July 12, 2005

To Be Ruled by God or Ruled by the Mob?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 7:18 pm

A few weeks back I followed a link from Christian Dissent to a blog by Rob French, a conservative evangelical and member of the US Air Force. After I left a comment on his blog, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Rob had visited my humble blog and responded at length in this post.

While we disagree on many political and religious issues, Rob reminds us that, regardless, we both share redemption through faith in Christ:

[S]alvation is obtained by the grace of God alone…It’s not based on how well I do or don’t adhere to a given doctrine (caveating that, of course, with the fact that certain aspects of faith, if lacking, detract from the credence of an individual’s profession of Christian faith). Point being, for either you or I [sic], salvation is the work of God, not us, and we share the name “Christian.”

Rob French and I are brothers in Christ, despite our differing views. I’m also reminded of the statement by a commenter on this blog (I can’t find it right now) that the gates of heaven will be echoing with the sound of us all slapping our foreheads as we enter the Kingdom, saying “oh, God, so that’s what you meant!” I’m sure both Rob’s and my forehead will be red as we see God face-to-face.

Now to respond to some of Mr. French’s views. In a post on theocracy, he says:

This, then, is [theocracy]–not rule by leaders who are thought to be divinely inspired, but ruled by, no kidding, God Himself.

How much I would love to be ruled by God. And of course that is what we look forward to when we someday “shuffle off this mortal coil.” Rob continues:

Certainly, He uses men to accomplish His sovereign and immutable will; we, in turn, have the tools available to ensure that the work that those men does [sic] is indeed in accordance with the will of God: namely, we have the holy Scriptures, which are, to paraphrase Paul to Timothy, useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and instructing in all righteousness, and contain both general principles as well as specific examples touching upon every facet of human relationship and existence.

And there’s the rub! The Bible does not provide clear instructions for running a government, especially not one in an era of the Internet, global trade, stem cell research, nuclear proliferation and feeding tubes. Christians can’t agree on the ground rules for baptism, much less whether the judicial filibuster should be allowed. Even the worst dictators in history have believed they were on God’s side, or at least that they were doing the “right thing”, as they resorted to force to impose their will.

So how do we ensure that our civic leaders truly are governing morally? In the US, we limit their power through the Constitution, and we hold them accountable through elections. Regarding the popular vote, Rob says:

[Y]ou and I will serve either the theocracy of God, or one of the theocracies of any of a myriad of other gods–the mob (Demos in the articles above) being one.

Except that he has it backwards. We don’t serve the mob, the mob serves us by restraining the power of political leaders. Majority rule, along with the guarantee of minority rights, makes sure that our leaders can’t do too much damage. Of course, they also make sure that they don’t have an unfettered ability to enact God’s will as his agents. But history has shown that earthly rulers claiming to act for God have done far more damage than good.

Here’s a short list of some history the framers of the Constitution would have been familiar with. Mary I of England (“Bloody Mary”) made a practice of burning Protestants at the stake, as she tried to restore Roman Catholicism to England. The Pilgrims fled religious persecution by the Church of England, settling first in Holland, then in America. Thousands of Anabaptists were killed for their faith during the 16th century by both Protestants and Catholics, leading the Amish and the Mennonites to come to America. The Thirty Years War between Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists laid waste to much of Germany. Back in the US, Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of his hostility to the Church of England, so he founded the Rhode Island Colony where he became a Baptist, and then a Seeker. Meanwhile, Quakers were imprisoned, banished and flogged throughout much of New England by the Christian authorities.

You may have noticed that all of these conflicts were between fellow Christians. Both sides claimed to be acting as God’s agents, accomplishing his will. And so I return to Rob’s comment regarding the means of salvation. All these Christians were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and thus shared the name “Christian”, even as they set about killing, capturing, torturing and banishing each other.

Democracy is not biblically ordained, and I would happily cast it aside if something better came along to ensure good and just government. But in the history of humanity so far, it’s the best we’ve found.

I look forward to a true theocracy in heaven, and someday on earth, under Christ’s kingship. In the meantime, I’m sticking with democracy.

7 Comments

  1. After reading your post, I have a question/commentary. Before I get to that though, I would like to thank you for writing and being such a good resourcer.

    As I read the post, I was struck by your definition of what it means to be a Christian. The first thing I notice is that you say twice that part of being Christian, having that label, is based upon our salvation by the Grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. That is to say, our “Christianity” is based upon salvation through our faith. You link very closely faith, salvation through faith, and being Christian.

    However, when quoting Rob, he says, and you appear to agree with him, that salvation comes solely by the Grace of God, and not by any of our own doings. It might appear to be the same thing, but it seems to me that Rob is saying something completely different.

    If I am reading Rob’s comments correctly, and please forgive if I am misrepresenting his beliefs, faith is not a requirement for salvation. As he puts it, “Salvation is obtained by the [G]race of God…”

    This is very different from your requirement of Salvation by the Grace obtained through faith in Christ.

