Saturday, January 12, 2008

Biblical Philosophy of Government

A while back I did some research on what the Bible has to say about government. A Biblical philosophy of government is necessary because of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul wrote: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…”

This passage is a mandate for developing a Christian (Christ-centred) worldview over every area of life. If we are to follow the apostle’s injunction to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, this should include thoughts about everything: art, science, recreation, food, literature, television, and anything you could possibly name. And of course it involves political issues. Government falls under Christ’s Lordship just as much as any other area. That is why a Christian philosophy of government is necessary.

Another reason why a Christian philosophy of government is necessary is because Christianity has always been a political religion. This is something that emerges very clearly from a study of the early church. In the 1st century Christianity and politics were inextricably combined. You couldn’t separate the two.

In order to appreciate the significance of this, we need some background information about the religious and political climate of ancient Rome.

Mystery Cults in the 1st Century

In ancient Rome during the 1st century, there was an array of different mystery cults. These mystery cults were brought to Rome from all over the empire, many from the East. These cults functioned as personal devotional hobbies, offering their votaries privileged access to various divinities. They gave worshipers a subjective sense of belonging since one could have a personal relationship with a god or demigod. The mystery cults did not affect someone’s life in the public world, but were directed towards one’s interior spirituality. With an esoteric flair, they offered spiritual excitement, without making demands on public life.

Imperial Religion in the 1st Century

Now the religion of Rome, on the other hand, was just the opposite of this. It was a political religion that dictated the whole of one’s life in the public world. It structured how people were expected to live as good citizens of the Roman state.

Many of the Roman emperors claimed to be sons of a god, and some even went so far as to claim divinity. Emperor worship thus became a feature of the Roman religion. However, even in the provinces where the Julio-Claudian emperors were not actually heralded as divine, we may still speak of the Roman state as being ‘religious’ in the sense that the state sought to structure all public life, thought and allegiance. Like all religions, the Roman state offered a vision of the good life; the Roman state offered peace; the Roman state brought together previously warring pluralities; the Roman state offered a sense of eschatological progress; the Roman state provided a framework of meaning to answer the question ‘how should we live?’

If you lived in the way good Roman citizens were expected to live – that is, if all your public life acknowledged Rome as the supreme power – then the state couldn’t care less if you engaged in various mystery cults. As Stephen Perks points out, contrasting the mystery cults with the religion of Rome:

Religion…structures life. It structures the life of the individual and of society. This is precisely what a cult does not do. A cult is a personal worship hobby. It does not structure one’s life nor does it structure society. The Eastern cults that were popular in ancient Rome, such as the cults of Mithras and Isis, did not structure the life of their adherents, at least not if they were good Roman citizens. What structured the lives of the Romans was the religion of Rome which was a political religion. (From lecture ‘Christianity’ as a Cult’, published by the Kuyper Foundation)

There is evidence that some of the families of the Roman emperors worshipped at various mystery cults. They could do that because the mystery cults were not in competition with the religion of Rome. The reason they were not in competition was because the mystery cults were directed towards the private, the personal, the devotional, the internal spirituality of an individual, while the religion of Rome was directed towards the public, the external, the corporate and political society as a whole. The one did not affect the other.

Christians Challenge Rome

Understanding this distinction is crucial if we are to appreciate the impact early Christianity had in the first century.

Christianity offered a direct challenge to the political religion of Rome. Christianity was not one more among thousands of mystery cults.

The Roman state would certainly never have persecuted Christians if the worship of Jesus was simply one more private cult to choose from among. On the contrary, Christians were seen as subversive precisely because their religion was in competition with the political religion of Rome. Christianity, like Rome, offered a vision for how society as a whole should look, as well as showing how individuals within that society should behave.

