Sunday, January 5, 2014

Endowed by Our Creator: How Christians Can Preserve God's Gift of Freedom through Political Activity by Keith Johnson

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (August 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Jeremiah M. Zeiset for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 Keith Johnson is a lifelong student of history, politics, economics, and Christian apologetics, having read hundreds of books and thousands of articles on those topics. While he believes Christians should be informed on these topics, he also spurs believers on to make a difference in the political realm. Equipped with a Christian worldview and an understanding that we are "endowed" by our Creator with specific rights, his understanding of these topics has motivated him to take an active role in political education and advocacy organizations, as well as being involved in partisan politics – including running for the U.S. Congress and the Minnesota State Legislature.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Endowed by our Creator asserts that our constitutional rights are not merely political but are gifts from God, and that we have a responsibility to exercise stewardship to preserve them.  It is particularly important for Christians to promote a political environment which allows them to carry out the Great Commission, be salt and light in society, experience religious freedom, and be personally obedient to God.  The author maintains that a Christian worldview  as presented in the scriptures is the most important consideration in defining the proper role of government – one which provides for life on earth being lived most closely to the way God intended, and which permits individuals to follow God's will.  Such a "worldview" has ramifications for all political issues, many of which are discussed in Endowed by our Creator.  The author also presents a Christian perspective on "The Religious Right", "The Religious Left", the courts, globalism, the Afghan and Iraq wars, "The Global War on Terror", and the role of conspiracy in political developments.

You will discover:

The critical role of God’s gift of liberty in a society.
Why it is proper for Christians to be involved in political affairs.
How a Christian worldview relates to political philosophies and issues.
A Christian perspective on the appropriate role of government.
What’s right and wrong with the right and the left?
·         Our current political and social environment exhibits all the signs of the end times.


Product Details:
List Price: $19.95
Paperback: 365 pages
Publisher: LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (August 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1622450426
ISBN-13: 978-1622450428


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Yet, I doubt not thro’ the ages one increasing purpose runs and the thoughts of men are widen’d with the process of the suns. – Alfred Lord Tennyson, Locksley Hall
I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. – Benjamin Franklin
To assess the role Christians should play in politics, it is helpful to look at the purposes God has for human life on earth. Christians know this life will not last forever, and those who believe in Him look toward a future time quite different from those who don’t. Since God, until now, has chosen to continue this earthly existence, we know He has things He wishes to accomplish before terminating it. While His people remain here, God has roles for us to help further His objectives.
In this chapter, I will cover some of God’s purposes and how believers have, and should, participate politically in achieving His ends. This will include a short look at the colonial period in America as well as the time of our country’s founding. The next chapter will address more specifically how Christians’ involvement in politics relates to facilitating the Great Commission, carrying out commands from Scripture, and providing salt and light for society.
A Review of End-Times Beliefs
Christians differ in their views of what the chain of events will be in the end times. I will make a number of points in this chapter and other places in the book based on my beliefs regarding eschatology. Before I launch into a discussion of God’s working in history, I will offer a quick review of the various end-time views and what I believe, to provide a foundational understanding of why I make certain assertions. Of course, if you don’t agree with my eschatological beliefs, you may also not agree with the ideas upon which I have based them.
The Bible describes a one-thousand year period of rule by Jesus Christ known as the millennium. Believers who hold to a postmillennial view assert that He will return to earth after a thousand years of ruling from heaven. Others do not believe in a literal millennium (amillenialists). Some from both of these camps believe it is the duty of Christians to take dominion and establish the rule of Christ on earth. Believers who advocate this view follow what is called dominion theology.
What I believe is the correct view is called premillennialism. Those who hold this view believe Jesus will return to earth and then reign for a thousand years. This period will be preceded by a terrible seven-year period called the tribulation. Some in this group think He will return prior to the tribulation to remove Christians from earth in an event called the rapture (a pre-trib view), others believe He will perform this rescue around the middle of the tribulation (mid-trib), and still others believe this will happen at the end of the tribulation (post-trib). I believe in the pre-trib scenario, although I think a case can be made for a rapture at the middle of the tribulation.
Many, if not most, premillennialist advocates, see events in recent decades pointing to the likelihood of the end times being close at hand based on biblical prophecy. I see evidence of that possibility. Since I am neither an amillennialist nor a postmillennialist, I do not think we as believers should be taking over the world for Christ. So, when I talk about applying Christian principles to government, I am not advocating an effort to build the kingdom of God on earth. However, I believe that if Christian worldview ideas were followed to a large degree in the political realm, we would likely see a great transformation of our society.
Christian Participation in God-Ordained Government
God Moves in History
Most Christians believe, as Tennyson said in the quote at the beginning of the chapter, that an increasing purpose runs throughout the ages, and God guides the course of history to bring about His desired ends. Many believe the ultimate denouement of His workings will be a millennial kingdom ruled by Jesus Christ which, in time, will be succeeded by the new heaven and earth where His followers will dwell with Him forever.
