Monthly Archives: February 2021

Why Churches Can’t Agree on Civil Disobedience

The current conflict between Christians over responses to government during the pandemic does not really come down to whether we believe in civil disobedience. Likely, we all do. The conflict is about the application of the doctrine of civil disobedience to two other matters: the future of religious liberties, and how the church is treated relative to other public bodies or societies.

1) The first matter has to do with how governments will treat churches and religious liberties in the future. There have been two opposite beliefs about the future of religious liberties. Those who have tended towards complete submission to government emergency regulations believe that this whole situation is an anomaly, and is in no way a harbinger of things to come. If these regulations are simply emergency management rules, then we cannot judge a government’s long-term plans or intentions by its laws during a crisis. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there is nothing sinister afoot. Once infections levels subside, once the vaccine covers more than 70% of the population, life as we used to know it will return.

Those who have tended towards partial or total civil disobedience believe that this situation is the beginning of a new normal. Powers that governments receive during emergencies are not easily surrendered; they are usually channeled into benign-looking regulations and rules after the emergency is over. The pandemic has provided opportunities for centralisation and greater regulation, all in the name of protecting life. Those on this side of the argument do not believe these restrictions will disappear any time soon. Even if the immediate threat of the pandemic lessens, there will always be the threat of another pandemic breaking out, and therefore preventative measures could become semi-permanent. Prevention of a future pandemic can create a world as restrictive as the one we are in now.

Both of these positions are trying to anticipate the future. On the one hand, those who believe the situation is an anomaly believe that civil disobedience is unwarranted. “Why risk fines and jail-time if this will all pass in a year or so?” On the other hand, those who believe this is the new normal believe that civil disobedience is necessary. “Why accept unfair restrictions in the hopes of restored liberties that may never materialise?” Of course, neither position knows the future. Both are doing their best to anticipate based on knowledge, history, and experience. But both must admit that they lack knowledge of the future, and are acting in light of what they believe to be the most likely outcome. That should chasten the certainty with which we act and speak.

2) The second matter has to do with the relative treatment of the church. The issue is not whether the church is restricted, but how restricted it is relative to other similar public organisations. Theatres, casinos, restaurants, shops, conferences have been allowed to operate, while churches have been told to close. Airplanes, taxis and buses can be filled to capacity with no social distancing, but churches must be restricted to 50 or less with social distancing. Churches have been told that they are super-spreader events, but large gatherings eat and drink without masks, sit closer on aeroplanes, and squeeze more people into their shops, conferences and venues.

Once again, there are two opposite responses to this treatment. The first is to feel no particular burden about this lopsided treatment of the church. Some might smart a bit and perhaps sense the injustice and unreasonableness, but accept it as part of the pain of the moment. Some even agree with the government’s assessment that church gatherings are highly dangerous, due to the tendency to hug, shake hands, sing and so forth. But overall, the discomfort does not rise to the level of conviction in the conscience that one is participating in evil.

The second response is to be convicted in conscience that to participate in the government’s treatment of the church is to disobey the Lord. Whether or not unbelieving governments regard the church as essential or treat it fairly is not the issue. Whether Christians are willing to personally believe and support that assessment becomes a matter of personal submission to Christ. For example, the fact that the government is happy to have unmasked patrons of restaurants eat and drink any day of the week but crack down on worshippers on Sunday is a matter between government and God – they must answer to God for that. But if a Christian goes to restaurants during the week, and yet avoids church on Sundays or believes the government’s assessment of church gathering, this has become a matter between the Christian and God. He is no longer merely submitting to government’s regulations; he is submitting to government’s assessment of worship. His conscience must agree with government in order to act that way. He must believe that going to restaurants is worth the risk, and going to church is not; or he must believe that assembled worship is some of the most dangerous activity in the world during a pandemic. Either way, he must come to several judgements in himself on the importance of worship, the kind of risks worth taking, the comparative value of various social activities. For those on this side of the debate, to submit to the world’s estimate is to be disloyal to God, to demote His importance, to participate in the denigration and marginalisation of God.

Unlike the first matter, this matter has nothing to do with the future, and everything to do with what is right in front of us. Frankly, from my perspective, the only way a Christian cannot be smitten in conscience about this comparative marginalisation of God is if he believes that livestreaming, webcasts and Zoom are allowing true worship to continue.

