I have not had much to blog about over the last six months. I read some of the things my fellow contributors write and I feel like a one trick poney heading for the glue factory. It seems like the only reason I want to write lately is to figure out what I think about a subject but today I read something by Miroslav Volf and it bothered me. I enjoy reading his creative and thought provoking theological distillations from time to time. He has an amazing story and I consider his opinion on many matters to be thoughtful and actually (in a pastoral sense) very helpful. He is very good with words.
Recently he posted some of his thoughts on social media and to be honest I found them rather frustrating. Volf’s comment has been ringing in my mind all day long and it has been hard to focus even as my family and I made our way to Billings today to get some things for tomorrow’s Christmas program at our church. I’m not discouraged in an emotional sense perhaps it’s more like a prophetic sense. Are we seeing some reincarnation of the Donatists* (see below)? I honestly don’t know but I’, thankful for the big God of Augustine who still speaks today. Lately I’m finding more spiritual food from my kids than I am from those seeking to dominate the post-evangelical American intellectual scholar scene.
“You can be a conservative or a liberal and a follower of Christ, but it is not possible to be a follower of Trump and a follower of Christ.”
There is a lot of heat surrounding Trump lately and some irresponsible things have been said from otherwise responsible people. This post from Volf was in my mind another irresponsible flaming arrow of a comment drawn from a bow of intellectual pride aimed at the hearts of folks like me who feel completely misunderstood and confused.
Later in the day Volf posted what seemed to be a more tame comment when he said…
“Responsible Christians do not debate whether those who politically disagree with them are real Christians, but whether their positions are compatible with following Christ. When we follow Trump, we mostly don’t follow Christ.”
I honestly and humbly want to ask you the reader and perhaps even Miroslav this one question.
At what point do we commit the error of the Rigorism* which in seeking to keep the Church of the saints “holy” led to participating in the heretical practice of Novatianism* and Donatism.
Volf’s recent comments are like Donatism and Novatianism in that they just drip with pride and exclusivism. Now I want to be clear I am not calling Volf a heretic. I am calling out the false idea that we can somehow see and identify the pure church or the true “followers” of Jesus based on their choice for president of the United States.
Some of the most liberal Christians I know voted for Trump. Some of the most conservative Christians I know voted for Trump. Theological intellectuals voted for Trump. Even women voted for Trump. I voted for Trump after I realized Sanders was out. I have my own reasons. Through prayer and discussion I came to a difficult decision and cast a vote. I understand it is not who Volf would vote for but it was who Able voted for and I am a Christ follower. I love Jesus. My trust is in his work on the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and the second coming. I earnestly desire that the Kingdom of God will come soon. But in the eyes of Volf and others like him I am off the path and wandering away from the blessed hope.
In the last two months I have had people that I thought were friends, brothers and sisters in Christ say some of the most hurtful and evil things regarding the authenticity and purity of my faith. Calling into question the legitimacy of what I confess and questioning my commitment to the Gospel. Followers of Christ have been the worst because they keep pulling the salvation card. I don’t know Volf personally he doesn’t know me but he and others like him sure seem to be influencing some of the folks I know. So Volf, thanks for that it’s always nice to have people question my salvation, the legitimacy of my testimony and be treated as a Traditor* based on my presidential vote.
- rigorism. In a technical sense the word is used as another name for the system of moral philosophy known as *Tutiorism. Non-technically it is employed to denote the cult of extreme asceticism and self-denial and rigid keeping of the letter of the law, and thus approximates in meaning to *Puritanism and *formalism. Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 1408). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Donatists A schismatic movement of the fourth and fifth centuries named after Donatus, a North African bishop. The Donatists had their roots in the period of persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. One section of the church* showed an utter disdain of suffering and death and looked upon flight from danger, and especially the delivering up of sacred books to the persecutors, as base treachery and cowardice. Another party, one of whom was Cecilian, were of a different mind, being more discreet and conformist. When, in the reign of Constantine, Cecilian was hastily ordained bishop of Carthage, the Donatists refused to recognize him, alleging first that the North African bishops had been slighted and that Cecilian had been a traditor, or one who had delivered up sacred books to heathen persecutors. The Donatists ordained their own bishop of Carthage, Majorinus, and he was succeeded in 315 by Donatus, who gave his name to the whole pariy. The churches of North Africa were deeply divided on the issue, and the Donatists made representations to the Emperor to endorse their views. These appeals were rejected, and Cecilian was recognized as bishop of Carthage. Following this, the Donatists argued strongly for a total separation of church and state, though they had themselves invoked the Emperor’s power. They were fiercely persecuted, but they persisted until the devastation of the African church in 428 by the Arian Vandals. A remnant of the Donatists existed until the seventh century, when the Saracens wiped out all sections of the North African church. The rationale of Donatist separation was as follows: Though they held to baptismal regeneration* and sacramentalism,* as did most of their opponents, they took the position that “unholy priests are incapable of administering the sacrament; for how can regeneration proceed from the unregenerate, or holiness from the unholy? None can give what he does not himself possess. He who would receive faith from