Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christian Governance

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, it has been alleged, freed convicted rapist Wayne Dumond in part because Dumond converted to Christianity. Ace of Spades, who describes himself as a non-believer, asks:

What is this [expletive deleted -- ed.]? Salvation has to do with your soul and the final judgment in the next life. Who decided it should come along with legal benefits in this life as well?

I'm finding this all a little creepy. I understand the injunction to lead a Christ-like life -- but does that apply to using the machinery of government (Caesar's thing, you know) to impose one's Christ-like impulses? Yes, Jesus says forgive, but does that mean that a Christian governor must forgive personally or impose that forgiveness via state action, forcing the public generally to "forgive"?

The same applies to his charitable/compassionate impulses. Is a Christian in elected office required to impose their Christian notions of charity and caring on the people they govern? Despite the fact that in doing so they rob the governed of the ability to show charity or compassion voluntarily?

How would your answer Ace?

31 comments:

Earl said...

Ace needs to review Civics 101. Candidates are elected to office by voters. Once elected it is entirely legitimate for one to govern based on the law. It is not a violation of the law for ones faith commitment to inform such governance. Conducted within the law this does not constitute the imposition but the implementation of the will of the people who voted and elected their chosen candidate to office. If he and other like minded individuals are sufficiently dissatisfied with the job performance of a politician, they can express that dissatisfaction at the ballot box by electing the candidate of their choice.

John said...

One of the central tenets of the Christian faith is monotheism; that worship of any other deity is both false and forbidden. To be consistent, Earl, should not a Christian politician work to ban religions other than Christianity?

Paul said...

Not quite sure how a governor applying christian (or even rudimentary humanane) standards of caring on the society they govern "robs the governed of the ability to show compassion voluntarily". Any more than saving a drowning man robs someone else of the ability to save his life.

Besides, even if no citizen were to die untreated in American hospitals due to lack of funds, or the ruthlessness refusal of an insurance company, there is no shortage of poverty and misery in the outside world (remember the rest of the world?)

There will always be people in need of compassion. And the state can never solve all problems.

This sounds like a rationalisation for institutional injustice, of the sort the old testament prophets got quite irate about.

Paul said...

John, it seems that God, in his divine providence, did not ban other religions. Mohammed, Buddha, and John Smith all were permitted to share their teachings without a single thunderbolt or smiting. Therefore, though we need not encourage them particularly, there seems no divine mandate to ban them.

John said...

Not quite sure how a governor applying christian (or even rudimentary humanane) standards of caring on the society they govern "robs the governed of the ability to show compassion voluntarily". Any more than saving a drowning man robs someone else of the ability to save his life.

Simply put Paul, coerced charity is not charity at all. It is virtuous to willingly give to the needy, but there is no virtue in being taxed for government programs to benefit the poor. If you can't say 'no', then your 'yes' is meaningless.

John said...

John, it seems that God, in his divine providence, did not ban other religions. Mohammed, Buddha, and John Smith all were permitted to share their teachings without a single thunderbolt or smiting. Therefore, though we need not encourage them particularly, there seems no divine mandate to ban them.

On the contrary:

Exodus 20:3
You shall have no other gods before Me.

Deuteronomy 6:14
You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you.

2 Kings 17:34-35
To this day they do according to the earlier customs: they do not fear the Lord, nor to they follow their statutes or their ordinances or the law, or the commandments which the Lord commanded the sons of Jacob, whom he named Israel; with whom the Lord made a covenant and commanded them, saying "You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down yourselves to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them.

Jeremiah 25:6
and do not go after other gods to serve them and to worship them, and do not provoke me to anger with the work of your hands, and I will do you no harm.

Jeremiah 35:15
Also I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, sending them again and again, saying: 'Turn now every man from his evil way and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to worship them Then you will dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your forefathers; but you have not inclined your ear or listened to Me.

Exodus 20:23
You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves.

Exodus 20:4
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

Leviticus 19:4
Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 26:1
You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 4:15-19
So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth. And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

Deuteronomy 27:15
Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret ' And all the people shall answer and say, 'Amen.'

Earl said...

"To be consistent, Earl, should not a Christian politician work to ban religions other than Christianity?"

