- On Romans 13:1(published )
Romans 13:1 gets abused in one of two directions. On the one hand, some use it to legitimate whatever political power structure happens to be in force. This can be as blunt as the notion of “the divine right of kings” to the subtler (and more insidious) notion that one’s own nation’s constitution or whatever is an embodiment of “God-given universal principles.” In this version, the sinfulness of the ruler(s) is passed over in favour of the idea that they have been appointed by God. On the other hand, some use this verse to argue that the church ought to try to seize and wield political power in the service of God’s reign. This approach will acknowledge that existing power structures are imperfect and tainted by sin, but sees that as providing legitimation and motivation for one’s own political agenda (whatever that may be), on the grounds that what is really needed is some good, God-fearing ruler to set things right. Both of these approaches get it wrong, because both confuse God’s intentions with concrete reality. The best way to consider the meaning and import of Romans 13:1 is to step back and consider the political implications of the concept of (drum roll, please)… the kingdom of God. God made us to be social beings, and to have him as the actual, literal ruler of our universal social structure. So governance is good, as an inherent aspect of being social beings, which is good. But more specifically it is God’s governance that is the proper form. That appears to be the intention in Eden (although with only two humans it wasn’t yet very complex, and thus more resembles a parent-child relationship than a king-people one yet), God’s revealed will in Deuteronomy or again in 1 Samuel, and the way things are described in the eschatological and proto-eschatological promises, imagery, and visions in both OT and NT. Human self-governance (i.e. humans governing humans and claiming sovereignty for themselves), on the other hand, arises as a deformation of God’s intention. We have rebelled against God as our Lord and King. Nevertheless, we remain social creatures, and so we find ourselves needing to set up our own governments to fill in that role so that we can live and function as people groups. But our governments are created as part of and as a result of our rebellion against him, and so they are founded in sin. In their concrete reality, they are manifestations of our sin and rebellion. This is why Deuteronomy both says that God’s will is that he alone be their king and also does “damage control” by laying out rules for when the Israelites decide to have a human king while still making it clear that God does not think a human king is a good plan. Like all things human, our ways of existing as social beings together are good but fallen and sinful. To use a Calvinist term, total depravity really is “total” in its proper, intended sense of “all-encompassing” (as opposed to “utter,” as it is so commonly misunderstood) and includes our social existence within its compass. Thus, while social structure—and therefore governance—is good and intended by God, all social structures and governments we have made are malformed and shot through with sin. We therefore need our social structures to be redeemed and set right by the reassertion of God’s own rule—which will mean the end of our self-rule. One thing I find interesting is how it seems that every government in history has claimed to be founded on divine sanction—whether via deifying the emperor, or via claiming a “divine right of kings,” or via “inalienable rights” with which human beings are endowed, or via whatever else functions in a given culture as legitimation for its claims to sovereignty and power. Each one seeks to arrogate sovereign authority to itself by claiming that the Power(s) That Be (however conceived) have given the stamp of approval to said government. But every claim to sovereignty by humans is rebellion against God’s rule over all. And every government will face judgment when Christ returns. No claim to possess sovereign authority by any human leader, then, is legitimate. That God has decreed that there should be government of human social structures does not in any way mean that any human government that exists can claim divine approval, as though God was on their side. King David did better than King Saul only as long as and only insofar as he retained his sense of being merely the servant of Yahweh, obeying his commands. Whenever David stopped seeking God’s own commands and began to think of his kingdom and power as his own, he fell into trouble. For the same reason, when Rome occasionally threw the Christians to the lions, it wasn’t because Rome wildly misunderstood the Christian gospel’s sociopolitical implications. The early Christians and their Roman persecutors both understood this better than we modern Western Christians who over-spiritualize God’s kingdom—if Jesus is King, then Caesar is nothing more than a mere man holding a temporary position who is subject to being judged (and dethroned) according to his obedience to the will of Christ. And if we stop and think about it, that is precisely what the real import of Rom 13:1 is. In light of the inevitably sinful and fallen nature of our actually existing governments, it is incoherent to claim that they, in their concrete reality, enjoy any sort of divine endorsement or that they can be the instruments of God in any straightforward manner. It certainly is not possible for a Christian to coherently think that political victory within our sinful governmental systems could ever bring about God’s goals for the world. And it most certainly is not possible for a Christian to coherently believe that any actually existing government will enact God’s justice or even protect it. At best, it will enact and protect a warped and distorted version of it. This is, true enough, still better than for a government not even to try to do so. But woe to those who imagine that Caesar is a good and faithful servant of God, or that he will carry out properly the job his position entails, or that winning influence in his court will allow one to make the policies of the empire mirror the policies of God. Christians working in the political sphere can do some good, in a piecemeal fashion, when they chose qua politicians to act as obedient servants of God subject to his sovereignty. But when Christians allow themselves qua Christians to become a power block in the political machinery of the state, the only appropriate words are those of Rev. 18:4. (Don’t forget, after all, that Rom. 13 is not the only sort of statement about human governments that the Bible makes. The threat of judgement and wrath against them for their failures to follow God’s will and for the blasphemy of claiming their own sovereignty hangs over them.) When we become a political power bloc, we are then doing the opposite of what Jesus modelled in John 18:36, where he insisted that his royal authority had a fundamentally different source than any worldly power’s and therefore refused to let his kingdom become another vying faction within the political system.
