Thursday, October 20, 2011

God’s Divine Government is not “the Church”

In a recent post, I discussed “the Kingdom of God” as a concept, as it is presented in the Gospel of Mark, in a study by R.T. France: “Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark” (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, ©1990). France noted that the Greek phrase ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεο, frequently translated “the Kingdom of God” and in shorthand, “the Kingdom”, misses the true sense of that phrase.

In reality, the sense that Mark (and the other New Testament writers) overwhelmingly intend is, “There is, as we have noted, no reference in Mark to ‘the kingdom’ as if it were a ‘thing’ in itself. It is ‘God’ that is the controlling noun. The message of Mark 1.15 is not that a change of government is imminent, but that God is taking over (which potentially puts a question mark against any human political programme, even a Jewish one)”.

For the sake of this and subsequent articles on the topic, and without going into too much detail at this point, I will note that the phrases “The Kingdom of God” and “The Kingdom of Heaven” are essentially equivalent – Matthew, writing to a largely Jewish audience, used the word “Heaven” “as a reverential substitute for “God”. (Schreiner, “New Testament Theology,” pg 46.) “It follows, on this view, that the expressions “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” refer to the same reality and should not be distinguished.” I’m not sure that anyone contests this.

With that said, I’d like to give yet another example of official Roman Catholic dogmatic arrogance in the face of God. I’d like to compare France’s portrayal of “Divine Government” with the concept that this Called to Communion article by Bryan Cross and Thomas Brown entitled “Christ Founded a Visible Church” portrays: that “The Roman Catholic Church is the Kingdom of God”.
Many Christians do not realize that the Catholic Church is and claims to be the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, in the Kingdom’s nascent stage. They mistakenly think of the Kingdom as either entirely invisible, entirely spiritual, or entirely future. Lumen Gentium specifically affirms that the Church is Christ’s Kingdom:
The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world [Lumen Gentium 3].
By “present in mystery” the Council meant that the Catholic Church is the Kingdom of Heaven in its beginning or seminal stage, i.e. the stage prior to the return of Christ. We do not now see the fullness of the Kingdom. But the Catholic Church is the present rule of Christ on the earth. Jesus did not say to Peter, “I give you the keys of the Church, but I retain the keys of the Kingdom.” Rather, Jesus said to Peter, “I will give to you [singular] the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are the apostolic authority over the Church. That is why the Catechism says,
The Church is the seed and beginning of this kingdom. Her keys are entrusted to Peter [CCC 567].

To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery [CCC 763].

The [Roman Catholic] Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God, already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time [CCC 865].
***End of “Called-to-Communion” quote***

First of all, note the condescension: “Many people do not realize…” My guess is that no one really knows what Lumen Gentium is saying here. (There is “plausible deniability” built into every official Roman Catholic doctrinal statement. Steve Hays has documented this phenomenon magnificently in his article The Magisterial cat-and-mouse game.) It is characteristic of Roman Catholic understanding of dogma today that its language is so convoluted that, no matter what “interpretation” is given, it can always be claimed (by writers like Bryan Cross and Thomas Brown) that “we [or they] didn’t truly and infallibly capture the meaning of the dogma”. Of course, the language is so convoluted, no one can. On the other hand, this convoluted method of expression lends itself perfectly to the lofty types of claims that are made in this article.

There is a lot to sort through in these selections. Here is how Lumen Gentium 3 actually says it, equating “the Roman Catholic Church” with “The Kingdom of God”:
To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery of that kingdom. By His obedience He brought about redemption. The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world.
One of the difficulties in dealing with Roman Catholic Vatican II teachings is the denseness of the language that is used. And this is a prime example of it. By the phrase, “in other words”, it seems as if the writers of this document seem to be equating “The Church” and “the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery”.

But things are not always what they seem.

Look then at the phrase that Cross and Brown use, “We do not now see the fullness of the Kingdom. But the Catholic Church is the present rule of Christ on the earth.” And keep in mind that when Cross and Brown say the word “Church”, they mean “the Roman Catholic Church” and its visible hierarchy.

The Bible does not talk about a visible hierarchy, but in official Roman conciliar (Vatican II) dogma, “the mystery of the church” somehow becomes “manifest” – this one is not hard to find, a few paragraphs down, still quoting Lumen Gentium:
The mystery of the holy Church is manifest in its very foundation. The Lord Jesus set it on its course by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God, which, for centuries, had been promised in the Scriptures: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand". In the word, in the works, and in the presence of Christ, this kingdom was clearly open to the view of men. The Word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear the Word with faith and become part of the little flock of Christ, have received the Kingdom itself. Then, by its own power the seed sprouts and grows until harvest time. The Miracles of Jesus also confirm that the Kingdom has already arrived on earth: "If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you". Before all things, however, the Kingdom is clearly visible in the very Person of Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, who came "to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many:"

When Jesus, who had suffered the death of the cross for mankind, had risen, He appeared as the one constituted as Lord, Christ and eternal Priest, and He poured out on His disciples the Spirit promised by the Father. From this source the [Roman Catholic] Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While it slowly grows, the [Roman Catholic] Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King.
This is a classical Roman Catholic bait-and-switch. At the beginning of this passage, it’s a “mystery”, but when the smoke clears, at the end, the “mystery”, presto-changeo, clearly reveals and assumes that the Roman Catholic Church is “the Kingdom of God”.

No amount of analysis can show just how this equation is made. It is “a mystery” and then, voila, it is “manifest”.

But what is “the Kingdom of God”? Cross and Brown doesn’t simply make this claim (that “the Roman Catholic Church” is “the Kingdom of God”). They give a specific time and identity to this “kingdom” and makes the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is no less than the Kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament. Let’s take a couple of representative looks:
The New Testament authors understand the Church as the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. The angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Lord God will give her Son the “throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
See how they equivocate – or rather, they allow Roman Catholic teaching to serve as the “touch point” to equate “The Kingdom of God” (the Kingdom of the Son of David) with “the Roman Catholic Church”. There is no exegetical justification given to show that “the Roman Catholic Church” is “The Kingdom of God”.

Look at the language Cross and Brown use, trying to make their own exegetical link: “the Catholic Church is and claims to be the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, in the Kingdom’s nascent stage”.
Christ’s teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that gathers fish of every kind is paralleled in the account in John 21 where the disciples catch 153 fish and draw the net upon the land. That account clearly refers to the Apostles, as fishers of men, bringing all the nations into the Church, and in this way we again see that the Church is the Kingdom in its present stage.
Right at the heart, where, if Cross and Brown are trying to prove from the Scriptures that “the Roman Catholic Church is “The Kingdom of God”, they misuse it. They set up the Roman Catholic Church’s visible hierarchy, right here in John 21. But to do that, they need to have something other than Vatican II’s word for it. Exegetical justification for this reading is clearly lacking. To equate the Apostles with “rulership in the kingdom on earth” as they do is to clearly miss that God rules -- that is the exegetical meaning of “the kingdom”, and I’ll address this next time.

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