Reforming The Cultus

This is a response to Doug Wilson’s post, The Spiritual Drive Train. I put it here rather than as a comment to his post because of the length of my response.

He suggests that knowing what not to do is not the same as knowing what to do. True enough, but knowing what not to do is vitally important and must not be neglected. For instance, the Ten Commandments inform us about what not to do. And being expressed as negatives is critically important because the negative injunction provides for the maximum freedom of expression. The idea that we can do anything except some certain things is much more permissive than the idea that we must do such and so. Maximum freedom is granted by the negativity of the Ten Commandments. Imagine how different things would be if society at large were to endeavor to obey the Ten Commandments. Dare I say that reformation would be more than half accomplished.

No, I’m not arguing for works-righteousness. I’m just dreaming a dream. What if people actually wanted to live in obedience to the Ten Commandments? Would God deny such a genuine desire? I don’t think so because the only way for it to actually happen would be for God to have inspired it in the first place — by grace, of course, and not apart from Christ.

“When that reformation begins to take shape, and numerous Christians are worshiping in the way Christians ought to be worshiping, those Christians — who happen to be politicians, auto mechanics, teachers, film directors, news anchors, poets, and cafeteria workers — will begin to live out the kind of Christian life that they learned about the previous Sunday. That will effect the transformation of society, but not by turning that society into a giant worship service.” — Wilson

The question is: how does reformation happen? Wilson knows that everything does not become a worship service, and he is right. Such an idea is silly.

But rather than turning everything into a worship service, we must understand the character of worship in a more holistic (trinitarian) way. It is not that we need to turn everything into a worship service, but that everything needs to be done as service to Christ as an expression of worship. Worship is not just what happens on Sunday mornings. Worship is an attitude, where attitude is defined as a complex mental state involving beliefs and feelings and values and dispositions to act in certain ways. We must also understand attitude as the position of aircraft or spacecraft relative to a frame of reference. Thus, the Christian attitude is the reference to Christ in all that we do, say and think.

But this attitude must also be understood in a trinitarian way and not merely in a monotheistic way. What do I mean? Simply that trinitarianism is multiperspectival, whereas monotheism is uniperspectival. Consider God’s law. The Ten Commandments, a product of Jewish monotheism, were written in stone. There is only one perspective here — do or die. In contrast, the Law of Christ was written in flesh by the water of baptism. (Sorry, if my allusion is too lame.) The point is that in Christ God’s law takes on more than one perspective, without destroying or eliminating the monotheistic perspective of do or die. In Christ the do or die perspective lives through the death of Christ as an historical event. Then His death was overcome by His resurrection, which opened up the fact that God’s people can live according to God’s law, even though we don’t perfectly fulfill it — yet. In Christ our attitude is to do our best and give our all, knowing that whatever we do is not sufficient but that Christ alone has provided for us what we cannot provide for ourselves. Thus, God’s law stands as it always has — in stone. But Christ has bought us time and promised to bring us to the fulfillment (end or purpose) of God’s law.

The point is that in Christ we see God’s law differently than those who are not in Christ. And that new perspective makes all the difference in the world! It is that attitude of worship expressed as service to Christ that is the engine of reformation. Thus, the engine of reformation is not the church, nor the family — but Christ Himself in the fullness of His trinitarian character.

So, how is this related to the kingdom of God? It issues out from the cultus to the remotest parts of the kingdom. But to understand this we must understand what the cultus actually is. The dictionary defines cultus as a system or community of religious worship and ritual. So far, so good. Now apply the trinitarian understanding of worship and we see that worship is not just what happens on Sunday mornings, but is what happens when someone becomes a Christian. Their whole life is changed — really changed, radically changed. From that point forward everything they do is worship, good or bad, right or wrong, in church and out.

The cultus is the social system as a whole. It is that which drives or organizes a society into a functioning whole, the values and attitudes that give society its character. The truth is that it is difficult to define. We might think of the cultus as a kind of algorithm into which are inserted different variables, which then provide differing results. The cultus is the algorithm and members of the society are the variables. And the results are the society or the character of the society.

The difficulty is that the variables do not have conscious access or understanding of the algorithm, they are simply processed by it. So, Christians who want to effect the character of the society cannot effect the algorithm directly. However, the end results of the algorithm are effected by the character of the variables that are processed by the algorithm. So, the more Christians there are, the more the society reflects Christian characteristics. So, one way to effect the society is to work on people one at a time. It is a time consuming effort. But when each one gets one, it grows exponentially — which means that it grows slowly until a critical mass is reached and the vector of growth changes from near horizontal to near vertical.

But there is a faster way to proceed, a trail that Paul blazed through the Book of Acts. Paul’s ultimate mission was to reach Rome and the emperor. Why did Paul focus on Rome? Because it was the seat of power. You see, some people have more effect in a society than others. So, if we focus on converting the powerful and influential, the process speeds up, as it did when Constantine was converted. The cultus is concentrated in the seats of social power and influence, what Gary North calls the robes — pastors, judges and professors. We might also identify various seats of the nationally powerful and influential as Washington, Wall Street and Hollywood.

When these robes and areas are converted we will see the reformation take a giant step forward. That is more or less what happened during the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. Those who got on board with the Reformation were the intellectuals, the artists and the wealthy.

If you look around at the current evangelism efforts of the Evangelical churches you see great efforts to reach the lost abroad (foreign missions), drunks, drug addicts, the poor, unmarried pregnant women, etc. While I do not what to disparage any of these efforts, please note that they are not aimed at intellectuals, artists or the wealthy. Christian evangelism is aimed at the lowest echelons of society — and that is fine. But our evangelism must not be limited to this focus. Of course, there needs to be an emphasis there. We must not abandon such efforts.

In addition, we need to notice that Paul set his sights on Rome. He could have been released at any one of several points in his journey, but he would not have it. He was determined to get to Rome, to bring the gospel to the emperor. He was determined to speak truth to power.

Who is doing that today? Billy Graham? Bishop Robinson? Rick Warren? Some Mainline or Anglican mucktey muck? Sure a lot of folks are speaking to power in the name of truth, but who is speaking in the character of Truth? However, we must not think that the only way to do this is to go to Washington, Wall Street or Hollywood. There are plenty of pastors, judges and professors near us all. Every community has its intellectuals, artists and wealthy citizens.

The prerequisite for doing this is to have hold of the gospel sufficiently to inspire intellectuals, artists and the movers and shakers of your community. We owe a great deal of thanks to Pastor Wilson for reblazing this trail in his work with Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens has imbibed and attacked the paradigm of Evangelicalism as it has been understood and defined over the past hundred years or so. And let me suggest that he is right to attack it. God has given him his teeth! The way forward is not to defend the gospel against men like Hitchens, who misunderstand it, but to reforge the long forgotten, historic gospel. Our defense is to get the gospel right, and not to export it before we have it right, lest we shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot. What is needed is not simply a reformation, a return to some idealized past, but a reforgeration. (Pardon my weird humor.)

And what, pray tell, is this new/old gospel perspective to be reforged? I call it presuppositional trinitarianism, and have discussed it in my books on First and Second Corinthians (if I may give myself a shameless plug, and I must because I can’t afford to advertise).

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