Therefore, it is not surprising to see the following combinations of beliefs:
1) Those who believe the restrictions are temporary, that the Christian conscience need not be injured by the restrictions, and that livestreaming, Zoom and “virtual” church are valid forms of gathering.
2) Those who believe some of the restrictions will become permanent, that the Christian conscience is necessarily offended by the restrictions, and that gathering means gathering, with actual people in each other’s actual presence.

It is not hard to understand why those who hold the first matrix of beliefs have no problem with submitting to (most) everything the government has ordered during the pandemic, and those who hold the second matrix see no possible way to submit to all government says and remain faithful to God.

Since none of us knows the future, discussing government’s intentions is not likely to bring any agreement. We should focus our discussions on two things: are web technologies valid substitutes for embodied worship, and should the individual Christian conscience tolerate the public marginalisation of Christian worship?

31. The Position of Correspondent Love for God

One’s nature determines much of one’s desire for God. What is inherited from Adam and from biological ancestors, partly determines what one desires. Unless the human’s sin nature is miraculously transformed, he or she is without power to love God ultimately, and without the position or tools to pursue God (Jer. 13:23; Rom 3:10–12; Eph. 2:1–3). Fallen and deformed human nature does not love God’s beauty until it is radically corrected. The effect of regeneration upon one’s relationship with God and one’s consequent potential to abide in him, is foundational to loving God (1 John 4:7–8; 5:1). Being goes before doing, though doing influences being. God’s change made to a believer’s being is fundamental, for it transforms the Christian’s state and position before God. C. S. Lewis perceived that a change in the sinner’s nature was actually the secret to loving God:

“Here is the paradox of Christianity. As practical imperatives for here and now the two great commandments have to be translated “Behave as if you loved God and man.” For no man can love because he is told to. Yet obedience on this practical level is not really obedience at all. And if a man really loved God and man, once again this would hardly be obedience; for if he did, he would be unable to help it. Thus the command really says to us, “Ye must be born again.” Till then, we have duty, morality, the Law.”

Scripture’s answer to the question, “How does one love God?” is, “by means of God graciously disclosing himself to a new heart” (Exod. 33:13–18; Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 11:19– 20; 36:26–27; Matt. 11:25–27; 1 John 4:19). This divine disclosure is often called the “presence of God” (Exod. 33:13–14). For the Old Testament people of God, the presence of God was particularly manifest at the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle and the Temple (Exod. 25:22; Ezek. 10:18). Moreover, with the coming of the Incarnate Son, God’s presence was especially manifest on earth (John 1:1–18).

The Upper Room Discourse (John 14–17) is partly given to explain how the disciples are to know the presence of God after Christ’s departure. After the ascension of Christ, the revealed presence of God would be known through union with Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit (John 6:56; 14:16–23; 17:23, 26; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:3; 3:16–19; Col. 1:27). The Spirit of God illuminates believers to know spiritual realities and to love them (Eph. 1:15–19). In other words, the basis of experiential communion is positional union with Christ.

Union with Christ is the foundation of the Christian life, from which all spiritual blessings flow (Eph. 1:3). In the Pauline epistles, virtually every element of Christ’s work is connected in some way to union with Christ. Henry Scougal writes,

“True religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the Divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle’s phrase, ‘it is Christ formed within us’. Briefly, I know not how the nature of religion can be more fully expressed, than by calling it a Divine life”

Lewis writes of beauty words that could also be said of love for God: “We do not want merely to see beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves”

Similarly, Edwards states: “That which men love, they desire to have and to be united to and possessed of. The beauty which men delight in, they desire to be adorned with. Those acts which men delight in, they necessarily incline to do”

Achieving this union involves a work of all three persons of the Godhead. The Father lovingly chooses believers in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:2), and so will never condemn them (Rom. 8:34) or forsake them (Heb. 13:5; John 10:27–29), but rather adopts them into his family (Eph. 1:5) and reserves their inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4). His work prompts believers to worship in his presence.

Through union with Christ (Rom. 6:4–10), the Son’s perfect life, death, resurrection, ascension, and high priestly work have propitiated God’s wrath at believers’ sin (1 John 2:2), forgiven their sins (Col. 2:13–14; Eph. 1:7), justified them (Rom. 5:1; 2 Cor. 5:21), reconciled them with to God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:18), regenerated them, given them eternal life (Col. 2:13; John 1:12), sanctified them (1 Cor. 6:11), and seated them with Christ in the heavenlies (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:6), making them accepted (Eph. 1:6) and completed (Col. 2:9–10). The Son’s work gives believers every permission to worship in his presence (Heb. 10:19–22).

