Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Life Together I: Introduction

The past couple of days I've been alternatively down with a cold and up with various medications (to quote Rick James, "Claritin is a heck of a drug"). This means that it's probably not a good idea to be working on my dissertation. While I know from experience that my writing does in fact improve when I'm under some sort of medicated influence (ask any of the students from my "Alexander the Great" class which lecture was their favorite), but not necessarily in an academically appropriate way.
But, in the interest of both staying in my "I need to write every day" mentality (which will help with the dissertation), and in trying to blog somewhat regularly, I've decided to try to blog through our church covenant.
Now, this isn't merely a medication-induced whim, I have been looking for something to blog through for a while (now that I'm pretty much done with the religious side of the First Amendment, and it'll be a while before Christmas Carols will be appropriate again), and I've been convicted at least once a month that I really don't know/care all that much about the church covenant that I regularly and publically recommit myself to. So taking those two things together, along with my bit of involuntary down-time, I thought that now might be a good time to start blogging through the church covenant.

So, here goes:

The Capitol Hill Baptist Church Covenant
At the outset, it needs to be pointed out that this is not, in the strictest sense of the term, a covenant. A covenant in the Biblical sense of term has a very rigid definition. There are generally six points to a covenant:
1) The announcement of the covenanting parties. So in Deuteronomy 1:1-3, we see the covenant parties listed as Moses, the Lord, and the people of Israel.

2) A summary of the history of the relationship between the covenanting parties. In Deuteronomy, 1:4-3:29 gives a survey of the first four books of the Bible, and the interactions between God and His people.

3) The Law laid down by the King (or the Lord, or whoever the strongest party in the covenant is) on the people. Deuteronomy 4:1-27:8 lists a summary of these laws.

4) A list of blessings that are received for obedience, and curses that are received for disobedience. Deuteronomy 27:9-31:29 lists (in quite graphic detail) these blessings and curses.

5) The agreement of the witnesses to the covenant. Deuteronomy 31:30-32:2 lists the witnesses as God, the people, Moses, and all of heaven and earth.

6) The death of the Lawgiver. This one might need a bit of explanation. The idea in the Ancient world was the the covenant went into effect when the king who imposed it died. That was because a king who was good enough to give a covenant to his people was likely a good king, and hence did not necessarily need to be bound by his own law. The problem was that there was no guarantee that the next king, whether his son or a usurper, would be equally good. So, the covenant would not go into permanent legal effect until the king who had imposed it had died, this in turn offered protection and safety to the covenanted people from potential abuse by a wicked monarch. Deuteronomy 32:3-34:12 records Moses' summary of the covenant, the eulogy he gives for himself, and the record of his death.

This structure can be seen throughout the whole Bible (which of course is a book in which the blessings are given to the covenant people after the death of the King, on whom the promised curses have fallen), albeit with some tweaking here and there (which is potential for future blog posts).

The Capitol Hill Baptist Church "covenant", therefore, is not strictly a covenant (though I will continue to refer to it as such, since that's the formal title of the document). It is at best a reflection of a covenant. And here perhaps is a good place to quote the church's own introduction:

CHBC has worshiped together under a covenant, or statement on how we agree to live as a church, since our earliest days in 1878. The church covenant is equal parts promise, summary of expectations, ethical statement, and biblical standard. We summarize how we promise to live together in the covenant. It forms the ethics, or the moral principles, of our worldview and holds out a biblical standard by which we live. Our acceptance of this multifaceted document follows the practice of believers throughout the centuries who have pledged to God and one another to live out the gospel in community.
We use our covenant in two key ways today. We require all new members to sign it before joining the church. We also reaffirm our commitment to the covenant at all members meetings and before taking communion, when we stand as a body and recommit ourselves to it. By featuring the covenant in our life together, we strive to protect ourselves from individual and corporate sin. Of equal importance, we spur one another on to live in light of a greater covenant, one initiated by love, sealed by sacrifice, and kept for eternity by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
So the covenant is not a covenant per se, but rather a document that serves a two-fold purpose:
1) It is a "statement on how we agree to live as a church." And this is where the "covenant" terminology is useful, because although it is not a strict covenant, it performs much the same practical function. Other terms currently in use by the world ("contract", "compact", etc) do not carry quite the same weight as a covenant. Jewish scholar Daniel Elazar suggests that using the language of "covenant" brings to your declaration a weight of moral authority and personal dedication that no other term really can bear. When we agree to live together, we are not agreeing to conform to a set of liturgical rules, we are agreeing that we will conform to a individual and corporate life. Where other church attempt to build unity around sacraments or institutions, unity around a church covenant implies a unity built upon the lives we live as whole Christians. The monthly reminder is a reminder that we have committed ourselves to a certain spiritual inclination (or "affection", to use the older Puritan term) that should filter throughout our entire lives. The basis of this inclination is found in the second use of the covenant:
2) The CHBC covenant is used to "spur one another on to live in light of a greater covenant." The inclination, affection, and lifestyle which we have covenanted to live together is not one built on ourselves, but rather is one built upon the great work of redemption accomplished and sealed in the covenant of grace by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our lives as Christians should not be driven by inner strength or emotion or even experience, but rather should be driven by faith in the Gospel. In the same way, our covenant as as church should not be understood as a covenant in the Biblical sense, ending in the death of the drafters of the document, but rather as a devotional and instructional reminder of the true Biblical Covenant, which culminated with the death of the King of kings in our place.