I have given this question some thought. With respect, the answer to this quandary is simplicity itself. Let the voters decide. If they wish to "ban" a religion, let them vote for those politicians who support that view. Let those elected to office formulate and enact legislation to accomplish that goal. If voters are not happy with the results, the ballot box affords them a regular opportunity to make a change.

For those Christians who serve in public office there will always be a tension between personal faith and constitutional duty. This tension is well illustrated by the current election cycle. Some candidates are notably silent on what they believe appropriate as regards personal faith and public service. A few speak plainly and openly. Voters are left to make up their own minds regarding those who are silent and those who speak. I would not want it any other way. That is part of the genius democracy as practiced in the United States.

Acting within Constitutional constraints a Christian politician should take every step to enhance the furtherance of the Gospel of Christ. He should not act in any way that will impede the forward movement of that Gospel of Christ. Nor should he in any way act so as to encourage or undergird the teaching or promulgation of any other religion.

Paul said...

Simply put Paul, coerced charity is not charity at all. It is virtuous to willingly give to the needy, but there is no virtue in being taxed for government programs to benefit the poor. If you can't say 'no', then your 'yes' is meaningless.

I'm not saying that it's charity at all - just that it is a good thing for the poor and unfortunate to be fed and have medical treatment even if they cannot afford it, and even if the generous rich weren't actually that charitable.

Perhaps it would be nice if people made enough voluntary donations - real charity if you like - but they don't seem to do enough of it.

That being the case, avoiding starvation and untreated sickness is surely more important than the warm glow that the charitable few could get by making up a small proportion of the shortfall with "meaningful" charity.

Paul said...

John, sorry for the delay in responding. I was travelling, and when my mobile browser crashed, I decided to wait till I got back to base.

Thanks for the huge list of references. We agree that God tells his people not to worship anyone else. All but one of those scriptures are addressed to or about his people.

None of that shows God telling his people to force OTHERS what to believe or who to worship. Yes, we should tell others about him. But that does not mean we can or should ban their religions.

You can debate whether a Jew or a Muslim worships God, but understands him very poorly, or whether he worships a different god entirely. But you cannot claim that they are guilty of the idolatry condemned in Deuteronomy 27.

Nor is there any new testament sanction for imposing a state religion (never mind banning the competition), before the return of our Lord.

Finally, I hope you are not suggesting we follow the ancient Israelite practices towards some of the religious groups they encountered? Not so much banning their faiths as wiping them out?

Paul said...

John, don't take the above as an accusation - I'm just making the point that we all diverge to some degree from the Old Testament Israelite model of religion and state.

Earl, you say: [a christian politician] ...should not act in any way that will impede the forward movement of that Gospel of Christ.

Would you agree that the Gospel of Christ can suffer either when hostile views are promoted and encouraged, or when those who claim to support the gospel betray it by their less-than-christlike conduct (whether by financial or sexual scandals, or by petty hate and bickering, or by persecution of those who differ).

Sometimes our hate for the sin comes over so clearly that our love for the sinner is drowned out, and we become like the Pharisees Jesus condemned.

John said...

Earl wrote:

I have given this question some thought. With respect, the answer to this quandary is simplicity itself. Let the voters decide. If they wish to "ban" a religion, let them vote for those politicians who support that view. Let those elected to office formulate and enact legislation to accomplish that goal. If voters are not happy with the results, the ballot box affords them a regular opportunity to make a change.

This is why sound government includes not only the concept of majority rule, but limited government -- that there are things that government may not do, regardless of how many people support it. Otherwise 51% of the population can have the other 49% executed.

John said...

Paul wrote:

None of that shows God telling his people to force OTHERS what to believe or who to worship. Yes, we should tell others about him. But that does not mean we can or should ban their religions.

You can debate whether a Jew or a Muslim worships God, but understands him very poorly, or whether he worships a different god entirely. But you cannot claim that they are guilty of the idolatry condemned in Deuteronomy 27.


If a politician advocates that public policy be predicated upon Christian principles, then yes, he must not only follow Biblical mandates to help the poor, etc, but also to ban other religions and stone homosexuals.

Nor is there any new testament sanction for imposing a state religion (never mind banning the competition), before the return of our Lord.