The Spirit draws, sanctifies (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thes. 2:13), regenerates (Titus 3:5; John 3:3–9), and then indwells believers (1 Cor. 6:19; Ro. 8:9–10) thereby uniting them with Christ and imparting the very life of Christ and divine nature (though not the divine essence) to them (Gal. 2:20; 1 John 3:24), being the seal and down-payment of their future glorification (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13–14; 4:30). Since he is God’s Spirit, when he indwells their spirits, he reveals the things of God (1 Cor. 2:10–13) using the Word of God, and illuminates Christ’s beauty to the seeking heart (John 15:26; 16:14), giving believers both desires and enablement to love God (Phil. 2:13). The Spirit’s work gives believers power to worship in his presence. This prompting, permission, and power speaks of internal inclination, not of external constraint.

Scougal again: “The love which a pious man bears to God and goodness, is not so much by virtue
of a command enjoining him so to do, as by a new nature instructing and prompting him to do it; nor doth he pay his devotions as an unavoidable tribute, only to appease the Divine justice; but those religious exercises are the proper emanations of the Divine life, the natural employments of the new-born soul.”

The work of the Father, Son, and Spirit creates a permanent, ontological union with God in Christ. Through this union, a new nature with new inclinations is imparted. The union is the means of perceiving the revelation of God, of loving the perceived revelation, and of returning love to God.

No love for God is possible without true conversion and regeneration. Love for God requires a new heart, with new relish, new perception. A regenerate believer, through his or her union with Christ, is in the presence of God through the indwelling Spirit, and can now perceive and love the glory of God as revealed in Christ. For this reason, Evangelical spirituality first requires conversion through repentance and belief in the Gospel (Rom. 10:9-10). It then insists on true regeneration, and on believers examining themselves to know if such a union is theirs (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 John 5:10-12). It further disciples believers in the knowledge of their union, explaining their position in Christ, before proclaiming the walk that should emerge from it (Eph. 1:3; 4:1).

In short, correspondent love for God is cultivated through the presence of a true ontological union with God. This position supplies a potential. The new nature must “become what it is”. It must actually move towards experiential union with God, which is the process of correspondent love.

30. Loving God’s Beauty

At this point, it will be helpful to summarise our argument in five steps.

Step one: God’s beauty is his love for his own being.
Step two: God’s beauty is perceived and apprehended by love for God.
Step three: This love must be a correspondent love: one which corresponds with God’s love in degree and nature.
Step four: Love is a desire and cannot be willed directly. Correspondent love must be cultivated.
Step five: There are four ways that correspondent love can be cultivated: imagination (the pattern), nature (the position), exposure (the process), and nurture (the practices).

a) The pattern for correspondent love: the dominant but background Christian imagination of ultimate reality, the telos towards which holy desire moves for union.

b) The position for correspondent love: ontological union with Christ through the triune work of God in salvation, which reveals God and his presence and gives the answering holy desires.

c) The process of correspondent love: the cycle of experiential union, seeking to love God ordinately, and to confess and forsake failures to do so. A disposition of consent or humility-faith-love, must be present, where through which experiential union with God is sought.

d) The practices for correspondent love: deliberate habits that illustrate and cultivate these three. Holy desire is taught, shaped, and expressed through these practices. The order of these four is not strictly hierarchical. One could argue that positional union comes first, making the other three possible. One could likewise begin with the practices, since they shape and affirm the other three. The process could also be foregrounded, as nearest to the actual performance of the three forms of ordinate love. The point is that they are more cyclical and interdependent than sequential and distinct.

The Pattern for Correspondent Love
The pattern for correspondent love refers to what Richard Weaver termed one’s “metaphysical dream”. The word dream reminds one that it is not always a conscious vision, as much as a vision that stands as the background of all conscious choice. The word metaphysical suggests that it deals with reality: the understanding of things as they truly are. This is the synoptic vision of the whole of life, that which gives meaning to the parts. This is the great interpretive index, giving moral significance through meaning to all that is encountered. This is the imagination, that aspect of mankind perhaps best described as being “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26–27). Tozer, in The Knowledge of the Holy, insists that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most
important thing about us”.

