Lord of Soul and State: The Duty Of Christians to Mix Politics and Religion

“Religion and politics don’t mix” is a mantra taught throughout the United States as indisputable, absolute truth (along with the mantra that “all truth is relative”), but Christians owe their first allegiance to God, and any view of the relationship between church and state must conform to “Thus saith the Lord.” 

 

God Rules Over All:  The Soul and the State

The idea of a Christianity that saves souls but leaves politics alone is a double-minded, unfaithful Christianity.  First, a finite God, one that does not rule over the State, cannot guarantee eternal salvation for your soul, because if God does not rule over every area of life, then there would be nothing to prevent that area of life outside of God’s control from obstructing the salvation of your soul at some point during eternity.  A finite God would be surrounded by a mysterious universe bigger than himself.  Only an absolute ruler of the universe could guarantee the promise of eternal salvation.  There is no guarantee that good will ultimately triumph over evil, if everything is not under God’s control.  The mysterious chaos beyond God could overwhelm Him and end God’s very existence.

Second, salvation has no meaning unless God is absolute, because if God is not absolute, then there is no absolute standard of good to sin against.  If there is no sin, then there is no need for salvation from sin.  Subject to forces beyond himself, a finite god would be a standard of ethics in flux and subject to legitimate ethical challenge by forces outside of him.

The God of the Bible is not like the finite gods of the ancient pagans, who had one god for the seas, another for the trees, etc.  Neither is the Biblical God like the finite gods of the modern world, ones that are merely gods of people’s private lives and the afterlife.  “Religion is a private matter, not a public matter” is only true if God is finite.  That is not the Christian God.  Rather, “For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5).  As Creator of the material world, His rule is not just over “spiritual” matters.  He is the Lord of all.  He is the great “I am” (Exodus 3:14), the source of all existence.  “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  “For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things, to Him be the glory forever.  Amen” (Romans 11:36). 

As divine, the second person of the Trinity, this comprehensive rule applies to Jesus Christ:  “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).  Not only that, but as the Messiahwho conquered sin and the curse of sin as far as they are found, God the Father has appointed the ascended Messiah as ruler of all things, including the State.  Psalm 2 declares:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”  He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree:  The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 

Likewise, Psalm 110:1 also says:  “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”  And Isaiah prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (9:6).  While some have claimed that Christ only serves as a priest in the present age and reigns as king only after His second coming, Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, who was simultaneously a priest and a king, as is explained in Hebrews 7.  Moreover, Peter declared on the day of Pentecost that these Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah’s kingship were fulfilled at Christ’s ascension into heaven (Acts 2:34-36).  And Paul also explains that God “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:20-22).  And Philippians 2:9-11 says, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”   Immediately prior to His ascension, Christ himself declared:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18-19).  John describes Him as “. . . Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5).  Echoing Psalm 2, John also describes Christ in Revelations 19:15-16:  “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Why should a State government submit to Christ’s rule when everyone in that State is not a Christian?  First, because even if they are not Christians, they are God’s creatures, whether they want to acknowledge it or not, and Christ is God.  Second, even if all people and governments don’t acknowledge Christ as their Savior, they ought to:  “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth” (Phil. 2:10)–the word “should” signifies a moral imperative.  And in the course of history, every knee will eventually bow, or else be destroyed:  “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:25).[1]

Since God rules over all, rebellion against God involves all areas of life, including the political; therefore Christ’s work of redemption from sin and His Messianic reign must extend to all areas of life, including the political.  The idea that religion is a private affair and that religion and politics should be kept separate is not an idea that Christians can agree with.  The gods of other religions may be kept in a box, but the God and Savior of Christianity rules over all.

 

The Myth of Neutrality

The modern U.S. Supreme Court claims that the State should be neutral toward religion.  But since God rules over all things, there is nothing in life that can be neutral toward God.  Nothing is secular in life, except as a false interpretation of life.  Religious neutrality of the State only makes sense if God is finite and does not speak to the State.  But since the God of the Bible is not finite, the claim of neutrality is really a rejection of God.  Ignoring God’s commandments to the State is not neutrality toward God.  It is anti-God.  If the Bible requires that a person be executed for a particular crime, and some other view of ethics forbids it, then both views cannot be followed.  There cannot be neutrality between them.

