Monday, January 20, 2014

Why Bother with Biblical Politics While We Are a Minority in a Secular Culture?

The Reformation Party advocates for a biblical, Reformed view of politics and social ethics.  We are active both in setting forth a biblical view of civil government on a theoretical level and in encouraging people to take practical action in various ways towards the realization of the biblical ideal.  This activity raises a very natural question/objection that goes something like this:

Why are you bothering to talk about biblical politics, the biblical role of civil magistrates, and what a biblical society would look like in this day and age?  Haven't you noticed that we are very, very far from having anything like a Christian civilization?  Sure, it made sense to think and talk about biblical politics back in the 1600's, but now we live in a secular western culture that doesn't even understand the basics of the gospel or the fundamentals of Christianity, much less a proper view of biblical politics.  Doesn't it make more sense at this time to simply focus on preaching the gospel and leave the political implications of biblical theology to be pursued by society when there are enough orthodox Christians around to actually make such ideas remotely realistic?  When the church focuses too much attention on political issues in our modern society, such as the constant harping on same-sex marriage that has gone on of late, we alienate non-Christians and obscure the preaching of the gospel, making it look like all we are concerned about is imposing our bigoted values on others who cannot possibly understand the rich theological context of our beliefs regarding such things as homosexuality and other moral issues.

These concerns are very natural ones, and I confess that I myself have sometimes felt swayed by them.  But I think their plausibility is merely superficial.  Here are some points I would make in response to them:

1. God has given us his Word as a whole, and he doesn't want us to neglect any portion of it just because it may not seem relevant at a given time.  God's Word gives us teaching that has social and political implications.  The church has a task to read, study, ponder, and come to understand what God has revealed to us on any subject his Word addresses.  That is why the church has always been in the business of developing systematic theologies.  Even if it was completely impossible at this time to implement any biblical principles regarding politics at all, it would still be important for us to consider what God has told us on these matters.

2. Even if it were the case (which it is not, as I will argue below) that biblical political ethics is of no practical value whatsoever at this time, there is no reason to assume that this will always be the case in the future.  I won't get into eschatology at this time, but whatever your eschatological views there is no reason to think that what happened in the past cannot happen again in the future.  We have had explicitly Christian civilizations in the past.  In fact, until very recently, the entire western world was nothing but explicitly Christian civilizations for nearly 1700 years.  None of these civilizations were perfect, by any means, but they were explicitly Christian, and they cared (at least theoretically) about biblical social and political ethics.  It doesn't make sense for the church to wait until the culture becomes more Christian and only then begin to work out how we as a society should function in a biblical manner.  We ought to be ready with answers before the time comes that we need them, just as we recognize in every other area of life.

3. The "Great Commission" Jesus gave to the church was to "go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."  The command was not simply to teach a twelve-point statement of "essential Christian doctrines," or to teach individuals how to be "saved" on a purely individual level.  The command was to teach the entirety of the Word of God to the nations, and that includes its teaching regarding social and political ethics.

4. Following up with #3, we are not just to preach the gospel to the nations (in the sense of the fundamental biblical teaching regarding salvation), but the law of God as well.  The law is the context for the gospel, without which it makes no sense.  And the purpose of the gospel is to bring people into a right relationship with God and his law.  And that law includes not just instructions for isolated individuals but also commands for how humans are to live in relationship with each other.  The gospel does not just save us as individuals from hell.  It conforms us to God's law as individuals but also as fathers, mothers, children, husbands, wives, employers, employees, church elders, church members, civil rulers, civil citizens, etc.  The world does not consist of humans living in isolation from one another, but of humans living together and forming societies.  The preaching of God's Word to the nations, therefore, is not merely for the salvation and sanctification of individuals, but for the sanctification of families, churches, and entire societies.  The social and political teaching of Scripture is an essential part of God's instructions to us which he uses to sanctify us, and all of it must be taught to the church and by the church to the nations.

5. Our non-Christian world is very interested in social and political ethics.  Such matters are frequently and enormously discussed, pondered over, and worked out in our societies.  This is quite natural, as social-ness is such a central feature of human life.  The world wants to hear what we Christians have to say about such matters and how God's Word speaks to them.  They will not be impressed if we refuse to think about or discuss such central issues and instead choose to focus only on matters of individual salvation.  If we refuse to confront the world with God's Word as it speaks to social and political matters, we will present the impression that that the Bible has nothing important to say to such matters and that only the prevailing Naturalistic secularism has any insight in such things.  When we present a Christian worldview to our secular culture, we need to present that worldview in connection with all the matters that come under the purview of human concern.  Certainly, we need to remain balanced in our presentation of the Christian worldview.  Same-sex marriage, for instance, surely isn't the most important issue in the world, and we should not treat it as such.  However, we do not want to fall into the opposite "pietistic" extreme either.  We do not wait until our culture is already Christian before we speak out on matters such as child sex trafficking, abortion, justice in warfare, and many other social issues, even though the moral principles that are relevant in these matters, just as with same-sex marriage, only ultimately make sense in the context of the full Christian worldview.  We do not refrain from speaking out against theft, murder, etc., even though these are only objectively wrong because God's will is opposed to them.  So why would we wait to speak out on same-sex marriage, or euthanasia, or even religious freedom and toleration?  Secular people are not stupid.  They know that we have views on such matters, and they will not be fooled by our patronizing attempts to avoid bringing them up for fear of "turning people off."  This tactic will rightly be regarded as an attempt to dishonestly distort the presentation of our point of view in an effort to be more popular, and it will not be respected.  Instead, we ought to confront the culture with a balanced, holistic picture of all that God has to say.

6. Finally, there are practical things that can happen here and now, despite the minority status of those of us who hold consistently biblical views of social and political ethics.  We may not be able to get a fully-consistent, Reformed Christian president elected in the United States in 2016, but there is much we can do in the meantime.  In addition to confronting our culture with the fullness of the Christian worldview, we can be working on a more local level to influence civil government as it exists closer to us.  We can exert influence in our local communities and towns, and we can work towards the establishment of local Christian communities that can shape the culture around them.  See here for some specific suggestions from the Reformation Party as to how you can get involved in promoting biblical politics in a practical way.

We live in a world today dominated at the highest echelons by Naturalistic, secular thinking.  But rather than making us slink away, afraid of offending prevailing sensibilities, the times we live in should be an encouragement to us to do as the early Christians did in the pagan Roman culture in which they lived--boldly confront non-Christian culture with the full force of God's truth.  Secularism may seem very strong, but it is rotten at heart and must one day fall, just as the Roman Empire eventually submitted to Christ as Lord.  Let us, trusting in God's grace and providence, confront our society with the alternative that is the only thing that is truly of real substance.

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