What then should inform the Christian imagination that inclines the heart towards union with God and ordinate love? If God’s beauty is the ultimate motivator of love, then the Christian life should have the idea of God’s beauty at its very core. We’ve defined beauty as “the Most Lovely loving the Most Lovely”. This came from Edwards’ definition of beauty: “being’s cordial consent to being in general” . Unpacking Edwards’ definition of beauty leads to at least three observations about a Christian imagination based upon God’s beauty.

1) The Christian imagination should be trinitarian. God’s beauty as God’s love is impossible if God is a solitary being. Love within God is only possible if there is a plurality of persons within the one being of God. Edwards wrote, “Again, we have shown that one alone cannot be excellent, inasmuch as, in such case, there can be no consent. Therefore, if God is excellent, there must be a plurality in God; otherwise, there can be no consent in him”

2) The Christian imagination should be personal. “Being’s consent to being” implies that personal relationship is at the heart of existence. Here the term personal refers to viewing reality as fundamentally composed of volitional persons. Reality is not primarily material, composed of the inert thing called “matter” by moderns. Reality is firstly will, intention, meaning, morality. All things exist by the word of a Person who made them and sustains them with His will.

3) The Christian imagination should be doxological. “Being’s cordial consent to being in general”  also suggests that at the heart of this relational universe is the idea of gift. Trinitarian reality necessarily implies personal and relational perichoretic reality. But when three infinite persons relate, the relationship must be one of gratuitous love. Reality is a place of gift and grace: three Persons overflowing in joyful giving. Evil is only the temporary interruption and distortion of the happy reality of the Trinity’s eternal glad giving.

29. The Dilemma of Commanded Love

If God’s beauty is perceived through correspondent, or ordinate love, we face a dilemma. Love is not merely a mental choice between options. One cannot simply choose to love as a naked act of the will. As Tozer said, “[E]very man is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wants to be. He may not be as full as he wishes he were, but he is most certainly as full as he wants to be”. That is, Christians may wish that they loved God more than they do, but they currently love him with as much inclination as they do. Such a statement is not meant to be deliberately tautologous. It merely affirms what Edwards writes in The Freedom of the Will: the strongest inclination is the choice one makes, and that choice is the same as the will.

As we’ve seen, some of the problem began when the Enlightenment introduced a three-faculty view of human psychology. It also began viewing the will as a neutral faculty. In Edwards’ view, the human will is not the faculty that decides, it is the decision itself. Edwards’ two-faculty view of human psychology suggests that the mind knows the objects of desire, and the heart chooses, or loves, what it sees as the greatest good. The greatest motive always prevails as the thing chosen. In other words, what the will chooses is precisely what it loves. This is why it is not strictly correct to speak of “choosing to love”, for one is really thereby saying “choosing to choose” or “loving so as to love”. Logically, one would be forced to ask, what inclination is leading one to desire such an inclination? The same thing would need to be asked of that inclination, till one has an absurd infinite regress of choices to choose, with apparently no starting point.

The will does not choose to love; the will chooses what it loves. One’s chosen desires reflect what one thinks it best to choose. Loves can be formed and shaped, but they cannot simply be willed into being. In a real sense, as has been shown, love is the will in the direction of what it sees as good. One may speak of choosing the good or loving what is most beautiful, but not of choosing to love.

Here then is the problem: if correspondent love is fundamental to apprehending God’s beauty, how can his love be experienced, if love cannot simply be willed into being? In other words, how is this love to be obtained? Love cannot be willed. Desires can, however, be cultivated. Four ways of cultivating this love will be our focus, going forward.

1) Correspondent love is cultivated through a vision of what is beautiful. Humans are always inclined towards a vision of something they believe is good.  This picture is not a set of abstract ideas, as much as it is an aesthetic idea, an affective, sensible picture of what reality is really like or should be like. This corresponds to what we call imagination. This is not speculative fancy; it is the non-cognitive picture of the deep structure of Reality.

A Christian imagination is absolutely fundamental to cognition, perception, and interpretation. If correspondent love is the key to perceiving God’s beauty, and imagination is fundamental to perception, it follows that a Christian imagination is fundamental to correspondent love. This is the telos to which the human heart is inclined; it is its treasure, to which one will always find the heart inclined (Matt. 6:21).

