expect the world to be saved, the political realm has no part to play outside of its limited role within the body of Christ — the church.  Only Christ can save, and therefore salvation needs to be seen as a prerogative of the church alone.  Neither politicians, economists, journalists nor health care professionals are capable of saving.

You are a citizen of the church before you are a citizen of your country.  That needs to be your priority, and mine.  And it needs to be the message taken to a fallen world.

Only the church saves because it is the body of Christ.  Is that what you really believe?  Or are you a nominalist, saying the body has no meaning or significance in objective reality?

God bless you this week.

Ian Hodge, Ph.D.

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Politicizing The Church- Part II

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Politicizing The Church

The Crumbling ChurchFor more than 20 years conservative Christians have had a political agenda: Get Christians into political power. Why?

Somewhere along the way the Christian church has lost confidence in itself. There is no longer the belief that proclamation of the Gospel can change the culture.  But politics apparently can succeed where the Gospel has failed.

Why this mistaken belief in the political order? There are many aspects to an answer to this question. But at the center of it all is a radical change not only in the message of the Gospel but in the way that the message is proclaimed.

Since the Protestant Reformation there has been a significant shift in the view of the Church. Part of this radical change is understandable. The Catholic Church had become part of the problem, trying to control the political realm as the mechanism to evangelize the world.

Such a belief, however, was not evident in the period that involved the Christianization of Europe. In this period, Christians carried out the Great Commission. This has a threefold aspect: to make disciples, to baptize and to teach.

What is not understood so well is the command to make disciples.  What does this mean?  What does it involve?  How should it be done?

And how will we ever know when we have succeeded?

Ian Hodge, PhD

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Politicizing The Church- Part I

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Politicizing The Church

The Crumbling ChurchYou either love or hate him.  Constantine is his name, and he spent an amount of time as Caesar of the Roman Empire.  The years 306 to 337 to be precise.

His initial part of the Empire included Spain, Gaul and Great Britain.   He inherited the largest armies in the Empire, and spent a number of years in military campaigns before reuniting the Empire.  From 324 to his death, he was undisputed ruler over the whole Empire.

He may best be remembered for the city that bore his name for thousands of years, Constantinople, now Istanbul.  He moved the center of the Roman Empire from Rome to the Bosphorus, and initiated a culture, Byzantium that lasted a thousand years.  One of its economic highlights during this millennium was stable money, gold.  And stable money will always provide longevity to a culture.

There are many complaints about this man and what he did for Christianity.  For example, he had an influence in establishing the canon of the New Testament.  He allowed Christianity to flourish, and even got involved in church politics when it suited him.  The Council of Nicea (325) was called at his request.  At one time he led a group of Christians against other Christians, the first intra-Christian war.

For his “politicizing” of Christianity by making it an acceptable religion in the Empire, he seems to attract much more criticism than his predecessor, Diocletian, who initiated the worst persecution of Christians in the history of Christianity to that time.  But no one seems to criticize Diocletian as much as they do Constantine.  Why?

Even Constantine’s ethics don’t get the kind of criticism they might deserve.  He had both his eldest son and wife killed on what is now considered dubious evidence.  Maybe this is why he put off baptism until he was almost dead, apparently seeking as much absolution for past sins as possible.

But from that time, Christianity found a new ally in the political order.  It would take centuries for this alliance to be seen for either good or bad.  But today there are many criticisms of constantine because of his involvment in church affairs.  Well Diocletian also got involved in church affairs in a different way.  Surely Constantine deserves a little praise for his stand.

As a result of his influence, a religion that no longer suffered political persecution but political protection would become the defining force of a new geographic region to be known as Europe.

And Christians today still cannot make up their mind if this was a good or bad achievement even though they live in the remaining shadow of a culture that was based on the Bible, carved out of a part of the world where human sacrifice was still practiced in parts up to the 10th century.   That, by any standard, is a remarkable achievement, one which the modern church is yet to emulate.  But no one, it seems, wants to admit that perhaps Constantine had a significant part in the success of the Faith, even long after he was dead.

Ian Hodge, Ph.D.

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