Quoting again from Stephen Perks:

"As long as Roman citizens practiced the religion of Rome, they were free to practice whatever cult they wished, the cult of Jesus Christ included. It was the early Church’s refusal to limit the Christian faith to the status of a cult that brought Christians in conflict with Rome. The practice of Christianity as a religion and not a cult brought the church into direct conflict with the religion of Rome. This was a clash of religions not cults." (Ibid)

Francis Legge makes the same point in his book Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity:

"The Officials of the Roman Empire in time of persecution sought to force the Christians to sacrifice, not to any of the heathen gods, but to the Genius of the Emperor and the Fortune of the city of Rome; and at all times the Christians' refusal was looked upon…as a political offence." (Kessinger Publishing, 2003)

The gospel was seen as a political offence. This is because the gospel had as much to say about politics – how nations should be governed – as it did about our own personal lives.

This dispels the common myth, which we find time and time again, that Christianity was apolitical prior to Constantine in the fourth century. Even if all we had was the New Testament, without the massive corpus of other historical evidence, we would still know that Christianity challenged Rome as a competing political system.

Gary DeMar makes this point in Volume 3 of his God and Government series:

The Roman empire presents a classic example of the Messianic man-centered State, of the denial of God’s Law, and of the implementation of humanistic law. Caesar declared himself god and his decrees were to be acknowledged as the laws of the gods. The Roman rulers understood that their claim to divine rule was threatened by God’s unlimited and universal reign. Peter declared confidently “that there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The gospel of Jesus Christ, with its claim of divine prescriptions, threatened the very nature of the Roman State. Rome had to submit itself to the position of ‘minister’ under God or be crushed by the power of God. Rome did not submit

Jesus is Lord

The very proclamation ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Acts 2:36; 10:36; Rom 8:39; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1:9; 8:5-6; Phil. 2:10-11; 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:20) was seen as a direct challenge to the political religion of Rome. (N. T. Wright’s book Paul: Fresh Perspectives, SPCK 2005 and his essay ‘Paul’s Gospel and Ceasar’s Empire’ at The underlying subtext was ‘Jesus is Lord, therefore, Caesar is not.’ This did not mean that Christians denied that Caesar had genuine authority. He had temporal authority only because God had given it to him, but he was not the supreme Lord. The early Christians acknowledged Caesar’s authority, but even this acknowledgement contained an implicit challenge since it was based on the fact that God was the higher authority. As Jesus said to Pilate, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it has been given you from above.” (Jn. 19:11)

God’s authority over all things was the basis of Paul’s argument to the Romans for why they needed to submit to civil authorities. Paul said, ‘Yes, Caesar has authority, but only because it has been given to him by the higher authority of God,’ to paraphrase Romans 13:1-2. Paul’s teaching that Caesar’s authority was derivative rather than ultimate would have been perceived as nothing less than fighting talk, a direct challenge to imperial pretensions. Because Caesar’s authority was given to Him by the higher authority of Jesus Christ, Paul could claim in Romans 13:3-4 that rulers were responsible before God to do good and to be a terror to evil works. Christianity thus held even the emperor accountable to a higher standard.

In light of this backdrop, it is not surprising to find Roman emperors later making such a point of trying to force Christians to say, ‘Caesar is Lord.’ They rightly recognized that Christianity was a challenge to the emperor’s pretentious claims and the ideology on which the state was based. Christianity challenged the state, not by advocating anarchy and civil disobedience, but by showing that our citizenship rests first and foremost with a higher empire (Eph. 2:19-20; Heb. 11:15-16). This higher empire is ruled by a King who demands that even Caesar bow the knee and repent (Acts 17:30).

If the gospel had been merely the good news that there is a way to go to heaven when you die, or if Christianity had been promoted as merely a method for having a personal relationship with God, it would have been lost amidst an array of numerous other mystery cults and private devotional hobbies. The religion of Christ was subversive precisely because it proclaimed that Jesus reigns on the earth now. Jesus’ Kingdom claimed to be the final say, not merely on private devotional matters, but on public, social and political affairs.

This comes across clearly in Matthew 28, where Jesus claimed total authority over everything and he used this as the basis for commanding disciples to convert, not just individuals, but entire nations.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ (Mt. 28:18-19)

If all authority has been given to Jesus on heaven and on earth, then this includes everywhere. There is nowhere on the earth or in heaven that does not come under Jesus’ demand for complete allegiance (Col. 1:15-18).