- Thoughts on fostering theologically rich worship music, updated (published )
On Dec 16, 2012, Dan Wilt posted this on the SVS Facebook group (now available on the SVS forum): I need some clear, benevolent, instructional statements from as many as possible for our Vineyard worship leaders. Worship leaders tend to have a more romantic, idealistic approach to other movements, and particularly the music that flows from them. For them, everything is simply a “style difference,” rather than a core theological or philosophical difference. In your own words, could you help us recover why music created from a uniquely Vineyard vantage point is so vital for us, and for the Body of Christ. (In moments, feel free to graciously compare that ethos to Bethel, Hillsong, and Passion). We’re trying to inspire our worship leaders to write well, and choose well, in their worship work. I gave a couple of responses in the ensuing conversation: ——— Phew, Dan, that is a big question! I can’t give as full an answer as I might like right now, but I would first point to the way that our congregational musical worship times function sacramentally for us. The chief function of the worship music is to create a sacred time and space for encounter with our God. The music serves in our church culture as the signal for the gathered community to focus attention on the Spirit, who is then faithful to respond. The result is often a heightened awareness of and interaction with the Spirit. This time of musically driven worship is thus one of the chief means—or perhaps even the chief means—by which we “partake of divine grace,” as older sacramental theologies might phrase it. This is a rather unique way to think about worship music within Western Christianity, but there are some interesting parallels with certain aspects of Eastern Orthodox sacramental theology (for example, the Orthodox use of icons and Vineyard use of music seem to have some common elements in terms of practice, if not necessarily in the theological language used to explain and support those practices). But regardless whether it is unique to the Vineyard or not, the importance of this sacramental function cannot be overstated for our spiritual life. Since this is the chief vehicle through which we experience the presence of God (rather than through, say, the Eucharist ritual or something else), losing a strong and intentional focus on this role would be terribly destructive to the spiritual health of any Vineyard church that did so. My charge to Vineyard worship leaders, if I could give one, would therefore be to make creating that sacred space for entering into the presence of God their chief concern at all times. Every other concern we might have about doing worship well flows from, and is therefore subordinate to, this. If there has been a reduction of lament, repentance, confession of weakness, exhortation to take up the cross, etc., in recently written Vineyard worship music, the first place I would look for an explanation would be the encroachment of non-Vineyard worship theologies and priorities. The same goes for any loss of intimacy and vitality. If musical worship becomes reduced to sung theology, or a collective expression of devotion and prayer, or (due to lack of any better theological reflection) merely a means of making church more appealing, the damage inflicted on our spirituality will always be immense, because we will find ourselves bereft of our chief means of connection with the life-giving Spirit of God. But when we keep the goal of creating a space and time for encountering the divine presence foremost in our theology of worship, then all the rest will fall into place. Good sung theology, the full range of devotional response (repentance, lament, and struggle as well as praise, joy, and excitement), and a truly attractive church environment will all follow from worship that centres on the sacramental function of entering his presence. That was how Vineyard worship became a driving force in the growth of our movement in the first place, and why so many others have sought to learn from it and to attempt to re-create it in their own traditions. If we lose this sacramental theology of worship music in favour of the theologies at work in traditions that have taken on the musical form without the undergirding theology, we will harm ourselves and moreover lose the ability to share this vital insight with those other traditions—which would be a sad loss for us and for the Body of Christ as a whole. Also, Vineyard metal and punk would be awesome. I was involved for several years in running a Vineyard electronica (dance, trance, techno, etc.) service, and it was FANTASTIC. Everyone always assumes that it would have appealed only to “the young people,” but this was not the case at all. Our attendance at these special events always reflected the full demographic range of our congregation. There