Ed Giese's Web Log

Another Dialog on Making America Christian

Posted on 2021-05-23 22:30:00 in Culture

This is a continuation of this dialog concerning whether it is consistent of a Christian to want to make the government Christian, if one had the power.

Aaron: I had a revelation after our discussion yesterday about whether a Christian ought, if she had the power, to make the government of the United States (or any other country) Christian.

Dijon: I'm interested to hear it. I don't think you did much more than bluster during our last coversation. I'm still thinking it would be consistent for a Christian to want this, regardless of anyone's fondness for the U.S. Constitution.

Aaron: Well, it's hard. I'd like just to quote the Bible, but
the New Testament was completed while Christians had no political power at all. In fact, persecution was more common during the apostolic age than anything like power. So the Bible doesn't give advice to Christian leaders at all.

Dijon: But we were not talking about exercising power, but gaining power. The question is whether a Christian should try to control the government and make it Christian.

Aaron: Yes, precisely. Paul tells Christians to respect the governing authorities in Romans 13 and to pray for those in power in 1 Timothy. There are other passages as well. But none of them ever say to take over the government. From this, I'd say it is not recommended that a Christian actively try to take over the government.

Dijon: Respect those in authority, sure. But that doesn't mean one can't try to take over, right?

Aaron: Come on. Do you think you should pray for those in authority at the same time you are trying to take their jobs from them?

Dijon: So then, George Washington was sinning when he rebelled against the English authorities?

Aaron: Some people thought so at the time. But it is more subtle than that. I'm going to try to stop blustering, and explain it. The best way I can think to understand it is that Christians cannot change God's authority or laws, any more than one could move a star in the sky. What the Bible told the early Christians was that the secular authorities were also agents of God, so that their "stars" were also to be viewed as unchangeable.

Dijon: That seems to make the Christians look like they enjoyed being powerless. So, you seem to be trying to avoid my question simply by saying that Christians should not seek authority. OK, I'll do one better, then. What if a Christian woke up and found herself in authority? Like when Constantine converted to Christianity? I mean, he was already the emperor, but now he was the emperor and a Christian. So what was he supposed to do?

Aaron: As I said, the Bible did very little directly to guide someone like Constantine. But historically there have been three different solutions that Christians have used to answer the question.

Dijon: Now we're getting somewhere! So what was the first solution?

Aaron: Think of what I should do if I could control one set of stars in the illustration I used above. As an earthly ruler, I no longer live under two sets of immovable stars, but I have one I can move and one I cannot move. The first solution might be called aligning the stars. In short, it says that the Christian ruler's job is to make the earthly laws line up as closely as possible with God's laws.

Dijon: Aha! I knew it! That is pretty much to make the country Christian, as I have been saying! So, that brings our conversation to a close... oh, but wait, you said there were two others. And I suppose you prefer one of them. What was the second?

Aaron: The second is abdication. It claims that if you found yourself in a position of earthly authority, you should surrender it, because it is only a matter of time before you were corrupted as the world is.

Dijon: This is kind of cheating. You can't say that the answer to taking over the government is not to take over the government. Plus, I'm not sure I agree that any real people would do this. Weren't you saying just yesterday that we have to be practical? Which groups ever did this? I'm assuming that the Roman church is an example of the first solution.

Aaron: You are right about the Roman church, although you could include Calvin's Geneva in this category. And examples of the second group can be found among the anabaptists and their heirs, like the Mennonites and the Amish.

Dijon: Hmmm. Everyone has heard of these groups, but they are not really that significant in numbers. But I suppose this is who you are going to say we should follow?

Aaron: No, not actually. Because, you see, if you think about it, there is not really any difference between the Amish and the Catholics in this matter of aligning the stars.

Dijon: Wait, I thought you said one group said align the stars, and the other said to abdicate.

Aaron: But the abdication meant to withdraw into small communities, separate from the world, almost like a monastery enlarged to a town. Within these communities, they thought they could do an even better job of aligning the stars. So, when you think about it, the abdicators are just as enthusiastic about aligning stars, but just more pessimistic about doing it for large groups of people.

Dijon: You really did seem to have some revelation. Just last night you were saying all kinds of things about not wanting to force others into your beliefs, and now it's all about lining up stars. But I imagine you've saved the one you actually agree with to last.

Aaron: Of course! The last group of Christians said that God's will regarding the running of the world is hidden, unlike His revealed will for the church, and the two should not really mix. The revealed will (His Word) is, in the end, all about grace and forgiveness, which makes a beautiful way of running a church, but a pretty impractical way of running a country.

Dijon: You know I'm not a huge believer in grace even as a religion, but OK. So, this is a first-rate dodge. You say you don't believe in abdication, but you also don't believe that Christians should presume to run the world because God's will there is hidden.

Aaron: But I didn't say that. I said that you can't align the constellations if you are a Christian. But if a Christian controls the laws, then the goal shouldn't be to force everyone to believe, but rather to allow Christians to live peaceful lives in "Godliness and holiness" as it says in 1 Timothy 2.

Dijon: I'm not sure I see how this is any different from what I am saying. If a Christian is supposed to encourage, with laws, for people to live in "Godliness" and "holiness" isn't that the same as making the country Christian?

Aaron. No. I'm trying to speak precisely here, I'm sorry, let me clarify. A Christian should govern to allow Christians to live this way, not force anyone else to. It is the ultimate religious liberty. And it is not about faith, as good as this is, but rather competence. A well ordered society is the best for people to come to faith, not by compulsion, but by attraction.

Dijon: And which Christian group practiced this?

Aaron: Lutherans.

Dijon: I should have guessed. You seem to idolize those guys.

Aaron: Haha, no I don't idolize them. And they weren't always that great about doing this, in fact. They were always slipping into the trap of telling Christians that even if the government was rapacious, capricious, and unjust, they should pray for them and live by the laws anyway.

Dijon: Hmmm... maybe it's better to do it the Catholic way.

Aaron: I don't think so. But I'm sure you're tired of me talking about this. Let's talk about another wrinkle in my revelation that makes the subject even more interesting, but later.

Dijon: Sure, I still want to hear about George Washington, and how, according to your explanation, he wasn't sinning. But for now, I gotta go, too. Later!