If the early Christians had not challenged every area of life and society with the doctrine of Christ, then they would have been giving the implicit message that there are some areas where Jesus has not been exalted Lord. They would have been implying that there are some places in the world and culture that Christ did not die to redeem.

‘Not of This World’

It is customary to hear, in retort, that Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world. A careful look at the original Greek reveals that Jesus did not actually say that. The RSV translates John 18:36 closest to the original: ‘My kingdom is not from this world.’ Christ’s kingdom is certainly of and for this world, but it does not arise out of or (from) this earth. It comes from heaven to the earth. That is why Jesus taught us to pray, ‘thy kingdom come on earth…as it is in heaven’ (Mat. 6:10). The phrase kingdom of heaven’ in the gospels has this same underpinning, referring to the rule of heaven (that is, of God), being brought to bear in the present space-time world. This draws on the theological backdrop of passages like Daniel 7: 26-27 and is the same crowning vision we find in Rev. 11:15, where we are told that “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ…”

Jesus shows in many statements that His kingdom definitely is of this world. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19); Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), “the Savior of the world” (4:42), and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (1:29).

The Gospel in the 1st Century

The very term ‘the gospel’ would have functioned as a political challenge to the religion of Rome. Throughout the Roman world of the 1st century, euangelion (‘gospel’ or ‘glad tidings’) was regularly used to refer to the birth, announcement, accession or victory of a great emperor. There is an inscription in Priene on the Asia Minor coast from 9 BC which refers to the birthday of Augustus. The inscription talks about this day as ‘the beginning for the world of the glad tidings that have come to men through him…’ In this context, glad tidings were associated with the creation of a new world, an era of peace and justice made possible by the new emperor. Thus, the inscription refers to Augustus as ‘a saviour for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere…

The striking thing is that this is the exact kind of language that early Christians used to talk, not about the emperor, but about another leader: namely Jesus. The ‘gospel of Jesus Christ’ also announces the beginning for the world of the glad tidings that have come to men through Him (Lk. 2:10-11). It also announces a Saviour who comes to make wars to cease, to create order everywhere and to bring peace (Isa. 9:6-7; Lk. 1:79). From the Roman perspective, Christianity must have seemed like the great parody of the Roman state, while the early Christians would have seen Rome as the great parody for which Christ’s kingdom was the reality. Both Christianity and Caesar believed they alone held the answer for bringing justice, order and peace to the world (Zech. 6:13; Jn. 14: 27), both offered a sense of community (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:9), both had brought unity out of previously warring pluralities (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11; Rev. 5:9) and both were intent on achieving worldwide dominion (Isa. 9:7; Col. 1:19-20; Rev. 11:15).

Although Christianity and the Roman state may have had similar goals, they went about achieving those goals in radically different ways (Jn. 18:36). The glad tidings of Jesus was bad news for Caesar because it proclaimed there was another way to bring peace and justice to the world that was superior to Caesar’s way. It proclaimed that God had called out a people whose vocation was to work for peace and justice on Jesus’ terms instead of Caesar’s terms.

In the book of Acts Peter said that there is no other name given under heaven by which we will be saved – that expression was found on a coin referring to Caesar Augustus.

The ascension of Jesus pointed to this same reality. When a Roman emperor died, there was often a process of deification that followed. They would get someone to say they had seen the emperor ascend into heaven and that would prove that he had been divine. Christians proclaimed that Jesus had ascended into heaven and that was a powerful political statement. It meant He was God and the ruler of the world.

We have explored Christianity’s challenge to Caesar, but we might equally have explored the way the gospel confronted first century paganism. If Paul’s gospel had been merely an approximation for a personal, individualistic experience that has little or no bearing on public life (one more mystery cult), then the makers of idols in Ephesus would never have found him to be a threat to their livelihood (Acts 19). Similarly, if we preach the gospel in all its original power, the makers of idols today will find us a threat to their livelihoods. In our world, no less than the first century, the power of the gospel depends on it functioning as a subversive challenge to the false gods that abound (1 Cor. 8:5-6). The New Testament writers could make this challenge boldly because they had confidence that Jesus had already won the victory (Col. 1:19-20; Heb. 1:1-4). Christ’s resurrection and ascension are the proof of this.