1 Cor 10:7
Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, "THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY."

1 Cor 10:14
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

1 John 5:21
Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

1 Thess 1:9
For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God,

Acts 14:13-15
13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and (A)wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.

But when (B)the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they (C)tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out

and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.

Acts 14:29
Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.

There is no NT commandment that the state should ban other religions, but the worship of false gods is clearly forbidden from the NT. And if a politician wishes to base public policy on Christian principles, then he has to ban other religions.

Finally, I hope you are not suggesting we follow the ancient Israelite practices towards some of the religious groups they encountered? Not so much banning their faiths as wiping them out?

Quite the opposite, which is why I am leery of any politician who advocates public policy formulation on a Biblical basis.

John said...

Would you agree that the Gospel of Christ can suffer either when hostile views are promoted and encouraged, or when those who claim to support the gospel betray it by their less-than-christlike conduct (whether by financial or sexual scandals, or by petty hate and bickering, or by persecution of those who differ).

I don't follow what you're saying. Please explain.

Earl said...

The Gospel suffers when our profession is not authenticated by our practice. This is never more evident than when views are strongly held on sensitive subjects. In such a case neither all the rules of Marquis and Queensbury's much less Robert's Rules of Order are sufficient to hold emotions in check and prevent unrestrained statements and even unkind conduct.
We can not agree with everyone about everything. Some things are wrong and no amount of tolerance will make them right. But that having been said, tolerance really is a low threshold of satisfaction. Scripture teaches that we are to live in love one with another. That is a far more demanding standard. For one may hate sin without fear of condemnation. But one can not hate people without facing judgment.

Paul said...

There are a number of christian principles - not just one that you apply or ignore. You can debate the principles, to whom they should be applied, and whether a state should enforce them.

One Christian principle might be avoiding idolatry (maybe it would be better framed as failing to love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength). However you express this, it seems clear that it is a principle that believers are expected to follow, and that non-believers are condemned for failing to follow.

To say that Christians must enforce this on their neighbours is a different matter, not addressed in any of the texts you quote. We'll come back to it.

Another principle might be not neglecting widows and orphans, or not oppressing the poor, or feeding the hungry. You might see this as part of loving our neighbours as ourselves.

Clearly Christians are supposed to do this good stuff - you mentioned such charity earlier.

Curiously, you seem to say that enforcing this christian principle is not the role of a governer who applies christian principles, whereas enforcing the no-idolatry principle on non-christians is required of such a governer.


Christ was silent about how states should be run, though the new testament does say that the state should be "a terror to wrongdoers". It does not anywhere say to what extent our rules of specifically Christian behaviour should be enforced on citizens in general, whether christians or not.

I personally believe that it is not the business of the state to tell people what to believe. This position is quite consistent with christian principles, and the new testament - though it is not mandated, and other interpretations are also consistent with scripture.

However, a view of the state which does violence to human beings' God-given faculties of choice seems just wrong. If God in his sovereignty chooses to use our free will to bring us to him, who are his followers to legislate who the people shall follow? How is that a Christ-like, christian principle?

Having said all that, I do believe that Christian standards of ethics and behaviour make a good basis for society. But I don't believe they should all be encoded in law.

And you're spot on, about the importance of limiting governments' powers - which is why I think that new laws (particularly when they remove people's liberties) should be very carefully scrutinised. But that is a completely different debate.

Earl said...

The NT does not address the role of Christian politicians as believers of that era were not likely to hold public office. The NT also does not address wind turbine on the Great Plains or genetically modified seed, etc.

Where in Scripture are we instructed to not use our positions of authority to influence the opinions and choices of others. To fail to use one's position to influence others to follow Christ, all in the name of personal choice, would have to be an evil as great as refusing to use one's position of authority to help the poor and hungry.

How from Scripture may one prove that it is wrong to use government to further the cause of Christ. If we are placed in a position of authority, it would seem a matter of integrity and faithfulness to Christ that we should make every use of our position to further his cause. It would be so much the better if false religions could be excluded from the public discourse as it would prevent people from being misled down a blind alley of idolatry. This would result in no violence being done to anyones God given freedom of choice. For if they could not abide by a law that excluded false religions they would have the option of immigration to another country where they might practice their false religion unrestricted.