The secularists have their own “god” in the sense of an ultimate authority. Some ultimate standard of right and wrong will be used to judge whether laws are good or bad.  The secularist god is the State, or Humanity, or some other created thing.  The myth of neutrality is a deceptive way to exclude the God of the Bible in favor of one of the false gods of man.[2]  In practice it leads to the view that the State is prohibited from acknowledging that God exists and that His law must be obeyed, leaving atheist views of the ethics as the only legitimate guides for the State.

 

Can We Rely on Non-Christian Views of Justice?

If the standard for the laws of the State do not come from God, where could they come from?  Aside from the fact that to ask such a question assumes the anti-Christian view that God is not absolute, how could there be standards of right and wrong without God? 

Is matter to give us standards of right and wrong?  No, because right and wrong are not physical objects.  “Do not steal” cannot be isolated in a test tube, or seen with a microscope or telescope.  Are right and wrong to be determined by careful, “scientific” observations of what is most beneficial for the human species?  No, because “beneficial” itself is a value judgment, not a material object.  In a materialistic world, a world without value, not even the choice of life over death would be a value.  And observations by finite humans, even if they are really smart scientists, cannot serve as the ultimate source of universal principles of justice.  Observations of what is cannot, by themselves, tell us what ought to be; observations cannot give us a goal for human behavior.  A universal God who reveals His standards to us must be presupposed to account for universal standards of justice that can be applied to and by the State.

Shall we look for the standards of the State in a realm of impersonal concepts, as Plato did?  No, first, because only persons can be moral.  Impersonal abstractions can no more be moral than impersonal matter, such as a chunk of rock, can be moral.  Second, the Platonic view places the standards of the State in a realm that excludes the material world that we live in.  The world of ideas was real, and the world of matter an illusion, in Plato’s philosophy.  Immanuel Kant’s view of ethics faces a similar problem:  The standard of ethics is an empty abstraction that cannot even be known, and even if it could, it would be useless because this abstract realm excludes all the particulars of the changing world of human experience.  The Christian view of ethics has no such problem because the absolute Creator is the source of both morality and matter, thus the two are always relevant to each other.  God’s law never becomes outdated or irrelevant because God is in control of history.

Secular ethics is philosophically bankrupt, as has been acknowledged more and more often by philosophers in our “post-modern” era.  As one philosophy professor has acknowledged,

I will put the current situation as sharply as possible:  there is today no way of “proving” that napalming babies is bad except by asserting it (in a louder and louder voice), or by defining it as so, early in one’s game, and then later slipping it through, in a whisper, as a conclusion.  Now this is a fact of modern intellectual life so well and painfully known as to be one of the few which is simultaneously horrifying and banal.[3]

 Without an objective standard of ethics, secular political theory must reduce to every man creating his own standards of justice, which is pure anarchy; or the State is allowed to arbitrarily create its own standard of justice, which is totalitarianism.  When there is no God to restrain the State, the one with the most might will ultimately determine what is right.  Only the Christian worldview can account for political freedom within the bounds of just laws.  To the extent that the United States or any other nation that professes to be independent of religious foundations exhibits freedom and justice, then it is being inconstant with its God-denying claims, and is often borrowing from Christian principles from a more explicitly Christian past without acknowledging it.

            There is no alternative to Christian ethics.  The State has no other place to turn except God to determine what laws are just, what laws are unjust, and what the extent of the State’s jurisdiction is.

 

The Natural Law Cop-Out

            Christians often appeal to “natural law” as a convenient excuse for escaping explicitly Christian involvement in politics while still claiming to hold to a Christian view of the State.  This is called the “Two Kingdom View” in Lutheran theology.  But if the Bible is true and God is absolute, then rebellion against God will not be limited to only a portion of life.  The rule of an absolute God will be reflected in all areas of life, thus rebellion against God will manifest itself in all areas of life.  “Natural law” becomes natural idolatry as nature is interpreted by unregenerate minds.  God has indeed revealed His law in nature (Romans 1 and 2), but those in rebellion against God “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).  They can “show the work of the law” (Rom. 2:15), but their sinfulness does not make them a reliable guide.  Since God rules over all life, and rebellion against God manifests itself in every area of life, then God’s redemptive revelation—the Bible—must speak to all areas of life.  The Bible must be the explicit guide and absolute authority for the legislation, execution, and interpretation[4] of just laws for the State.