Christians today should learn from the example of Paul and the early church. We need to reject formulations of the faith that make no demand on the political sphere. We need to allow the Lord to put the nerve back into the gospel – the gospel that troubled Herod when he heard of Jesus’ birth; the gospel that made the idolaters at Ephesus riot; the gospel that made Caesar quake in his boots.

Worship of State Today

The early Christians opposed the ultimacy of the Roman government, as embodied in Caesar, by asserting the ultimacy of Christ. This is the same battle that we, as Christians, must fight today. In our own era, the nation state is deified in practice.

The German philosopher Hegel (1770 – 1831) taught explicitly that the nation state was divine:

The Universal is to be found in the State…. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth….We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth… the State is the march of god through the world… [Hegel, from a collection of quotations compiled by Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), vol. 2, p. 31]

Although we do not find people using this kind of language today, people still treat the nation state as if it were divine. This is because people are constantly looking to the state as the savior to the world’s problems.

We have to be clear about what this doesn’t mean, because there is a lot of confusion about this. Many Christians deny the Lordship of Jesus over politics because they think that acknowledging His Lordship would lead to certain disastrous consequences.

First, to acknowledge that Jesus’ Lordship extends over political matters, does not mean that we should seek to turn America into a Christian theocracy along the lines of Old Testament Israel. The New Testament teaches that many things changed at the coming of Jesus and one of the things that changed was the way God deals with peoples and nations. Since the Bible does not teach that we should just transfer the entire legal code of the Old Testament into modern day, to do so would not be applying Christ’s Lordship responsibly.

Secondly, acknowledging Christ’s Lordship over all the governments of this world does not mean that the church should run government. There is a lot of confusion about the separation of church and state, and we will be discussing this principle in relation to the American constitution later on. For the moment, however, we need to clarify what this doctrine of separation means and what it doesn’t mean. To do that I’d like to begin by telling a story.

Ambrose and Theodosius

The church father Ambrose of Milan lived from 339-397 AD.

Ambrose became bishop of Milan in 374. As bishop, Ambrose attained fame as a magnificent preacher, a resolute enemy of Arianism, and a pioneer hymn-writer. When the emperor Theodosius the Great made Milan his Western capital, Ambrose became his close friend and advisor; but Ambrose was quite clear that the emperor was not to behave as a ruler in the Church. Ambrose wrote: "The Church belongs to God, therefore it cannot be assigned to Caesar. The emperor is within the Church, not above it."

Ambrose’s view led to a famous confrontation between bishop and emperor in 390. That year, in the city of Thessalonica, a rioting mob murdered Botherich, the virtuous governor of the province of Illyria, along with several of his officials. The results were explosive. Theodosius was normally a wise, generous, far-seeing ruler, admired for his Christian integrity of character, but he had one fatal weakness – he was prone to outbursts of wild fury, which so terrified everyone that even his wife and children would hide from him. When Theodosius heard about the murder of Botherich, he lost all self-control, and in a fit of wrath he sent an order to his soldiers to massacre the Thessalonians as a punishment. Almost immediately Theodosius recoiled from what he had done, and sent another order cancelling his savage decree.

But it was too late. The Thessalonian troops, eager to avenge the murder of their beloved governor, had already butchered some 7,000 people.

