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Many Christians today view politics as “dirty” and something secular which they should not involve themselves with – far less, bring their faith into it!
However, much of the decline of Western societies in recent years is due to the decreasing influence of Christian beliefs over our societies, in all areas including politics. If Jesus says that we are “salt and light”, an analogy of our preserving and illuminating influence. So, then it stands to reason that in whatever spheres of life Christian influence retreats, it will lead to inevitable decay and darkness. This increasing decay and darkness in the realm of politics and government lead to ever-increasing forms of totalitarianism wherever this happens. Christians should not retreat from the political sphere any more than they should retreat from education, business, the arts or any other part of public life.
The False Sacred/Secular Divide
There is always a “god” of whatever social order. If it is not the God of the Bible and His Word which becomes the organizing principle of a society, it will be a false god. Furthermore, it is impossible for anyone in a political office to be free from their own religious convictions which will necessarily impact how they carry out their roles in government. Dr. Joseph Boot notes,
“The operative presupposition of a separation of faith and government, of religion and the public space is an impossible myth. It is a lie, used to push the Christian faith out of sight and mind, replacing it with a new religious order.”(Joseph Boot, For Government: Toward a Christian View of Authority, p. 6)
Law professors Rex Ahdar and Ian Leigh in a 2004 article for the McGill Law Journal entitled, “Is Establishment Consistent with Religious Freedom?” make it clear that there is no such thing as a religiously neutral State:
“For a modern state to remain entirely impartial is, we submit, an impossible feat. The idea of a purely neutral state in which there is no official endorsement of the true and good, of a political community that eschews the notion that it acts on the basis of substantive values, is a mirage… the established position will inevitably exclude the worldviews of some citizens.”
Thus, the question is not, “Do religion and politics mix?” Rather it is, “WHICH religion and politics will be mixed?”
You can’t legislate morality… or can you?
If you think about it, every civil law says, “Thou shalt not do this…” and then enforces it with the coercive power of the State and threats of punishment (fines, prison, etc). In effect, it is saying that this thing is morally wrong and deserves punishment. In fact, you can ONLY legislate morality, it is just a question of whose morality.
The noted scholar of Biblical Law, R.J. Rushdoony writes,
“That fact is that all law is “religious.” All law is based on some ultimate standard of morality and ethics. Every system is founded on the ultimate value of that system, and that ultimate value is the god of that system. The source of law for society is the god of that society.”(R.J. Rushdoony)
Show me the source of a society’s laws and I’ll show its god. In this sense, every society is a “theocracy” – ruled by the god of that society. It’s only a question of if it’s the only true benevolent God of the Bible or a tyrannical false god.
Moral laws must have an objective reference point to be based upon so that they can be applied equally to all people. If we were to appeal to a populous basis and use polling statistics to determine right from wrong, then justice would always be held hostage by the 51%. If it is the Supreme Court, then that also is a changing standard. For example, in 1986 the US Supreme Court ruled to outlaw sodomy, but in 2003 the court reversed the ruling and wiped out all anti-sodomy laws. So which Court decision was right? Why not listen to someone like Adolf Hitler instead of Gandhi? By what standard are you making that decision?
Every law must make an appeal to a higher source of authority. When that is a human authority, it becomes subjective and variable – providing no steady source of morality. Only when laws are rooted in the authority of the immutable and unchanging God of the Bible do we have a sure foundation for law. Thus, only if there is a fixed ethical absolute beyond and above the fallible decision of judges and politicians can we determine what is true justice and hold men accountable to it.
Erwin Lutzer in his book on what lessons the Church should learn from Nazi Germany writes,
“When God is separated from government we are forced to accept arbitrary laws. Either God is the lawgiver or man is; either we derive our laws from theistic universal values, or we say that the individual countries or cultures are the lawgivers. Either God is supreme or the state is supreme.”(Erwin Lutzer, When a Nation Forgets God, p. 65)
This was actually the issue at the Nuremberg Trials after WW2 when Nazis claimed they did nothing wrong according to their country’s laws at the time. How could they be prosecuted? A supreme law had to be evoked that transcended even human courts and systems of law. If we want a truly just society and government, it must be according to God’s righteous standards.
