“Preventive Capitulation”

by Steven Chan

17 February 2008

In the last week or so, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is the spiritual head of the Anglican community has caused some controversy with his accommodative stance as regards the adoption or introduction of religious laws of other faiths in the English community. According to a Henryk M. Broder writing in the German newspaper, Spiegel, on Feb 12, 2008, “The proposal by the archbishop of Canterbury is evidence of more than just an unbelievable naiveté. It also reveals how far the idea of preventive capitulation in the face of an unsolvable problem has advanced. Proponents of preventive capitulation would argue that because some immigrants are unwilling or unable to accept the rules of society, society should assume the immigrants’ rules. For them, “integration” could also be defined as the need for the majority to conform to a minority.”

In this column we are not interested in discussing the subject of immigration. However, it is interesting to note the observation made by Henryk M Broder which he described as “preventive capitulation”. He explained that concept as the approach adopted whereby “because some immigrants are unwilling or unable to accept the rules of society, society should assume (i.e. accept) the immigrants’ rules.” This is interesting as applied to the church. We see the same idea being advanced in the church as regards the acceptance of new members (equivalent to immigrants) into the church whereby because some of these members are unwilling or unable to accept the rules or teachings of the Bible, the church has been re-structured or re-engineered or changed such that their rules of conduct or lifestyle are adopted or accommodated by the church.

So we have some leading members of the church observing that the name “Church of Christ” is a stumbling-block to new members and so they have dropped the name of the church and called it something other than what would have honored the one who said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). So the argument goes, there is now peace and harmony among the members and the church will grow. It is just a small accommodation on a relatively immaterial or non-core items of our faith, so they say.

Then these advocates of preventive capitulation look at other aspects or practices of our faith and note that the absence of mechanical instrumental music in our worship services is an obstacle to many new members or would-be new members – and so, they introduce instrumental music into the worship so that there would be peace and harmony with the new members and the church will grow!

Under the caption, ‘A Cafeteria-Style Society?’, Henryk M Broder further observed thus: “But the bishop is mistaken if he believes that one can structure a society like a cafeteria, where diners can choose between meat and vegetarian menus. A little bit (of adoption of a foreign philosophy or laws of another faith – parenthesis is mine) is just as unrealistic as a little bit of pregnancy. [These laws of another religious faith – parenthesis is mine] regulates all aspects of life, and anyone who proposes assuming only parts of [the laws of another faith – parenthesis is mine] fails to comprehend its inherent inevitability. Imagine if we were to allow nudity in public swimming pools, but only under the condition that each visitor be allowed to decide which article of clothing he or she wishes to remove.”

The observation may also be applicable to the church today. Aren’t we also being asked to adopt the “cafeteria-style church” whereby one can choose what one prefers to believe and practice regardless of what the Bible says, under the justification that such matters are “non-core’ matters of our faith, or alternatively, proposing a hermeneutical idea that the Bible is not to be approached as a law book but a love story – in spite of the fact that there are countless references in the Bible that God’s Word is Law – both in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Joshua 1:8; Rom 3:27; 8:2; I Cor 9:21; 14:37; Gal 6:2; Heb 7:12; James 1:25, etc)?

The warning by Henryk M Broder as regards the preventive capitulation approach is apropos: “anyone who proposes assuming only parts of [the laws of another faith – parenthesis is mine] fails to comprehend its inherent inevitability.” Isn’t that warning true? If the Christian elevates the thoughts and preferences of men to the same level as that of the Word of God, or alternatively brings down the Word of God to the same level as that of the words and thoughts of men, do we not see the “inherent inevitability”? What would that make the church become?  Wouldn’t the church become very much like the world? Consider the warning contained in James 4:4: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

According to Mathieu von Rohr writing in the Feb 12, 2008 Spiegel newspaper, “The archbishop said that it seemed “unavoidable” to him and that it could help bring about a better degree of social cohesion in the country. He sees “a bit of danger” in the fact that, in principle, there is only one set of laws that applies to everyone, and he believes that laws should not “(square) up with people’s religious consciences.” Now isn’t it interesting that a leader of the Anglican faith sees “a bit of danger that there is only one set of laws that applies to everyone”? Why, isn’t that the same idea that seems to be brokered by those who in the brotherhood who have apparently drank from the same pool of water – that we should accommodate the ‘religious consciences’ of others who do not share our same ‘religious heritage’ as they put it? How many laws does God have for us? Should there be different laws for people in the church who have different religious heritage or religious consciences?

On Dec 26, 2007, it was reported in the Daily Telegraph that “Dr Rowan Williams said: “Matthew’s gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told. It works quite well as legend. He argued that Christmas cards which showed the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus, flanked by shepherds and wise men, “were misleading.”  However, some of what Dr Rowan Williams said about the birth of Jesus is true such as his conclusion that “Jesus was probably not born in December at all”. But what he said about the star and the story itself as legend is disturbing. Clearly when one can choose cafeteria-like what one wants to believe, one can choose to regard various portions of the Bible as ‘legends’ or myths.

It is high time that we awake from our slumber and take heed of the warning of Isa 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”