When Ambrose heard of this outrage, he boldly excommunicated the emperor and exhorted him to deep, meaningful repentance. (The above is taken from Needham’s book 2000 Years of Christ’s Power)

Ambrose wrote to the Emperor the following:

I cannot deny that you are zealous for the faith and that you fear God. But you have a naturally passionate spirit; and while you easily yield to love when that spirit is subdued, yet when it is stirred up you become a raging beast. I would gladly have left you to the workings of your own heart, but I dare not remain silent or gloss over your sin. No-one in all human history has ever before heard of such a bloody scene as the one at Thessalonica! I warned you against it, I pleaded with you; you yourself realised its horror and tried to cancel your decree. And now I call you to repent. Remember how king David repented of his crime. Will you be ashamed to do what David did? You can wash away your sin only by tears, by repentance, by humbling your soul before God. You are a man; you have sinned as a man; you must repent as a man. No angel, no archangel can forgive you. God alone can forgive you; and He forgives those who repent. How I grieve that you – you who were so outstanding for your spirituality, so unwilling that even one innocent person should suffer –how I grieve that you should not repent of the slaughter of so many innocent people! You are brave in battle, and praiseworthy in every other way, but goodness was the crown of your character. The evil spirit envied you these purest of your blessings. Conquer him while you can! I love you; I honour your from my heart; I pray for you. If you believe this, accept what I say. But if you do not believe it, forgive me for preferring God to you.”

Notwithstanding Ambrose’ letter, on the following Sunday the emperor turned up for church as usual as if nothing had happened. But Theodosius found Ambrose barring his way, refusing to let him enter. The emperor claimed that he had repented, but Ambrose informed him that words were not enough – his repentance must be as public as his sin had been. Theodosius submitted and walked through the streets of Milan doing public penance. He was banned from attending worship for eight months. When Ambrose finally allowed him to enter church again, the emperor had to kneel and beg God’s forgiveness before the whole congregation, which he did with passionate sorrow, tears streaming from his eyes.

This was not the only time that the Bishop and the emperor had clashed. Just before the Thessalonian massacre, in 388 the Christians of Callinicum on the Euphrates burnt down a Jewish synagogue. Theodosius ordered the local bishop to rebuild the synagogue from church funds. Ambrose intervened, declaring that it was wrong for a Christian bishop to be forced to use his church’s money to build a place for non-Christian worship. Ambrose preached a sermon against Theodosius when the emperor was actually sitting in the congregation, and refused to let Theodosius take part in communion unless he gave up his plan to make the Christians of Callinicum rebuild the synagogue. Theodosius surrendered to Ambrose and the synagogue was not rebuilt. (Ibid)

Separation of Church and State

This story shows the principle of church and state separation as it operated in the early church. Both the church and the government had authority but in different spheres. The ministers and apparatus of church government were separate from the institution of civil government.

Ambrose had authority over one sphere and Theodosius had authority over another sphere. This sphere sovereignty was undermined – or at least Ambrose thought it was - when the emperor crossed over and started meddling in the affairs of the church by telling them how to use their money. So Ambrose had to excommunicate him. Likewise when the king murdered the Thessalonians, Ambrose had authority to withhold the Lord’s supper from him even though Ambrose had no civil authority.

Because the emperor had authority over the state but not the church, he came under Ambrose’s authority in matters relating to the church, just as Ambrose had to submit to the emperor in matters of state. For example, if Ambrose had committed a murder or a theft, it would be liable to civil punishment. Each had legitimate, God-ordained authority, but over different spheres.

We also see from this story that the distinction between church government and statecraft or between the sacred and the secular spheres of authority, does not mean that one area is outside Christ’s Lordship. Theodosius was expected to be a good emperor under the authority of Christ, and that is why he could be blamed for his action against the Thessalonians.

In the secular world, separation of church and state is usually synonymous with separation of religion and state. But the Biblical separation of church and state acknowledges that both spheres are under the Lordship of Christ and derive their authority ultimately from God.

Government is not autonomous or religiously neutral. Emperors, presidents and governors are required to serve Christ in the decisions they make in secular governments, just as bishops, elders and pastors are required to serve Christ in the decisions they make in ecclesiastical government. God has given them authority over different areas, but they are both under His authority and that is why they can both be blamed when their decisions do not conform to God’s laws. We have already seen that this was a point that the early Christians emphasised strongly – that even Caesar is under the authority of Christ and, as such, is subject to the same ethical standards as believers. Caesar will be judged for not submitting to Christ’s laws.

