Truth Be Told

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Where Augustine Goes Off the Rails

San Agustín by
Antonio Rodríguez
(1636 - 1691)
For those who have been following my work on the Doctrine of Discovery, you know that I have been offering a critique of Saint Augustine's Just War Theory for some time now. In his writing on the 2 kingdoms, Augustine is quite clear that Christendom is not the Kingdom of God. But the general sense I get from him is that while he acknowledges Christendom is not perfect, he also does not reject it entirely. He seems to take the attitude that the church needs to find a way to work with it. Almost as if to say, Christendom, for all its faults, is at least better than being persecuted.  And his writings on Just War appear to be an attempt to make Christian Empire work.

I do not think it is bad or incorrect for a separate and independent church to prophetically challenge the secular state to be more just in how it engages in the act of war. But I do believe it is entirely inappropriate for a Christian Empire to justify why its Christian citizens can fight in the wars of Christendom by using a doctrine of Just War.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus reacted strongly, often with a rebuke, against anyone who attempted to combine his teachings with the power of Empire (secular or religious).

1. In the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist sent his disciples to question Jesus because of the reports that he was healing Centurion's servants and raising widow's children from the dead. These actions were contrary to the expectations that he, and most of Israel, had for the Messiah. They expected a savior, coming in power to overthrow their oppressors, much like what was prophesied in Daniel 7 and Malachi 4.

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Luke 7:20-23

Jesus' message was very strong, even to John the Baptist. "God is doing something that even you did not expect. Either get on board or step aside."

2. In Luke 21, Jesus and his disciples entered a Samaritan village to teach. But because they were headed to Jerusalem, the Samaritans rejected them. On their way out of the village, James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them?  This was how God worked throughout the Old Testament. Both through his prophets and the nation of Israel. When there was sin, God sent a prophet. If the people listened to the prophet and repented, God showed mercy. But if they rejected God's prophet, God judged them, at times even by sending down fire from heaven (Sodom and Gomorrah, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Elijah and King Ahaziah).  What James and John are asking Jesus is only what they had learned from the stories of the Old Testament. But Jesus turns and rebukes them, as if to say, "No. That time is over." He then takes them to yet another (most likely Samaritan) village.

3. In John 6, after Jesus fed over 5,000 with a few loaves and fish, the people were so excited that they came to make him their king. But, "Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." (John 6:15)

4. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. And Peter identified him as the Christ. Jesus then taught them that he (the Son of Man) was going to be persecuted and crucified. This thought was so contrary to the image that Peter had of who the Christ, and the Son of Man, was that he took his own teacher aside and began to rebuke him.  "But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. 'Get behind me, Satan!' he said. 'You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'” (Mark 8:33)

Every time Jesus was presented with the expectation or temptation to collude with Empire, or create an earthly Kingdom, Jesus reacted strongly. He was not here to establish an earthly empire. He was here to make disciples, plant a church, and offer himself as a living sacrifice. He was here to lay down his life, not save it. And he warned his disciples that they should expect, and do, the same.

So when Constantine, a new Christian, made the decision to Christianize Rome and create Christendom, he was doing so in contrast to the teachings and model of Jesus. The Church needed to rebuke him. But unfortunately, that is not what happened. Instead, the church leaders, thinkers, and theologians sought for a way to make Christendom work. That was what the doctrine of Just War was about. How does the church function now that it has imperial power? Throughout his life, Jesus reacted strongly to this type of thinking, but unfortunately the church did not. Jesus rejected an earthly religious empire. Augustine sought a way to justify it. The actions of Constantine and the collusion of Augustine were "Get behind me, Satan!" moments. But the church was silent.

In my work, I am seeking to understand how the church got from Luke 7 to the Doctrine of Discovery. How did it get from following a savior who was persecuted and executed for his faith, to a church that enacted persecution and executed its enemies in the name of Christ? How did we get from God enabling his disciples to speak the languages of the nations in Acts 2 to Christian missionaries washing out native children's mouths with soap for having the gall to speak their own languages?

It is because of Christendom. The prostitution of the Church to the Empire. Jesus laid down his life. The Empire must save its life. Jesus emptied himself. The Empire must protect itself.

The contrast between Jesus's teachings and Christendom becomes very clear in this quote by US Congressman Clay Higgins. He represents the 3rd district in the state of Louisiana. On his website, Rep. Higgins identifies himself as a Christian who is known “for his refreshing focus on the power of the individual to be redeemed.” But Clay Higgins also believes in Christendom and that the US is a Christian nation. As such, after the recent terror attack in the UK in June 2017, he posted this to his Facebook page.
“The free world... all of Christendom... is at war with Islamic horror.
Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
Clay Higgins’s words are the fruit of Christendom. This is where it leads. And this is what needs to be rebuked.

So, I have been looking for the quote. The line of thinking where, when Augustine voiced it, Jesus would have responded with the rebuke "Get behind me, Satan!"  I spent almost a year looking for that quote in his writings on the 2 kingdoms and Just war. But the quote is not there. Instead it is found in his teachings on heresy in the book, "On the Correction of the Donatists".

The Donatists were a schism group that was teaching heresy. They were leading people astray from the commandments of God and the doctrines of the Church. And Augustine was struggling theologically with what to do with them.  In Chapter 5, Augustine accepts the reality of Christian Empire and is questioning the role of a Christian King.
"How then are kings to serve the Lord with fear, except by preventing and chastising with religious severity all those acts which are done in opposition to the commandments of the Lord? For a man serves God in one way in that he is man, in another way in that he is also king. In that he is man, he serves Him by living faithfully; but in that he is also king, he serves Him by enforcing with suitable rigor such laws as ordain what is righteous, and punish what is the reverse."
In this chapter Augustine concludes that the role of a Christian King is to enforce (with suitable rigor) the commands of God and (by extension) the doctrines of the Church.

