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Affinity Study Conference

Category Articles
Date February 18, 2005


The Study Conference of what was once known as the British Evangelical Council but now is called Affinity was held 1-3 February in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddeston with almost 85 partipants. The papers are going to be published.

1] Gordon Wenham is senior professor of Old Testament at the University of Gloucester, and his paper was entitled “Seek the Welfare of the City: Biblical Ethics in a Multicultural Society.” He was unable to be present because of illness but his paper was circulated and discussed. He had concentrated on the Pentateuch and he gave two reasons for this. First, because the opening chapters of Genesis depict God’s ideals for mankind, set out in Genesis 1 2, and then how he made arrangements that reflected those ideals for fallen humanity. Laws, such as capital punishment, were instituted to limit violence and prevent society reverting to the chaos of pre-flood times. This model, which sees law as a necessary in a fallen world, is I think endorsed by our Lord’s comment that ‘because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce.’

Second, he focused on the Pentateuch in order to examine the laws. Though specifically given to the redeemed people of God, they are paradigmatic for all peoples, indeed it is hoped other nations will try to imitate them. “I have argued that these laws represent a pragmatic compromise with the creation ideals set out in Genesis 1- 2, they represent a floor of behaviour which the Old Testament hoped Israel would not fall below. It was of course the contention of the prophets that Israel had not even lived up to the basic requirements of the law, let alone the ideal of loving God and one’s neighbour wholeheartedly.

“But this pragmatic compromise of the law for ancient Israel gives us a model to imitate today. We should work for legislation in society that reflects the Bible’s ideals about sexuality, the sanctity of life, the environment, and the Sabbath. Like Moses of ancient Israel, we shall be forced to make compromises because of the hardness of the human heart, but we should not abandon the vision of Genesis 1 and 2, which express ‘the primal divine intentions for man.’ These patterns of human life, whether it be marriage or the Sabbath, the sanctity of life or the protection of the environment, are still most attractive to people, whatever modern libertarians assert, and we should not give up commending them to our political leaders.”

2] Steve Wilmhurst is the Director of Training at Kensington Baptist Church, Bristol and the Chairman of the Affinity Theological Team. He spoke on, “Was Jesus Political?” concluding thus; “We can say that the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed makes two kinds of political claim the first on its members, the second on the world at large. It summons its own members to a radically new and wholly exclusive commitment to Christ the King. This allegiance takes the place of those we previously held and makes us ultimately indifferent to the authority of others. In the Church “” the Kingdom’s alternative new society “” ethnic loyalties are completely abolished: we must make sure that they are. Nationalism is an obsolete anomaly: we are not to confuse the Kingdom and the national flag. Human government we accept gratefully as an institution of God, with a legitimate role to play; but we do not owe it our loyalty. It is not ‘ours’. We do not make the mistake of investing the Church as a temporal power with authority over earthly kingdoms, as the medieval Catholic church did. Subverting the arrogance of rulers is not the same as replacing it with our own. Nor are we to duplicate worldly power structures or attitudes. Jesus renounced violence and coercion in the service of the Kingdom: so must we.

“The Kingdom of Jesus also issues a political challenge to the world at large. It attacks the very foundation stones of earthly politics by calling rulers to abandon their pretensions to absolute power and to recognise the true source of such power as they do possess. Their realms are temporary and contingent. The way of the Kingdom is to scatter the proud and bring oppressive rulers down from their thrones. Thus in the liberal West, the Church will refuse to accept the political consensus that privatises faith and denies any absolute truth claims. At the same time, it will seek out and protect those facing injustice and without a voice, for the way of the Kingdom is to exalt the humble and lift up the downtrodden. Faced by the rule of tyrants, the united, faithful witness of believers will defy their aspiration to absolute authority over human lives, even if it costs them their own. Opposed by false religions, especially where they identify themselves with political authorities, we will insist that the claims of our King must be heard and answered within every state and ethnic group on earth.