Paul said...

You ask where in Scripture are we instructed to not use our positions of authority to influence the opinions and choices of others? Then you say something rather different: It would be so much the better if false religions could be excluded from the public discourse as it would prevent people from being misled down a blind alley of idolatry.

It's quite clear that it is not wrong to use your position to serve the interests of the Kingdom of God.

However, it is not clear that attempting to ban other religions (from "public discourse, or entirely) would in any way help the kingdom of God.

"Those who worship me", said God, "worship me in spirit and in truth. It is not a matter of following external laws which force you to behave "like a Christian should". That is also pretty much the point of the New testament, and its teaching on grace. We serve God because he called us, and we want to - not because some fundamentalist nutcase makes us.

Sure we can try to influence people. We should. The early believers went about "gossiping" the gospel - spreading it in the conversation of their everyday lives.

But there is no NT mandate for anything like the medieval or Pre-reformation catholic confessional state. "Un Roi, un Loi, un Foi" was never a biblical commandment.

Finally, the way to develop believers who have the mind of Christ is not to ban any trace of "unsound" thought. Nor is it to control what people are allowed to read, or hear, or say. I'm quite horrified that you seem to suggest this!

THAT will rather get you the fallible humans in charge, on a power trip, exploiting their power and lack of accountability, and defending their position ruthlessly. It will ultimately (and pretty soon) bring the gospel into disrepute by the inevitable corruption which such power always brings.

There can be a huge gulf between the interests of the Kingdom of God, and what some clergyman thinks are those interests. If you want an example of how this approach can go horribly wrong, just look at the medieval Papacy. Or Iran.

It's easier to see the mistakes when someone you disagree with is making them ;-)

You are going considerably beyond scripture in what you suggest - and I think you need to tread a bit more carefully there.

Earl said...

False religion is like a coral snake in a baby bed. It may be pretty and the baby may want to play with it but it is deadly. A wise parent will without hesitation eliminate it.

It is a failure of honesty and integrity for a believer to pretend that false religion is in any way worthy of equal consideration with faith in Christ. Tolerance of such false religion may improve the public discourse but it will not in any way help the Kingdom of God. To eliminate false religions from the public discourse would be the same as removing poison from a medicine cabinet. No one is forced to take the medicine that remains but the poison is not left to harm those who unwittingly think it will help them. To hold such a position does not mean that one is a "fundamentalist nutcase." It does mean that one refuses to accomidate untruth for the sake of civility.

By all means we should do our best to influence people to receive the gospel. But to politely tolerate false religion as though it were anything but gross error is no help but only a hindrance to evangelism.

Developing strong Christian believers requires that they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, not that they have a working knowledge of false religions. Such information might be of some intellectual interest. But it has nothing positive to offer in building faith in Christ.

It does not follow that this would result in an exploitation of power, etc. For those failings are found even among those who are not remotely to be considered "fundamentalist nutcases."

John said...

One Christian principle might be avoiding idolatry (maybe it would be better framed as failing to love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength). However you express this, it seems clear that it is a principle that believers are expected to follow, and that non-believers are condemned for failing to follow.

To say that Christians must enforce this on their neighbours is a different matter, not addressed in any of the texts you quote. We'll come back to it.


As a governing principle I certainly don't have a problem with keeping my Christian moral principles off of other people. It is the problem of Christian politicians who don't think this that is the problem, and Ace is rightly arguing that Huckabee seems to lean this way.

Curiously, you seem to say that enforcing this christian principle is not the role of a governer who applies christian principles, whereas enforcing the no-idolatry principle on non-christians is required of such a governer.

No, no, no, no, no! Not at all. That would make my libertarian blood curdle. What I'm suggesting is that the Bible is no basis for public policy (contra Huckabee) because, among other reasons, if we do, we have to enforce all Biblical mandates, not just the ones that we like.

Paul, I'm not arguing for Christian government, I'm arguing against it! And I'm doing this by pointing out that Christian government would be catastrophic for civil liberties.

John said...

