By Pastor James Brown Jr.
For years we have had to answer questions concerning our participation and promotion of pastors, and all able Christians, being engaged in civil matters. People come and go but the abdicating essence remains the same.
Therefore, due to our preparations for a very heated political climate in Indiana, we offer this condensed explanation for political, cultural and civil engagement. The Scriptures unmistakably command the people of God to be salt and light in every opportunity God gives us.
“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” –Matthew 5:13-16
Contending for God’s Law
First, we all have been called to contend for the law of God in the Church, family and civil government.
“They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them.” –Proverbs 28:4
In the last few chapters of Proverbs Solomon focuses upon the family and the civil government. Much of Proverbs deals with personal character and personal relationship issues. Yet, before Solomon concludes, he speaks to the doctrines, practices and our personal duties in the civil sphere.
Here are a few of the gems from wise old Solomon that Christians no longer believe.
“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” –Proverbs 29:2
“When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase.” –Proverbs 28:28“A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.” –Proverbs 20:26
Because we have forsaken the Biblical authority and the Reformed theology of civil government, we have witnessed a once Christian, moral and powerful nation reduced to ashes. The chains that are being forged upon us is the result of our abandonment of the God-ordained institution of government.
Every directive, example and principle in Scripture reveals civil government to be ordained by God. John Calvin wrote, “No man can doubt that civil authority is, in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but the most sacred, and by far the most honourable, of all stations in mortal life.”1
Calvin concludes this based upon Paul’s admonitions in his epistles, especially Romans 13, and the numerous Old Testament examples. Sadly, in today’s Church there is a very low view of civil government and an abdicating attitude concerning our civil duties. Yet, that does not stop the complaints regarding the wicked ruling over us.
The problem among Reformed Christians is that we ignore the third use of the law. The three uses of the law is one of the foundational doctrines of the Reformation. While we say we affirm the perpetuity of God’s law, we absolutely do not want to showcase the civil use.
Paul describes rulers who are subject to God as His ministers or deacons. Their foundational function is to restrain evil and promote righteousness according to the ordinances of God.
John Calvin wrote, “The duty of magistrates, its nature, as described by the word of God, and the things in which it consists…extends to both tables of the law…”2
John Gill wrote, “Kings are guardians of the laws of God and man; and Christian kings have a peculiar concern with the laws of the two tables, that they are observed, and the violators of them punished.”3
Civil government is not only of God in His ordaining of it for man’s benefit but it is to be by God in obedience to His ordinances.
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” –Romans 13:1-2
Commenting on Romans 13:1 Gill wrote, “There may be men in power who assume it of themselves, and are of themselves, and not of God; and others that abuse the power that is lodged in them; who, though they are by divine permission, yet not of God's approbation and good will. And it is observable, that the apostle speaks of powers, and not persons, at least, not of persons, but under the name of powers, to show that he means not this, or the other particular prince or magistrate, but the thing itself, the office and dignity of magistracy itself; for there may be some persons, who may of themselves usurp this office, or exercise it in a very illegal way, who are not of God, nor to be subject to by men.”4
Following up with Romans 13:2 Gill stated, “This is not to be understood, as if magistrates were above the laws, and had a lawless power to do as they will without opposition; for they are under the law, and liable to the penalty of it, in case of disobedience, as others; and when they make their own will a law, or exercise a lawless tyrannical power, in defiance of the laws of God, and of the land, to the endangering of the lives, liberties, and properties of subjects, they may be resisted, as Saul was by the people of Israel, when he would have took away the life of Jonathan for the breach of an arbitrary law of his own, and that too without the knowledge of it, 1 Samuel 14:45; but the apostle is speaking of resisting magistrates in the right discharge of their office, and in the exercise of legal power and authority.”5
The command for every soul to be subject unto the higher powers includes civil rulers who are to be subject to the highest power who is God. Power only comes from God and any power not subject to God has not been ordained by Him.
In Gill’s systematic theology Gill said that civil rulers “are to be submitted to and obeyed in all things, which are not contrary to the laws of God, and the fundamental laws of the kingdom; for otherwise God is to be obeyed, and not men.”6
Therefore, Christians are not only to be subject to civil government that is lawful but to be engaged in it. How else can they be knowledgeable of its rightness if they are ignorant and disengaged?
We are to fulfill our duties as good citizens for the promotion of good government. It is our duty and covenanted members of the civil body politic to see to it that God’s ordinance is sustained just as it is our duty in our ecclesiastical and familial responsibilities.
Paul admonishes the Ephesians that Christians are to be light and walk in light. Yet, our responsibility does not end with being but we are also commanded to reprove the darkness.