We understand sphere sovereignty when it comes to families. I am head of my family but I am not head of the family next door. Each family has a different government, yet each are expected to submit to the Lordship of Christ.

Many people think that in the Old Testament the church and the state were equivalent. But even in the Old Testament theocracy, the Lord insisted on preserving the separation of church and state. We read in 2 Chronicles about king Uzziah of Judah. King Uzziah became proud and decided to go into the temple and burn incense to the Lord. But that job had been given to the priests. As king, Uzziah no more had authority to burn incense in the temple then the priests had authority to govern the land. (2 Chronicles 26:16-21)

Throughout history, church and government have rarely managed to achieve Biblical sphere sovereignty.

During the medieval era, the doctrine of papal supremacy meant that the church had authority over all governments. The Pontiff was the supreme earthly governor over civil authorities.

During the Reformation this was flipped and in many countries the church became subservient to the state. This is known as Erastianism. In England, this is still the case because it is the monarch who is the supreme head of the English church. It is the Queen who appoints the Archbishop. Because the head of state in England is the one who controls the church in England, the state thinks it has the right to meddle in what the church does. This is creating real problems for English Christians. Earlier in the year the Queen allowed Parliament to pass laws which could affect what Christians are and are not allowed to do in the privacy of their own churches. A number of Christian organisations are being forced to shut down because they don’t subscribe to politically correct theology. The state has authority over the church.

In America, although the constitution preserves sphere sovereignty, there are many who are trying to make America more like England, where the state has authority over the church.

God’s system of political power is decentralized. No single institution has been established by God to bring about social order. Freedom and order are realized when men throughout a society strive to follow the blueprint God has given for the restoration and maintenance of all family, ecclesiastical, social and political institutions. For example, Genesis 10 is a list of many families that represent a decentralized social order. The builders of Babel wanted to eliminate the many governments and consolidate family, ecclesiastical, and political power in the one State. God would have none of it. He “scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city” (Gen. 11:8). [Gary DeMar, Liberty at Risk: Exposing the Politics of Plunder, p. 40]

The Different Functions of Government & Church

Why is it good to separate church and state? Because God has given church and state different jobs to do. This is crucial. I believe that most of the political problems the Western world is facing today is because people don’t understand that the church and the state have different vocations.

Romans 13 tells us what the job of the state is. It is to retrain evil. It is to wield the sword by punishing evil-doers. This enables the state to avoid anarchy. If the government is doing its job properly, there can be social order. If somebody comes to take away my private property or to stop me buying and selling, then the government kicks in and punishes that person. If another country tries to invade us and takes away our land, then the government defends us. The government is there to stop evil-doers so that citizens can get on with their lives. We pay the government taxes so that they have the resources to protect our families and our property. We vote so that lawmakers are accountable to us to do their job. That job is to maintain law and order. C.S. Lewis puts it like this in Mere Christianity:

It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects -- military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden -- that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.”

That is the function of government according to the Bible. But notice that government’s function is entirely negative: it is there purely to stop bad things from happening so that daily life can continue on uninterrupted. Government is there to stop the bad guys from stealing my things, to stop the rich and powerful from helping themselves to my property, to punish evil-doers and to wield the sword. The state is not there to actually try to change the world for the better but to maintain what already exists. The government is there to cancel out what is negative so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:2)

The function of the church is just the opposite.

God hasn’t given the church authority to stop evil by wielding the sword, but He has given the church authority to promote social good, to be His instrument of light, well-being and common grace to the world. The church is to be the city on a hill, a light to the nations, God’s instrument of redemption in the world, implementing the victory achieved through the death and resurrection of Christ. The Church is to pray the Lord’s pray: “Thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”

So the function of the church and the state are exactly opposite. One is to stop evil, and one is to promote good. The church is responsible to change the world for good, which it does through evangelism, while government is responsible to simply stop things getting worse.