Earl wrote:

It is a failure of honesty and integrity for a believer to pretend that false religion is in any way worthy of equal consideration with faith in Christ. Tolerance of such false religion may improve the public discourse but it will not in any way help the Kingdom of God. To eliminate false religions from the public discourse would be the same as removing poison from a medicine cabinet. No one is forced to take the medicine that remains but the poison is not left to harm those who unwittingly think it will help them. To hold such a position does not mean that one is a "fundamentalist nutcase." It does mean that one refuses to accomidate untruth for the sake of civility.

Here's the problem, Earl: who determines which is a false religion, and which is true one?

Paul said...

Earl, bad analogies are like... dangerous smelly things. Medicine cabinets contain many things that are poisonous or dangerous if taken inappropriately, or in the wrong dose. Warfarin, rat poison, is a treatment for blood pressure, and you don't have to exceed the therapeutic dose of paracetemol by all that much to guarantee a slow and painful death. Things are not as black and white as you imagine.

No religion consists of a single idea - and while "false religions" are insufficient, they may also contain things that we can learn from, and things that act as warnings. By examining our faith in a broader context, we strengthen it. Why are you so scared of thought, ideas, and honest enquiry?

We can learn from the zeal of many muslims, the love and knowledge of scripture of many fundamentalists, and stewardship of God's creation and the outworking of Kingdom ideals of justice in the public sphere by many liberals.

To return to the medicine cabinet analogy - we share this "medicine cabinet" of public discourse with many other communities. It is not exclusively the province of Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostalists, Prosperity gospel heretics, or even Christians.

As John asks, who has a legitimate right to suppress others' freedom of religion?

And what scriptural evidence (other than bad analogies) can you find in Jesus' or the Apostles' teaching that any faith should be suppressed - rather than, say, rejected?

Paul said...

This is what's known as a false dichotomy:

"to politely tolerate false religion as though it were anything but gross error is no help but only a hindrance to evangelism"

It is perfectly possible to vigorously oppose "false religion" and all its teachings, while strongly upholding the rights of its adherents to follow and teach their error.

The quote attributed to Voltaire is "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".

Besides, if you're censoring debate, where do you stop? Is everyone who criticises ANY of your beliefs or shibboleths eventually to be silenced? And what if it turns out that YOU are mistaken about one of them, and you're fighting the Kingdom of God?

Cromwell said to the heads of the Scottish church: I beseech you, in the mercy of God, to consider the possibility that you might be mistaken. We also need humility, and awareness ofour own fallibility.

Earl said...

Some things are black and white. For believers false religions are not "grey matter." While not artful or perfectly precise the analogy illustrates the threat posed by false religions for those who are innocent to its dangers.

Intellectual pursuit is admirable but it is no excuse for believers to fail to clearly identify and challenge false religions. Such a view is not the result of fear but reflects both an integrity and honesty of personal conviction. An argument from silence that false religions not be suppressed is no more legitimate than to argue from the same silence for tolerance and acceptance.

Fundamentalist and liberal Christians have much which they may learn from one another. Zeal is not unique to Muslims. There is no need for a believer to turn to the followers of Islam for instruction in zeal.

If public discourse is to be likened unto a medicine cabinet, then there are some things that do not belong there. There is no problem with those who hold to and affirm personal faith in Christ. The problem is with false religions whose teachings do not affirm such faith in Christ and his teachings.

Freedom of religion is our constitutional right just as are freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms and all the other items described in the Bill of Rights as reserved from the Federal government. By appropriate constitutional action Christians have as much legitimate right to seek to eliminate false religions from the public discourse as do those who would seek to limit any of the other freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Paul said...

Thanks for clearing that up, John:

"Paul, I'm not arguing for Christian government, I'm arguing against it! And I'm doing this by pointing out that Christian government would be catastrophic for civil liberties."

It sounds like we are in violent agreement on how bad such a government would be.

I'm just not convinced there is any real New Testament warrant for such an appalling style of "christian" government.

Sure you can try to argue that it's "christian" to trample over other people if they are wrong according to one's particular version of christianity. But Christ never said that, and I think it would be a distortion of his teaching!