    We have now identified two distinctly different theological views on salvation (and there are certainly more!) If, as you assert, being a Christian is based on our salvation through faith, how can people who believe like Rob or myself identify as Christians, which doesn’t require the human action of faith?

    For what it’s worth, I do agree with Rob’s perspective (or at least how I have read it). But further, I question your attempt to define who is a Christian based on their doctrine of salvation.

    I am not a Christian because I am “saved”, I am a Christian because I value the life and teachings of Jesus, as well as some of the traditions (but certainly not all!) of the Church.

    I am far more concerned with bringing about God’s holy Kin-dom here on earth. Through being a peacemaker, through feeding the hungry, through showing hospitality, through being forgiving, patient and kind, among other things, I am living out my Christianity, and it has absolutely nothing to do with salvation.

    I am neither motivated by knowing that I am “saved” by faith, nor am I motivated by the notion that I might be “saved” by my “good works.” I am motivated by the teachings of Jesus and the Prophets. Salvation has nothing to do with how I live out my Christianity.

    Lets push this notion a little further. I am sure that Rob would not agree with me on this (I may be wrong), but taking our notion that Grace is given to us by God and doesn’t require any human work one step more, would not everyone be given Grace whether or not they know they have received it?

    I believe that everybody has received Grace from God, through Jesus. Everyone might not know they have received it, nor has everyone accepted this gift, and some have rejected it, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve received it. This is my doctrine of Salvation.

    My question: Having such tremendously different beliefs in Salvation, are we both still Christians?

    “If Grace is True…” is an excellent book for anyone that reads this that would like to learn more about how truly awesome the gift of grace is!

    Comment by Robbie Gill — July 18, 2005 @ 3:11 pm

  2. Well its been a while since I have been on here….but I must say I do agree with Bob in his post, our foreheads will be very very sore when we get to heaven, but with Robbie I do not agree that we because “Christians” through Gods grace, we must have faith and believe in Jesus Christ and believe that he died for us, and he washed away our sins, and we must make a statement with God declaring we believe this and we accept his gift of salvation. This is what defines a Christian from a non-christian, if you have made that statment and you have told God you believe this, and you truly must believe it then , you are a christian, being a christian is not based on how well you hold to the teachings of Jesus, while that is a big part of it, and I believe that having Jesus in our lives is what gives us the power to be bale to follow his teachings…But it is the faith in God that saves us. It is By Grace we have been saved, what God ment by that is that he is a gracious God and he was so gracious he gave an underserving world his son to die for his, and it is the faith in his son that gives us our salvation, and our title of “Christian”.

    Comment by Matt — July 20, 2005 @ 11:23 pm

  3. I must agree with Bob on this post, we will all be slapping our foreheads when we get to heaven, and what a great day that will be….But with Robbies comment, I just want to say that I beleive that because of Gods grace he sent us his son, so what we might be saved, without the Gods wonderful grace he would not have sent us his son, to die for us, but it is through faith that we come to believe in Jesus, and how he died on the cross for our sins, how he shed his blodd for us, so that we might be saved, it is through both of these things Faith and Grace that we are saved, God was gracious enough to send us his one and only son Jesus Christ to die for us.

    Comment by Matt — July 20, 2005 @ 11:30 pm

  4. oh something else, evertime I comment on one of these posts there is a blue border on the side of the screen that covers up part of the comment box, so I make a lot of mistakes….is there anyway to get ride of it?

    Comment by Matt — July 20, 2005 @ 11:32 pm

  5. Matt — I must say, your idea of a gift is flawed. If God’s grace is truly a gift, then it need not be knowingly recieved. Gifts do not come with conditions! If there is fine print, its more like a loan then a gift.

    If I send you a fruitcake at Christmas, but you store it away and never eat it, the fruitcake still belongs to you. You do not have to accept it for you to own it. How many gifts have we recieved at Christmas and Birthdays that were just hedious! I still have things from 3 years ago with the tags still on. (Yeah, yeah, I know I should donate them…one day I’ll stop being lazy!) Wether or not I like the gifts, or if I use the Gifts, or even if I’ve said “thank you” does not matter. For Grace to be truly a gift, it must already be given, and wether we like it or not, it is ours.

    With a gift like Grace, I feel that it is important to respond, and be greatful, however, it is not a requirement. Gifts just simply do not come with conditions! Just like when we receive flowers, it is polite and a good thing to send a thank you card, when we receive grace it is a good thing to respond by living more Christ-like, but it is not a requirement! Gifts with requirements are not gifts!

    The advertisement for Christianity should not read “God’s Grace for All!* (*some conditions may apply)”.

    While I think it is important to respond to Grace by living more Christ-like, it is not a requirement.

    Again, I am not a Christian because I am “saved”. I am a Christian, because I have responded to God’s Grace and live a more Christ-like life. That doesn’t mean I am perfect (in fact, I was full of rage just last night! I was VERY unchristian.)

