Well, he’s written another excellent Christmas post: The Man Who Invented Christmas. Mandatory reading.
And once you’ve read it — and no sooner — reflect on the following. But wait until after Christmas. The rest of this post isn’t really in the Christmas spirit. It’s about the Calvinism Mead describes in his post. And it’s for a more introspective time.
The early, iconoclastic Calvinism Mead describes should seem familiar to you. That’s right — it’s us! And lots of other folks, too.
You see, while we go to great lengths to point out how we aren’t doctrinally Calvinists, we’ve failed to notice that we’re culturally Calvinists. I mean, have you ever wondered why we so insist on building our buildings in plain, undecorated styles, with no steeples, no stained glass, and no other traditional features of a church building? I’ll bet you’ve never even heard a reason for it, have you?
The true, honest-to-God reason we don’t much like steeples and, when we do put one up, refuse to put a cross on it, is our Calvinistic, iconoclastic heritage. You see, Barton W. Stone, the Campbells, and most of our early preachers were former Presbyterians or Baptists — that is, in the early 19th Century — strict Calvinists. They rejected TULIP atonement theology, but they continued to otherwise think and act like the Calvinists they had been raised to be. And we’ve inherited many of their attitudes — even attitudes that never made the pages of the Gospel Advocate. Rather, we’ve just unconsciously passed our culture down from generation to generation.
Some of it’s rooted in the anti-Catholicism of the early Calvinists (quite understandable when they were burning the Calvinists at the stake!), and some is rooted in an extreme version of the Regulative Principle (ain’t no steeples in the Bible). I mean, some of our folks even get upset when a girl wears a cross on a chain around her neck (“Why would anyone wear an instrument of torture around her neck?” the small-minded ask. Well, maybe because it saved her soul and she wants to share the story!)
The same Calvinism leads us to be cautious (or paranoid) about any spending deemed extravagant. Therefore, we buy the lot off the main road rather than building on Main Street. Therefore, we insist on plain buildings. This has led to an inevitable slide into being a bit tight with our money. Think about it — most of our doctrinal splits in the 20th Century were over money –
* Anti-cooperative (no money for orphans or the Herald of Truth)
* Anti-instrumental music (no money for organs or pianos. Read the old books — they often include a chapter arguing based on the cost.)
* Anti-fellowship halls
* Anti-Christian colleges
* Anti-Sunday school
Now, I’m not saying the financial side consciously drove these issues. Rather, we just had a culture that instinctively considered spending much money on physical things to be suspect. It really was a little bit Gnostic — treating the intangible as holy and the tangible as unholy. And so as these issues came up, something in us sounded a warning, and we went looking for a doctrine to justify our feelings.
And as the Regulative Principle can prove nearly anything, it wasn’t hard to argue that there were no fellowship halls or steeples or jewelry with crosses in the New Testament.
My point? Well, we just need to be conscious of how we sometimes think. Sometimes a proposal really will be a waste of money or extravagant. And we’ll often disagree on whether to spend a little more to be better located. We just need to get over the notion that these are doctrinal issues that we should divide over.
And we really have to get this latent Gnosticism out of our systems! God wants us to delight in his creation and one another. Joyless Christianity is heresy. I mean, God redeemed the Creation and the flesh when he sent his Son in the flesh. Flesh is good. So are crosses and steeples and stained glass. Even if it has a picture in it.