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The apostles and political office

Submitted by Simon on Wed, 04/06/2011 - 1:00pm

Via Smitty, Bryan Fischer has an interesting article arguing that "[p]eople who say the followers of Christ shouldn’t be involved in politics aren’t paying attention … to Jesus himself," who "groomed his apostles for political office." He relies primarily on Luke 22:29-30, in which Christ tells the twelve at the last supper: "now I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father conferred one on me: you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel."

Fischer's comments are interesting because they go wrong in a way illustrative of a difficulty in the Protestant reading of scripture (or, more broadly, of the deposit of faith). Christ indeed groomed his apostles for office and to sit on thrones—but it was ecclesiastical office, not political, for which they were fitted. To them was handed over the government—indeed, at first, responsibility for entire existence—of the Church following the ascension; as John MacArthur acknowledges in Twelve Ordinary Men, "the future of the Church and the long-term success of the Gospel depended entirely on the faithfulness of that handful of disciples."* The twelve and their successors thus became the episcopate—and to this day, they do sit on thrones. That's what a bishop's "see" means (from lat. sedes, seat or throne); that's why a bishop's church is called a "Cathedral," a synecdoche for "cathedral church" where cathedral is an adjective (caTHAY–dral, of or relating to a cathedra, i.e. a chair or throne) designating that this church is the location of the bishop's throne. The passage from Luke 22 is one of the many scriptural portholes through which we glimpse Christ's founding and ordering of his Church, and Catholics should have no trouble connecting Luke 22 to, for example, Matthew 16:18-19 and John 20:23.

But Fischer, as an evangelical, rejects the approximately 1,978 year old Catholic understanding of the Church. An intellectual descendant of the reformation—and more particularly of the anabaptists, see David Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic 22 (1996)—he rejects ecclesiology almost entirely, and with it, out goes the ecclesiastical understanding of a number of scriptural passages. This fundamental error has an obvious effect for our purposes today: It frees up passages like Luke 22 to do other work. Indeed, one could almost go so far as to say Fischer must assign some other meaning to it, lest he toss it overboard as biblical jetsam. If the apostles are to hold some kind of office, and if one excludes ex ante the possibility of ecclesiastical office, what is left? Reading the passage to refer to public office becomes almost inevitable. The error is in the premise, not the reasoning.

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* See Charles Coppens, A Systematic Study of the Catholic Religion §§ 42-46 (1903), available at this link; J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God 64 (1958) (the apostles—the eleven, soon supplemented by Matthias and Paul—"claimed an authoritative commission from Christ to act as His representatives in founding and building up the first churches. They presented themselves as Christ's ambassadors, and their message as God's word. They claimed to have received the Holy Ghost in a unique way, so that they might correctly understand the mystery of God's revelation in Christ and proclaim it in normative, authoritative statements.... Their authority had been given to them by Christ through His word of commission and His gift of the spirit. He had promised the twelve that the Spirit should come to teach them what in His own earthly ministry He had left unsaid, and He kept His promise; so that the apostolic teaching was in reality the complete and final version of His own").

As a Protestant, let me take a stab at this...

Luke 22:29-30 isn't hard to grasp--for Protestants or Catholics--if one understands what sort of kingdom Jesus was talking about. Jesus had in mind a spiritual kingdom, not rooted in this world--ecclesiastical, as you say, not political. Now, the debate over the capital-c Catholic understanding of this authority isn't going to be settled here, and you're right--there is a big debate over this between the two denominations, but as I see it, Fischer's understanding of this passage of Scripture supposes the Church setting up Christ's kingdom as a political construct, and considering Fischer's political leanings, that lines up well with his views.

Don't misunderstand me--those who say Christians shouldn't be involved in politics are in fact wrong--and that view is contrary to Scripture, but I believe Romans 13:1, and 1 Timothy 2:1-3, among others, properly understood, are a better fit.

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