Martin Luther is claimed to have said, “I’d rather be ruled by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian.”[5]  This idea fails to connect with the issues that have been presented here.  The Bible says the following about how to choose a ruler: 

“Choose wise and discerning and experienced men.” Deut. 1:13

“And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.  Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times.” Exodus 18:20-22

 For one thing, we can see that Luther presents a false dilemma.  In the verses above, the rulers should be “able” and “experienced,” not merely ones that “fear God.”  The question is whether you should choose an experienced non-Christian politician or an experienced Christian politician.

Second, rulers should be people who have been taught God’s statutes and laws—the ones delivered by God by special revelation.  They are not to be left to follow their fallen reason to find God’s law in nature.  There is a need for redemptive revelation that guides every area of life because sin affects all areas of life.  Luther’s quote fails to recognize that, while a non-Christian may do the works of the law (Romans 2:14-15), the unregenerate will be less inclined to follow God’s law, whether it is found in nature or the Bible:  “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”  (Romans 8:7)

           

The “Politics is Corrupt” Cop-Out

The claim here is that politics always involves compromise to get things done, so Christians cannot participate without being corrupted by sin.  But how is that different from any church?  There are no perfect churches.  Decisions of the church and committees within churches are reached by compromise.  Not everyone is happy.  God has given His standards for the State, and the inability of Christians to reform all legislation to God’s standard all at once is no excuse for not achieving justice to the extent of their ability.   Gradualism is morally acceptable.  Even Jesus did not heal everyone or save every soul in his earthly ministry.

 

The “That’s God’s Job” Cop-Out

            Another claim is that God’s kingdom comes by God’s power, not man’s effort, so Christians should make no effort to conform the State to God’s law.[6]  There are some things that only God can do, but God has given us His laws for the State and expects us to live by them.  God is sovereign over the State, but that does not exclude human responsibility.  For Christians to “bring in the kingdom” in the sense of making the State more Christian does not mean that lawless violence should be used to take over the State, as I more fully explain next.

 

Imposing Our Views on Others by Law

            But even if Christians believe that God’s law is the perfect standard of justice, do we have the right to impose that law on non-Christians?  Yes.  All law is a matter of imposing a view on others.  If everyone agreed with the laws, lawbreakers would never have to be punished.  The one who steals or kills does not want the prohibitions against those acts imposed on him.

            Who decides which law will be imposed?  The answer in the West is that democracy is the means of deciding who will make the laws.  Nothing in this essay implies a rejection of the democratic process.  In fact, Western Civilization follows the democratic process largely because of the formative Christian influence on it in the past.  Led by Oliver Cromwell, the Calvinists of England asserted the rights of representatives of the people against the despotism of the king in England’s Glorious Revolution.  The Puritans applied their church government structure to the State, giving us representational democracy (a.k.a. the republican form of government).  Later, the American Revolution mirrored the English Revolution in asserting the rights of representatives of the people against the despotic rule of the King of England.  One of the influential books at the time of the American Revolution was a book called The Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants by Junius Brutus, who defended the republican form of civil government from the Bible.  He pointed out that, although God sometimes directed His prophets to anoint His choice for the next king, no king of Israel took power until all the people of Israel, or least their representatives, elected him as king (2 Sam. 16:18):  David (2 Sam. 2:4, 5:1-3);  Solomon (2 Chron. 29:22-23); Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1); Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:20);  Omri (1 Kings 16:16-21);  Jehoiada (2 Kings 11:12, 17, 19);  Azariah (2 Kings 14:21; Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:1); ); Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:30).  Thomas Paine, despite his later writings where he denounced the the Bible, defended the republican form of government from the Old Testament in his famous book promoting revolution against England, Common Sense.[7]

            The Christian influence on the State has resulted in more restraints on the power of the State than nearly any society has seen.  The Protestant Reformation overturned the idea of the divine right of kings through books such as Brutus’ and Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex.  The American colonists learned law through William Blackstone’s Commentaries, which taught that the State must be subject to checks and balances because the Bible teaches the depravity of man. The Bible restrains the State by limiting taxation to a rate of less than ten percent of income (1 Sam. 8).  It’s impossible to run a ruthless dictatorship on such a small tax rate.

