A.A. van Ruler argues that “Israel is the great disturbing factor in the paganism of the world’s nations,” and the church follows Israel’s path (Calvinist Trinitarianism and Theocentric Politics, 152-3).

This is partly because Christianity “is wholly and completely oriented to concrete, visible reality,” since it “thinks and lives bodily.” Christianity “stands and falls with the truth that God has placed the body of the church, as the body of Christ, in the world.” The disturbance that the gospel creates is not “an idea, a thought-image,” but “a concrete reality with its own social forms and its own law, church law.”

With the church comes critique. Israel served Yahweh, “the Creator, who is in no way identical with his creatures” and is “never satisfied.” He is “the great critic,” bringing an “unsettling undercurrent of grumbling” into the world. Insofar as the church speaks for the Creator, she brings this “reforming and revolutionary attitude” to bear on the state, society, and culture in which she lives. 

Yahweh the critic is also Yahweh the imperial: “He demands exclusive obedience of the whole man and his whole life.” He “aggressively penetrates paganism” to bring “human beings in their humanity” to their maturity as His image. Absorption of the world is part of this aggressive penetration.

To the world, especially to political powers, “the church always remains an erratic, incomprehensible reality . . . even as Jesus was for Pilate” (154). The state finds it difficult to “tolerate the appearance of that which looks a lot like a counter-state” (156).

States try to take command of the church by classifying her as another voluntary association, making her a department of state, ignoring her, stamping her out. What they don’t want to do is to acknowledge her for what she is, “the messianic community” and the body of Christ (155). 

Yet the church cannot be satisfied with anything less, since anything less is something less than the truth. And in that insistence, the church is also insisting on theocracy, which for van Ruler includes, though it is not identical to, the state’s acknowledgement of God and of God’s instrument, the church.

A follow-up post is forthcoming.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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