As Christians, we should long for this. C.H. Spurgeon once said,
“I long for the day when the precepts of the Christian religion shall be the rule among all classes of men and all transactions. I often hear it said, ‘do not bring religion into politics.’ This is precisely where it ought to be brought and set there in the face of all men as on a candlestick. I would have the cabinet and members of Parliament do the work of the nation as before the Lord…”
But we’re not under Law, we’re under grace
One objection here is that since the New Testament, we’re no longer under the Law but we’re under grace. Therefore, some Christians want to abolish the continuing validity of the Old Testament Law.
However, this is not what the Bible teaches. We are freed from the “curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13), but not from the guidance of the law: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Romans 3:31). Though we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (our curse bearer and Law keeper), the Law still does show us what is good and God’s will. The Law is also a tool of our sanctification, showing us what is pleasing to God. In fact, for the Christian, because God has changed their heart, they love God’s law – “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) And Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
There is an abiding threefold use of the Law.
- Firstly, it is a mirror that shows us God’s perfect righteousness and our sinfulness – bringing the knowledge of sin Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 5:13; 7:7-11), and our need for salvation (Gal. 3:19-24).
- Secondly, the Law has a civil use to restrain evil by inhibiting lawlessness by the threat of judgment (Deut. 13:6-11; 19:16-21; Rom. 13:3, 4) to keep civil order.
- And thirdly, the Law guides the Christian into good works and tells us what pleases God (Matt. 28:20; John 14:15).
We are freed from the law as a system of salvation (Rom. 6:14; 7:4, 6; 1 Cor. 9:20; Gal. 2:15-19, 3:25), but are “under the law of Christ” as a rule of life (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2).”
But we can’t hold pagans to God’s law
Another objection to using God’s law as the standard for civil society is that we cannot hold pagans and non-Christians to God’s law because they do not believe in Him or the Bible.
However, God does not exempt other nations from the requirements of His righteousness. There is not one standard for Christians and a different standard for Pagans. He holds even Pagan nations responsible for their sins (Amos 1:3-2:5). He wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) for their sins. He judges even Pagan nations that He uses as the “rod of His anger” in Assyria (Isaiah 10) and proud Pagan Kings like Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3-4). In fact, Paul explicitly says, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient…” (1 Timothy 1:8-9a – emphasis mine)
This passage affirms the goodness of the Law and says that the Law is for the lawless, speaking to the second use of the Law to restrain evil – even for unbelievers.
The Law is a Teacher
The Law cannot save.
We are not Pelagian legalists who think that the Law brings salvation. But the Law can and does teach people what is right and wrong. As Paul said, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) The law is needed to teach people what sin is to prepare them for the Gospel. This is exactly what Paul says, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24)
Therefore, God’s Law applied in the public sphere also helps to teach society at large what sin is and prepare people for the Gospel. Glenn Sunshine notes that,
“Legislation thus plays a major role in shaping public morality, a point recognized by the Puritans who established schools in New England so that people would know their Bible and hold their legislatures accountable for the laws that they passed.”(Glenn S. Sunshine, Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition, p. 74)
For example, when a State has laws that say abortion is illegal and comes with appropriate penalties for violation, even though it will not stop 100% of abortions, it does teach society at large that that criminal activity is not right. Even if back-alley abortions do happen as a result of the crime going underground, that is where evil acts like murder belong – not in the halls of medical institutions which should be committed to saving life not taking it. Our self-affirming societies today are so averse to any sense of shame. However, shame is appropriate to feel for shameful acts. Once something which biblically should be thought of as a civil evil is decriminalized, we lose the law’s teaching effect on that issue in society.
Note also here that it is Christians who must hold legislatures accountable to God’s law because we are the ones who have and understand His law. One of the reasons our societies have departed from God’s standards is that Christians failed to keep doing this.
God’s Vision for Society
We must also affirm the goodness of God’s Law and His vision for how society should be run. Thus, the Law teaches us God’s vision for flourishing in civil society.
