October 13, 2012 at 7:12pm
Back to the purpose of government, and why Christians can confidently participate in good governance without violating the autonomy of non-Christians. In the God Talk 2 series I have been working on here on Facebook, I have been examining Romans, and what says about the purpose of the law. There is a strong misconception in the general populace regarding Christian belief when it comes to the law according to the Bible and to sin. This misconception has bled over into the area of politics by redefining the purpose of the Bible as nothing more than a rulebook for people who follow the Christian faith.
There are two main schools of thought regarding the Bible, and biblical law. One side views the Bible as an archaic book put in place to cause people to fear the punishment of hell in order to keep them in line here on earth. This view tends to be preached in “fundamental” churches, and it is the one generally held by those who are atheist, agnostic, or of non-Christian religious faiths when discussing any non-“liberal” tenets of the church. It focuses on the Old Testament and Revelation style fire and brimstone messages in Scripture and often skips right over the message of salvation offered in Christ.
The second school of thought views Biblical law as over-ridden by salvation by grace. It sees the New Covenant with Christ as a means by which we are no longer bound by the rules laid down in the Bible. It advocates free will, and typically leans toward an acceptance of sin as inherent in humanity. The strong theme of this view is that since God loves us right where we are and the crucifixion washes clean all sins, all things become permissible. This view tends to be preached in the “liberal” churches, and is one advocated as correct by those who are atheists, agnostics or of non-Christian religious faiths. It tends to focus on love and accepting everyone, everything, and every ideology. It skips right over the words of Christ that say He is the only way to God, and that to follow Him we must become holy.
Neither of these pictures of Christianity is accurate from a Biblical standpoint, and both of them give cause for concern to Christians who believe in the First amendment. As American’s we value the right to freely express our faith and we recognize that this requires us to allow the free expression of those who disagree with us. We recognize that Christianity is not something we can impose on those unwilling to accept it. Yet we also recognize the danger of removing a coherent moral foundation from those laws the people of this country allow to be created. We are left in a quandary of how to maintain order in society to the benefit of everyone, without imposing “fundamentalist Christianity” through an abuse of the power of government.
These two dichotomous views can be reconciled by taking the time to understand God’s purpose in giving us the Bible. Christ told us in the New Testament both that He came to save the world and not condemn it, and that not one letter of the law would change until the earth passed away. Since God is a logical God, and He does not contradict Himself, we must assume that the purpose of the law in the Bible was not to condemn the world in sin, so what was the purpose? There are hints at that purpose throughout the Bible, but perhaps none more clearly stated than in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God spoke this to a people conquered and enslaved by their enemies. It is contained within a letter to the people of Israel in captivity to Babylon filled with instructions on how to live while they are in captivity. This particular line is an explanation of why God wants them to live out those instructions, and it pretty much sums up the state of humanity. God has a plan, we cannot see the plan, but His plan is to prosper not to harm us, to give us hope and a future, but we have to follow His instruction.
The New Testament speaks of the law of God being applicable to all human beings, not just to those who believe in God, or those who believe in Christ. It tells Christians that He is the only God, and He is the God of all. The whole of the Bible also speaks to the fact that God is God, all powerful, with nothing beyond His capability. If the Old Testament speaks primarily to the Jews, and God tells them repeatedly through the judges and the prophets that it is His desire to prosper them, but they have to follow His rules for that to happen. If the New Testament speaks to all the people, and tells us that God desires to prosper us, but we have to follow His rules for that to happen. In addition, the entirety of the Bible tells us He is all-powerful, it would seem that the need to follow rules is to make those plans easier for us, not for Him.
This makes sense if we believe that God is a logical God, and that His logic does not change based on whether or not we understand it. We see this in the progress of science over the centuries. God created the entirety of the universe. He made each thing to function in precisely the way it needed to for the whole to achieve His ultimate purpose. Thus, the earth is round, it revolves around the sun at a set distance, and gravity holds everything in place upon it. Mankind once believed the earth was flat, that it was the center of the universe and gravity was an unknown word.
When men believed the earth was flat it did not make it so, any more than we would say that it suddenly became round because someone finally sailed over its edge. The sun did not revolve around the earth just because men believed that to be true, any more than we suddenly began revolving around the sun because men finally understood astronomy. Gravity did not suddenly come into existence because an apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head. These natural laws were in place long before men understood them, and will remain in place until the earth passes away.
It makes sense that there would be laws that governed human nature as well. God created us with certain inherent responses to stimuli that designed to help us fulfill His purpose us. Our understanding of the shape of the world allowed us to travel farther. Our understanding of the stars allowed for further discoveries about the universe. Our understanding of gravity allowed us to learn how to work with it to fly planes. So too, our understanding of the laws that govern humanity would seem to be a useful thing if God wished us to be prospered instead of harmed by His plans. Therefore, from the beginning, He gave us the laws. They were not laws that only applied to a certain people, anymore than revolution around the sun only applies in America. They were not laws designed to hamper mankind’s free will, any more than gravity is designed to keep men from flying. They were laws given to show the people the shape of the natural laws that were inherent in themselves to work within that framework to prosper by God’s plan instead of be harmed by it.
So, how does that apply to the issue of politics here in the US? For years now, Christians have been silent on the natural laws of human society because we find those rules in our religious text. They allowed arguments from those who have not discovered God to cloud this basic understanding of the purpose of the Bible. God is logical, immutable and unchanging. He did not give us the Bible to punish. He gave it to us as a blueprint for the most beneficial arrangement of human society to work within the framework of His creation. There is consequence to every action and every decision. That consequence can be good or bad, small or large, seen or unseen, and intended or unintended, but there will be a consequence. The creation is His whether it has come to know Him or not, and the natural laws of that creation apply equally to all of it, whether they reject Him or not. The Bible demonstrates the methods by which we as human beings can maximize good consequences and minimize bad, unintended consequences caused by not understanding the rules of human nature.
Christians need not rely on “because God said so” when they advocate for policies and practices that line up with Biblical principles and Biblical laws. They can look to the results of those policies within society and the result of breaking those rules. Inevitably, those policies that line up most closely with Biblical principle will have the best results for everyone, whether they are Christian or not. Christians can speak confidently on issues like abortion, marriage, spending, taxing, defense and any other area of governance, because they can look at the blue print of the Bible, and then point to the real world, logical application of how that blue print supports the broadest possible harmony and happiness for the human beings governed under the law.
Last, they do not have to fear setting up a theocracy, because the core tenet of Christian faith is not just that salvation is freely given, we must also be freely accept it. It is perfectly logical to make the argument that just because someone does not want to accept the salvation of their eternal soul does not mean they do not want to have the best possible environment for their prosperity and happiness in the here and now. The government’s purpose is to commend good and punish evil to provide that environment for prosperity and happiness. The citizens’ responsibility is to assure that government serves that purpose. So why would Christians feel constrained from offering the knowledge of how to facilitate that environment just because it comes from principles in a religious text?
The next segment will deal with some of the specific policies of this President and the secularism he represents, and why it is hostile to not only Christianity, but to good governance from a Christian perspective.