This does not mean things on earth have increasingly improved in a deterministic way as implied by Tennyson, and as believed by some historians and philosophers. Civilizations have risen and fallen; nations and governments have come and gone. For several centuries, it appeared to many that Western Civilization would result in the pinnacle of life on Planet Earth; however, perceptive believers recognize the West has actually been in a period of decline for some time.
In spite of the ebbs and flows of civilizations over the years, most Christians believe God is accomplishing His purposes through history. In this way, we could say history is deterministic – it is ultimately determined by God, and it is moving toward an end: His end. That doesn’t mean all that has and will take place necessarily relates to God’s larger objectives. We do not always know how God uses certain events to further His desired outcomes, although we may recognize, after the fact, how they have contributed to furthering His kingdom and, thus, appear to have been engineered by Him.
Whatever God’s wishes may be for man-centered earthly governments, they are not of ultimate importance since all human institutions will eventually pass away. His desires for them are subordinate to His eternal purposes. However, various human authorities are tools who have been, are, and will be, used by Him to further the establishment of the heavenly kingdom that will replace all temporal rulers.
God’s Direct Rule on Earth
In Genesis 1:26, 28, God commands men to rule over the earth. Since it was issued right after creating the first man and woman, it appears this instruction is intended for all humans and their descendants. It is not completely clear how much of that job is to fall to governments, but presumably they should at least be involved in maintaining the political environment that would facilitate the task. Of course, it was given while God was still directly in control of what happened here on earth and before separate nations existed. The command appears to be intended to give the humans He created authority over the earth. It is not likely that He would want to exclude those who are believers from having a role in that rule.
In the times succeeding the giving of this mandate, God ruled the nation of Israel directly. This went beyond the definition of a theocracy where a government is ruled using God’s principles. Since God Himself was in control, it could almost be considered a super-theocracy.
When God chose Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt He initiated a more formal type of government. In Exodus 18, at the suggestion of his father-in-law, Jethro, Moses established leaders and judges over groups of ten, fifty, a hundred and a thousand. The Ten Commandments issued through Moses were rules directly from God about how individuals were to live their personal lives. The many additional laws specified in Exodus and the other historical books draw on these commandments and, in effect, flesh them out. Specific punishments laid out for many of these laws indicate they were to be enforced by Israel’s government.
Since God created the rules, human legislators were not needed. Men were called upon to administer the laws, although not too much is said about how that was done, or how those wielding executive power were picked – except for main leaders like Moses whom God personally chose. In cases of major disobediences like the incident of the golden calf and Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16), God directly acted as a judge and meted out punishment through leaders such as Moses. Presumably, in cases of individual violations of the laws, a system of justice to judge and punish lawbreakers existed.
In a later period, God used judges to rule over Israel. One assumes the rules He laid down in Moses’ time remained in effect. It is likely those judges had some type of judicial and penal system that used Israelites in its administration. God dealt directly through the judges on matters affecting the whole nation. We have the biblical reference to chiefs of the various tribes in Judges, but we are told little about their rule over civil society. The book of Judges primarily discusses the role of the appointed judges as head of the military.
Kings and Prophets
After the period of the judges, God established a system where kings were the rulers. This was not His choice , but the result of the Israelites' request for a king. God warned them of how such rulers would abuse their power. From this, we know the vesting of authority in one person was not His ideal. Much later in history, when some adopted the doctrine of the divine right of kings, they were not following God’s Word.
It didn’t take long for God to be proven right about kings. The very first, Saul, was disobedient to the point where God intervened to replace him with David. God’s warnings were borne out by the actions of other kings of Judah and Israel – only a few of whom were obedient to Him. Some also oppressed their subjects as God had indicated they would. Rehoboam, for example, against the advice of his elders, put a heavy burden on the people which resulted in a rebellion that divided Israel (I Kings 12), and Ahab, with the aid of his wife Jezebel, caused the death of Naboth in order to acquire his vineyard (I Kings 21).
Even the best of Israel and Judah’s kings, David, who was described as a man after God’s own heart, abused his power by having sex with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his military men. He then set up a situation where that military man, Uriah, would be killed in battle, effectively murdering him.
If kings wouldn’t follow God when He was dealing with them personally and through His prophets, we certainly cannot expect them to rule in accordance with His laws now that He is no longer speaking to them as directly.
Many of God’s warnings about kings equally hold true for oligarchies where a small group of people rule or, actually, for any system where a central government has unchecked authority to do as it wishes. Throughout history, we have seen countless examples of how kings and oligarchs have abused their power, oppressed their subjects, and ruled in a way not pleasing to God. We certainly can see what He meant when He warned the Israelites about kings.
During this period God used prophets to communicate His desires to Israel’s leaders. Most often the kings did not listen to them or heed their warnings. Again, it can be assumed that laws given earlier by God were still in force. In looking at Old Testament times as a whole, we can say that God, as legislator, established all the laws for Israel, and that both He and its leaders participated in the executive and judicial functions of government.
God’s rule over Judah and Israel was a very special case since they were His chosen people. God did not assert as direct a control over other nations in Old Testament times. He did, however, use them in various ways, such as punishing both Israel and Judah – which were also used, in turn, to punish those nations for their evil and idolatrous ways.
Will Nations Continue?