So, reading through this covenant should have the ultimate goal of turning us away from ourselves and onto the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our lives as individuals and as a church should reflect the forgiveness that He accomplished on the cross.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Do I measure up to the past?

This was tucked into a political theory book I picked up in a used bookstore and, well, I'm glad I'm not a student at Harvard in 1944...

(Answer FIVE questions)
1. Aristotle defines the state as "that association (koinonia) which is supreme and embraces all the rest," Cicero defines it as an "assemblage of men associated by law." Compare these two definitions and indicate the historical and philosophical background of each.

2. "Hence we are led to observe that the several forms of government cannot be defined by the words few or many." Plato, Politicus [That's "The Statesman", if you were wondering. No, I didn't know that either, Wikipedia had to tell me..].

Discuss this statement and compare it with Aristotle's views on the same subject.

3. "...Modern politics did not begin with the return of Aristotle to western Europe in the thirteenth century, but with the Bolognese revival of Roman law at the end of the eleventh... we would date the break-up of the conception of the single society from the entry of Roman law, not of Aristotle, into political thoughts." -C.N.S. Woolf, Bartolus of Sassoferrato

Discuss this statement.

4. Give an account and an estimate of one important European political theorist who wrote before 1500 A.D.

5. Explain the meaning and political consequences of the statement of Alvarus Pelagius that the Pope is "universal monarch of the whole of the Christian people, and de jure monarch of the whole world."

6. "What has pleased the prince has the force of law."

Discuss the origin, meaning, and later influence of this maxim.

7. In like fashion, discuss the maxim "The king is king not by reigning but by ruling."

And, I could maybe bluff my way through a couple of these, but I likely would be retaking the course in the Fall...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

White, middle-class professor teaches from his air-conditioned office that sweatshops have their place...

A friend of mine posted this in what I have to assume is a bit of tongue-in-cheek satire on the current state of academia.

Did you catch the fallacy there? I hope so. Yes, there are certainly worse employment conditions than sweatshops. Just like there are worse things than being poked in the eye every day, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't want it to stop if it were happening to me. The insult-to-injury step here is that I think his broader point is right. Simply passing laws to restrict goods made in these shops wouldn't solve the problem, and might even make things worse. The solution is not to pass any law. The solution in the third world today is exactly what the solution was in the 18th and 19th centuries in America and England, the hard social work of Christians preaching the Gospel of forgiveness and freedom through the finished work of Christ. "Technology", economic freedom,  and private property didn't stop a single child from heading to the coal mines in England, nor keep them off the streets in New York. It was the generosity of nominal Christians working to bring attention to the issue and forcing the people and the government to come up with a solution (usually the people on a local level, the government was often in the pockets of the businesses guilty of the abuses in question).
Anyway, that's my rant. Back to the very-much-non-sweatshop of dissertation writing...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wisdom's Call

"Wisdom! The sweetest light of a mind made pure! Woe to those who abandon you as guide and wander aimlessly around your tracks, who love indications of you instead of you, who forget what you intimate. For you do not cease to intimate to us what and how great you are. All the loveliness of creation is an indication of you. The craftsman somehow intimates to those who view his work that they not be wholly attached to its beauty. Instead, they should cast their eyes over the appearance of the material product in such a way that t hey turn back, with affection, to the one who produced it. Those who love what you do in place of you are like people who hear someone wise speaking eloquently and, while they listen to keenly to the sweetness of his voice and the arrangements of his well-placed syllables, they miss the most important thing, namely the meanings of which his words were the audible signs.
Woe to those who turn themselves from your light and hold fast with delight to their own darkness! Turning their backs on you (so to speak), they are chained to fleshly labor as to their own shadows. Yet even then, what gives them pleasure shares in the encompassing brilliance of your light. but when a shadow is loved, it makes the mind's eye weaker and less fit to reach the sight of you. Consequently, a man is plunged farther into darkness when he eagerly pursues anything that catches him the more readily in his weakened condition. Due to this, he begins to be unable to see what exists in the highest degree. He starts to think evil anything that deceives him through his lack of foresight, or that entices him in his need, or that torments him in his captivity- although he deservedly suffers these things because he has turned away, since whatever is just cannot be evil.
-Augustine, On the Free Choice of the Will.