Church & State

Introduction

Today we have reached the point of critical mass as to just how far we intend to let the State run roughshod over our lives. On one level, as people who live in a country, born of a revolution that established a republican form of government, all Americans face the challenge of how much power they are willing to grant the State to use in curtailing their liberty. As Christians, those who believe that Jesus Christ is sovereign King, Savior, and God, we have to ask ourselves what is the proper role of the Church in engaging the political realm. I believe that for far too long we of the Church have stepped aside from the fray, allowing the State to become the Leviathan that has overreached its proper and moral limits. As citizens the Church can and should speak to the legitimate limitations of the State.

Conflicting Views Within the Church

Those who believe in Christ hold conflicting views regarding the Church’s role in engaging political matters. Although there are many views and nuances, I believe there are three general positions commonly held among Christians. I designate them as passive observers, Romans 13 absolutists, and political engagers.

Passive Observers

The Christian author, Francis Schaeffer, first coined the terms upper story and lower story, describing those Christians who compartmentalized their beliefs so that their spiritual life makes little contact with their day-to-day affairs. Some in the Church hold that our Christian beliefs have nothing to do with the daily struggles we face in life. This is especially true when it comes to politics. Apart from voting, such individuals hold that Christians should not engage the worldly confines of politics. Such engagement, they warn, defies Scripture’s indictment to be in the world, but not of the world. Worldliness, according to Scripture, entails living in alignment with the world’s values rather than those precepts found in God’s Word that speaks to the way in which he would have us live. The passive observer equates political engagement with worldly engagement. They accuse Christians who are politically engaged with seeking ultimate meaning and purpose in worldly politics at worse. At best, they simply believe that Christians who are politically engaged are wasting their time on things that are not eternal. This is a startling example of Schaeffer’s notion of the upper and lower story split. Things in this life simply do not matter. The world as we know it is going to pass away. To spend any time on making it a better place to live is a worldly affair, hence, not a spiritual endeavor.

Romans 13 Absolutists

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement (Romans 13:1-2).

At first glance, this passage written by the Apostle Paul appears straight ahead with no clarification needed.A closer look at its context, however, raises some questions, especially when applied to the political context today in America. Following these verses, Paul states that rulers are a terror not to good conduct, but to bad. Hence, if one does good, he doesn’t need to fear the authorities. If he does wrong, however, then rulers are servants of God to punish evil doers. So the question arises – what if governments reach the point where they call evil, good, and good, evil? In other words governing authorities pit themselves against God’s precepts and law. What is our response to authorities to be then? Moreover, we have Biblical examples where Christians did not simply bow to worldly power. The Apostle Paul, himself, appealed to his status as Roman citizen when wrongly accused and arrested. When a Roman centurion struck him, Paul replied, Do you strike a Roman citizen? Additionally, the Apostles in the Book of Acts when ordered to cease proclaiming the truth about Christ replied, We obey God rather than man. The early Christians defied worshiping the Roman emperor as a god as well as breaking Roman law when they secretly met in the catacombs to worship. Romans 13 absolutists claim that verses 1-2 mean that Christians should obey the government no matter the context. As such they have given a carte blanche to the State, providing it with absolute rule over the Church.

Political Engagers

The Reformed Presbyterians heavily contributed to the values that shaped early America and that eventually led to its break with England. Many of what I call political engagers, can be found today within the confines of Reformed Theology. The aforementioned Francis Schaffer falls within that theological persuasion. Many of those who strongly advocate that Christians should be politically active and savvy are Reformed postmillennialists. Although it’s not the purpose of this article to stake out an eschatological position, I find that I like the work and thought that postmillennialists proffer. To be fair, not all political engagers hold to a postmillennial eschatology. Schaffer held a premillennial position. Having said that I would point to theologians, pastors, and writers such as Doug Wilson, Joel McDurmon, Gary North, R. J. Rushdoony, and James White as examples of those who believe Christians should actively engage the political realm. Although I may not agree with every jot and tittle of what these individuals say, I do like their optimism and the conjectures they offer for ways that Christians can reclaim the culture that we seem to have handed over to those who are diametrically opposed to God’s law.

