Sunday, October 20, 2013

Law and Liberty

The United States is not a Christian nation.
The United States has never been a Christian nation.
The United States will never be a Christian nation.

Now. Go write that on the tablet of your red-blooded, American, evangelical heart one hundred times.

The United States is not a city on a matter what Ronny Ray-gun said.
I like Reagan and all. I really do, even if he was conveniently daft during one interfering episode with some Iranians and some Contras, even if his henchman, Ollie North, should have gone to jail instead of prime time. I liked his 'Come and Take It' charm during the Cold War. But he did much harm taking scripture out of context,
way out of context.

The City on a Hill is the Church. It is not the USA; it has never been the USA.
And the Church is the only recipient of His "Favored Nation" status.
Just sayin'.

When Ronald Reagan quoted City on a Hill, he was referencing Governor John Winthrop. Winthrop was, perhaps, a mite closer to better exegesis, as he was speaking of a his little Christian community united together, not by a civil government, but by the Holy Spirit. But by the time we got around to our founding national documents, any claim to this being a group of people in covenant with the Creator Redeemer is simply untenable.

And by the time Reagan gave that speech (circa 1974), well, it's just ludicrous.

Jesus is King of the United States?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, in a "ready or not, here I come" kind of way.
No, in an "all the lovely ladies wore flowers in their hair" kind of way.
He's King because He will be, not because we asked Him to be.
He's King because there's not one square inch of His creation, as Kuyper reminds us, over which He does not say, "Mine!"
But not because we rolled out the red carpet for him.

Back to City on a Hill.
Who said that?
When did He say that?
In His sermon on the mount.
To whom did He say that?
To His subjects.
To review...
A city on a hill refers to...the...Church.
And the Church is the only Christian nation because it is the only nation in covenant with God.

Which brings me to my latest disappointing read, Law and Liberty by RJ Rushdoony.  I have heard great things about Rushdoony, but I've never read anything by him.  Before I say anything else, let me say this: I am a manager of my home. I am not a scholar; I am not a theologian; I am not a pastor or author.  So I admit I feel a bit sheepish taking Rushdoony on.
And yet...
I am an American concerned about good government. I am a Christian concerned about a Biblical division of governmental jurisdictions like self, family, church, and state. And I am disappointed.

In some ways, Rushdoony seems to be spot.on. I read what he says about self-government and family, and I think he's got a strong Biblical case. But I am a little dismayed about how he tackles civil government.

For one thing, he is a fan of legal positivism.
Legal positivism. That's statism, kids. Statism is bad.
To boil it down quickly and, admittedly, to oversimplify the issue, legal positivism is the view that liberty comes from the government, as opposed to natural law which says that liberty comes from the Creator, and government must justify any infringement on liberty.
Legal positivism is what liberals do when they declare that clean water or health care is a 'right'...or say that 'hate speech' is illegal. It's also what conservatives do when they support prayer in schools or ban marijuana.

Whereas believers in a truly limited government recognize that a government oversteps its bounds when it goes beyond the bounds of protecting life, liberty, and property, believers in legal positivism insist that it is the government's job to protect you.

Rushdoony, and many like him, fail to address the difficulty of governing a pluralistic society in which most do not walk with the mind of the Spirit. And it leaves one thinking that they would look at their non-Christian neighbors, who might feel a tad bit restricted by their theonomic approach to government and shrug, "Dem's da berries." I find that both provocative and fruitless.

What should we say to our fellow Americans who are outside the faith? That we can all agree on life, liberty, and property...but we're prepared to shove the rest down their unbelieving throats? And that will get us...where?

I begin to suspect that my disagreement with Mr. Rushdoony is largely eschatological. I do think he believes in limited government; I do. But he errs far too frequently on the 'civil government must align itself with God's law' approach.  I think that view more likely reflects the jurisdiction of Church government, not civil government. And the result is a civil government far larger and less limited than it ever should be.

Church government is for the citizens of Heaven.
Civil government is for all.

I just had to get this rant off my chest.
I feel better now.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. I sometimes feel like a lone voice in the wilderness :-) It is disconcerting how many speak of a limited government, when what they really is forcing everyone to live like a Christian. I'm all for living like a Christian, but you cannot legislate it into being, and I wish we didn't want to try.