Friday, November 21, 2008

Of Bully Pupits, Churchly Tyranny, and Prophets in Priest's Clothing

As most who know me are (perhaps painfully) aware, I believe that the next big conversation that the church needs to have is the one about the two kingdoms. Though I have made a lot of exegetical and theological arguments for why this doctrine is so crucial, I’d like to make another, but this time a pastoral one.

The thing about the Protestant and Reformed view of ecclesiastical authority is that it, unlike that of Rome, is not magisterial but ministerial, not legislative but only declarative. In other words, I as a Presbyterian minister don’t get to make up a bunch of stuff that I then place as a burden upon the shoulders of the people in my church. The nature of the office of minister is such that I am ordained to bind the consciences of my people, but with a catch: I can only bind their consciences concerning those things that God specifically addresses in his Word.

This means that I may not use the pulpit as a bully pulpit in order to opine about my favorite theory of economics, or diet, or politics, or any other earthly, temporal matter. To do so would be to abuse my authority, as well as the sacredness of my office, effectively sacralizing what is secular and, by default, trivializing what is sacred.

So just as with other little-understood Reformed doctrines such as the regulative principle of worship, the two-kingdoms paradigm is designed pastorally to safeguard the sheep against my tyrannizing them by stepping into the pulpit and issuing jeremiads against the evils of NAFTA and Nike. After all, we all know that that’s not the kind of thing most believers mean when they demand that their pastors “speak prophetically to the culture.”

Though I have lots of pastoral deficiencies, my people should at least thank me profusely for keeping earth out of heaven. I mean, it’s all fun and games until your culturally prophetic minister starts prophesying falsely, crying, “Universal Healthcare! Universal Healthcare!” when there is no universal healthcare.