In Chapter 6, Augustine makes the argument that it is better to confront heresy, and lead men to worship God, through teaching. But if that does not work, it is permissible to compel them through "fear of punishment and pain."
"It is indeed better (as no one ever could deny) that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word."
These quotes are two very clear examples of where Augustine goes off the rails.  He is concluding that the role of the Christian king is to use the resources of the state to enforce (through fear, punishment, and pain) the commandments of God and the doctrines of the Church.

This is not what Christ taught. This is not what Jesus modeled. When James and John wanted to punish the Samaritans' rejection of Christ by calling down fire from heaven, Jesus rebuked them. When John the Baptist questioned Jesus's anti-Imperial methods, he was told "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." And when Peter rebuked Jesus, telling him he did not have to die, Jesus immediately rebuked him with the words “Get behind me, Satan.”

Augustine’s theological acceptance of Christian Empire, his collusion through Just War and his justification of imperial power to enforce Church Doctrine sets the stage for both the Crusades in the 11th century and, in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas. In his work “Summa Theologica”, Question 11 on Heresy, Article 3 “Whether heretics ought to be tolerated?”, Thomas Aquinas concludes:
“With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.”
Constantine creates Christendom. Augustine does not rebuke it, but colludes with it and determines that the role of Christendom and a Christian King is to prevent and chastise “with religious severity all those acts which are done in opposition to the commandments of the Lord.” And then Aquinas concludes that the Christian Empire, which he calls the church, now has the authority to “not only excommunicate (heretics) but even put (them) to death.”

In the 13th Century the writing of the church begins referring to a sub-human class known as the infidel. And in the 15th Century Pope Nicolas V begins creating the Doctrine of Discovery with these words:
“ invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit.”
Jesus's goal is not an earthly kingdom. In his teachings, there is no room for Christian Empire. In Mark Chapter 2, Jesus tells a parable comparing himself to a bridegroom. In Ephesians 5 Paul writes about Christ’s love for the church using the analogy of marriage. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Jesus loves the Church. He laid his life down for it. And he does not want his bride to prostitute itself out to a worldly Empire.

That is why, I am quite certain, had he been physically present to hear Augustine's conclusions about the Donatists, Christendom and the role of a Christian King, Jesus would have responded strongly. He was not afraid to rebuke a man who would later become known as Saint Peter, and I am sure he would not hesitate to rebuke someone we refer to as Saint Augustine.

"Get behind me, Satan! …you are not on the side of God, but of men."

For, as Jesus would later say to Pilate,

“My Kingdom is not of this world.”


Mark Charles
(Navajo)

10 comments:

jmuttleyjr said...

Excellent essay that we don't hear in today's evangelical church.

mike helbert said...

Well written, Mark. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there are three ways you can preach the gospel defectively and as a result not see much if any lasting fruit:

1)The First and Most Catastrophic form of defective preaching is preaching that is completely devoid of biblical substance: No Law, No Gospel.

2)The Second form of defective preaching is preaching that has LAW but no gospel: This is preaching that aims to convict men of their sins.

3)The Third form of defective preaching is preaching that has Gospel, but no law: Men are told to flee to Jesus, but why they need to flee is never made entirely clear.


Doyle Elliott said...

Previous teaching I received regarding Augustine was primarily confined to his rebuttal of Pelagius' heretical soteriology. I'd like to learn more about Augustine. The online source material I've seen so far seems sketchy, though.

Eric Spaar said...

thank you Mark for all your research and writings. it is refreshing to come back to Jesus and his original intent.

Patrick Watters said...

Wopila tanka Brother. Sadly, many (most) choose to ignore such wisdom . . . too much trouble. Our fast food, instant gratification, justablog mindset can't handle true ponder and respond in LOVE. But as the story goes, we keep shouting all the more so that we don't become that which we are shouting about. Keep it up Mark, looking forward to sharing copies of Truth Be Told when they arrive here at da Moose Lodge. }:- ❤️

Carlos Hoyer said...

Mic. Drop. Seriously, the more I learn about Augustine, the less I like the guy...

Anonymous said...

Pastor T.D. Jakes is on fire and said “free your mind”. Let the past go & step into future. Be not conformed to this world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MZpatXx4V8

Nathan Priddis said...

Mark.

Thank you for the post. I am fascinated whenever I see an attempt to reexamine the early history of the Church in an honest and introspective way. With that said, any discussion of Augustine, the Universe and everthing, posses a serious challenge when looking for an entry point.

Augustine is but a milestone in time, all be a defining point for the rest of church history. But as a milestone, any discussion of him, is essentially to "join programming already in progress."


You ask..how did we get from Luke 7 to the Doctrine of Discovery? Let me grab quotes at random from your post.

Christ didn't teach that....
Jesus's goal is not an earthly kingdom...

So if the Christ did not teach it, then it came from another source? Right?
If the stated goal is not Christ's, then is it fair to say the goal belongs to another? Who?

So, here is a random entry question. Figure this out and you are well on your way to identifying who Augustine is.
After his garden "conversion" he goes to his mother and says it is done. (From my memory) What was the it? Was the it salvation by faith? Or was it something a guy does with a specific male part.

Anonymous said...

O Lord Jesus
Please Lord help us.
Fake christianity,power , race.
Africa.
Lord please help us.