It is interesting to note that in Israel’s political economy, ruled by God’s law, there were 365 laws – the 10 commandments being the center point from which the rest emanate. Today, people look upon Biblical law as oppressive, yet our modern secular states have multiplied laws in their books to the hundreds of thousands! We live under more regulations and restrictions than what God had set up for His model government. God’s law truly is “the perfect law of liberty”! (James 1:25)
For those who think that the Bible does not deal with government and politics, Dr. Kenneth Gentry offers an introductory correction,
“That God is vitally concerned with political affairs is quite easy to demonstrate: it is God who ordained governments in the first place (Rom. 13:1; Rom. 2:21). He is the One who establishes particular kings (Prov. 16:12; Psa. 119:46, 47; 82:1, 2). Therefore, He commands our obedience to rulers (Rom. 13:1-3). Rulers are commanded to rule on His terms (Psa. 2:10ff.). Even in the New Testament activity of political import is discoverable. Jesus urged payment of taxes to de facto governments (Matt. 22:15-22). In response to reminders of King Herod’s political threats against Him, Jesus publicly rebuked the king by calling him a vixen (Luke 12:32). He taught that a judge is unjust if he does not fear God (Luke 18:2, 6). John the Baptist openly criticized King Herod (Luke 3:19, 20). Peter refused to obey authorities who commanded him to cease preaching (Acts 5:29).”(Kenneth Gentry, The Greatness of the Great Commission, p.45.)
The History of Christianity & Government
There was once a time when Christians understood the importance of God’s Law to civil government. In the UK, the Oath required of Queen Elizabeth II (the head of state of Great Britain and Canada) stated:
“Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law…”
After this Oath, the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland brought to the queen the Bible, exhorting her to its vital importance in her reign, saying:
“Our gracious Queen: to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”
In the US, the President, when taking his oath of office places his hand on an open Bible to Deuteronomy 28, invoking the blessings and curses of the law for obedience and disobedience. Almost all the modern Western societies that have enjoyed an extended season of freedom and prosperity formerly unknown to history were all based on Judeo-Christian values derived from the Scriptures. This is why in many of our legislature buildings Bible verses and the Ten Commandments are literally carved into stone!
Jonathan Burnside, professor at the School of Law at the University of Bristol in his book, God, Justice and Society, notes that,
“…biblical law is also remarkable for its revolutionary breadth and depth of vision. It has the imaginative power to disturb the world….a great deal of modern law is an indirect engagement with biblical law (for example, the abolition of the English laws of blasphemy in 2008), but often it is so implicit that we are not aware of it. We have taken our understanding of biblical law for granted for so long that it has become unfamiliar.”
Many today are unaware that the free societies we enjoy have not been the historical norm and are a direct blessing to the world from the Christian worldview.
A Witness to the Nations
God said to His Old Covenant people concerning His law,
“Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)
Other nations were to look to Israel and be amazed at them because of the beauty of God’s design for their government which brings His blessing. Indeed, even in modern history, other countries looked to those who at one time based their governments on God’s principles (such as the US and Canada) and therefore enjoyed much prosperity and freedom. Yet, for some reason, many Christians are either ignorant of this or actively oppose this concept in the name of the myth of “neutrality”.
“What most modern Western people (including many Christians) are asking for in the name of freedom is in fact a new slavery, when they attempt to secularize the public sphere and pursue freedom without the Lordship of Christ. To object to this by saying that non-believers are not accountable to God’s covenant law (moral law) is finally to say that we have no basis for presenting the gospel to the unbeliever – since Scripture defines sin as lawlessness and only lawbreakers need the gospel!”(Joseph Boot, Mission of God, p. 280-281)
If men will not serve God, they will become slaves of men.
Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen said,
“The civil magistrate cannot function without some ethical guidance, without some standard of good and evil. If that standard is not to be the revealed law of God… then what will it be? In some form or expression it will have to be the law of man (or men) – the standard of self-law or autonomy. And when autonomous laws come to govern a commonwealth, the sword is certainly wielded in vain, for it represents simply the brute force of some men’s will against the will of other men.”
This is indeed what we have seen happening in our times all over the world. As societies drift further away from God’s law as their standard of justice and guide for civil governance, we have seen global totalitarianism and lawlessness on the rise. We must restore the foundations.
So what is God’s design for government?
Different Types of Government
Now, lest you think I’m arguing for some sort of salvation through politics, let me clearly state that I am NOT!
Humanists usually conceive of government as a top-down bureaucracy that controls almost everything in society and thus can achieve social order by centralized planning. However, the Bible teaches that government is actually a bottom-up appeals court structure that begins with self-government and family government and then emanates outward to church government and then civil government.
- Self & Family Government – Mothers and fathers have authority over their children (Proverbs 6:20, 21; 15:5; 30:17; Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20).