2) Correspondent love is cultivated through a change in spiritual nature. In his Treatise on Grace, Edwards writes that “the first effect of the power of God in the heart in regeneration, is to give the heart a divine taste or sense, to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the divine nature”
Indeed, it may be a form of Pelagianism to assert that the affections can simply be commanded by an act of human thought or willpower. That is, an implantation of the divine nature has to be given for the human soul to find relish and inclination toward God.

The spiritual beauty of the saints is their consent to God’s being, but this consent comes only because something of God’s being has been created in the human being. Holy love for God cannot come without a new nature. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). Ontological union with Christ provides the new nature, the new position from which ordinate love for God can grow. The second area of cultivating correspondent love will be through the presence of a new nature, or position of the Christian life. This new position must be present and remembered.

3) Correspondent love is cultivated though exposure. The new nature or position is meant to be fleshed out and experienced. The New Testament’s call to Christians is to become what they are, to practice their position, to cause their nature to affect their posture (Rom. 6:10–12; Eph. 4:1). Through this actual exposure to God’s love, love is cultivated through the experience of it. Edwards reminds one that beauty is not known in the abstract, but through exposure: “It is evident therefore by this, that the way we come by the idea or sensation of beauty, is by immediate sensation of the gratefulness of the idea called “beautiful”; and not by finding out by argumentation any consequences, or other things that it stands connected with; any more than tasting the sweetness of honey, or perceiving the harmony of a tune, is by argumentation on connections and consequences” The third area of cultivating correspondent love will be through exposure to the beauty of God through experiential communion with God, which one might term the process of the Christian life.

4) Correspondent love for God is cultivated through repeated practice or nurture. Habit is what shapes the heart. Liturgical practices, habitually repeated in acts of private and public worship, give physical form and memorable expression to an idea of ultimate reality. The human heart needs regular nurture in those spiritual practices that give form and expression to correspondent love. The fourth area of cultivating correspondent love will be through regular spiritual disciplines, which one might term the practices of the Christian life.

28. More Voices From the Past on Loving God

Brother Lawrence’s (1614–1691) collected letters, known as The Practice of the Presence of God, describe his attempt to love all things for God’s sake. He remarks that he was pleased “when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts” (The Practice of the Presence of God, 2nd Conv., VI).

Jonathan Edwards also differentiates between loving God as a means or as an end.

For if we love him not for his own sake, but for something else, then our love is not terminated on him, but on something else, as its ultimate object. That is no true value for infinite worth, which implies no value for that worthiness in itself considered, but only on the account of something foreign. Our esteem of God is fundamentally defective, if it be not primarily for the excellency of his nature, which is the foundation of all that is valuable in him in any respect. If we love not God because he is what he is, but only because he is profitable to us, in truth we love him not at all. (Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, 3:144).

References to inordinate affection, or non-corresponding love abound in Christian thought. Early church fathers such as Clement, Nemesius of Emesa, and Gregory of Nyssa all differentiate between evil passions and good. Puritans such as William Ames, John Owen, and Richard Sibbes wrote much on right affections as opposed to inordinate affections.

In his greatest work against positivism and subjectivism, The Abolition of Man, Lewis writes:

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt. The reason why Coleridge agreed with the tourist who called the cataract sublime and disagreed with the one who called it pretty was of course that he believed inanimate nature to be such that certain responses could be more ‘just’ or ‘ordinate’ or ‘appropriate’ to it than others.

Roger Scruton, in Beauty, agrees:

for a free being, there is right feeling, right experience and right enjoyment just as much as right action. The judgement of beauty orders the emotions and desires of those who make it. It may express their leisure and their taste: but it is pleasure in what they value and taste for their true ideals.

The so-called “worship wars”, whether ancient or modern, largely are debates over what is appropriate love for God, and what is not. Whether it be the matter of images, the order of the Mass, the use of an organ, singing in the vernacular, the presence of an altar, the presence of statues, crucifixes or candles and incense in worship, or priestly vestments, these all reflect a centuries-old debate regarding appropriate worship, and therefore ordinate or correspondent love.

The idea of correspondent or ordinate love for God has been present in historical Christian thought. Christians have written on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of love. The writers surveyed believed that for love to correspond to God’s love, it must be accorded to the right objects according to their value and nature, and thereby be of the right degree and kind.