God really established separate nations when He scattered the people at the Tower of Babel by causing them to speak different languages. Most nations in this time were ruled monolithically, but we have no evidence God approved this. In fact, when the people of Israel asked for a king to rule over them, their reason was so they would be like the other nations, and He clearly warned them this would not be a good idea.
It seems separate nations are God’s intention as long as this present earth remains. Not much is said about their role in the millennial rule. However, at the end of the thousand years when Satan is released from the pit, he will deceive the nations from the four corners of the earth and gather them for war against the saints (Revelation 20: 8, 9). Those nations are said to include Gog and Magog which are mentioned in Scripture references to times before the millennium. This indicates not only the existence of nations during Christ’s reign, but also shows that at least some of them may be continuations of those that exist prior to the establishment of His rule.
Government in New Testament Times
God's Word indicates that He expected separate nations to exist in New Testament times. The term "Gentiles" used so frequently actually means “nations” in Greek. Roman hegemony over much of the Middle East and Europe at the time probably disguised the fact that many nations and cultures existed. When Paul took the gospel to the Gentiles, he was going to places that, although ruled by Rome, still thought of themselves as separate countries. That was certainly true of Judea itself.
By New Testament times, the situation had changed dramatically. While the Jews were still involved with the ceremonial and moral law, they had only a limited role in the civil law. Rather, those rules were primarily set and administered by the occupying Roman authorities. Nothing in the New Testament indicates God would re-institute a direct rule over the Jews or any other country, until the time of the millennium when Jesus would reign over the whole earth.
Of the types of law God established in the Old Testament, the sacrificial law is no longer needed after Christ’s death. And men and women are responsible to God for keeping of the moral laws. What remains to be enforced by human governments is the civil law.
Some suggest that the New Testament does not counsel Christians to be involved in politics and that examples of believers participating in such affairs are nonexistent, and because of this we should not be involved either. However, at that time, Israel was under the iron-fisted rule of Rome with little opportunity for individuals to affect the law. That fact should not preclude such involvement by believers where it is possible. Nor does it mean Christians shouldn’t be a part of the establishment of a new government system for a nation, as they were at the founding of the United States.
The rationale some Christians use for saying believers shouldn’t be involved in politics is very similar to that employed by believers to justify slavery. In both cases, the justification is provided by citing societal situations that were in play in the biblical ages as being normative for all periods of time. In the case of slavery, it has been said by some Christians that since it was practiced during the time when scripture was being written, and was not specifically condemned, that God, therefore, condones it, and it should be acceptable in all societies. Yet, most believers recognize this type of thinking as fallacious and applaud the efforts of Christians like William Wilberforce in ending the practice. It is instructive to note that to be in the position where he was able to further this change, Wilberforce had to be involved in politics as a member of the English Parliament.
Just as the cultural and political climate in New Testament times included slavery, it also did not provide opportunities for believers to participate in politics. Since such activity was not specifically prescribed in the Bible, some say it is prohibited in any era – regardless of whether conditions in a later cultural period allow for it. This is similar to how some have tried to justify slavery, because it was prevalent when the Bible was written. But history has shown that Christians involved in politics have furthered God’s kingdom – most notably through the establishment of the United States and the influence American Christians have had throughout the world.
It is apparent that what is written in the New Testament about government (as in Paul’s discussion in Romans 13) is intended to apply to civil rule over nations and their subordinate political jurisdictions. It seems to assume believers will live under a variety of different polities. It does not state or imply that Christians should try to re-establish the type of theocratic government we see in the Old Testament. In fact, unless God starts speaking again to believers directly or through prophets, it wouldn’t be possible to operate in the manner practiced in Old Testament times.
God’s Use of Human Authorities
Today, Christians who assert believers should not be involved in politics at all frequently say such efforts are unnecessary or futile because God raises up government and its leaders. That is true. It says in Daniel 2:21, It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings. But God does not send angels down to earth to establish governments or take positions in existing jurisdictions. He uses flesh and blood humans in these efforts – just as He does in other things He wishes to accomplish.
Some Christians think that because God will achieve His purposes, believers can sit back and watch as He works, and that they need not participate at all in what He is doing – at least in anything beyond evangelism. It is true God will achieve His goals with or without the cooperation of Christians, but it does not follow that we should not be involved in working toward those goals. It would certainly seem that some of the people God raises up to govern would be His believers.
God also raises up people to positions in His church. That does not mean Christians should not seek His will, and, when finding it, should not either take on such leadership positions themselves or prepare others for them. The church is God’s primary vehicle for carrying out His command to go into all the world and make disciples. However, just as God ordained the church, He also ordained government. Both institutions serve His purposes. If Christians are not involved in governments, they will be totally controlled by unbelievers. Does it make sense to say that He has or will in the future raise up only non-Christians as governmental authorities?
Christians should be in receptive to God’s will and respond to His leading. When believers are in tune with God and involved in the political process, it is more likely the outcome will be what He desires. Of course, God will accomplish His ultimate purposes, and He does use unbelievers, although we don’t really know how He gets them to do His bidding. However, would he not also use His people who are sensitive to His wishes? May He not even prefer to use us?