- Church Government – Church leaders, elders and deacons, hold authority in the church (Matthew 16:19; 18:15-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13; 1 Timothy 5:17, 18; Hebrews 13:17; 1Peter 5:1-3).
- Civil Government – Civil rulers exercise political authority by God’s decree (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13, 14).
This is God’s design for civil society of multiple decentralized, delegated, and delineated authorities, under His sovereign unlimited authority. This is the concept known as “sphere sovereignty”.
This term was originally coined by the Dutch statesman and theologian, Abraham Kuyper. This concept would need a lot more fleshing out in its details than I can get into here, but Glenn Sunshine gives us a good starting definition:
“Sphere sovereignty holds that society consists of a number of autonomous spheres that should properly regulate their own affairs. These include government, religion, family, education, business, labor, and others. Government, in particular, has a specific set of responsibilities related to defense against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” the enforcement of laws, and seeing to it that the spheres neither overstep their bounds nor violate the law. Although each of these spheres should govern its own affairs, sometimes on a wide scale they do not: family structure collapses, schools fail to teach effectively, businesses act unethically, labor organizations become corrupt. When this happens, the temptation is for another sphere, almost inevitably the government, to step in to fix the problem rather than to work to revitalize the failing sphere(s). Unfortunately, government is ill-equipped to solve these problems-its tools and its competence lie in its areas of responsibility, not in those of other spheres.”(Glenn S. Sunshine, Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition, p. 16)
The Reformational Philosopher, D.F.M. Strauss, writes that “the state does not grant existence to any non-state sphere sovereign social entity. It merely has to acknowledge that, on equal footing, there are multiple distinct and sphere sovereign societal entities.” (Strauss, Sphere Sovereignty, p. 114) Dr. Joseph Boot notes that,
“The principle of sphere sovereignty thus enables us to distinguish a just state from an absolutist power state, because a just state will recognize, in terms of the Christian principle, a variety of spheres of law within society including public law, civil private law and non-civil private law.”(Joseph Boot, For Politics: The Christian, the Church and the State, p. 79)
Each of these spheres is independent and legitimately has God-given authority within its established boundaries. Although there may be some overlap of the spheres (e.g. a church building belongs to the sphere of the Church but also is located within the geography of the State), no sphere can consume another into itself and dictate in matters proper to another sphere (e.g. the State should not tell the Church what to preach), but where the spheres touch they can exercise influence through dialogue not dictates.
For each of the major spheres God has ordained He has also given to its leaders a legitimate tool to enforce their authority – the Family bears the rod of discipline, the Church bears the keys (preaching of the Word, administration of sacraments and church discipline), and the State bears the sword of administering criminal justice. When the spheres start getting mixed up, things go awry (e.g. when the State steps into the family, its only tool is the sword which is coercive and you end up with forced public education, seizure of children from their homes, and child-bearing limits as in China’s one-child policy).
Thus, for the Christian when thinking about issues of government, we should ask what biblically is the proper sphere to which various institutions belong. What is the sphere of education, welfare, protection of borders, charity and compassion ministry, etc? One of the errors leading to ever-increasing governments trending towards totalitarian control is the relinquishing of these by default to the State – which does not have the right God-given tools or authority to carry out these functions. The State’s function, biblically speaking, is actually quite limited.
As André M. Schutten, Director of Law and Public Policy and General Legal Counsel for ARPA Canada notes,
“Now, of all of the spheres (the State, the Church, the Family, the Market, etc.) which has the most power? Quite obviously, the State does. As the Apostle Paul once wrote, it “bears the sword.” It has unlimited financial resources, it has coercive powers, it writes the laws, and it has lethal force. So, if God is removed as sovereign, who becomes sovereign? The State does. This is absolutely evident in every officially atheist country from the last century: the USSR, China, North Korea, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy.”
If we were to seriously ask these questions about many aspects of society such as education, welfare, business, entertainment, economy, healthcare, etc. – we would realize that our current governments are vastly over-bloated and have their hands in far too many areas and as a result, the population is vastly overtaxed to fund all these things the government shouldn’t be doing in the first place. Many of them are because of the neglect of responsibility in the proper spheres (i.e. the individual, the church and the family).
The Separation of Powers
Another feature of God’s design in Scripture is a system of separated and limited powers.