“If the believer simply accepts the antinomian situation surrounding him without any recourse, he has willingly subordinated himself to the Satanic power and direction of that environment.”7 –Greg Bahnsen
Ambassadors of Christ
As all members of civil society should have concern toward the government, the Christian should be more concerned. We are ambassadors of Christ, His representatives on earth for the promotion and advancement of His reign over all nations.
Even in the minority and among the oppressed Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:20, “For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” This not only pertains to the gospel or ecclesiastical matters but as Paul testified that he had not “shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Paul boldly proclaimed the whole counsel of God concerning ecclesiastical, civil and familial issues as his epistles testify.
As representative or minister of Christ, it is my duty to preach against all sin in all places and to proclaim the commandments of God as binding upon all men.
“A wicked messenger falleth into mischief: but a faithful ambassador is health.” –Proverbs 13:17“The law of God and its promotion also offers an answer to the current social-political irrelevance of the orthodox churches of Christ; rather than choosing between pietistic withdrawl from social issues or public morality and the politicized gospel (which is no gospel at all) of the revolutionary liberals, the true church of Christ can have a solidly beneficial and truly significant influence on social and political matters by exhorting society and national leaders as well as all individual citizens to obey the righteous law of God. Then health can return to a torn and troubled nation.”8 –Greg Bahnsen
We are either ambassadors of health and healing or we are unfaithful. Just as we are under commandment to obey heathen rulers that command what is lawful and right, we are duty bound to add our voices to our fellow citizens, even if they are in ecclesiastical disorder and/or error when they promote the public good.
We are to overcome evil by doing what is good. If we abdicate our civil duty in days of rebellion against the powers ordained by God we are guilty of rendering evil for evil. Sins of omission are equally evil as those of commission.
This Is My Father’s World
The Old Testament declares in Psalms 22:28, “For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations.” The Psalmist also declared, “For God is the King of all the earth” in Psalms 47:7 and the following verse even declares that He reigns over the heathen.
Old Testament prophecy centers upon a time when “the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one” (Zechariah 14:9). Daniel describes this time being realized in the Messiah who is “given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).
Yet, the New Testament is even more descriptive and defined because this truth is realized in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christ proclaimed, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18).
In the revelation of Jesus Christ unto the apostle John the angel declares, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
In agreement with the apostle Paul we declare the necessity of declaring and submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11). This submission is not just in theological assent but in practical obedience, for as James declares, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26).
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” –Matthew 10:32-33
Although there are many objections that necessitate a response, we are going to focus upon two.
The first objection is the question of the separation of Church and state.
This phrase is falsely misunderstood in the secular mindset to mean that the Church is prohibited from influencing political, governmental or cultural issues. However, a novice reading of the First Amendment reveals it actually prohibits the federal government from forbidding the free exercise of religion or making any laws regarding any institution of religion.
The Separation of Church and State is an ecclesiastical doctrine and not a political doctrine in the American tradition. The institutions of religion that founded this nation believed the Church and the state were separate and distinct institutions ordained by God. In order to uphold this distinction the Establishment Clause was added to the Constitution in order to keep the centralized power of the federal government from consolidating the institution of the Church under its power.
To prohibit the Church from proclaiming the whole counsel of God is a violation of its officers and members Freedom of Speech. Most importantly, it is to muzzle the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Additionally, the so-called political doctrine of the Separation of Church and State does not appear in any of our founding documents. It appeared in a letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists to assure them that their ecclesiastical doctrine would not be trampled by the federal government.
David Barton wrote, “Although the statesmen and patriots who framed the Constitution had made it clear that no one Christian denomination would become the official denomination, the Danbury Baptists expressed their concern over a rumor that a particular denomination was soon to be recognized as the national denomination. On January 1, 1802, President Jefferson responded to the Danbury Baptists in a letter. He calmed their fears by using the now infamous phrase to assure them that the federal government would not establish any single denomination of Christianity as the national denomination.”9
The second objection is the question of our separation from the world.
This objection is actually the most dangerous because it creates false piety in the Church. As a result, the Church surrenders its duty as the foundation of truth with righteous sentiments.
The doctrine of separation was abused with fanatical frenzy during the 20th Century as it transformed pet peeves into creedal affirmations. It was and is still being used by sanctimonious Pharisees who refuse to see the log in their own eye while trying to rid the world of splinters.
In spite of these abuses, there is a Biblical doctrine of separation. True separation is concerned with personal holiness as revealed by God in Holy Writ and ecclesiastical separation from churches and/or institutions that deny the authority of Scripture directly or indirectly through their additions of the doctrines and commandments of men.