Conclusion: Engaging All of Life

Reformed Theology and the postmillennialists cited above do not dwell solely on the political realm. They call for Christians to engage all of life’s endeavors – business, education, science, the arts, technology, politics, etc. – and take all these spheres captive in the name of Christ. Indeed I don’t see that any particular millennial position is required to agree with such a notion. We have witnessed over the past several decades, and particularly the past few years, an unprecedented growth of the State and its interventionist strategies that snake inexorably through all the nook and crannies of our daily livelihoods. The attitude that as Christians we should stand idly by and let Statism and its anti-Christian philosophy take over the culture due to some pietistic notion of worldliness seems self-defeating at best and cowardice at worse.

By God’s providential hand, we live in a republic forged out to some degree by Reformed theology by which we are a nation ruled by law, not men – Lex Rex. The call for Christians to actively engage all spheres of life is a transformative one. None of us know when Christ will return. But to merely sit by and wait for his return, doing nothing about the corruption of this culture, while some may see that as an option, I do not believe such passiveness to be a Biblical option. We Christians today have to confront the reality that we will not necessarily witness during our lifetimes the changes in culture that can occur if believers enter all spheres of life and place all their endeavors under the Lordship of Christ. That’s an overwhelming proclamation. None of us know how it will work out. But that’s not a reason for the Church to remain invisible in the midst of cultural battles.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that all three of these camps as I’ve designated them comprise believers in Christ. Hence, regardless of where we land on this issue, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we should let unity rule rather than divisiveness. We need to learn how to agree to disagree, yet remain united.

We live in a republic by God’s providence. Politicians are not our authorities. We do not obey men. We obey the law. Perhaps the ones being disobedient to government are not the ones who draw Constitutional lines in the sand and say to politicians, you do not cross here. Rather it is those who do not engage the political realm and work to set it right.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/September 14th, 2021

ANALYSIS OF POWER/CHRISTIAN THOUGHT

When Doubts Arise

. . . as far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins from us. [Psalms 103:12]

Introduction

As Christians, do we really live as though God through Christ has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a series of sermons that are a commentary on the High Priestly Prayer (John 17), explores the wiles of the devil, and the different ways in which he throws Christians into confusion, particularly about their salvation. One of the ways the devil comes at us is that he uses guilt about our past to make us doubt our relationship to God, leading us to question our salvation. How many believers get caught up in rehearsing their past then wondering how on earth they could be saved? Such guilt plummets us into doubting God’s promises and then into despair. However, regardless of our past, God’s promises through his Son, Jesus Christ, hold true for eternity. At the moment we trusted Christ’s Person and Work for our salvation, we were sealed with the Holy Spirit as a downpayment for that day when God redeems his possession (Ephesians 1:13-14).

The Oppression of Doubts

As believers in Christ, many of us most likely have come face-to-face with the crushing doubts that make us question our salvation. In so doing, we have transferred the power of salvation from God’s work to our own efforts. Nonetheless, such doubts arise, and they are oppressive. Whether it’s in a counseling session, a church setting, a family gathering, or among friends with other brothers and sisters in Christ, we hear these doubts voiced by others, or indeed we voice them ourselves. How can we help those who state such concerns, and how can we seek help ourselves when we are thrown into an abyss of doubt? There are many ways within the Body of Christ to find support and guidance. But the Word of God is always one such rock to stand on. What I want to discuss in this article is Paul’s discussion of Abraham (Romans 4), and then what is called the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11.