Looking at history, we can see certain nations have worked to thwart God’s purposes. Some have tried to prevent the propagation of the gospel within their borders. Others have conquered nations previously open to the salvation story, and within nations, leaders and groups have worked to suppress the spread of God’s kingdom. But some countries have allowed God’s message to be disseminated freely – most notably in the United States.
God’s chief purpose for earthly life is to propagate the gospel and bring as many people as possible into His kingdom. Arguably, the establishment of the United States has contributed as much to that goal as any development in history. Does it not seem that those involved in creating and maintaining our nation were doing God’s work by enabling the spread of the gospel?
It is God’s intent to use government to further His larger purposes. It is also certainly true that believers are expected to advance God’s objectives. If government is one tool He uses to achieve these objectives, it should go without saying that some Christians would be involved in political affairs. To assert otherwise would be to say that God would use government to promote His purposes solely with those who do not believe in Him.
It is stated in scripture that believers will rule with Christ during the millennium. We do not know the details of how that rule will be carried out. We do know this will not be a time of perfection since many will rebel against God at the end of the thousand years. So, some type of political structure and laws will be needed to try to restrain unregenerate men and women who are part of the earth’s population. We do not know how much of the political structure that exists at the time of Christ’s return will be carried over into the millennium. We do know Jesus will be the head ruler, but if nations with governments are still in place (either as constituted at the beginning of the period or as reorganized by Christ), believers will likely serve in them. It is possible that our role will be based on our experiences on earth before the millennium. If so, our life now could be partially a preparation for our rule with Christ. In that case, involvement with politics now is an important activity for at least some Christians.
A small number of Christians have promoted the view that Christians should establish a theocracy where all the non-ceremonial laws of the Old Testament would be implemented and that Christ will not return until this is substantially accomplished. This movement is known as Christian reconstructionism. However, I see nothing in the New Testament that suggests the purpose of government should be to impose God’s complete moral law on all people through human law. We are not even told for certain that Jesus Christ will establish such a government or governments when He returns to rule the earth for 1,000 years in the millennium.
One belief that is quite prevalent among believers is that since God ordains all government, we should, therefore, make no effort to oppose evil regimes or rulers, that such action is actually thwarting His will. While God allows such people as Hitler, Stalin et al. to gain and maintain power for a time, and He will sometimes use these leaders and their governments to accomplish certain aspects of His ends, this does not necessarily mean He desires that type of tyranny to be in place. We, as believers, should always oppose evil wherever we find it.
God’s Purpose for Civil Government
Although God’s ultimate objective is to bring as many people as possible to be with Him in eternity, in conjunction with that goal, He works to bring history to a culmination that will lead to the millennial rule. He also has a vision for how government can aid life on earth in the meantime.
The passage of scripture that talks most directly about this is Romans 13:1-7. In these verses, God tells us through Paul what those purposes are and what our responsibilities are to be to those who govern. He tells us that all authority is actually established by Him to be a minister of God for you for good (Romans 13:4). In doing so, it punishes evil.
Surely He would want his children to assume roles in an institution He has prescribed. If we don’t, control of governments will be completely in the hands of those who have not experienced God’s redemptive power, do not understand His laws, and have not subordinated their wills to Him. Such governments will likely not do good, but rather oppress their citizens. History is replete with examples of tyrannical governments void of Christian influence. In the Romans passage, rulers are also said to be servants of God. Who better to perform that function than Christians who, if being obedient to Him, are already His servants?
We get further ideas of why government is ordained by God in I Timothy 2:1-2, where we are asked to pray for kings and those in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This indicates that government must punish evil men and women because they disrupt order in society and, in so doing, prevent us from having an environment where we can live such lives. For Christians, this is a society where we are free to be obedient to God, and if governments are to restrain those who would prevent us from living a tranquil quiet life, it should go without saying that they themselves should not take actions that disrupt our ability to lead such lives.
Christians’ Roles in Government
Governments that carry out their mandate properly are not very prevalent in the world’s history. Rather, the tendency for government leaders has been to grasp power and restrict freedom. A Christian who understands the nature of the world and human beings will have a better idea of how to construct a government with a greater likelihood of maximizing liberty. If believers actually serve in government leadership posts, they are not as likely to abuse power and squelch freedom. Christians, who should have as a priority being obedient to God, have a vested interest in maintaining a political environment where they have the freedom to do so.
A government based on God’s principles and a proper notion of man will be more likely to best carry out the appropriate functions of government. It is possible there could be such a government without believers participating in any way – where no Christian has a position in it, nor has given any input into its formation. But is that likely? A government could exist that is good because those in authority, although not necessarily believers, are not power-hungry and sincerely seek to do the right things. However, unless the form of that government discourages the obtaining of power, the reins of that government in the future will likely pass into the hands of those who will use their positions for personal gain or power.
The best chances for a government that allows the unbridled growth of God’s kingdom will occur with involvement from believers. That would include counsel and input in the process of actually founding a government as well as advice in ensuring its continued adherence to founding principles. Christians should have the discernment to recognize when government moves away from sound ideas and practices. In order to do so, they must keep themselves informed about what is going on in political affairs. I believe Christians have an obligation to do that and also to inform others about threats they see to the polity under which they live.