Now, of course, these are complimentary ends and should work together like two blades in a pair of scissors: when the state punishes evil it encourages good to flourish, and when the church promotes social good it discourages evil from flourishing.

The problem today is that both the church and the government have lost sight of their God-given goals. Because the rulers in government are not acknowledging the Lordship of Christ, they do not view government as merely a mechanism for punishing evil like the Bible says. Instead they think that it is their job, as lawmakers, to transform the world for good. Lenin said that the struggle of the proletariat is “to set up heaven on earth.” [Cited in J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (New York; Praeger, 1960), p.9f] It is salvation through statecraft. This leads to the administrative view of government, which grew out of the utilitarianism of the Enlightenment and the view of the innate goodness and perfectibility of man. The administrative view of government view sees the state as an engine to promote social good; to creatively use government’s resources to advance the best interests of its citizens. Government is there to ‘deliver the goods’, to manage and administer things effectively for the people. In short, government tries to become church.

It is very dangerous when government tries to do the job of the church because it leads to totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is essentially the state trying to usher in its secular parody of the kingdom of God and its own secular parody of redemption. The church has been given the job of announcing spiritual redemption to men by evangelism through the power of God. The state that tries to do this will announce secular redemption to men through the power of statecraft. Government becomes messianic. So it says, ‘this is what men should be like - you should all be tolerant, well-education, non-discriminating, modernised, people - so let’s use legislation to get you there.” That is the state trying to use secular means to do the church’s job. The church says, ‘this is what men should be like – you should have love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness and eternal salvation – now let’s use evangelism and the worship of the Triune God to get you there.’ That is the church using spiritual means to accomplish its God-given goals. (By spiritual I do not mean non-physical. That leads to the idea of a personal and private faith cut off from life in the public, physical world. By spiritual I mean doing things according to God’s way.)

Now the church is often tempted to abandon its spiritual weapons and take up carnal weapons. Thus, instead of promoting redemption in the world through the spiritual resources Christ has given us, many Christians have the tendency to adopt the secular mindset which says that the world’s problems can be fixed through policies. You can transform the world by correcting its systems. You know the mentality: just elect enough Christians, just pass enough Christian laws, etc., and then the problems of society will rectified. There is an implicit salvation through statecraft ideology behind this thinking. Jesus had to continually confront this ideology during His ministry. Many in Jesus’ day saw the kingdom of God in externals only, visualising the kingdom of God as coming, not through regeneration, but through social revolution. Like the Israelites during the time of Gideon, the Jews of Jesus’ day believed that God was going to fix the earth by first fixing the world’s systems.

But the church cannot fix the world through the power of politics. The church has been given tools for bringing change into the world: evangelism, worship of the Triune God, faithfulness to God’s word, applying the Lordship of Christ to every area. Now government must be evangelized just as every other area, but the best a Christianized government can do is to fulfill its God-appointed goal of retraining evil. The rest is left up to the church.

This explains one of the reasons why it is important to have a separation of church from state. Without that separation, it would be easy for government to begin using its resources to do what it is the church’s responsibility to do, and visa versa.

Although the state is not subservient to the church, Rom 13 and Jn. 19:1 make clear that the state, no less than the church, is under the authority of God.

As Christians we should certainly vote and involve ourselves in the political process, because through doing so we can influence the government to maintain law and order. Christian lawmakers, who understand the principle of sphere sovereignty, need to run for office and be a positive voice. But we should avoid thinking that simply by electing enough Christians to office that the government and the nation are going to be Christianized. The government and our nation will only be Christianized when the whole system, from the very top to the very bottom, submits to the Lordship of Jesus.

Morality and Government

To affirm the separation of church and state does not mean that we can separate God from state, morality from state or religious values from state. Not only is it not a good idea to try to separate these things, but it is impossible.

Have you ever heard someone say that government can’t legislate morality?

Morality is about the only thing government can legislate. When government makes laws against stealing, against kidnapping, against murder, they are legislating morality. They are using coercion to impose a system of ethics. And that is inescapable unless you have no government (anarchy).

