Results tagged “Government” from Reformation21 Blog

Jesus and the Federal Budget?

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One of the interesting aspects of Scripture is that it doesn't tell us the precise way in which moral principles should be implemented in the civil sphere--even while it contains ironclad moral commands and lasting principles for the lives of God's people. This makes sense for quite a number of reasons.

In the first place, it is important for us to note that the Old Testament was written in the context of a theocracy--a situation far distant from our own. Today, the theocratic nation of Israel is a matter of history and no longer in existence. The Westminster Confession of Faith even goes so far as to say that that "sundry judicial laws...expired together with the State of that people" (WCF 19.4).

The New Testament was written in the context of an underdog atmosphere where the ability of Christians to have any influence on the laws of Rome would have seemed laughably absurd. The New Testament doesn't envision a scenario of cultural/political conquest for Christians, but instead assumes that the readers are powerless minorities who need to learn how to live as a minority in the face of opposition.

In spite of these realities, we continue to find ourselves in an environment where Christians of various stripes insist that the Bible gives us very specific commands for how the government should be run. One of the clearest examples of this at the moment is last week's announcement that over 100 evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders made a joint statement challenging the proposed budget set forth by the Executive Branch of the U.S. government.

The letter, which is addressed to Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, and Nancy Pelosi, states that America has a moral responsibility to not reduce its International Affairs Budget. One might wonder whether the Bible instructs governments as to how to set their budgets. According to the letter in question, it is found in Matthew 25, where Jesus says "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

These are words, of course, which Jesus directs to His disciples in which He is telling His people how to live in the world and to love other believers. These are words directed to the church of Jesus Christ, for sure. It's hard to conceive of the disciples standing before Caesar and talking budget cuts. My suspicion is that they felt they had a more important message to share.

I am not suggesting that the United States government should or should not seek to assist the poor. However, as a pastor and a minister of the Gospel, I would be out of my depth to suggest what a wise or unwise use of the federal budget would be in this regard.

Some Christians are adamant that the federal government should have little to no budget. Some think that we should have a massive budget that protects every citizen--not only of the U.S., but also of the world. What troubles me most of all is the idea that we should baptize our political preferences and make them the law of the land. This happens all the time, but in this case it's especially sanctimonious and troubling.

Consider the wording of the final paragraph:

"As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the 'shining city upon a hill,'"

The idea that the signers of the letter would accept the statement that the United States is "the 'shining city upon a hill'" is not only disturbing, but another symptom of a Messianic complex that America is still, evidently, struggling to shrug off.

In Matthew 5:14 Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." Why does Jesus say that his people should do good works in this passage? Because, he says, so that "others...may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (5:16). In seeking to apply an imperative made to the church to the United States of America, we feed rather than lessen America's messianic self-identification.

I am especially troubled that there are signatories of this letter within my own denomination (the PCA), but perhaps even more so that two of the signatories sign the letter, not as concerned citizens, but as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Vice President of Governmental Relations of the NAE, respectively. This is a lobbyist group that serves, among many others, the denomination of which I am a part. These are men presuming to speak on behalf of my church and other constituents.

I believe that we need to think long and hard about whether or not we want to be associated with a group that speaks on behalf of us while dictating foreign policy and budget to the government.

The answer to these problems, in part, is for Christians to have a modest assessment of the Bible's teachings and how closely they really apply in the political realm. In the short-term, I wonder whether the PCA ought to even continue its association with the NAE.

 

Adam Parker is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church of America and the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, MS. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.  

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Enos Hitchcock (1744-1803) was a Harvard graduate (1767) and a chaplain for several brigades in the Colonial militia (seeing battle at Ticonderoga, Saratoga, Valley Forge, and West Point). He also served as chaplain of the Continental Army from 1779-1780. He preached in other New England churches after the Revolutionary War, prior to settling as the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Providence, Rhode Island, from 1783 until his death. During his pastorate, the church grew and built an impressive church in 1794-75 at the corner of Benefit and Benevolent streets. Later his church which was Arminian under his leadership became Unitarian, shortly after his time.

