The theology of Church-State issues never gets a mention these days. Clearly it’s a subject Presbyterians (or others) do not consider important. Do theological colleges include these issues in their curricula? I think not. This is lamentable but predictable. Lamentable, for Reformed theologians have developed a sizable body of theology of the State which is now neglected. Also predictablegiven its neglect by classic systematic works. See how much space is given to it in selected classic works:
TheologianTotal pagesTheol of state %
David Hall notes, “Less than 1% of the leading systematic theology texts address a matter which now consumes far more than one percent of the average Christian’s interest. More than half comes from Calvin.”[i]These stats would not surprise Gilstrap, whose essay, John Calvin’s Theology of Resistance, says
“Reformed political thought has been neglected by most evangelical thinkers as well as most Christian historians”[ii]
And we are the poorer for it. An interesting remark in view of Ford Lewis Battle’s comment with reference to the first edition of the ICR (1536) which suggests that the first edition of the Institutescan be understood as a sort of political treatise. Its overriding concern with proper government is shown in the opening epistle, dedicated to King Francis I of France. The same concern is expressed in his final chapter, “On Freedom and Ecclesiastical and Civil Power”where Calvin relates theology to political theory. But Calvin’s foundation inspired the next great contribution to this genre: Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex(1644). It is a magisterial work and includes an impressive range of Patristic comment on government including refutation that resistance was never permitted. Lex Rexwas a landmark work declaring that the King was not the law; the Law was king! Many others have built on Rutherford. Schaeffer did with Christian Manifesto.
But who today considers these things? Once, the pulpit powerfully influenced the minds of men, teaching them how to understand Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13. It was so effect- ive then and should be also today. Indeed we err if we do not expound these basic New Testament texts. James Henley Thornwell shows why:
“Subjects that have no religion are incapable of law … Every State, therefore, must have a religion, or it must cease to be a government of men. Hence no Commonwealth has ever existed without religious sanctions…”.
In the past, the American pulpit educated the people on the role of the Christian in politics. It influenced legislators and did so by a peculiar custom which took root in American culture: the annual Election Day sermon. From 1633 onwards, Election Day sermons were preached to the governor and legislature in Massachusetts for 256 years, in Connecticut for 156 years, and Vermont and New Hampshire. In 1860, John Wingate Thornton said, that they served as a
“perpetual memorial, continued down through the generations from century to century, still bearing witness that our fathers ever began their civil year and its responsibilities with an appeal to Heaven, and recognised Christian morality as the only basis for good laws.”
So widespread was this practice that by 1691, election days and their sermons were fixed by colonial law. They
not partisan in character, but Biblical, moral and ethical in character. In 1747, Charles Chauncey, one of the most influential of Boston ministers, preached to the Governor, the council and the Massachusetts House of Representatives. His sermon was titled, Civil Magistrates Must Be Just, Ruling in the Fear of God. In 1788, Samuel Langdon, a graduate of Harvard, who was in turn, a chaplain and minister, President of Harvard in 1774, and later a delegate to the New Hampshire state convention, preached on election day to the New Hampshire legislature, on The Republic of the Israelites, an Example to the American States. One can well imagine that such sermons being preached so widely, and for so many years contributed to creating an informed electorate and one prepared to confront the political scene with a strong religious conviction, which led ultimately to resistance to what was perceived to be unjust. Presumably this mentality, this conviction would not sit too well with contemporary believers. Nor only is the church quite passive in the face of gross injustices and State intrusion into Church and family, but it is ignorant of the vast body of theology justifying resistance to government under certain conditions.
Romans 13:1-4 tells us that “the powers that be are ordained of God?”or I Peter 2, which says, “Submit yourselves to … governors as unto them that are sent by (God).But Christians may well wonder how many preachers can claim with Paul, that they preach the wholecounsel of God (Acts 20:27). Rushdooney once said, “The word proclaimed by the church cannot be limited to the church, because if it is Scripture, it is not the word of the church, but the Word of God..”
Is it not the case that many preachers limit their preaching to those parts of the Word, with which they are most comfortable, easy to exegete and popular in their appeal. But when Rushdoony said that The Word judges all things, governs all things, he was only asserting the sovereignty of God over all things, including those powers referred to in Romans 13 and I Peter 2. If this is so, by what logic can preachers neglect preaching on such passages? Is such neglect not a denial of the validity and relevance of such texts? After all, if God is the Lord God Almighty and His Son is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, then how can men notpreach the whole counsel of God, including the place and the limits of human government?
Do not many preachers, who neglect such texts, leave themselves open to the criticism made by J. Ligon Duncan III.He accuses many preachers of relegating the Old Testament to the periphery of thought as far as forming the Christian mind in the areas of personal and social ethics, thus disengaging the church from societal responsibilities. This, he maintains, shows the extent to which evangelicals are quite antinomian.
Such an attitude would astonish the prophets and Apostles of the past. They knew the dangers of proclaiming the Lordship of Christ. They were aware their message was often deemed political. Yet they didn’t consult their safety when they preached. This is why at times, riots followed their preaching. (Acts 17:6-7).
Preachers today don’t cause riots, but then preachers today don’t assert the Lordship of Christ over all things or question governments! Preachers know that Romans 13:1 is not the most popular text in the Bible, but it isin the Bible and should be preached at times. The Scriptures do speak concerning the state and government, and so must we. Mind you, if we did so preach, then according to David Hall, we would only be returning, “to the political maturity of the common citizen in the 1750’s”.
James Henley Thornwell, “Sermon on National Sins,” Collected Works, Vol IV, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986) p. 515.
Quoted in Election Sermons, p21
Ibid., p 143
The Silence of the Modern American Pulpit, Gary De Mar, Biblical Worldview, May 2001
J. Ligon Duncan III, “Moses’ Law for Modern Government”, Premise, Vol 2, 1995, quoted in Savior or Servant, p. 372, David Hall, Covenant Foundation, Oak Ridge:TN
Savior or Servant, David Hall, Oak Ridge, TN: The Kuyper Institute, p.1
[i]David Hall, Savior or Servant,1996 The Kuyper Institute
About this blog
Welcome to my blog where you can read about books, bods and battles for the truth. Your comments are invited.
Minister, pastor, evangelist, convention speaker, college lecturer, private pilot, invitee to minister in India, Singapore, Indonesia, Kenya, Cyprus USA and China, CEO of a Sydney church Retirement Village and author of four biographies - these are some areas in which I have served Christ for more than 60 years. Called to preach at age 16 I have served mainline and independent churches in all States save the NT. Decades of ministry, have led me to conclude that "judgment has begun at the church of God". Where will this end?