Those who disagree are usually not very good at saying exactly what laws we are supposed to enforce in the name of Christianity: stoning for adultery, banning polyester-cotton, banning pork, requiring people to marry their sister in law if her husband dies without leaving an heir, enforcing a sabbatical year and banning usury, observing sabbaths on Saturday (as opposed to meeting on Sundays), tithing (almost everything).

They are usually very unclear as to who should obey the rules - should we make Hindus tithe to the local chapel, church, gospel hall, or whatever?

They are very vague on which christian authorities get to decide on what gets banned - and an how that is different from the medieval papacy (apart from the sex and wealth related scandals - and by some of the reports that emerge from cash-rich christian worship-tainment enterprises, maybe not even different in that respect).

Earl mentioned not just toleration, but also love. I'm grateful for the reminder.

Of course toleration is not the same as agreement.

But what does it mean, really, to talk of toleration for those we agree with? If we don't also tolerate those we don't agree with, there is no toleration.

Paul said...

Sure, Earl, you have a constitutional right in the USA to try to remove people's rights. The administration gets to try to allow torture and remove habeas corpus, the KKK can try to reintroduce slavery, and you can try to ban other religions.

But let me be quite plain about this.

Don't pretend Christ is telling you to do it - because, unless you have a personal revelation - he doesn't seem to have mentioned it to his disciples.

He tells us to serve God, but not so much about persecuting others.

John said...

Remember, Earl: a government powerful enough to ban other religions is also powerful enough to ban yours.

Earl said...

Neither compromise with a dominant pagan world view nor accommodation of personal faith to that culture is applauded in either the Old or New Testament. Israels' Egyptian experience and their subsequent accommodation to the culture of the resident Cannanites and surrounding pagan cultures was destructive to the very fabric of the nation. The same accommodation to and tolerance of pagan culture as practiced by the church at Corinth is not lauded but bluntly condemned by the Apostle Paul. In a world dominated by pagan religious culture (ie., false religion), Jesus specifically commended believers who remained faithful (Rev. 2.2-3,6,9,13,24-25; 3.2,4-5,10,12). He specifically and strongly condemns those who compromise with the prevailing culture (Rev. 2.4,14-16,20-23; 3.3,9,19).

By all means believers are instructed to seek the forward progress of the Gospel. Government can be used to accomplish that forward progress. This can not be done by meekly accepting a ghetto status for personal faith in Christ. Such closeting of personal faith in Christ can only result in a public conversation dominated by a secular vocabulary. Far from appalling, for a Christian politician to govern according to New Testament principles would not be a breath of fresh air. Obviously the "rules" enacted would apply to everyone. If politicians gave an ear to the advice of Christians, how would that be objectionable. After all, the advice of secular and non-Christian leaders is not excluded from political considerations. There would be those of secular or pagan views who would not agree with this approach. The beautiful thing about our representative democracy is that citizens have the right to make decisions about their government. If such government was weighed by voters and found to be wanting, they would be free to vote for change.

Issues such as any supposed forced tithing to a local church, torture, habeas corpus and the KKK are simply red herrings as no such views have been referenced much less advocated.

With sensibilities informed by the Enlightenment and a social and political heritage rooted in Christian faith our modern world will not find an easy answer to the role of personal Christian faith in the exercise of civil governance. In resolving this tension argument is made for tolerance as a "golden mean" to restore civility to an increasingly combative political dialog. For a politician driven by secular concerns, such an argument would is attractive. There is no Scripture to support the idea that personal public faith in Christ is to be trumped by politically driven tolerance. There is abundance evidence that Christians are to act in love. It is not an act of persecution but of genuine love to clearly proclaim the truth of Christ even when some find that truth objectionable. And it is not an act of persecution but of genuine love to use all means not excluding the mechanism of government, to further the cause of Christ, even when that means others will object. For the final vision of Scripture is not that humankind will, holding a variety of views, tolerate one another but that every knee will bow and every tongue confess Christ as Lord.

Paul said...

Thanks for the time and effort you're putting into this conversation, Earl. But I'm still not convinced that scripture supports your convictions, however strong your attachment to them.

Lets look at the letters to the churches, since that's what you're relying on here.

To the church in Ephesus: ...you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false... [but] You have forsaken your first love. ... [however] You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans [a group in the church with some form of false teaching], which I also hate.

