In the previous post, I gave two examples from history, to illustrate the medieval controversy of whether the State should be subject to the church (the organization or “local church”) or the church subject to the State.
It was a legitimate question in the middle ages when Romans 13:1 was interpreted as vouchsafing the heads of state the divine right of kings and the organizational church was strong enough to contend with the State for leadership. At the end of that post though, I suggested those in the middle ages were asking the wrong question, that the question is not whether the church should be subject to State or the Sate subject to the church, but whether the Church (the true body of believers) should be subject to King Jesus.
In other words, rather than trying to put one organization under the other, which is the human impulse, we should recognize that both are under, and must answer to, King Jesus. The heads of States must answer to God (Romans 13:6), and Christians in government and in the church must answer directly to God as well. If both the State and church obey God, there will be no conflict between the two. The more the kingdom of God advances on the earth and the more people submit to God, the less conflict there will be between church and State, so long as those in the Church do in fact submit to King Jesus.
Should the church or the state be supreme on earth? This was a question in the middle ages; it is relevant question today, and it will need an answer in the future as the Kingdom continues to advance on the earth.
This was a real issue in the middle ages. Two events acutely illustrate how serious the question was in the middle ages. The first event was the murder of Thomas Becket on December 29, 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket had served as Lord Chancellor for King Henry II of England since 1155, and was so competent and loyal that in 1162 Henry decided to appoint Becket Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the church in England.
But Becket, who apparently understood what it meant to do his job sincerely, acted in loyalty to the church rather than Henry when Henry demanded he sign papers effectively acknowledging the supremacy of the crown over the church. Becket’s loyalty to the church led ultimately to Becket’s murder in Canterbury cathedral by some of Henry’s men in 1170. Whether Henry impliedly ordered or merely negligently enabled Becket’s murder will probably never be known, but Henry publicly repented, and the relationship between the church and state was temporarily restored.
The Wife and I have been watching a different Christmas movie each evening in the run-up to Christmas.
In the midst of a party-less pandemic, it is the next best thing.
We started the first night with A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version), followed by How the Grinch Stole Christmas, then the next night, my favorite, The Bishop’s Wife.
Then last night we watched a movie neither of us had ever seen, The Man Who Invented Christmas, a loose biopic on Charles Dickens’s writing of A Christmas Carol. The movie is as much fiction as fact, but it led me to a realization: I had never actually read the story Dickens wrote. I had seen several versions of the movie, and my wife and I go every year to the local theatre to see the play, but I had never read the actual words Dickens wrote.
After the movie, I went to my study to do some writing, and while there I noticed one of the temperamental track lights on the mezzanine in our library had flickered off again, so I scurried up the spiral staircase to tinker with it. My tinkering brought light, and when I looked down on the bookshelf where the light shone I noticed on top of a row of vertically stacked books a thin leather-bound book, with gold embossed pages, and gilded lettering on the cover:
A Christmas Carol
I then remembered the book was a gift from my wife, but I had not yet read it.
I’ve done so because it’s a problem that before the pandemic confronted me each day downtown as I walked from my loft to work in one of the largest cities in the U.S.
Then, during the pandemic, my wife and I were in the midst of an unbridled binge watch of The Andy Griffith Show episodes on Apple TV, and we came upon one about vagrancy.
This was the episode where Buddy Ebson (later of The Beverly Hillbillies fame) played a vagrant who wandered into Mayberry, and befriended Opie, extolling to him the benefits of the vagrant lifestyle. Opie was fascinated at first, but fortunately Andy intervened, and in the end, with Ebson’s help, Opie saw the light on volitional vagrancy.
I doubt our current culture is capable of making a proper moral judgment about volitional vagrancy. The homeless have become the urban noble savage, seen as a victim not of their own choices but of the alleged evils of a rigged economic system.
The first vagrant was Cain. See Gen. 4:12. And Cain’s story makes it clear that, at least in Cain’s case, vagrancy was a curse. See Gen. 4:11-12 (“Now you are cursed . . . . you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth”). That a curse made Cain a vagrant does not mean every vagrant is cursed, but it should destroy any illusions about the virtues of the vagrant lifestyle.
Not every one gets to do the job they feel they are ultimately called to do.
Even those who do, do not always do so all the time. This is one of the shortcomings of looking solely to one’s calling to find meaning in one’s work.
Moses was a shepherd before he was a deliverer, Joseph a prison trustee before he was a ruler, and Nehemiah a cupbearer before he was a contractor. Yet no one would argue Moses was ultimately called to be a shepherd, nor Joseph a jailer, nor Nehemiah a cupbearer.
One of my summer jobs between my first and second year of law school was working for a telemarketing firm selling the New York Times. There was no uncertainty in my mind; I was not called to ultimately be a telemarketer. I wanted to be a lawyer.