If Christians engage in commentary on issues and influence people politically, but none of them are willing to actually get involved in the political process, it would likely be perceived as adopting a superior attitude. It communicates an attitude of “let us tell you how it should be done,” while also saying, “we’re not going to get our hands dirty doing any of the actual work.” Such an attitude is similar to what James related about a believer encountering a needy person: If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and be filled, and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (James 2:15, 16). This does not mean that all Christians must actually be actively involved in politics. But if we, as a body, comment on political issues, we should also acknowledge that some of our number should be willing to participate.
If God does, indeed, ordain nations and uses them to further His ends, it doesn’t seem like He would want all of His children sitting on the sidelines and not taking part – like spectators at a dramatic performance. This is particularly true when He has given them gifts through the Holy Spirit that could aid in what He is trying to accomplish. Does it also not make sense to use those who are attuned to His will?
The United States has been used mightily by God throughout our history. Christians put forth much effort in the setting up of the nation. God has used even those who disobey Him to achieve His purposes. So, it is possible that everything done by Christians to the end of freeing us from Britain and setting up a new nation was displeasing to Him. However, what cannot be denied is the considerable (even monumental) amount of involvement on the part of believers in the forming of our country. Is it likely God was unhappy with all those believers who contributed in some way to the establishment of America? It resulted in a nation that produced unprecedented freedom to worship God, and which has sent missionaries all over the world to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Doesn’t it seem more likely that believers were obedient to God by participating in His raising up a government like none other in history – one that has facilitated mightily the promulgation of the Word?
Political Involvement that Fits God’s Timing
We cannot know for certain what God is working to accomplish in a given time in history, or how He intends for Christians to contribute to his plans for that era. However, it is possible that whether and how He wants believers to participate in the political arena depends on His objectives for that period. In New Testament times, it may be that God did not wish for His people to be involved in politics not only because of the difficulty in doing so under Roman rule, but also because His most important objective at that time was to firmly establish His church and have it provide a witness to the various parts of the world.
In later centuries in Europe, it may be that God wanted believers to be active in governments to develop Western Civilization as a prelude to causing the gospel to spread throughout the world. In our colonial and founding eras, He may have wished to create a nation which would be used as a base for sending missionaries to all points on the earth. Today His interest may include having Christians oppose the coming world system described in Revelation.
Responsibility for God’s Gift of Freedom
When believers find themselves in a political situation that fosters considerable freedom to grow the kingdom of God, it seems He would want them to expend effort to maintain that ability. That is the position in which believers in America found themselves after our government had been firmly established. Christians did a reasonably good job of contributing to the preservation of our liberty for a while, but over the passage of time, believers have paid less attention to political affairs – particularly in recent decades when the insights of believers were needed as our freedoms were slipping away.
Whatever has gone on in the past, when we reach a place where freedom is severely threatened, as it is now, Christians should not just sit idly by until it is gone completely, since we know that the loss of liberty will also greatly curtail our efforts at furthering the kingdom. Believers should have seen this situation coming years ago and worked to prevent it from getting this bad. It is irresponsible to see a danger and allow it to become so serious, without making efforts to stop it. It may be said many believers did nothing since they did not recognize the threat, but my contention is that if they were really paying attention to what was going on in the world and truly looking at those events through the lens of Scripture, they would have seen the approaching perils. If, as the Declaration of Independence states, and I assert throughout this book, freedom is a gift from God, then we believers have a responsibility to care for it. Such care surely includes the establishment and maintenance of governments that protect this freedom and which do not infringe on it.
I feel particularly bad when I break or lose an item I received as a gift. I am especially bothered if the loss was due to carelessness on my part. It shows a lack of regard, not only for the item, but for the person who gave it to me.
A couple of years after college, my mother gave me a set of silverware that our family used for years, but which she no longer needed. In one of my many moves at the time, I placed all the utensils in that set in a bag, intending to take them to the car just before leaving. Somehow, I forgot them and didn’t realize it until much later. This incident troubled me for years and still does somewhat, even though my mother has been gone for more than six years. I doubt if it would have bothered me if it had been something I had purchased myself, but it just seemed like I had slighted her by not caring for the silverware properly.
I may be more sensitive than necessary about such things or at least more so than the average person. However, I think many people feel a particular responsibility for taking care of something given to them. Certainly, we should feel that type of responsibility to an even greater degree for the gifts God has given us – particularly when the gift is such an important one as freedom. To have a lackadaisical attitude toward it demonstrates ungratefulness to, and a lack of regard for, the God who gave it to us.
Politics in the End Times
Some say that since the return of Christ is so imminent, we should do nothing to try to salvage society or its governments; rather, we should put all our efforts into saving souls. One cannot argue with the priority of evangelism. However, it is not an either/or choice. We should be active in politics for a number of reasons – even if facing the impending end of the world as we know it. First, we do not know God’s exact timeline. The signs have been such that it seems to me (and I’m sure, others) that the rapture should have already happened, but it hasn’t. It appears God may be moving at a slower pace than many of us expect. What if the Lord delays His coming for another fifty or a hundred years (or more)? At the speed events are happening in the world, being able to hold off efforts to control Christians for that number of years could mean a big difference in our ability to proselytize in the time remaining.