Among his other fiery sermons was a 1780 sermon accusing Benedict Arnold of 'perfidy.' He was involved in various causes, ranging from education to abolition, even purchasing a slave but manumitting him in his will. His diaries were published in 1899 and can be found here

Hitchcock delivered this anniversary sermon seventeen years after the Declaration of Independence in a Baptist church, preaching this on the same day as Samuel Miller's sermon on the anniversary of America's Independence (see link to previous sermon). However, he begins with a passage from the Declaration rather than from Scripture. He believed the providential wonders seen here were also of benefit to all mankind. This sermon celebrated the birth day of a nation, born "when your country was bleeding at every pore, without a friend among the nations of the earth. God alone was her friend! The justice of her cause was registered in the high chancery of heaven. The stars fought in their courses for her; and the event justified a step which had so astonished the world."

This great land bore tremendous promise for industry, agriculture, and development--surely, he preached, the providential blessing of God. To match these natural resources, Hitchcock also noted: "The features of our policy have a strong resemblance to the magnificent and well-proportioned features of our country. No longer do we subscribe to the absurd doctrine of the divine right of kings, no longer bow our necks to the galling yoke of foreign legislation. Independent of these servilities, we enjoy the divine right of governing ourselves." He was a thorough-going republican who detested absolute power, anarchy, and tyranny. He reflected the wisdom of the day: "Every good government must exist somewhere between absolute despotism and absolute democracy. In either of these extremes, neither liberty nor safety can be enjoyed."

He also thought it self-evident that: "The state where the people choose their magistrates for a fixed period, and often assemble to exercise the sovereignty, is a democracy, and is called a republic; such were Athens and Rome, and such are the United States of America." He saw the republicanism of America as a moderate form, which "was most congenial to the rights of man, and the enjoyment of equal liberty--that liberty, which to independence unites security--which to the most ample elective powers, unites strength and energy in government."

Hitchcock also realized the imperfection of governments and the need for virtue among the electors: "The most perfect model of government that imagination can form will be useless, if the state of mankind renders it impracticable." He rendered a quite glowing assessment of the office-holders in all branches as satisfying the high demands of representative government.  He also spied "American genius springing forward in useful arts, projecting great and astonishing enterprizes, tearing down mountains and filling up vallies, and making efforts unknown in those countries where despotism renders everything precarious, and where a tyrant reaps what slaves have sown."

Not every revolution would automatically advance liberty: "Indeed a dark cloud at present vails the fair countenance of liberty in France. Inexperienced in the science of a free government, and unprepared for the enjoyment of it by a previous course of education, of intellectual improvement, and moral discipline, they have tarnished their glory by excesses; and, in the paroxysms of their zeal, have carried excess to outrage."

He preached that "Knowledge and true religion go hand in hand. When the former is obscured, the latter is mutilated, and enveloped in the shades of superstition and bigotry. And whenever the civil power has undertaken to judge and decide concerning truth and error, to oppose the one, while it protected the other, it has invariably supported bigotry, superstition and nonsense."

In contrast to Miller's sermon from last week, this one seldom refers to biblical texts. His sermon concluded:

May we ever show ourselves worthy of the blessings we enjoy, and never tarnish the bright lustre of this day, by any unbecoming excesses. Americans! think of the many privileges which distinguish your condition. Be grateful for your lot; and let your virtue secure what your valour, under God, hath obtained; and transmit to latest posterity the glorious inheritance. May the political edifice erected on the theatre of this new world, afford a practical lesson of liberty to mankind, and become in an eminent degree the model of that glorious temple of universal liberty which is about to be established over the civilized world. 


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Originally posted by David Hall on PlaceforTruth.org.

"Respect the Authorities": introduction

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It was recently my privilege to have published a new book with the title, Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness. The fundamental premise of the work is that the church needs to recover its pilgrim identity, and from that work out its pilgrim activity, cultivating simultaneously a holy separation from and a holy engagement with the world around us. In the book, I try to offer not only a way of understanding that identity and activity, but also to offer ten pilgrim principles for kingdom life in a fallen world. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it is meant to be a relevant and enduring one.