Nothing about persecution of unbelievers here.

To the Church in Smyrna: ...I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan... Be faithful...

A controversy with a group of Jews, it appears. They are characterised as not true followers of God, but still no warrant for persecuting unbelievers in the way you suggest.

To the Church in Pergamum: you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me... Nevertheless... You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

False teaching in the church condemned, but no warrant for wider persecution.

And so on...

You have lots of heavy extrapolation from the text, from which you infer that unbelievers should be banned and persecuted - but not much in the way of text which actually and explicitly says that.

Given the radical and severe nature of what you urge, I think you must be held to a high standard of proof. You have not met this standard.

You have not even made a prima facie case for this interpretation of your texts - let alone reconciled it with God's approach to humanity, in which compulsion to believe is conspicuously absent!

Sorry - I can't agree with your persecuting instincts, nor with what you read into the passages to which you refer.

Paul said...

You say: By all means believers are instructed to seek the forward progress of the Gospel. Government can be used....

Not sure if you're suggesting that we should use "all means" - the idiom is ambiguous to me - but just in case... We are instructed not to fight our battles with carnal weapons. There are depths to which we should not stoop.

You and I may disagree on exactly what means are appropriate - but I hope we agree that there are limits.

It's just that I remember a sad case in an old church where my brother was asking someone who had underhandedly opposed him why he felt he couldn't have raised his concerns with his fellow-believer in person, as the Apostle had advised. "We live in the real world," was the rather tragic reply.

We do need to be careful of using the worlds tools, rather than God's.

That could be too much worldly tolerance, or too much use of worldly authority - we disagree on that. But I'm encouraged that we're not calling each other names yet :)

Earl said...

The ancient Church lived in a world dominated by a pervasively pagan polytheistic culture. The passages cited demonstrate that within that context Jesus commended the faithful profession and practice of believers and condemned as inexcusable compromise with and accommodation to that pagan culture. If such is commended or condemned of Christ for believers within the life of the Church it strains credulity to imagine that the same would not be expected of believers in their interactions with non-Christians. If upon being elected to public office a believer exercised the prerogatives of office guided by the constructs of the Gospels no violence much less persecution is done to unbelievers. Informed by the Gospel to take advantage of any and all means and/or opportunities to reshape secular culture and society according to the norm of the Gospel defrauds no one but rather like a incoming tide raises everyone.

As long as people are people some will by means of a excuse making mentality try to avoid taking responsibility for sinful personal choices. The tragedy is not only the harm these people cause but that they and those they abuse must then live with the destructive consequences that inevitably follow.

As regards tolerance and authority, of such discussions there is no end. But regardless of how divergent might be the opinions held in these matters I would not expect that expression of those opinions would degenerate to the level of disparaging one another :)

Paul said...

Once again my browser crashed - so I'll try to recapture my thoughts.

In brief, I still think Earl is going beyond the text. He is failing to distinguish between the standards expected of believers, and rules that believers should impose on others.

There were people in Christ's time who felt that the Godly should not compromise with the occupying forces, but when Christ was asked whether taxes should be paid to the god-emperor who commanded the occupying legions, he said: "render unto God the things that are God's, and to Caesar the things that are Caesar's."

Thus some compromise with "pagan cultural" norms was permitted.

On the other hand, Paul and the other apostles challenged and disobeyed the civil authorities when there was a clear case for it.

The question is when is it right to compromise with people or ideas that are not explicitly Christian?

Is tolerance (in the sense of not enforcing our beliefs on others) a christian virtue, or merely compromise with evil?

It's quite clear that we are not to compromise our personal faith, or allow false teaching in the church.

It is less clear that we should enforce these rules on scoiety as a whole. And Earl has NOT shown this from scripture, in spite of his assertion that tolerance (had it been implemented by a First Century believing ruler) would have been "condemned as inexcusable compromise with and accommodation to that pagan culture".

On the other hand, I have shown in an earlier comment that tolerance corresponds more closely to God's approach - in using our own free will to bring us to him - or not.

It's interesting that Earl's approach is most commonly seen from "the heathen", and from sects of Christianity that he presumably regards as being less than true.