“In terms of government, the alternative values of the Kingdom are also a positive invitation to think differently. The Kingdom calls rulers away from tyranny and oppression towards justice and mercy. In the shaping of Western society, this invitation received a response. We do not live under a political tyranny: the societies in which we live bear the imprint of the politics of Jesus. The principles of public servanthood and accountability which democracies hold dear are, after all, Kingdom principles. But the Kingdom also bears loud and clear witness to the strict limitations of political salvation. The call is for every knee to bow to King Jesus and every tongue to confess him as Lord: and the day is coming when in every state, from greatest to least, everyone will.”

3] David Field, lecturer in Christian Doctrine and Ethics in Oak Hill Theological College, London, spoke on “Put Not Your Trust in Princes: Samuel Rutherford, the Four Causes, and the Limitation of Civil Government” concluding thus, “Rutherford might, therefore, challenge us to think of contemporary examples of the civil government acting tyrannically and, more specifically, of what would provoke us to supplication, to flight, to non violent resistance, and to armed resistance. He might ask us to complete the sentence “we are to submit to the authorities so far as . . .”

“He would ask us to explain why we act as though democracies cannot be tyrannical. Since the opposite of tyranny is “obedience to God’s law” rather than “majority support”, why do we act as though majority support legitimates the actions of a civil ruler? If all those under 60 years of age voted to expropriate the goods of all those over 60 years of age, would that not be an act of tyranny? He might raise the question of how far and why we place establishing democratic institutions and habits of public life above or before the building of the church as the key to a stable and prosperous society. Challenging us with what we could not deny – that democracy is not the hope for the world -he might ask in what ways the church declares the danger of idolizing democracy.

“And since he saw so many raised eyebrows when he spoke of there being no duty to suffer as such, he might ask in what ways, if any, we could refute his arguments about the suffering of Christ and the instructions of I Peter 2. Would we counsel the ‘forced damsel’ to resist and if so, does not all that he says about self-defence and armed resistance simply follow on?”

“It would be surprising if Rutherford, visiting in November 2004, did not have more immediate questions for us. Why is the civil government banning activities such as smoking in public places, fox-hunting, and advertisements for high-fat foods? What is this about compulsory identity cards, and the disqualification of a man from a public office on the basis that he regards homosexual behaviour as sinful and protecting his wife as one of a husband’s primary duties? How can civil government which is the servant of God declare that the Bible which is the Word of God, contains hate-speech, or permit the slaughter of 170,000 babies each year while getting ever closer to forbidding parental chastisement of children? How does armed resistance which is the use of minimal defensive force in the absolute last resort and in the face of a direct and actual assault on one’s life sit with the idea of regime change under the doctrine of “overwhelming force” and nation-building? How much attention has been paid in Iraq to the principle that the legitimacy of a conqueror depends both upon the justice of the conquest and upon the consent of the conquered? Three hundred and sixty years after its first publication, a reading of Rutherford’s Lex, rex is uncomfortable, provocative, instructive and inspiring.

4] David Smith is Lecturer in Urban Mission and World Christianity at the International Christian College in Glasgow. He spoke on, “A Victorian Prophet Without Honour: Edward Miall and the Critique of Nineteenth Century Christianity.” He concluded thus, “I want to finish with a quotation from Richard Bauckham which captures exactly the spirit of Edward Miall’s nineteenth century work and both warns us of the great dangers confronting the world church in the era of globalization, while also holding before us the wonderful prospect of a Christianity renewed in mission and holding before a suffering world an alternative and liberating model of what it might really mean to be a reconciled human family. In these words I suggest we discover how the critical analysis offered by a forgotten Victorian Christian has come to have a global relevance at the beginning of the twenty-first century:

‘It may well be that, only if Christianity in the west becomes a movement of resistance to such evils as consumerism, excessive individualism and the exploitation of the global periphery, can Christianity be distinguished from the west’s economic and cultural oppression of other cultures and peoples…. Without international solidarity with the poorest of the world’s poor the church’s mission in any part of the globalized world is not only compromised but simply invalidated. It has departed from the biblical contours of God’s way with the world.'”