The seventh chapter is entitled, "Respect the Authorities." It seems particularly pertinent in the light of recent events. With the permission of the publishers, I am going to reproduce, over the next few days, that chapter. The outline is the same as for each such chapter: a brief introduction, an assessment of the scriptural framework, a section of summary thoughts, and a series of specific counsels. Please bear in mind that the chapter is slightly out of context as given here. Other chapters in the book also bring appropriate counsels for the present time - chapters that help us to understand the environment, know the enemy, fight the battles, pursue the mission, relieve the suffering, appreciate the beauty, anticipate the destiny, cultivate the identity, and serve the King. If you are interested in more, you can get the book Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore, or direct from the publisher. If what follows is helpful, I shall be grateful. Herewith the introduction ...


There are many common misconceptions about the role and priorities of the Lord Jesus Christ's church. Many of those misconceptions arise from a failure to reckon with the identity of the church, not least in its relation to the world. Some people seem to labor under the misapprehension that the church is, or ought to be, a political force, a social force, or an economic force. Listen to some, and you might even imagine that she is a deliberately subversive, if not outrightly a rebel, force. I would go so far as to contend that if we see the church simply or merely as a moral force, we are again falling short of our calling.

All this is to put the church in entirely the wrong sphere, to assess her on entirely the wrong plane. To look for such priorities in the life of the church of Christ is to seek for oranges on an apple tree. The church, by divine design and intention, is a spiritual force, a gospel organism. Her involvement in and impact upon the world socially, politically, and economically may not be insignificant, but it will be substantially incidental. The church does not exist to have a political life or role.

By this I mean that when the church pursues her mission and fights her battles in this world, the specific intention is that sinners will be saved, in the fullest sense of the word: brought into the kingdom of God and trained up in the kingdom of God. What is the effect when that happens? Well, for example, the drunkard ceases to empty his glass. The thieves stop lifting their goods. The fanatics stop idolizing the people and things of the world, as it loses its sparkle in their eyes. The philanderers leave their bits on the side. The pornography consumers clean up their acts. The addicts begin to break their addictions. The lazy begin to work. The distant spouses begin to speak and to love one another. The liars begin to tell the truth. The parent begins to care for the child. The student begins to heed the teacher. The cheat begins to live with integrity.

Nothing is more practical in its impact than salvation! Such things as these are happening all the time on a small numerical scale in the lives of repenting, believing, saved sinners in countless countries on every continent. Suppose that were to happen on a larger scale. What would be its effect?

To take one example, consider the consequences of a revival of religion that took place in Ireland in the nineteenth century through God's blessing on the preaching of W. P. Nicholson. As he declared the gospel in the dockyards of Belfast, men's hearts were touched by the truth, and many were convicted on account of their sin, repenting of their transgressions and trusting in the Lord Jesus. As the work of the Spirit developed, the owners of the Harland and Wolff Shipyard had to open a warehouse to store all the tools returned by the repentant thieves of the dockyard, men who had once thought nothing of walking away with what did not belong to them--one of the unwritten "perks" of the job, as it were.

Similar stories can be told of pubs and brothels bereft of customers, of whole streets characterized by family religion and peace where strife had once reigned, of entire regions transformed by the power of the gospel. It happened in Ephesus when Paul preached the gospel there. The silversmiths of the city--the makers of the idol figurines of Diana--felt robbed of their customers as the appetites of fallen hearts were radically and practically redirected by the power of the Spirit of Christ.

And what would happen in your community? What pubs, bars, and liquor stores would close? What stores would cease trading, and which services would stop being offered? What download patterns would change? What antagonism might ensue? What transformations in schools, workplaces, homes, and streets there would be! But these would be the consequences of the church pursuing her priorities, not a reflection of their shift.

Again, I am not suggesting that individual Christians should be careless or dismissive of their place and opportunities in particular cultures and societies. We are not required by our Christianity to abandon, retire from, neglect, or despair of opportunities in the civic sphere. Indeed, this is one of those areas where Christian salt and light are desperately needed.

In the Old Testament, for example, we have Daniel advising Nebuchadnezzar to "break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity" (Dan. 4:27). Esther, like Daniel a relatively isolated figure under a pagan government, has to face a challenge: "If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Est. 4:14). Stirred to action, Esther uses the position in which God has placed her and the influence He has given her to contend for righteousness. Doing so, she delivers both herself and her people.

In similar fashion, when John the Baptist was calling men to repent, he was asked by tax collectors and soldiers how they ought to live as citizens of God's kingdom: "Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Collect no more than what is appointed for you.' Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, 'And what shall we do?' So he said to them, 'Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages'" (Luke 3:12-14).

