Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Christian and the Constitutional Republic

"Libertarians," sniffed the young man. "The only law they want is the Constitution." Brett and I looked at each other. Last time I checked, this was a constitutional republic. No?

"Libertarian?" my friend asked, incredulous. "You want to legalize drugs? Do you know what that does to a society? Our national fabric will unravel."
I don't think so. Our pagan national fabric has never been raveled. And what is not raveled cannot come unraveled.

"Libertarian?" another friend challenged. "You don't want marriage licenses?"
Correct. Since when should government be in the business of regulating covenants?

In previous posts on the government, I have argued that we are not and have never been a Christian nation. And the evidence is on my side. What we are is a pagan nation because we have never acknowledged that God is the Lord.

I'm going to shift terms, though, and call us a pluralistic society because we Christian Americans also make up a portion of our society. The question at stake is what we Christians, who find ourselves citizens of a constitutional republic in a pluralistic society, should expect from our government.

Romans 1:18-20 reminds us that everyone has a conscience, a sense of right and wrong:
"The wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Romans 13:8-10 says:
"The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (emphasis mine)
Let's call the things that everyone believes to be wrong "natural law," for lack of a better term. Combine natural law with not doing any harm to our neighbor, and I think we have a recipe for a sufficient government in our pluralistic constitutional republic.

Richard Maybury, in his books Whatever Happened to Justice? and Liberal? Conservative? or Confused?, says that a good government of many peoples will have just two requirements for any law:
1. Do all you have agreed to do.
2. Do not encroach upon any person or his property.
Sounds an awful lot like Romans 13...

These two requirements will promote justice and domestic tranquility in this country. Ah, but that means...
...while we should have laws against abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research, we should not have laws against fornication. And while we should have laws prosecuting to the fullest extent anyone involved in NAMBLA, we should not have any more proposition 8's. We should protect signed contracts, our property rights, and those too young to speak for themselves, but we should not regulate the private behavior of consenting adults.

Let me clarify here that homosexuality is a sin. Abusing our bodies with drugs is a sin. Pornography, fornication, and prostitution are all sins--because God said so. Period.

But I would suggest that the difference between "crime" and "sin" is that crime is an encroachment against some other person or his rights, while sin is anything that offends God. Crime is merely the subset of all sin which falls under a government's jurisdiction. As for the rest of sinful behavior, the Church should discipline sin in the believer; God will punish sin in the unbeliever.

(Can I just pause here and say that there are believers out there--post-millenialists, they call themselves--who think we are IN the millennium, that things are getting better? Kind of makes me think they got some bad weed. Oh wait. Pot hasn't been legalized yet. Personally, I'm more inclined to agree with Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation: "Take a look around you, Marilyn. We're standing on the threshold of Hell." Preach it, Clark.)

And why is it important to get this right? Because while good government is a noble aim, it is not the end game. God's glory is the end game. And the Cross is the greatest symbol of God's glory. And the purpose of the Cross was to redeem the lost. Christians in politics forcing our values into law will not win the lost. It will not change their hearts. Scripture tells us that already. It will only serve to make them hate us even more. The Gospel already makes them hate us. How dare we add any other fuel to that holy fire?! That is not a fire for us to build. That is God's fire.

I'll close with God's words rather than mine.
"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the Church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside." I Corinthians 5:12



  1. There is one problem with the concept of having only laws against things that "everyone agrees are wrong": there is no such thing. In our country, we cannot even get everyone to agree that murder is wrong.

  2. Absolutely right. And we should go to mat over encroachment issues. And we should be prepared to lose in our society. But we are notoriously self-righteous over non-encroachment issues. Behold: Proposition 8 and pot. Really. There are so many more things that need our attention, and we spread ourselves thin and, worse,create animosity.

