Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ecclesiastical Antiquarianism

I am not one of the 'New Calvinists'; as a committee member of the Sovereign Grace Union with shelves groaning with Banner of Truth books, and one who goes to the Banner Conference every year (apparently it's expected of the pastor at Bethel), I am most definitely one of the old Calvinists.

It is a fact (apparently) that there are various sorts of Calvinists; as more people discover the truths of Reformed Theology, the varieties of that theology increase, and these varieties are now cross-denominational. One trend that worries me is that a number of men are writing and speaking in a way that gives the impression that they believe the perfect model for a Christian society is 17th-century Holland.

One of the glories of Christianity is that it does not require a specific culture; while Islam tries to conform every culture it touches to Medieval Arabia, Christianity is varied in its cultural expressions, though united in doctrine. The Ecclesiastical Antiquarian (as I have dubbed him) disagrees with that, he sets up one particular culture as normative for Christianity and laments that we no longer live in that world.

Another sign of the Ecclesiastical Antiquarian is that he starts to adopt an antiquarian vocabulary; I do not mean in doctrine, for there is is a technical vocabulary there, but in describing other groups. In Medieval Constantinople the canons of historical writing were set by the Classical period, meaning that no vocabulary not in use then could be used, so that Arab invaders were called 'Persians' because the Arabs had not been foes in the Classical period. In the same way there are men who insist on referring to all Baptists today as 'Anabaptists', apparently on similar grounds. Do they call Muslims 'Mohammedans' as well? Times change, and labels that were used in the past (and never really appropriate, since the term 'Anabaptist' was used as a catch-all for diverse groups who agreed in nothing but the rejection of infant baptism) cannot be meaningfully resurrected today.

We live in a world where by and large it has been recognised that uniformity in religion is not desirable; it is at this point that Ecclesiastical Antiquarians are often least attractive, as they wistfully look back on a golden age of uniformity, forgetting that it was not so golden, and enforced by cruel laws.

The fact is that there never was a golden age; we look forward to that in the world to come.

Now, let me add that I am a hymn-singing, NKJV-using Independent who values our traditions, not some iconoclast who wants to introduce anarchy; but let us be moderate and remember that we are not living in the 17th century, or the 18th, or the 19th, or even the 20th.

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