            All people in a nation are not related to Christ as their Savior.  But all people are related to Christ as their Creator.  And it is as creatures of God that all people have the obligation to submit to God’s law.  There is no other legitimate source of law.

 

Separation of Church and State:  Yes and No

            Does this mean that there is no such thing as separation of Church and State?  The answer to that question is not “yes” or “no” because “separation of church and state” can mean many different things.[8]  The words “separation of church and state” are not in the U.S. Constitution, but the Constitution does forbid “Congress” from making a “law respecting the establishment of religion.”  In historical context, this forbids an arrangement like the Church of England at the national level, where taxes were used to provide salaries to church officials, and State officials were required to be members of that particular denomination.  Since the Bill of Rights originally only restricted the national government and not the individual state governments, the Establishment Clause even allowed the individual states to choose which denomination to establish for their state, or establish none at all.  Nothing that has been said above is incompatible with this kind of disestablishmentarianism.

            Another meaning of “separation of Church and State” can be that the Church or the State does not have authority to control the other institution.  Being appointed as pastor of a church does not give the pastor the authority to appoint or remove officials of the State, or enforce the laws and penalties of the State; and the State does not have authority to appoint or remove pastors, or determine Church membership or doctrine.  This institutional separation of Church and State is completely compatible with what has been said above.  The Bible teaches it.  Although kings also held the office of prophet at times in ancient Israel, like David, the offices of king and priest were clearly separated.  The kings came from the tribe of Judah, and priests came from the tribe of Levi.  Kings were elected by the people; priests were not.  King Uzziah was rebuked by the priests and cursed by God for attempting the priestly function of offering sacrifices in God’s temple (2 Chron. 26:16-21).  The chief priest was over “the matters of the Lord,” and officers in the house of Judah over the “king’s matters” (2 Chron. 19:11), and this was under the Old Testament theocracy, so it could not have meant that God had nothing to do with the affairs of State.

          Jesus echoed the distinction from 2 Chron. 19:11 when he famously said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21, Luke 20:25).  Stripping this statement out of context from the rest of the Bible’s teachings, secularists have latched onto this as support for their position. But in light of the sovereign nature of the Biblical God and the Bible’s teaching about Jesus’ Messianic rule over the State, Jesus cannot be advocating a separation of God from the affairs of the State.  Ben Mass comments: “Christ is stating here that we still have obligations to Caesar, not that Caesar has no obligations to God! He appeals to the image on the coin (Caesar’s image) to conclude that the coin should be rendered to Caesar—and just whose image do you think is upon Caesar himself? God’s image, of course.” [9]  Both Church and State are under God’s rule.  “There is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). [10]

            A third meaning of “Separation of Church and State” can be that God’s law does not have authority over the State.  This is a secularist version of separation of Church and State, and it is completely incompatible with what has been said above.  No Christian can consistently hold to this kind of separation of Church and State; it is incompatible with believing that God exists and that salvation is through Jesus Christ.  The God of Christianity is Lord of Soul and State.

 

The Alleged Harshness of Biblical Law

            Biblical law is often viewed as barbaric and harsh.  One reason for this misconception is ignorance of those laws.  Sometimes people confuse Islamic law with Biblical law.  For example, the Bible does not teach that a person’s hands should be cut off for stealing.  The Bible teaches that the thief should pay restitution to the victim.  “An eye for an eye” sounds harsh, but it is simply saying that the punishment should fit the crime.  Biblical law should be widely acknowledged for being more humane than modern secular law in that the Bible does not teach that imprisonment is a punishment for any crime.  Instead, the criminal would usually pay restitution to his victim.  If he did not have enough money, he would be subject to involuntary servitude with a private business until he paid off his debt.  Compare that with the widely-acknowledged failure of the modern prison system, which does nothing to repay the victim, and educates the prisoners on how to be better criminals rather than become honest and productive members of society.