  3. Interesting thoughts. I'm gonna mull this one over.

  4. I just finished listening to a totally awesome lecture/sermon called "The Sufficiency of Scripture for the Laws of Nations" that was about this very topic. I think you would enjoy listening to it. I want to loan it to you, if you are interested. One of his points was that God's judgment against nations is not reserved to those that are in covenant with Him - neither Nineva nor Sodom were in covenant with God, yet He was still ready to destroy them both (and did destroy Sodom) for the sins of the nation. And that it is a blessing on a whole nation when that nation enacts God's system of law, whether the nation is in covenant with Him or not. He also made the point that every system of law that is not based on God's Law, eventually devolves into man's opinion. (Thus, abortion and euthanasia become legal, etc., because men are basically sinful.) Anyway, I think you would enjoy listening to it. It was very fascinating. I'll bring it next time I come over.

  5. I'm more inclined to the post-millenialist position, actually. Not to say that things are necessarily getting better in our society, but because I believe in the sovereign power of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, that it is greater than the sin of man and will, by God's truth and power, overcome it. (Technically speaking, the Resurrection already has, but it's the continual concept of God triumphing over sin.) In surveying the sinfulness of our culture, it's also important that we don't forget how much greater the power of God through the Holy Spirit is acting in the whole world period---or, in another sense, making sure we don't confuse "Western society" with the rest of the world and what God's doing in the hearts of His people.

    But with either position, it's important to maintain proper perspective. Postmillenialists, while expressing optimism in the sovereign, conquering power of the Gospel, can't dilute the urgency of its message or the reality of the Judgment; dispensational premillenialists, while aware of and driven by the urgency of the tribulation, can't be pessimistic and adopt a "head for the hills" mentality like so many people do, forgetting the power of the Holy Spirit in the process.

    So...about crimes vs. sins...and government...

    Pornography, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality, drug abuse, etc. are sins, as you stated. And I agree that "the Church should discipline sin in the believer" (most emphatically yes!); God will punish sin in the unbeliever (another most emphatic yes). My question is, should a government, in ruling and governing the people as is its legitimate role, take steps, given its authority to enforce power, to restrain its citizens from such sins---that is, use its authority to protect its citizens and keep them from it? The government wouldn't necessarily be punishing the sins (although, granted, the only way of restraining its citizens would be through law, and violation of the law would have to be punished), but, just as a government takes steps to restrain and deter its citizens from participating in, say, murder, which is a sin, does it then have any authority to restrain and deter its citizens from participating in other sins more easily accepted by our culture? (Aside from the very fact that our government wouldn't do it; this is hypothetical.)

    While many people would say that the sins listed above only affect the participants, the argument can also be made, of course, that those can indeed very strongly affect others. Prostitution: will that lead to physical abuse and further transmittal of STDs? Homosexuality: does that lead to the rights of its objectors being trampled? Drug abuse: would allowing this lead to any more potential chaos in domestic affairs (the whole existence of the corrupt drug trade)? Could widespread and legal use of drugs increase the severity of traffic accidents, etc., due to high drivers? Things like that.

    But with all this keeping in mind: what things can a government actually enforce? Much as we believe fornication is wrong, for example, a government could never legislate it as a crime---it couldn't enforce it. Other things though: a government could use its authorized force to stop sex trafficking, ban pornographic websites online, or allow straights to refuse service for gays when they wish. Things like that. So once again it brings the ultimate discussion down to the authority of the Church and the authority of the government. One way of considering it is that if the government cannot and should not enforce something even if it encourages morality, then it should be the Church's job. And if the Church cannot by itself enforce laws for society (like speed limits or PODP laws), maybe it should be the government's job. This is just a thought here, and there might be exceptions, but it's something I've been thinking about.

    OK, I've written too much. But you wrote a good solid post and it got me thinking. :)

  6. Thank you, Owen, for your thoughts on this. I did not expect anyone to agree with me, because I have never seen anyone say this type of thing before (or at least anyone who's a legitimate believer). The whole eschatological influence was news to me, and Mr. Horton wrote an excellent white paper on it for our church. Looking at his evidence, I am probably more of a historical pre-millenialist or an amillenialist. I just finished an excellent book by DA Carson called "Scandalous: The Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus." I could not put it down. And Carson discusses pre- vs. post- very cogently, if briefly.
    Anyway, I'll listen to Mrs. Neilsen's recommendation and think about your comments, too.
    Thanks for entering the conversation. It's always great to have you along. :)