By adopting a legal system at all a nation is, by definition, imposing some kind of morality on the populace. Legislation, by definition, is the codification in law of some particular moral concern, normally so that the immorality of a few is not forcibly inflicted on the rest of us. To say, “I don’t want to impose my morality on anyone” is simply an advertisement to be robbed. As soon as a lawmaker says ‘thou shalt not steal’, he has imposed his moral beliefs on others. And that’s what everybody wants, despite everyone saying that lawmakers shouldn’t try to impose their moral beliefs on others. No one wants a President who says, “I don’t want my decisions to be driven by any moral considerations.” People want a government that is going to protect them, which means using coercion to impose morality.

Charles Colson recently lamented the times throughout history when Christians have tried to impose their values, resulting in “bloody crusades and inquisitions.” But during those times in history where Christians have been guilty of outrages, it is because they weren't imposing their values, not because they were.

The question is not whether government will try to impose values or morality, but which morality they will try to impose? And what standard are they using? Are they deciding what is moral based on their own personal whims, or is there an objective standard that they are using? That is where questions of religion kick in and become inescapable? Are we going to base morality on the religion of secularism, Christianity, Darwinism, humanism or some other system?

It remains unclear what people really mean or want when they say lawmakers shouldn’t try to impose morality on citizens.

Religion and Government

Just as it is impossible to have a state without legislating morality, so it is also impossible to separate religion and government.

People are inescapably religious because of how they were made. A person’s religion may be Christianity, or it may be secular humanism, or it may be utilitarianism, or it may be the worship of self, or it may be a combination, but every person has a religion in the broad sense in which I am using the term.

A religion answers the following questions: What is the source of my values? What standard do I appeal to on moral questions? What are my gods? What determines which things in life are important and which things are not?

Just as all legal systems necessarily try to impose morality, so all legal systems are necessarily religious in this broad sense. Every state has its gods that it tries to protect.

The way you can tell what the gods of a state are is by seeing who the final authority is. When you get to the point past which there is no appeal, then you have identified the god of that system. Because man is inescapably religious, all societies are theocracies somehow. There will always be a point of ultimate justification - if you don't have a Supreme Being, you will wind up with a Supreme Court, and they will be treated as God.

If the people are the final authority, then the people are being treated as god. If the monarch is the final authority, then the monarch is being treated as god. Christians affirm that Jesus Christ is the final authority since the authority of a ruler is delegated by God (Rom 13 & Jn. 19:11). Whether we are talking about a democracy, a monarchy, a republic or a dictatorship, Christians recognise God as the highest authority.

Religion and politics cannot be separated. Politics is grounded in ethics and ethics is always religious, whether explicitly or implicitly. Herbert Schlossberg makes the point this way:

"Laws are always theologically based, whether or not they are so acknowledged. In the societies of the ancient Near East, laws were always associated with deity. The famous Hammurabi stele, for example, shows the sun god Shemash giving the Babylonian laws to the king. The laws had to have ultimacy, or they could not work as intended. When law loses what only the conviction of ultimacy can bestow, it degenerates into pragmatism, and that means that breakdown is near. Right and wrong become questions of risk versus reward, and morality then is purely a matter of calculation." [Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, p. 47]

Josef Stalin tried to produce a society in which religion and politics were kept strictly separate (although he was very religious in his atheism). Stalin said: “We guarantee the right of every citizen to combat by argument, propaganda and agitation, any and all religion. The Communist Party cannot be neutral toward religion. It stands for science, and all religion is opposed to science.” (Stalin, ‘Declaration to American Labor Delegation,’ Moscow, September 7, 1927) The scary thing is that many liberals today are arguing for the same thing.

The alternative to Hitler, Stalin and the French revolution is not democracy. “Idolizing democratic government as the antithesis to a Hitler or a Stalin ignores the fact that a tiny handful of people cannot rule without the tacit agreement of the masses.” [Schlossberg, p. 49] The alternative to Hitler, Stalin and the French revolution is for government to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
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