“In the Mosaic Code the civil authority was independent of the priesthood. Though it is true that the priesthood had the right to settle cases not specifically covered by Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 17:8–12), that did not place it above the civil government. The priesthood was charged with the responsibility of keeping this government within the framework of Mosaic law, just as the United States Supreme Court is not above the federal government but is, nevertheless, charged with the responsibility of keeping it within the framework of the Constitution.”(Max I. Dimont, Jews, God, and History, 47.)
Dr. Gary DeMar in his book, Restoring the Foundations of Civilization, is helpful here,
“In biblical terms, there was never such a jurisdictional separation between Church and State that the State was free from God’s law (Deut. 17:15–20). Both priest and king were required to sit before the law to be instructed. The priest was to follow guidelines pertaining to ecclesiastical affairs, while the king would glean from Scripture those directives designed for his civil office. If a case was too difficult for the civil ruler to decide, the Bible gives the following instruction: “You shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them, and they will declare to you the verdict in the case” (17:9)…nDavid accepted Nathan’s rebuke. He did not tell Nathan that there is a “separation between Church and State”: Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam. 12:13). Modern-day separationists are closer to the way Herod responded when John the Baptist rebuked him for his adultery (Mark 6:14–29). “What a ruler does privately is none of your business.”Gary DeMar, Restoring the Foundation of Civilization: God’s Government Or Chaos, 86-87
Thus, we’ve seen in successful Western democracies which were based on Judeo-Christian principles that there is a system of checks and balances through separate branches of government power – namely the judicial (evaluates laws), the legislative (makes laws) and the executive branch (carries out laws). Furthermore, the Church and the State are not mixed. However, we must note that there is a jurisdictional separation between the Church and State but not a religious separation. It does not mean that the Church cannot speak prophetically to the State and call them to God’s righteous standards, only that the Church cannot and should not carry out the State’s role nor the State the Church’s role. Each stays in their lane.
What happens though when these spheres do not stay in their God-assigned lanes?
Usually what happens is a steady decline to some form of totalitarianism since the State (which bears the most deadly tool – the sword) starts to step in and consume the roles of the other spheres treating them in a parts-to-whole fashion. In totalitarian systems, the State treats all other spheres of society as part of the State. We see this especially as societies turn increasingly secular and reject the God of the Bible, they end up deifying the State.
The German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who has shaped much of contemporary secular thought, said that “The State incarnates the Divine Idea upon earth.” In effect, the State is god. The Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini declared, “Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State.” When society turns from God it must look to man for salvation. Dr. Boot notes that,
“Man needs order, certainty and salvation, and where God’s governance is denied, man will attempt to mimic it. Wherever man has sought an immanent (not transcendent) source of power, a theology of state has developed and a new doctrine of God has been fleshed out.”(Joseph Boot, Mission of God, p. 162)
Just because man jettisons God does not mean that he no longer believes in predestinating power. Instead, now, it is man deified who must predestine history by the force of centralized planning according to his vision of utopia. This is why we see a trend toward global elites planning to enact their vision for society upon the lesser public through global agendas and Great Resets. There really are only 3 choices for political life: popular sovereignty, state sovereignty or God’s sovereignty.
Every totalitarian dictatorship always seeks to persecute the Church because it is what stands between the authoritarian state and God’s freedom. Because the Christian Church hails no higher King but Christ, it is a threat to totalitarian systems.
“In Russia, Marx’s disciples removed religious teaching from the schools, outlawed criticism of atheists and agnostics, and burned 100,000 churches. When priests demanded freedom of religion, they were sentenced to death. Between 1917 and 1935, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested, 95,000 of whom were executed by firing squad.”(Horowitz, Dark Agenda, 4.)
Thus, the Church is the main target of every dictatorship. During the Nazi rise to power,
“right from the beginning Hitler sought to marginalize the church to guarantee that no Christian influence would be allowed to inform government policy. Worship would have to be a private matter between a man and his God; at all costs the official state policy would have to be based on humanistic principles to give Hitler the freedom to do what was “best” for Germany. He said that the churches must be “forbidden from interfering with temporal matters.” The state would have to be scrubbed clean of all Christian convictions and values.”(Erwin Lutzer, When A Nation Forgets God, p. 20)
Hitler said to Christian pastors, “You confine yourself to the Church. I’ll take care of the German people” and remarked, “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think!”