a faithless man, receives not faith but guilt. It was on this ground, in fact, that they rejected the election of Cecilian; that he had been ordained bishop by an unworthy person” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church). The Donatists looked upon themselves as the true church and all others as part of the system of Babylon. They looked upon themselves as pure and held to the view of the church as a society of those already made holy, a society, moreover, which must guard its holiness by means of very rigorous discipline against all offenders within its ranks. The leading opponent of the Donatists was Augustine (354–430), who first sought to win them by argument and, failing in that, by persecution. The parables of the tares and the wheat, and of the fish in the net (Matt. 13), became the major exegetical battleground between them. On the one hand, the Donatists wrongly claimed to be the only true church. They failed to do justice to the essential unity of the church of Christ. They were also far from apostolic purity of doctrine—what they were contending for was basically a system of sacramentalism. On the other hand, Augustine, while emphasizing the unity of the church and setting forth the germ of the distinction between the visible and invisible church, erred when he virtually argued from numerical preponderance that the Catholic church must be adhered to. Furthermore, he was wrong in his argument from apostolic succession. He was wrong in allowing no grounds at all for separation from a system which had become doctrinally impure and was to become more and more so in the centuries which followed. Taken to their logical conclusion, Augustine’s arguments would preclude any separation and would thus militate against the Protestant Reformation. This should be faced by Protestants, especially of an evangelical persuasion, who recite Augustine’s views and try to pin the label Donatist on those who have separated from churches which either have denied or are in the process of denying the elementary truths of the gospel and who willingly ordain ministers who have repudiated that gospel. Protestants do not believe in separation on sacramental grounds or on the assumption that we can erect a church of perfect purity. Ecclesiastical purity is the desire of every Christian, but it is an ideal of which every church falls short in a greater or lesser degree. While, as Protestants, we accept the position of the Reformers that “we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church provided it retain sound and unimpaired the fundamental doctrine of our salvation” (Calvin), we are justified in separating from a body in which the distinguishing badge of a true church (the ministry of the word and the scriptural administration of the sacraments) no longer “exists entire and unimpaired” (Calvin). Indeed, we are obligated to separate. To quote Calvin again, “If the true Church is the ‘pillar and ground of the truth’ (1 Tim. 3:15), it is certain that there is no church where lying and falsehood have usurped the ascendancy.” The Reformers applied this principle, rightly, to Rome. With equal right, we apply it to those erstwhile Protestant churches that seek reunion with Rome and that either have repudiated their ancient confessional standards or have allowed them to be ignored, violated, or denied. Such want of truth clearly comes under Calvin’s condemnation. Donatism was a schismatic revolt, though in the ensuing debate, on some points—notably on the exegesis of Matt. 13—Donatist writers were more scriptural than their opponents. The Protestant principle of scriptural separation* is not schism.* It is a repudiation by people faithful to Christ of a departure from the basic doctrines of the faith by a body which has become apostate. Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (pp. 138–139). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
Novatianists Followers of Novatian, a Roman presbyter who disputed the title to the bishopric of the church of Rome in the third century. Novatian was inflexible in his opposition to the readmission to the church of any who had lapsed under persecution, and when he learned that Cornelius, who took a much softer line, had been elected bishop in place of the martyred Fabian, he refused to acknowledge him. He himself was then ordained bishop by a number of like-minded clerics, thus starting the first of history’s many controversies as to who was rightfully bishop of Rome. A church council condemned Novatian, and he was forced to give way. However, he still refused to fellowship in the Catholic church and formed his followers into a separate sect. This sect persisted beyond the fifth century and continued Novatian’s exclusion of all who had lapsed under persecution. The Novatianist view was based on Heb. 6:4–6, and their thinking was as follows: the church could not receive unpardoned sinners into its fellowship; it could grant pardon only by baptism, which could not be repeated; therefore baptized persons who had lapsed could not be forgiven or readmitted to fellowship. From this Novatianists developed a theory of the church as the assembly of the katharoi—“pure ones”—and this has invested them with a peculiar interest to those who imagine a trail-of-blood succession of independent Baptist churches. The fact is, however, that Novatianist dogma was far-removed from the beliefs of Baptists. The Catholic church sought the re-entry of Novatianists into the church upon reconciliation (Council of Nicea, a.d. 325). The councils of Laodicea (367) and Constantinople (381) added the condition of full and written proof that Novatianists had anathematized their former heresies. Later councils added to these conditions until at last Novatianists were not regarded as Christians at all and had to accept another baptism if they were to gain admission to the Catholic church. Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 311). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
traditors. The name given in Africa in early times to Christians who surrendered the Scriptures when their possession was forbidden in the persecution of *Diocletian. The controversy between Catholics and *Donatists which followed the persecution was centred chiefly in the refusal of the Donatists to recognize *Caecilian, Bp. of Carthage, on the ground that he had been consecrated by traditors. Bp. Bishop. Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 1647). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.