            Still many will not be satisfied.  The conventional wisdom in Europe now is that all capital punishment is barbaric, and the Bible’s teaching on capital punishment is considered the harshest aspect of Biblical penology.  Once again, the issue comes down to the fact that if God is rejected, there is no other standard of justice that could replace it.  There is no higher authority than God, therefore He is the indisputable authority for what type of punishment is defined as “harsh” and what is just.  Because God is perfectly just and loving, God’s law is the perfect standard of justice and love.

 

The Bloody History of Religion and Politics—And Atheism and Politics

            Some people may still say, “I still feel hesitant to endorse enforcement of God’s law by the State because when this was done in the past, it caused a lot of blood to be spilled over religious differences.”  If you want to compare Christian States with Atheists States, then the atheist position loses hundreds of times over.[11]  In one century, the Twentieth Century, officially atheist states slaughtered over 100 million innocent people!  Stalin killed 10 million in his land reforms in the Ukraine.  Mao killed 50 million in his land reforms in China.  Pol Pot killed millions in the Cambodian killing fields.  Much of this was warfare directed against the civilian populace.  The Crusaders committed some outrageous acts, but it was a defensive war against invading Muslim soldiers.  (And the Crusades were successful in preventing invading Muslims from conquering Europe, which would have reduced European civilization below the level of modern Afghanistan.)  Atheists are still outraged that several hundred years ago some Puritans in Salem unjustly killed about 20 people before the town repented of its actions.  That’s barely worth noticing compared to the millions killed by Stalin, all with support of American Intelligentsia.  Judging by the number of lives unjustly snuffed out, separation of atheism and State is much more urgent than separation of Church and State.

The Inquisition killed many unjustly, but the worst of it was the Spanish Inquisition, which was run by the State and denounced by the Pope of that time.  The general population had nothing to fear from Inquisition courts, and most of the judges were considered models of leniency in their day because of the many opportunities they gave the accused to repent.[12]

Excluding religion from the State does not bring universal harmony.  Rather than using the State to persecute other religions like Christians have sometimes done, atheists use the State to punish all religions, and other secular beliefs that don’t conform to the State-approved secular beliefs.  The shortcomings of past officially Christian States pail in comparison to the failure of officially atheist States, but an even more important point is that there is no way to judge that any State has been just or unjust if the God of the Bible does not exist, because without such a God no ethical standards would be possible.

 

The New Testament and the State

That the Old Testament commands the obedience of the State to God’s law is not denied by anyone.  But what does the New Testament say?  Does the emphasis on grace and redemption in the New Testament exclude the necessity of the State to obey God’s law?  No!  Romans 13 says that all rulers “bear the sword” as “ministers of God.”  1 Timothy 1:8-11 says:

 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

 The list of lawless acts is straight from the laws of Moses in the Old Testament.  And notice that breaking these laws is “contrary to sound doctrine” and “the glorious gospel.”  It is unchristian for the State to fail to enforce Biblical law.  Jesus said that he “did not come to abolish the law” (Matt. 5:17).  Jesus does not save us by abolishing the law, because that would mean that nothing would be a sin.[13] Rather he paid the price for our sin so that we could be lawfully righteous.  And having redeemed us, “shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid!” (Rom. 6:15).  Our obedience to God’s law cannot save us, but obedience to the law is the fruit of salvation:  “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:2-3).  Many Christians think that God’s law is grievous, but what is the alternative?  If we will not be ruled by God’s law, the perfect standard of justice, then we will be ruled by the anarchy or totalitarianism of man’s law.

            People often think that the greater grace in the New Testament compared to the Old means less wrath, and therefore lighter punishment for criminals now compared to what the Old Testament commanded.  It is true that greater grace means more blessing for the redeemed under the New Covenant, but the book of Hebrews also teaches that the greater grace under the New Covenant means greater wrath upon the ungodly:  “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:28-29; also see Heb. 2:2 and 12:25). This greater wrath for rejecting Christ is not a reason for making criminal punishment more severe now than under the Old Testament—which is called “just punishment” (Heb. 2:2) after all, but neither is the New Testament’s greater grace a reason to reduce the severity of criminal punishment in the New Testament era.