is something quite marvellous in seeing a church grandmother, a 50-something seeker, a young mother, and a teen all lost in worship to the sound of throbbing DJ beats. Did that grandmother normally listen to electronica? No. But the Spirit of God was there, speaking through these finite sounds, and so we all bathed in his glory. ——— Okay, so here’s a more nuts and bolts approach than I took in my previous comment. Perhaps it is more in line with what Dan is looking for. I’ll take Casey Corum’s “Dwell” (2003) as an example of excellent, relatively recent, Vineyard-to-the-bone worship music. Lyrics: Dwell in the midst of usCome and dwell in this placeDwell in the midst of usCome and have Your wayDwell in the midst of usWipe all the tears from our facesDwell in the midst of usYou can have Your way Not our will, but Yours be doneCome and change usNot our will, but Yours be doneCome sustain us I consider this to be theologically an excellent representation of Vineyard’s heart and soul. First, the real meaning of maintaining the tension of the already and the not yet is well embodied here. This is not simply declaring that the eschatological power of God is here and available, as is typically emphasized in the songs of some of our more “kingdom already” brothers and sisters. Rather, this is asking for his presence in this moment. This entails the dual recognition that we do not have his presence the way we would like, but that if he should choose to come, we very well could. Neither does it only look forward to a glorious “some day” for the fulfillment of the kingdom promises, as is often emphasized in the songs of our “kingdom yet to come” brothers and sisters. The very same eschatological realities which will one one day be given their ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns are truly able to be given fulfillment here and now, too. Note how the cry to have the Spirit “wipe all the tears from our faces,” which is drawn directly from Rev 21’s final vision, is asked in expectation that it can be given a fulfillment both now and not yet at the same time. In this song we see the true understanding of the already and the not yet at work, because it contains the absolutely vital recognition that the content of the kingdom’s enactment is not split into some pieces already and others not yet, but all of it now and all of it not yet. Asking for God to come dwell among us in this place, to have his way, and to wipe the tears from our faces, is simultaneously asking for the Spirit to come among us to do these things and for Jesus to return and do these things, because these are at once different things and the very same thing. Second, the lines about “Come and have your way” and “Not our will but yours be done” reflect the attitude of obedience that does (or should) characterize Vineyard in its search, not for spiritual power, but for God’s reign to be enacted in our world. This attitude of surrender and obedience, even at personal cost (think of who first uttered the line “Yet not my will, but yours be done, and in what circumstances), disappears altogether too quickly, and altogether too unnoticed, when triumphalist, “kingdom already” theologies are in play. In triumphalist traditions, the focus shifts subtly to the spiritual power given to us so we can do the works of the kingdom, and thereby away from seeing the works of the kingdom take place, for which we may, when necessary, be given access to the Spirit’s power. Closely connected with this is the pointed confession of dependence on God’s continuing, moment by moment grace. We do not simple have his power that sustains us, but rather we need him to come exercise his own power to sustain us. But then again, we also are not looking only to a future manifestation of his power to redeem us, as would occur if we leaned too far towards the not yet. That would recognize that our ultimate salvation is dependent on his loving presence and power, but would leave the matter of living today to be carried out under our own steam. The call, “Come sustain us,” is the recognition that our life now is entirely dependent on him and also graced and empowered by him. Of course, no one song can do everything. (For example, the sociopolitical implications of “Wipe every tear from our faces,” which are powerfully present in the original Revelation passage, are present only as resonances with the original and are not developed in any explicit fashion. The concern for social justice remains embedded within the song, even if dormant, and it could be drawn out without much difficulty, but the song doesn’t proactively lend itself to that purpose.) Nevertheless, I believe this song provides us with an excellent example and model for how Vineyard’s theological presuppositions and tradition can and should produce worship songs that differ subtly but profoundly from those of other, superficially similar groups.