Second, we as individual Christians and as the church are to be Christ’s witnesses on earth. That is equally true whether the world goes on for thousands of years or it ends next week. The likelihood of Christ’s return should not change that. If we are to be involved in political affairs, then it should not matter how long we have to do it. This does not mean we should not have an increased sense of urgency about evangelism as we see the time grow seemingly short.
As the end does approach, conditions in the world will likely worsen considerably. Non-believers will be looking for answers. Christians should not be surprised to see problems escalating. But if our attitude is that we are not going to help address these problems because “we’re out of here, you guys are going to have to stay and clean up the mess,” it is not going to attract anyone to Christ. Many who see this cavalier attitude may, as a result, never be open to the gospel message. So, we need to involve ourselves in trying to straighten out a world which we believe may not last long. It is possible the opportunity for the church to be a corporate witness in the world will never be greater than near the end.
Third, we are to oppose evil in the world. As the end approaches, we should expect more strong signs of a developing evil world government which will be working against God. Moves toward establishing that government should be actively resisted by Christians.
Historical Perspective on Christian Involvement in Politics
Political Environment of the Old Testament
In the discussion of “Christian Participation in God-Ordained Government” above, we looked at how God governed Judah and Israel in Old Testament times. I will now discuss the roles of some of God’s people in other governments during that time.
Joseph ultimately became the de facto ruler of Egypt. Daniel was in the governments of Babylonia and the Medo-Persian Empire at a high level. Both of these men were very strong witnesses based on how they did their jobs and how they remained true to God.
Esther is another example. Although she lacked any real authority, her influence saved the Jewish people in Persia. Mordecai, her uncle, was an advisor to the king, Ahasuerus.
Joseph was plucked from prison and placed in the government of Pharaoh. He didn’t apply for the job, and it doesn’t appear he really had a choice in whether he wanted the position he received. Daniel was in Babylonia as a member of the Jewish captive people. It is questionable whether he had any choice about serving in the positions he held. Mordecai was in Ahasuerus’ government of Persia as part of the Jewish captive people, and his service likely was also not voluntary. So, we probably shouldn’t use any of these Old Testament people as examples in answering the question as to whether a believer should choose to be involved in governmental affairs.
In looking at the New Testament, we don’t really see examples of believers involved in politics. Given that all the areas where Christians lived at that time were part of the very authoritarian Roman Empire, one would not expect any of them to have had opportunities for such activity.
The American Experience
It is instructive to look at the beginning of the colonies in the New World – particularly the one settled by the Pilgrims at Plymouth. If they would have followed the counsel that Christians should not be involved in politics, they would have made no effort to establish a government. They also could have said they didn’t need to do so, since God would raise one up and provide it with leadership.
That does raise the question of where God was to get the people to run His government. We never know for certain which individuals are true believers in Christ, since we cannot see inside the hearts of others. But from what we do know, it is likely that most of the Pilgrims were born-again believers. If they had been thinking like some Christians today, they would have considered those who came forward to organize a government as disobedient believers. If such a view is right, then from God’s perspective it would have been best if those setting up the government were actually unbelievers, since then none of the Christians would have been disobedient.
It is possible that among the Pilgrims, as in most Christian bodies, some were not true believers – that tares lived among the wheat. If the true believers thought political involvement to be wrong and, therefore, obediently declined to be involved in the running of the colony, God would have had only a few colonists (the phony Christians) to work with to raise up a government. The Mayflower did have a crew that may have included those who were not believers. It might have been possible to put together a government from the crew and non-believing Pilgrims, but that would have resulted in an essentially Christian colony being ruled by unbelievers.
It is also possible that if the Pilgrims had not established authority over the colony, God could have raised up the Indians as their government by having them conquer the Pilgrims and rule over them.
Maybe they could have placed advertisements in European newspapers such as:
Wanted: Men and women to establish and run the government of Plymouth Colony in America
Qualification: Must not be a believer in Jesus Christ
The problem is that even the effort to seek governors for their colony would be involvement with politics, which they weren’t supposed to do, remember?
The only option they had, if they wanted to be obedient to God, was to do nothing. This is close to what was initially done at the Jamestown colony in Virginia, and the results were disastrous. Although it had a government of sorts, with little organization or Christian influence, it suffered from disease, starvation, theft, fire, Indian attacks, and much loss of life.
I have been intentionally facetious in presenting these various options for Plymouth Colony based on the assumption that God does not want His people to be politically active. My objective was to show a contrast between those alternatives and what was actually done. Doesn’t it make more sense to believe that the Pilgrims recognized the need for order in their colony, and in acting to meet that need, those who became their leaders were the people God raised up to establish the governmental authority He prescribes for civil society? The Pilgrims actually began their effort to create a government before they even left the ship by drafting and signing the Mayflower Compact. It became one of the precursors for the government eventually founded for the United States.