5] Paul Helm is the J.I. Packer Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Regent College, Vancouver. He spoke on “Christianity and Politics in a Pluralist Society: An Augustinian Approach.” He concluded thus, “I recognize that there has been little or nothing explicit in it from Augustine. And certainly I do not think that Augustine can speak directly to our situation without us falling into anachronism. For instance, Augustine, like his disciple John Calvin, was an advocate of the persecution of those whom he regarded as insufficiently ‘orthodox’. Nevertheless I want to claim that its main themes echo what Augustine centrally held about ‘the earthly city’. First, that the earthly city is ‘earthly’. It is not a regenerate society, nor is it, or is it to be, based on explicitly Christian values. What motivates the inhabitants of the heavenly city is not what motivates the members of the earthly city. The earthly city is fallen, and exhibits its fallenness in an unreserved way. It will never transform itself into the new Jerusalem. Secondly, nevertheless Christians live in that city not in the sense that they are an enclave within it, but they are to regard themselves as members in good standing, with the rights and privileges of membership, whatever from time to time these may be, unless they are expressly prevented from holding these rights and privileges. Thirdly, the formation and flourishing of the celestial city is helped by the civic peace that the earthly city affords, and to which Christians contribute as best they may.

“I believe that in asserting these political themes Augustine was echoing themes of the New Testament itself and that we do well to allow our own political stance in the rather different (but not altogether different) circumstances in which we live to be governed by these themes.”

6] David McKay is the Minister of Cregagh Road Reformed Presbyterian Church, Belfast, and Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Presbyterian Theological College, Belfast. He spoke on “Asserting the Crown Rights of King Jesus Today.” He concluded, “How does eschatology relate to an assertion of the crown rights of King Jesus? Many of the Covenanters who wrote about the Kingship of Christ were postmillennial in outlook. They expected that before the return of Christ the vast majority of the world’s population would acknowledge his authority, thus leading to an earthly millennium of godliness and peace. This is reflected in the Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, published in 1842. In chapter 16 of the doctrinal part of the document we read:

‘We believe that a period approaches, in which the kingdom of Christ shall triumph over all opposition, and have a universal diffusion, influence and prosperity. The Romish antichrist shall be destroyed … The Jews shall be converted to Christianity, and added to the church. The greater fullness of the Gentiles shall be brought in … There is reason to believe, that the truth shall be felt in its illuminating, regenerating and sanctifying efficacy, by the greater number of those who profess it. Knowledge, love, holiness and peace shall extensively prevail, under the copious effusions of the Holy Spirit … The social institutions of men shall be erected and administered under the influence of scriptural principle.’

It is, no doubt, a stifling vision which stimulated many Covenanters to hold fast to their position. Is it necessary, however, to hold to this postmillennial eschatology, such as today is found for example among theonomists, in order to assert the crown rights of King Jesus?

It does not appear to us that it is necessary. There are eschatological views which do seem to suggest that Christians can expect to make little impact on the world and so they should engage solely in evangelism as they await the return of the Lord. Another option, however, is the amillennial view, which in recent years has come to have significant influence in Reformed circles. We need not set out in detail here a view which has been ably expounded and defended by, among others, A.A. Hoekema and Kim Riddlebarger. Suffice it to say that there is nothing in an amillennial eschatology which precludes an assertion of the crown rights of King Jesus.

The amillennialist asserts that the Kingdom has come in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The powers of the Age to Come have broken in to the present age. By the power of the Holy Spirit sinners are being saved and, by God’s grace, become salt and light in the world. The number who willingly acknowledges the kingship of Christ is growing until the full number of the elect is brought in and Christ returns in glory. At the same time, as various texts foretell, evil too is becoming worse, and the distinction between the Kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of Christ is becoming clearer. A passage such as II Timothy 3:1ff seems to indicate that this is to be expected, and it is a significant objection to a postmillennial eschatology. At God’s appointed time, King Jesus will return, all will acknowledge his authority, the unsaved will be condemned and the citizens of the kingdom will enter into the joys of the New Creation (Revelation 21:1 ff). Passages such as Isaiah 65:17-25 and Isaiah 66:22-23, which postmillennialists expect to be fulfilled in a future period before the return of Christ, may be regarded by amillennialists as descriptions of the New Creation foreshadowed in the present spiritual blessedness of the Church.

Amillennialists and postmillennialists both seek the recognition of the crown rights of King Jesus. Where they differ is on the degree to which such recognition will precede the return of the King. Working for such recognition neither requires nor precludes either eschatology.”

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