Regrettably, many churches during Hitler’s rise to power accepted the argument that religion and morality should be separated from politics based on the neutrality claim. “Religion was a private matter,” historian Richard V. Pierard writes, “that concerned itself with the personal and moral development of the individual. The external order—nature, scientific knowledge, statecraft—operated on the basis of its own internal logic and discernable laws.” (Pierard, “Why Did Protestants Welcome Hitler?,” 14.) The famous WW2 historian William Shirer noted that,
“In between lay the majority of Protestants, who seemed too timid to join either of the two warring groups, who sat on the fence and eventually, for the most part, landed in the arms of Hitler, accepting his authority to intervene in church affairs and obeying his commands without open protest.”(William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 236.)
As Dr. Bahnsen has warned, “If we will not have inscripturated morality from God as our sociopolitical standard, we have no principle to protect us from those who wish to play god.”
No Political Neutrality
There is no neutrality in politics. Secularism is every bit as religious as Christianity and rabidly ‘evangelistic’ in spreading its message and expanding its ‘kingdom’. Those who “helped undermine the fabric of traditional Christian Europe” created the “frightful void that communism, socialism and later national socialism would fill.” The anti-Nazi writer, Ernest Junger said, “Deserted altars are inhabited by demons.” And Willem Ouweneel wrote,
“In socialism, the state is deified; in libertarianism, the individual; in communism the party; and in national socialism, the nation is deified. Only in a truly biblical situation, the state as well as the individual, the party as well as the nation, are directed toward God. We do not serve the state, but the state and we are to serve God.”
Thus, it is important that Christians and Churches have a clear theological conviction of God’s design for civil government and be engaged in civic life. We are the most important line of defence for freedom and flourishing and it was because of Christians who understood this that we have enjoyed the relative prosperity of modern Western democracies. Yet some today are often tempted to turn to the State for the solution to every problem. The brilliant economist, Thomas Sowell give wise counsel that,
“What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don’t like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don’t expect freedom to survive very long.”
The promises from political elites that they could produce some sort of utopia if we only gave them enough power is a claim to bring in a false “kingdom” antithetical to the Kingdom of God. Sowell is again insightful here, “The fact that so many successful politicians are such shameless liars is not only a reflection on them, it is also a reflection on us. When the people want the impossible, only liars can satisfy.”
God, Government & Me
So, practically speaking, how should a proper Biblical understanding of God’s design for government impact us?
I’ll leave us with 4 closing thoughts.
1. The Only Source of Inalienable Fundamental Rights
If the source of your rights is the government, then the government can take them away. They aren’t inalienable. Instead, fundamental rights properly find their origin in our Creator. The government’s role is simply to recognize those rights that have been given to us by God.
This is enshrined in many Western Civil Constitutions, most famously in the US Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
To keep our countries free and uphold human dignity and freedoms, we must recognize God as the only objective source of those fundamental rights. Truly, EVERY good and perfect gift comes down from Him (James 1:17).
“This source of sovereignty is also the source of freedom. If sovereignty resides in God and is only held ministerially by men, then the basic responsibility of ruler and ruled is to God, who is also the source of freedom. But if sovereignty resides in the state, whether a monarchy or democracy, man has no appeal beyond the law of the state, and no source of ethics apart from it. He is totally responsible to that order and has only those rights which the state chooses to confer upon him.” (R.J. Rushdoony)
2. Limited Government
Jesus said that we are to give to Caesar that which belongs to him and give to God, not to Caesar, the things that belong to God. Conversely, Caesar should not take the things that do not belong to him – because theft is theft, even when done by the State. Thus, the government may not take on authority that properly belongs to God or, by extension, to the church or any other sphere. Only God is totally sovereign and can command obedience to His law in all spheres. This insight is something that Christianity brought to the world.
“This was a groundbreaking idea. Up to the Edict of Milan, governments were essentially totalitarian: they claimed authority over every area of life, even supervising religious belief and practice and determining which religions would be accepted and which not.”(Glenn S. Sunshine, Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition, p. 14-15)
3. Civil Re-Engagement
George Washington in his Farewell Address said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” We need Christians to be engaged in civic and political life. Not everyone can be a politician, but we all can make informed votes, write our local representatives about concerns, advocate for just laws and pray for our leaders. These are all ways we can practically love our neighbours because the more our societies are built in accord with God’s righteous standards, the more it will be blessed by Him.