To be consistent, opponents of Christian political involvement would have to believe the Pilgrims were disobedient in setting up a government for their colony. But, realistically, if they were to have a government as called for in God’s Word, it would have had to be established by believers. It is likely that even the most ardent opponents of political activity by Christians would acknowledge that, in this highly exceptional case, it was okay for believers to be involved, because no government previously existed, and primarily only Christians were available to create one. But, again, if they were to be consistent, they would have to question continuing involvement when a government was well-established. At what point would they feel comfortable turning it over to unbelievers?
Is the United States a Christian Nation?
What Does it Mean to Be a Christian Nation?
Whether the United States is a Christian nation is a question addressed frequently in recent years by both believers and non-believers. However, rarely do those answering that question define what they mean by “A Christian Nation.” Most often, they just launch into a discussion of why we either have or have not been a Christian nation.
What are some of the possible definitions of a Christian nation? Does it mean a majority of people in the nation are true believers in Jesus Christ? The problem with that definition is that one cannot see inside another’s heart. Orthodox Christianity says that a Christian is one who has received the gift of salvation. It is particularly difficult to look back more than two centuries to determine who was and who was not truly a believer.
Is a Christian nation one where a majority of residents profess to be Christians? What if 95 percent of the people claimed to be Christians but only a small minority lived their lives according to the principles of the Bible? It doesn’t seem like we would be justified on that basis to designate the country as Christian.
Is a nation Christian if its culture reflects Christian principles and acknowledges the God of the Bible in its public institutions? Under that definition, we might say the United States was a Christian nation at the time of our founding, but it has experienced a marked change in recent decades. Due to recent Supreme Court rulings, the Ten Commandments are no longer in many classrooms. In many schools, Christmas programs or concerts are called holiday or winter concerts. Many Bible verses remain in public buildings, because they are chiseled in stone, but they mostly serve as a reminder of when the Christian religion was dominant in the United States. We could, legitimately, have been called a culturally Christian country in the past, but little evidence warrants that classification today.
The questions I have been asking deal primarily with the culture and the beliefs of the people of America at the time of the founding. People who ask whether the United States is a Christian nation are most often addressing whether our government was established as Christian. A better question would be: “Was the United States founded as a Christian nation?” However, even that question has different answers depending on what one means by “founded.” Some would say it would only be founded as a Christian nation if its basic law was intended to carry out the mandates of the Bible. Such a government would involve passing laws against activities prohibited in Scripture. This would truly be a theocracy. If that is what is meant, I believe few of any political or theological stripe would say we were founded as a Christian nation. I think few believers would want our nation to operate in that manner.
Before returning to the question of whether we were founded as a Christian nation, let’s examine some of the issues discussed by those dealing with the question.
Reasons Some Say the United States is Not a Christian Nation
Many who deny we were established as a Christian nation say important founders were deists – not orthodox Christians. Some cite the fact that God is not mentioned in the Constitution. Others suggest many of the presuppositions underlying the government our founders set up were based on ideas from the Enlightenment. Others believe many of the founders were elitists. These points are made by those who are quite conservative, including Christians. Is there any validity to such claims? Let’s look at them individually.
1. Certainly, there were founders whose religious views could be categorized as being deist – a belief that God created the world, but then let it operate without His direction. Those include some well-known names associated with our nation’s founding – like Jefferson and Franklin. However, of the other men who contributed their thinking to the formation of our governmental system, some were Christians, though they may not be known as well as some of those identified as deists. Nevertheless, they had a profound impact on the form of our government. These included: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Roger Sherman, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
Several signers of the Constitution had been students of John Witherspoon at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and were deeply influenced by him. Witherspoon was a Presbyterian pastor and a very orthodox Christian. His pupils included James Madison whose influence at the Constitutional Convention earned him the appellation of “Father of the Constitution.” Witherspoon himself was a member of Congress and the New Jersey Senate, and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Franklin, in urging that daily prayer be instituted at the Constitutional Convention said:
“I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that 'except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel.”
He certainly doesn’t sound like a deist who believes God leaves men to their own devices and doesn’t intervene in their world.
2. God actually is mentioned in the Constitution. It is indicated as being signed "in the year of our Lord.” Some defenders of the idea that we were founded as a Christian nation cite that as partial proof, but I believe that is stretching a point. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, such a designation was in general use.
However, the lack of any substantive mention of God in the Constitution does not indicate we were not founded as a Christian nation – nor should it be considered surprising. A constitution is basically a technical document which lays out the nuts and bolts of how an organization conducts its affairs.
It is really in the Declaration of Independence where the philosophic underpinnings of our system were laid down, and that document very specifically declares our rights come from God. This statement has far-reaching ramifications that are dealt with throughout this book.
It is interesting that many of the state constitutions did have specific references to God. They also had requirements that office-holders be Christians. In fact, at the time the Constitution was being debated, several states had established religions. If one looks at the America of 1787, as not the federal government, but rather the sum of the various states, then a better case could be made for saying we were a Christian nation – even that we were founded as one. There is some justification for such a view. People tended to look at themselves more as Virginians, Pennsylvanians, etc. than as Americans. They saw the national government they had created as very limited – rather than one that would command greater loyalty than their state. It may be the desire to leave the question of religion to the individual states is one reason for the lack of any mention of God in the Constitution.