            Some Christians have rejected any continued enforcement of Old Testament because they say that that the Old Testament foreshadowed Christ.  It is true that many laws in the Old Testament were instructional about the redemptive work of the Messiah who would come, and therefore were of a temporary nature.  The purpose of these types ended when the archetype appeared (Hebrews 10:1).  But not everything in the Old Testament can be viewed as teaching the means of redemption.  Redemption is necessary because God’s eternal standards have been violated.  And with rebellion against God’s law comes repression and distortion of God’s law.  So not only does God’s redemptive revelation, the Bible, need to show the way of redemption, but it needs to clearly define God’s eternal standards of morality so that the world can learn what God’s standards are that everyone must live by.  Thus we should expect a mixture of temporary laws (foreshadowing Christ) and eternal laws (universal standards of ethics) in the Old Testament.

            Some claim that the laws given to Israel cannot be applied to the modern State because those laws were only intended for the people of Israel.  But the law given to Moses was the same law that God held aliens in the land of Israel to and nations outside of Israel:  “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you” (Leviticus 18:24-26).  God punished Sodom and Gomorrah for homosexuality even before God delivered His law to Moses (Gen. 19).  God sent Jonah to the foreign nation of Nineveh to demand that they submit to God’s law.  John the Baptist publicly denounced Herod, a Gentile, for violating God’s law by marrying his brother’s wife (Mark 16:17-18).  Indeed, God’s law speaks to the whole world that it may be held accountable to God (Romans 3:19).[14]

            It may be that some Old Testament crimes or their punishments were meant to be enforced only until the time of Christ, but there is no reason to assume that all Old Testament civil laws were set aside.  We should assume the continuing obligation of civil laws found in the Old Testament unless we find where the Bible teaches that a particular civil law in the Old Testament has been set aside because: 

1)  Only God can set aside His law, so we must find Biblical authority to claim that a previous law no longer applies. 

2)  The newness of the New Testament does not involve a new principle that is fundamentally contrary to Old Testament civil law.  God’s law is based on His nature, and God’s nature does not change.  The God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  Remember that Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the Trinity, the same God that delivered His law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Christ is the Creator of the Old Testament, who created “all things,” including “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (Col. 1:16).  And as explained above, the nature of Christ’s ministry was not contrary to the obligation of the State to obey God’s law.  The provision of a Savior from sin does not change the principles of justice and injustice.

3)  As in 1 Tim. 1:8-11, the New Testament continues to speak positively about the validity of Old Testament civil law.

 

What Christians Can Do to Honor God in Politics

“Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.”  Proverbs 24:11

 

            Indirectly or directly, full-time or part-time, every Christian can contribute in some way to the furtherance of God’s standards of civic justice.