Dr. DeMar appropriately warns,
“The possibility of the rise of tyranny in a society is in direct proportion to the privatization of the Christian faith and the preoccupation with the irrelevancy of that faith to the larger society. Nazi Germany was no fluke. It can happen again; it can happen here.”(Gary DeMar, Myths, Lies and Half-Truths, p. 29)
We must re-engage with public life in whatever spheres of influence God has put us to be salt and light. We must confront systematic unbelief with systematic belief by expounding and living out the beautiful vision of a Christian world-and-life view for a watching world to see. Every Christian family and Church is a microcosm of what Godly government and flourishing in community should look like. As Professor John M. Frame notes,
“In the modern world, then, each Christian is a citizen of two nations: An earthly nation like France, England, or the U.S.A., and the heavenly nation (Eph 2:6; not of this world, John 18:36), the church. Though we belong entirely to Christ, we do not on that account renounce our citizenship in the earthly nations, any more than we leave our earthly families. Indeed, we seek to be good citizens, for those earthly nations themselves, and their rulers, received their authority from God (Rom 13:1–7).”(John M. Frame, “Toward a Theology of the State,” Westminster Theological Journal 51:2 (Fall 1989), 221.)
Thus, “We Christians are citizens of two realms—the earthly and spiritual. Such dual citizenship includes rights and responsibilities in both spheres.” (Richard D. Land and Louis A. Moore, Christian Citizens: The Rights and Responsibilities of Dual Citizenship)
We are not allowed to retreat into our pietistic huddles waiting for Jesus to beam us up out of here. Our Lord has given us marching orders and a mission to disciple the nations and be salt and light to our societies he has placed us in.
4. Bottom-Up Instead of Top-Down Change
The American Founders recognized that the Democratic Republic system of government they were creating was one that could only work and be maintained in a society with a virtuous citizenry. John Adams said to the Massachusetts militia in 1798 that,
“We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, [and] Revenge or Galantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Dr. DeMar is particularly insightful here,
“As the people govern themselves so goes the government of the nation. In the end, we get the government we vote for… All governments—family, church, civil—have as their foundation the self-governing character of individuals. As the people govern themselves—good or bad—so goes the family, church, business, medicine, science, education, truth telling in journalism, and politics. The government at the top reflects the government at the bottom, that is, self-government. The more self-government becomes a problem, the greater the power and authority of civil government.”(Gary DeMar, Restoring the Foundation of Civilization: God’s Government Or Chaos, p. 15, 18)
The more individuals lack self-government, the more they will look to the all-powerful Nanny State to be a surrogate parent to them – providing, protecting and telling them what to do and think. Those who lack good self-government will always elect leaders who promise them relief from the consequences of their own sin. But of course, that relief ends up being tyranny. The Christian does not seek top-down revolutionary or violent change. Therefore, if you want to change a nation, the place to start is with individuals in self-government, with you and me. True change will not be realized at the top until there’s good (righteous) self-government under God at the bottom. We get the civil government we deserve.
In 1682, William Penn wrote:
“Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But, if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavour to warp and spoil it to their turn.”
The truth is that there is no salvation in politics. No governing document or set of politicians can create freedom, stability, or security by compulsion for people to comply to a set of ideals. Even the best of political intentions will be thwarted by the will of the people. Thus, though we should be involved as Christians in the upper levels of civil government and voting, true lasting change will only happen from the bottom-up. We must aim at reforming the individual, the family, the Church and civil government (in that order).
The only thing which can reform the individual from the inside out and produce lasting change and a love of God’s law is the Gospel. Therefore, our people and churches must be committed to passionate, unapologetic and open Gospel proclamation of salvation in Christ alone, repentance from sin and self-denying cross-bearing in a whole-hearted following after Jesus. This must also not be a truncated Gospel only dealing with personal salvation and avoiding hellfire. Jesus told us that we must make disciples who are taught to obey all that he has commanded. So, Pastors, church leaders and laypeople must be able to disciple people in a complete world-and-life view, including (but not limited to) a beautiful vision of God’s design for societal flourishing and freedom as a powerful apologetic against the secular lies of our day. Then we must live out this Biblical conviction of God’s design for civil society in obedience to Christ and love for our neighbours.
This is an incredible task! But we serve an incredible God who has given us His Word and Spirit. May the Lord guide and empower us so that our labour in the Lord is not in vain!
If you’re looking to learn more about God’s design for Civil Government, please check out my Exegetical Considerations on Romans 13 article.
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