3. Was the United States based on principles of the Enlightenment rather than Christianity? There certainly was some of that thinking among founders. However, many assume all the ideas of the Enlightenment were in direct conflict with Christian beliefs – that a strict dichotomy exists between Christianity and those ideas. But in reading about the Enlightenment it is difficult even to come up with a hard-and-fast definition for what the term means. Many who write on the topic view it quite differently.
Isaac Newton and John Locke (who are considered Christians) are two names associated with the Enlightenment. Locke had a particularly large amount of influence on the ideas of several founders. Born into a Puritan family, Locke did move away from their religious views. His ideas on religion (as well as many of his other thoughts) are somewhat complicated. However, he did not reject Christianity.
Montesquieu is another person who has been identified with the Enlightenment. He was a Frenchman who advocated the separation of powers in government in his major work The Spirit of the Laws. He was very influential in colonial America, being one of the most frequently quoted thinkers prior to the Revolution. Separation of powers is an idea many founders – particularly Christians – recognize as necessary due to the tendency of fallen men and women to increase their power through government. This is one example which illustrates how ideas that influenced our founding from an Enlightenment thinker were actually very compatible with Christian thinking.
In general, one could say that the Enlightenment was a movement toward more use of the mind to evaluate ideas, rather than merely accepting the authority of the state and church, which had dominated European society for some time. There is nothing implicitly anti-Christian about using the mental facilities which God gave us, and we should not, as believers, uncritically accept the pronouncements from human institutions – be they church, state, or other. Of course, when we elevate our minds to the point that we accept ideas in conflict with God’s Word, we are going too far.
Merely because some philosophic concepts were arrived at by developing ideas that came out of the Enlightenment does not, in and of itself, make those concepts anti-Christian. We need to hold up all thinking against God’s Word to see if it is consistent with it.
The Enlightenment liberated thinking from human institutions. This led to more people thinking for themselves. One would expect some would use this freedom to oppose God but others to develop ideas consistent with a Christian worldview.
4. Some assert that many founders were elitists looking out for the interests of the well-situated and not that concerned about the common man. Some who have called them elitists have done so because they come to the discussion with a social-leveling or Marxist perspective. They believe the function of a government is to equalize the economic statuses of society’s members, and they assert that the structure laid out by the Constitution militates against government assuming such a role. That is true, but that doesn’t make the founders elitists. They merely believed that an open-ended constitution that permitted government to do whatever those who gain control of it wish is detrimental to freedom. They were actually protecting the interests of the common man that tend to get overrun by the power of big government.
If one believes government should provide for people, then one could look at the system set up by our fathers as protecting the interests of the powerful and mighty and those who set it up as elitists. However, as asserted throughout this book, that is not what government should be doing.
If our founders were primarily elitists who had their own interests in mind, why would they have set up a form of government where the power was so dispersed? Why wouldn't they have concentrated power in a way they could more easily use to maintain control? Since they were highly respected and had the confidence of so many people, they may have gotten away with establishing such a system. But they, in effect, gave away their power, rather than arrogating it onto themselves. Also, many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence paid a heavy price for opposing England. They suffered losses of members of their families, possessions, and their health. Elitists don’t normally make such sacrifices for the good of others.
A More Relevant Question
This raises a more important question that needs to be asked about our country. Are the basic documents upon which our national and state governments were founded based on biblical principles? Do they reflect a Christian understanding of the nature of man and the world? Are they consistent with a Christian worldview?
One of the main ideas incorporated into our government was the concept of limited, specified functions. Another was the recognition of the need for the separation of powers among the various branches of government. These ideas sprung from the Christian conception of man – the belief that humans have a fallen nature. Because they are flawed, men tend to gain and maintain power in their own self-interest. Recognizing this, the founders created a government with limited, specified functions – one where attempts to gain power would be difficult, and where power would be divided.
Even Thomas Jefferson, who was not an orthodox Christian, recognized this when he said, “In matters of power let no more be heard of the confidence in man but bind them down from mischief by the chains of the constitution." Although he may have been a deist, he recognized that men were fallible – which accorded with the Christian view of human nature prevalent at the time.
It is because of this view of human nature that the founders recognized the necessity of limiting government and not concentrating its power. Although not all those who shaped the form of our government believed in the presence of a sin nature in man, the pervasiveness of such a view at that time certainly caused a majority of them to see the need for placing restrictions on governmental power.
The question regarding Christianity and our founding has been phrased wrongly. Rather than asking whether we are a Christian nation or whether we were founded as one, we should ask if we were founded on Christian principles – particularly with a Christian understanding of the nature of men and women. If the question is asked that way, the answer is definitely in the affirmative.
Perhaps the best indication that political involvement is proper for the Christian is the testimony of American history. Christians played predominant roles in establishing this country on biblical principles, and we have been blessed as no other nation in history. If God had been displeased with the efforts of those early American Christians, would He have allowed us to prosper as we have? Would He have blessed us as He has?
In reality, the proper way to look at this situation is that human government is an essential part of life on earth – just like many other institutions and occupations. We, as believers, are “in this world, but not of it.” It is unrealistic to think Christians will not have a part in all legitimate activities that take place here on earth – including those that involve politics.

1 comment:

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