We Live in Pre-Revolutionary Times
Public trust in the ancient foundations of the Western social and political order is shaking noticeably, anticipating massive upheaval, if not complete collapse. The loss of public confidence in our institutions is both shocking and pervasive. Many express a loss of confidence in both the legal fidelity and equity of our courts. Post-COVID-19, many question the scientific and rational objectivity of the medical community. We face the issue of financial insolvency in an era of fiat currencies and confront unsustainable debt coupled with collapsing private pensions, public insurance, and welfare systems. We question an open and agenda-free education. The press is regularly exposed as biased and partisan. We have predatory international corporations, many self-interested in the profits from perpetual wars and perennial plagues. With all of this, there are serious challenges to the legitimacy of democratic governments. A disoriented and perplexed public is justified in foreseeing and fearing an unknown and ominous future.
How should the church respond to these bewildering challenges? How do we fulfill the biblical ministry of the church (Matt 28:19-20) in a state of social collapse?
We Must Reimagine the Role of the Church in Fulfilling the Great Commission
The task is enormous! Western civilization was arguably the greatest gift of the medieval university. That institution originated out of the church, or more concretely conceived, out of the cathedrals of Europe. The medieval laity looked to the clerics to speak about theology but also authoritatively with respect to law and medicine, as well as the arts and sciences. The genius of the Middle Ages was to devolve these domains from the cathedral to the “university,” the institution that was based on the free exchange of ideas. That “free” exchange, unfettered by theological confessions and creeds, made possible a world of science alongside a world of faith. Modern “cancel culture,” which forbids free inquiry and dissenting speech, portends nothing less than the end of the university as a viable institution. The university today bans books rather than burning them, but the result is the same. It is a movement toward a dark and univocal (totalitarian) future.
The university was a miracle in its time. The transformative idea was to create self-governing communities that would explore the “universe” of human knowledge. The proper university would welcome the “bachelor” graduates of colleges (B.A. and B.S.) and offer them a curriculum that would train the “masters” and “doctors” of the community. A robust university would have four schools, each awarding a doctoral degree. Theology was the “queen of the sciences,” and the Doctor of Theology degree was regarded as the highest due to its study of God, the noblest of all subjects. It awarded the Th.D. The Juris Doctor, or Doctor of Laws, ranked second because it dealt with civil justice matters rather than theological justification. It was awarded the J.D. The Doctor of Medicine ranked third, focusing as it does exclusively on the temporal rather than the eternal health of the body. It granted its graduates the M.D. Finally, all the rest and the sum of human knowledge, formally called the Arts and Sciences, became the realm of the multifaceted aspects of physical and metaphysical knowledge. The Doctor of Philosophy covered the encyclopedia of all the rest of human knowledge. It granted the Ph.D.
All the doctoral graduates of the university’s four departments traditionally take an oath before the “gods.” All, that is, but the graduates of one department. The Th.D. graduate swears fealty to the “divine revelation” of a system of doctrine. The J.D. is restricted to those who swear allegiance to the constitution of the regime, informed by “nature’s god,” promising to practice “at law” but also “in equity.” The M.D. swears his or her oath formally before the “divine Asclepius,” at least in the Hippocratic tradition. As a result, theology, law, and medicine express a governing ethic that disciplines the credentials of all who “practice” these professions.
However, those trained by the multitudinous departments of philosophy are guided by the great secret of classical political philosophy. That secret is that there are no “gods.” The Ph.D. graduate swears no oath because there is nothing sacred; there is no forbidden knowledge. There cannot, therefore, be a consensus regarding any kind of ethical standard. This foundational atheism is likely the flaw that has precipitated the present crisis. If unchecked, it must, at last, destroy the western university as an institution.