Abraham: Justification by Faith

The Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 4) sets out to demonstrate that justification for our salvation comes through faith alone in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, not as a result of keeping the works of the law. Drawing on Genesis (Genesis 12- 25), Paul appeals to the Scriptures to show that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Consequently, Abraham was declared righteous by God three hundred years prior to when the law was given. Paul goes on to say in Romans 4:11-12, that the purpose of Abraham’s faith was to make him the father of all who believe apart from the works of the law or any form of works that man may devise. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations through his faith. God’s promise to Abraham has come true through Jesus Christ and the church of believers who have embraced Christ through faith alone. Throughout Romans 4, Paul lifts up Abraham as a man of faith, a man indeed whose faith did not weaken (Romans 4:19). Furthermore Paul claims that no unbelief made him waver concerning the promises of God (Romans 4:20).

Abraham in Action

Let’s consider Abraham the man.The Apostle Paul describes Abraham in magnanimous terms as one whose faith never wavered, and as one who continuously grew in his faith (Romans 4:20). One might be tempted to ask is this the same Abraham we read about in Genesis. This is the very man who lied about his wife twice as being his sister for fear of losing his life, not to mention placing her in danger of becoming another man’s concubine thereby undermining the promises of God.This is Abraham who impregnated a concubine to help out God with his promises. Yet Paul describes Abraham as one who was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised (Romans 4:21). The Apostle Paul reiterates Abraham as the father of those who believe God by faith in his epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:6-9).

The Epistle of James: Faith and Works

James, the brother of Christ also exalts Abraham in showing that his faith led to fruitful works when he offered up Isaac, his only son, as an offering to God. He was then called a friend of God (James 2:21-23). No doubt, Abraham grew in faith, but like all of us, he was far from perfect. Additionally James cites Rahab as one who evidenced her faith through her works of allowing the spies of Israel into her city. She was also a known prostitute.

Hebrews 11: The Faith Hall of Fame

The author of Hebrews offers what has been called the faith hall of fame, a list of individuals from the Old Testament who are known for the power of their faith. Let’s considered some of the ones named there. Abraham is once again considered for the strength of his faith. Listed there are Abel, Noah, Moses, Joseph, Isaac, Jacob, Enoch, Sarah, Sampson, and David. Moses was forbidden to enter the Holy Land because he struck a rock in anger to obtain some water for those who had followed him out of Egypt. Isaac is listed for granting blessings to Esau and Jacob, yet he was tricked by Jacob to obtain the oldest son’s blessing for himself. Indeed Jacob is known somewhat as a trickster by character. Sarah laughed when God said she would bear a son during her old age. David faced heavy times of trouble for his adultery with Bathsheba. And Samson was known as a womanizer. The important point here is not the imperfections of the individuals mentioned here. The place these people hold in Scripture is due to the strength of their faith, which is to serve as an example for believers today. None of the sins into which some of these people fell are mentioned in the New Testament because they were cleansed through their faith. And that is the reason we are to remember them and hold them in high regard.

Conclusion

I have been in some dark places in my life at times when I turned my back on God and was not walking and being led by the Spirit. Instead I was sowing to the flesh. After confessing the sins I committed during those times, they still surface in my mind, whether it be by the wiles of the devil or my own guilty conscience. Either way, when I dwell on them and thereby doubt the promises of God, I disparage the work that God has done for my salvation through Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This verse implies that if we confess our sins and God does not forgive us our sins, in some way he is unfaithful and unjust. How can this be? His forgiveness does not depend on our confession, but in and through whom we confess, the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. For this reason, as I write this I hate to even mention the shenanigans into which the Old Testament figures fail even though they became part of the New Testament faith hall of fame. Yet their historical and biographical narratives are given to us via God’s Word for a reason.

The Apostle Paul

In addition to the Old Testament saints, we could focus on the apostles and the actions they took in denying and fleeing Christ at his arrest just prior to his crucifixion. The Apostle Paul in a letter to Timothy calls himself a former blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent of Christ (1 Timothy 1:13). Paul considered himself to the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1: 15). Yet for those of us who are frequently assailed by doubts due to our checkered and tainted past, I believe that Paul via the inspired Word of God should have the last say here. In his Epistle to the Romans he writes: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Believer, is your salvation in Christ secure? Yes it is.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/August 14th, 2021

CHRISTIAN THOUGHT