The doctrine of separation will always be abused when it is absent of the ability to discern between heretical and non-essential doctrine, to Biblically define the true and false Church and to distinguish between the degrees of sin and their appropriate disciplines. The result will always be unbiblical schisms and judgments. In issues such as this, we must be steadfast in our commitment to Sola Scriptura lest we elevate our own human reasoning, experiences and emotions above Scripture.
In dealing with personal and ecclesiastical separation, Paul instructs the church at Corinth to guard the purity of the church internally but engage the world externally. If your view of separation is the extreme idea of never seeing or engaging with people who are sinners, then you must leave this world.
“I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.” –1 Corinthians 5:9-10
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul addresses the controversy in the early church concerning their separation from paganism. While Paul exhorts the Corinthians not to participate in pagan festivals, not because the food sacrificed to devils has any mystical power but because we are to make a clear distinction between the clean and the unclean, good and evil and orthodoxy and heresy. However, Paul says that outside of the doctrines and rites of paganism, the food may be eaten when purchased in the marketplace.
Biblical separation is not the withdrawal from the world. At this point many Christians give the oft repeated cliché that “we are in the world but not of the world.”
Well, there is some truth in the statement but the implications are very unbiblical. Being in the world is not some kind of prison sentence or purgatory to be endured so that we can go to our real home.
Modern Christianity is plagued with the idea that surrendering this world to Satan is spiritual and to exhibit care and concern for it is to be worldly. As the old saying goes, “some are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.”
However, Jesus did not pray for His followers to be raptured out of the world but to be kept from the evil in it.
“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” –John 17:15
The above statement is taken what we refer to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. As our mediator, Christ executes the offices of prophet, priest and king. As our high priest He has made atonement for our sins through the sacrifice of Himself and continues to make intercession for us to the Father.
Christ sits at the right hand of God to continue this intercession for us. From John 17, we know that He is not pleading for our removal but for our purity, protection and perseverance.
Yet, this prayer based on the model of Christ’s example for us to follow does not stop with a plea for purity but a commission for invasion and intervention.
Jesus has a purpose for calling us to separation and sanctification according to His Word in John 17:16, which is found in verse 17.
“As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”
We have been called to the ministry of reconciling a sinful world to Christ not isolating ourselves on some remote mountain in white robes (spiritually speaking). We have been called to fight not flight.
This war is not a war of flesh and blood, though we have seen and will see it visibly displayed, but a spiritual war. The foundational objective is the hearts and minds of men.
The purpose of Christian separation is not to establish false piety through man-made rules. It is not to exalt us as holy men to be to be venerated and enshrined. We are to be separated unto God for the purpose of being sent into the highways and hedges so that the world might see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. We are send forth as light into darkness to pull down the strongholds of Satan, destroy false philosophies and demolishing everything that is opposed to the knowledge of God in order to bring all things into subjection to Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-6).
Reformed Church of the Holy Trinity is duty bound by the Word of God to strive against sin, preach the gospel and teach obedience to all of Christ’s commandments to all people, institutions and nations. Therefore, we will not retreat but tear down the strongholds of the enemy and exalt Christ as Lord over the Church, the family and civil government. As Abraham Kuyper wrote, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”10
Much more could be said theologically and practically, but we hope this short explanation gives some insight in the foundational reasons for our engagement in the battles of light and darkness.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” –Matthew 28:18-20“In accord with Christ’s Great Commission, believers must teach the observance of God’s law; evangelism does not end with repentance and faith on the part of the hearer, but it extends into obedience to the commandments of the Lord.”11 –Greg Bahnsen
- Calvin, John “Of Civil Government.” Institutes of the Christian Religion. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989. 654. Print.
- Ibid., 654.
- Gill, John “Of The Respective Duties of Magistrates And Subjects.” A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity. Paris, Arkansas: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2007. 985. Print.
- Romans 13 Commentary - John Gill's Exposition on the Whole Bible." StudyLight.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/view.cgi?bk=44&ch=13>.
- Gill, John “Of The Respective Duties of Magistrates And Subjects.” A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity. Paris, Arkansas: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2007. 987. Print.
- Bahnsen, Greg L. "Our Duty to Promote Obedience." Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002. 461. Print.
- Bahnsen, Greg L. "Our Duty to Promote Obedience." Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002. 463. Print.
- Barton, David “The Origin of the Phrase ‘Separation of Church and State.’” The Myth of Separation. Aledo, TX: Wallbuilders Press, 1992. 41. Print.
- Mouw, Robert. "The Postmodern Maze." The Postmodern Maze. Christianity Today, 01 Apr. 2007. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/2007/issue94/11.36.html>.
- Bahnsen, Greg L. "Our Duty to Promote Obedience." Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002. 462. Print.