  1. Pray.  “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).  The prayers go before God like incense and arouse God to bring justice to an unjust State in His timing (Rev. 8:3-5).
  2. Live a godly personal life.  Be honest, obey the king (1 Peter 2:12-14).  Resist the king when his command cannot be followed without committing sin (Acts 5:29; Heb. 11:23, 31).  This is a witness for God. 
  3. Vote for godly candidates.  Judge candidates and their positions by the yardstick of God’s law, which defines perfect justice.
  4. Become involved in political action organizations for your industry or your personal interests.  In whatever industry you work, you might become a member of an organization that is involved in political action in relation to that industry.  If you build houses, you can become a member of the local Home Builder’s Association and promote just property rights.  If you are a nurse, you could work for God-honoring medical practice.  If you work in a bank, you can work for just financial laws.  Or if you have a personal interest in gun rights, or homeschooling rights, you can become involved in organizations that try to move law in a biblical direction on those issues.
  5. Be a godly parent.  Train your children to obey the State, and to obey God above the State.  Provide your children with the most thoroughly Christian education that you can, so that they will be taught to apply God’s word in every area of life (Deut. 6:7).  Public schools are probably not the most Christian school in your area, to put it mildly.  The current view of the U.S. Courts is that the State cannot acknowledge God, especially as the source of our nation’s laws, and therefore schools run by the State cannot acknowledge God either.  We must train up a new generation of Christians to overturn the false gods of the modern secular state.
  6. Volunteer in your church to do the work commanded of the Church.  After the family, the Church is called to be the institution to provide charity to the poor (1 Tim. 5).  God called a tax rate of ten percent a sign of tyranny (1 Sam. 8), therefore, limited to its Biblical size, the State should not have the resources to be in the welfare business.  And when the State does spend resources for welfare to the poor, the poor often get trapped in the welfare programs.  They often cannot escape because they need moral uplift—to be taught responsibility.  Only the Church can do that well.  And those in the State welfare system often accept other aspects of ungodly government as well.  They learn to vote for the politician that will keep their welfare checks coming, which is usually a politician that will vote for other ungodly laws.  But if the poor are helped by the Church, they will be more willing to listen to what the Church teaches.
  7. Teach God’s law for the State in your church.  The Church is supposed to equip its members “to prepare God’s people for works of service” (Eph. 4:12) in all aspects of life.  God’s word is to be taught in the Church to thoroughly equip Christians for “every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Pastors have an obligation to teach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), and it should be undeniable that the Bible has things to say about justice and the conduct of rulers.  Even if the only political involvement of people in your church is as voters, they need to know how to discern between good and evil (Rom. 12:2; Heb. 5:14) in the political realm so that they will vote for representatives that will govern in pursuit of Biblical justice and promote an environment that allows the gospel to be freely preached and lived.  Churches that want to maintain their tax-exempt status in the United States cannot endorse or campaign for a particular candidate or make statements about a candidate’s moral qualifications for office, but they can speak out on the moral issues of the day, distribute voter guides, lobby for legislation as long it’s not a substantial part of it’s total activity, and sponsor candidate debates.  Pastor’s can even endorse candidates in their individual capacities.  For more information see “Churches, Free Speech, and the Regulations of the IRS Regarding Elections” from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) at http://www.aclj.org/news/Read.aspx?ID=84.
  8. Call or write your political representative.  Hardly anyone else is, so your little voice can carry great weight.
  9. Become involved with local precinct meetings of a political party.  Hardly anyone else is, so again, your little voice can carry great weight.
  10. Run for office.  This is not everyone’s calling.  But if Christians won’t do it, only those who refuse to honor God will rule over us.  “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Prov. 29:2).
  11. Become a lawyer.  The oppressed need an advocate.  The unjust need to get what they deserve.  If Christians are not legally trained to fight for justice, justice will suffer.

 

By Mike Warren, last revised 6/16/2010


[1]  For more on Christ’s Messianic Kingship see William Symington, Messiah the Prince (Edmonton, AB Canada:  Still Waters Revival Books, 1990 [1884]).

[2]  See R.J. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty.

[3]  Arthur Allen Leff, “Economic Analysis of Law:  Some Realism About Nominalism,” 60 Virginia Law Review (1974) pp. 454-55.  See http://www.christianciv.com/Atheists_Confess.htm for similar quotes.

[4]  That would be the three branches of civil government in the U.S. :  Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.

[5]  Nobody can find this reference, but even if Luther did not say it, it is consistent with his defense of natural law as the sufficient guide to the State.

[6] See Michael S. Horton, “How the Kingdom Comes,” Christianity Today 50.1 (Jan., 2006), at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/001/2.43.html.  Also see the response by John M. Frame, “In Defense of Christian Activism:  Assessing the Views of Michael Horton and Meredith Kline” April 19, 2006, at the Center for Cultural Leadership, http://www.christianculture.com/cgi-local/npublisher/viewnews.cgi?category=3&id=1145485285.

[7]   Thomas Paine, Common Sense  (1776), at www.constitution.org/civ/comsense.htm.

[10]  For a thorough treatment of this, see George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming (Harrisonburg, VA:  Sprinkle Publications, [1646] 1985).

[11]  See Gil Elliot, Twentieth Century Book of the Dead (1972).

[13]  Redemption pays the eternal penalties of sin, but it does not relieve us from the temporal, civil penalties.  A Christian cannot tell a police officer that he does not have to pay his speeding ticket because Christ already paid his debts.  Exodus 21:14 says, “But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar [the place of redemptive sacrifice, foreshadowing Christ], that he may die.”

[14]  See Greg L. Bahnsen, “For Whom Was God’s Law Intended?”  in The Biblical Worldview 4:12 (December, 1988), at www.cmfnow.com/articles/pe079.htm.

 

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