Despite the foundational impiety of philosophy, the university’s success spread the benefits of civilization throughout the West. Each major city aspired to build its own university alongside, but outside, the cathedral. This made possible free scientific and creative inquiry. Human advancement was the beneficiary. Light broke out in the darkness. Soon a thousand points of light undergirded the liberty that also became fundamental to Western civilization. The quarrels between light and darkness in the human soul continued in the struggle of good and evil that shadowed both the cathedral and university. But much of humanity was observably delivered from ignorance and poverty to a degree never before imagined. This enabled the liberty and prosperity of the West.
Today, however, a radically secular culture is plunging us back into the darkness of the Middle Ages prior to the university. Radical secularism is driven by growing theological skepticism. Corruption has perverted our legislatures and courts. Medicine has fallen prey to the pharmacology industry, insider-favored federal research grants, and anti-scientific cancel culture in the most prestigious journals. In the Western university, our past is despised as primitive, our institutions are charged with systematic injustice, and our Christianity is rejected as a myth. The grand tradition of the Western literary heritage is consigned, with an ignorant contempt, to dark oblivion. The “liberal arts” are eroded by the ruthless mercantilism of predators, ethics-less economics and the Western self-loathing expressed in radicalized multiculturalism.
What must be the church’s response be to this “poly-crisis” of the social and political order of the West, if not the whole world?
A Call to Action
It seems that the only remedy for the community of faith, in such a time of institutional collapse, must be a radical reimagination of the church’s role in post-Enlightenment society. We must do nothing less than retake the realms we have ceded to the secular university and the messianic state. We must create a Christian subculture that reclaims the central role of the cathedral against the university. In short, the cathedral must bring the university back within her walls once again!
The Three Departments of Theology, Law, and Medicine
We must train and ordain our own ministers within the churches. Ordination is the sole province of the church (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). We must be prepared to educate our own clergy with an accreditation from God alone. Parents, not the city or state, are charged with educating their children to understand faith (Deut 6:1-9), aided by the church community (Titus 2:1-15).
We must set up our own ecclesial courts to resolve social or civil disputes. Paul gives the church original jurisdiction in civil matters (1 Cor 6:1-7), reserving criminal matters to the state (Rom 13:1-7). We must train our elders to adjudicate both law and equity, recovered from the secular schools of law (Exod 18:13-26).
We must seek new ways to bring the best health care to our own, including our poor (Matt 10:1), and charity to all as we are able (Matt 8:16). We must reimagine how to reclaim health care matters from the standardized medical schools. (1 Tim 5:23).
The Arts and Sciences
We must resist the trend toward illiteracy, beginning with the Bible, the greatest of the great books in our literary tradition. In order to read the Bible, our people must be taught to read. Even better, they should be taught the literary arts. We must rediscover the beauty of art and the art of the poetry by which we imagine heaven, all in order to improve the human condition (Matt 6:10; Col 3:1-2). We must teach our people to dream again.
We must likewise rediscover the roles of mentorship and apprenticeship for the socially vital arts and sciences of a civilized order (1 Kgs 4:32-33).
Above all, we must foster grace and tolerance while striving to accomplish our Lord’s Great Commission, his prime directive, namely sharing the glorious gospel of the Son of God, the Savior of the world (Matt 28:19-20). We must do so in the context of the good works (Jas 2:24) that authenticate a grace salvation (Eph 2:10). The churches can meet the West’s collapse with hope and a renewed sense of mission. We can become “intentional neighbors” to all, welcoming and helping everyone through personal and ecclesial generosity. We can enthusiastically welcome the outcast and lift up the downcast, just as Jesus did for us.
The Lord’s “mercies are new every morning,” as Jeremiah sang in the shadow of a ruined city and a desecrated temple (Lam 3:21-23). We can, and God willing we must herald a bright new dawn of hope. We face a future where the Savior’s light can shine brightly forth through us once again! We must build the church alongside the Lord of the Church and image forth to our earthly cities the Great City of which we dream.
Christians of the World: Unite in the Spirit! Your Chains Have Already Been Broken!