Notice that John did not tell the tax collectors to stop collecting tax nor the soldiers to give up their commissions and lay down their weapons. Politicians, officials, businessmen, entrepreneurs, soldiers, and civil servants--nothing prevents them from being Christians and nothing prevents Christians from excelling in those roles, with God's blessing. When William Wilberforce was converted, some well-meaning counselors advised him to retire from politics as a sphere unfit for a child of God. It was John Newton who advised him to stay where God had put him and do all the good that he could. To be sure, someone already converted might find it hard to climb the slippery poles of the political or business realms simply because of the principles (or lack of them) that may be in operation in particular times and places. These things must all be taken into account, as we shall see below.

Nevertheless, we need to recognize that the blessings outlined above are the consequence of the church embracing her priorities, not the result of her altering them. It is not the business of the church as such, or of Christians individually, to get into influential positions with the aim of securing the progress of some political agenda. We do not set out to transform the world apart from the preaching of the gospel. That is potentially to conflate and confuse the priorities of two different kingdoms and quickly leads to the church losing her distinctiveness and effectiveness. Christ's kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and this transforms the perspective of God's people on the world in which they live, their expectations, aims, and approaches. For precisely this reason the Scriptures give such clear light as to how the church of God is to relate to "the powers that be." To be sure, there is much that could be said about the calling and responsibility of those powers, but our focus in the pages that follow will be on the calling and responsibility of the church in relation to those powers.


To come ... the scriptural framework.

Results tagged “Government” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 23

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i. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers.

ii. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.

iii. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.

iv. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less hath the pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretense whatsoever.

Chapter twenty-three of the Westminster Confession of Faith is entitled "Of the Civil Magistrates." This chapter addresses the important relation between God, Christians, and civil governments and rulers. The first paragraph begins with the bold statement that God is "the supreme Lord and King of all the world." Our world today is filled with diverse political structures, which are often in competition and even conflict. There are Democracies, dictators, Communist states, Muslim nations, etc., yet the Confession teaches us that God is Lord over the entire world and in fact is the one who has ordained civil rulers to govern over us. God also has given certain responsibilities to these rulers. They are to encourage good and punish evil (23:1) and maintain piety, justice, and peace (23:2). 

Chapter 23:3, however, demonstrates a significant historical difference between Presbyterianism in seventeenth-century Britain, and American Presbyterian in the twenty-first century. The Confession was written during a time when mostly monarchs ruled over Europe under the broad canopy of Christendom. These monarchs, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, believed that God had appointed them and given them authority to rule over the nations entrusted to them.  Part of their responsibility was to insure that Christianity was protected and promulgated within their borders; and other false religions were refuted and driven out. Reflecting this, the original seventeen-century version of WCF 23:3 reads:
The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.
In the course of history, Presbyterianism formally began in the new world (North America) in 1706 with the establishment of the first presbytery in Philadelphia. By the end of the century America was formed as a new nation and various denominations, including the Presbyterian Church, separated from the ecclesiastical authorities in Europe. In 1789 the first General Assembly convened in Philadelphia and formed the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. At this assembly chapter twenty-three of the Westminster Confession of Faith was revised, reflecting now the new religious politics that intended to keep distinct the role of the state and the church. WCF 23:3 was revised to read:
Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.
This revision reflects the principles of an early American nation established without an official state church, like the Church of England. Instead, this paragraph charges the civil magistrates to not give any preference to any Christian denomination. Furthermore, the responsibility of the civil magistrate is to protect all their citizens regardless of their religious affiliation. This is quite different then the seventeenth-century version that instructs civil magistrates to suppress all blasphemies, heresies, abuses, and corruptions against Christianity. While monumental historical events no doubt contributed to this revision, there are sound Biblical reasons as well, which space does not allow us to explore in this space.

Finally, 23:4 instructs us to pray for and submit to our civil magistrates. This is necessary for our society's well being. Again, God ordains our civil magistrates and we are to obey them as they carry out the responsibilities given to them. 

Dr. Jeffrey Jue is Associate Professor of Church History and the Stephen Tong Associate Professor of Reformed Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.