    Additionally, Matt, I suggest you re-read your statement. I still see no reason why God’s Grace isn’t large enough to cover people that do not profess to have faith. If we assume that you are correct that God “was so gracios he gave an undeserving world his son to die for…” Why does that jump then to we must profess faith in this gift to recieve it. What your quote means is God sent Jesus to atone for the world’s sin. Why then is Jesus’ death not enough to cover the sins? Why does it take Jesus’ death AND my faith? Your argument is just not cogent.

    Jesus’ death is done, the price for the worlds sins has been paid. Period.

    (PS — I have written this in a hurry, I have somewhere to be in a very short time, so I do appologize if some of my thoughts were not as complete, or my spelling horrible!)

    Comment by Robbie Gill — August 10, 2005 @ 3:20 pm

  6. Good day! I happened across this post of Bob’s (actually, my wife did and pointed me to it) and was delighted to see that he’d responded to our original discussion. With that said, after reading the post and the comments, I figured I’d write a little bit to muddy the waters even more!

    Bob,

    I agree with much of what you wrote in your post. I would assert here, however that I -don’t- advocate an all-powerful (or nearly so) ruler who is supposedly acting on God’s behalf. That, as you’ve pointed out, leads to and has lead to much harm. Nonetheless, our popular notion of democracy is still not quite there, especially so when one considers the ever-upward consolidation of power.

    Democracy, such as it is and by another name, is in fact Biblical. Presbyterians often point out that the U.S. government was modeled on the organization of the Presbyterian church. While this is a gross simplification, it is marginally accurate at least. There are examples in the New Testament (Acts) that demonstrate this representative nature with popular election (casting of lots to choose Judas’ replacement, for example).

    The issue with democracy as most often practiced is the same issue that I have with so-called “non-denominational” churches. You get one of two things: (a) a hugely powerful organization with near unlimited authority over its members, or (b) a watered-down organization that means nothing. I think the solution is the same for both (churches and states): smaller local bodies built on tight-knit community with locally shared interests, and keeping the vast majority of power concentrated at the absolute lowest levels of authority possible. (To use a benign and trivial example: there is no need for a national speed limit, because this can quite easily be enforced at a local level.)

    Robbie and Matt,

    I’ll respond to both of your points here in order to characterize my belief.

    Robbie, you are correct in pointing out my emphasis on God’s grace as the key to our salvation. Beyond that, we differ. I believe, as foreshadowed in the saints of the Old Testament, that God has set apart a people for Himself. In the Old Testament, they were called the nation Israel; in the New Testament, Paul refers to us (Christians) as Israel. With Augustine, I agree that there has ever only been one religion, only recently (~2000 yr ago) come to be known as Christianity. Thus, you, me, and Abraham share in the same faith.

    Some of those people set apart by God were within national Israel (corresponding to the Church today), some were not and were grafted in when they came to faith (corresponding to those outside the church who subsequently come to faith). The pattern foreshadowed in the OT is repeated, elucidated, and fulfilled in the NT.

    Of these people set apart by God, none were “good people.” (See Paul’s discussion in Romans.) All, to a man, were set apart by God as an act of undeserved mercy. Conversely, there are those who God did not choose beforehand: vessels of wrath destined for destruction, as Paul says. Bear in mind, my previous statement, however. *All* are worthy of destruction, God simply chooses to be merciful to some (to His glory) and executes His wrath on others (also to His glory).

    Thus, while I agree to a limited extent that God showers grace on all (there are unbelievers whose crops grow, who are successful in business, etc), He provides saving grace only to His elect.

    With that in mind, I turn to Christ’s sacrifice. It is clear from the NT that Hell is a real threat. So… Christ’s sacrifice… was it sufficient to save? Absolutely! Christ’s sacrifice is perfectly effective for those for whom it was made: God’s elect, those given to Christ by His father. None given to Him perish; realize that not all are given to Him (vessels of wrath, vessels of mercy).

    What of faith, then? God’s grace saves us -through- faith. Faith we cannot exercise until it is first given to us of God to do so. Faith, then is a sign, not a cause. From an anthropocentric (hehe) perspective, we see faith as the cause of a person’s salvation, but in truth it is the effect of God’s grace poured out on a person (Christ’s discussion of being born again and the Spirit blowing where it will; Paul’s discussion of the evil of man acting according to his “free will”).

    What of my fellow man? Will I treat him poorly since he is unsaved? May it never be so! (a) I don’t know the disposition of Joe Smith, and I don’t get to make the call as to his salvation. (b) He is made in the image of God. (c) What is now may not be so in the future, and my treatment of him may be part of God’s bringing about of that end.

    As to who is a Christian… Robbie is correct in the “do” aspect: Christians “do” God’s will, which is to say, they have His laws written on their hearts. They model they behavior of Christ, which means they also work to be obedient to the Law of God. (Another way of saying that the New Testament can’t stand on it’s own… the Bible is all of Scripture.) If a person claims to be Christian and doesn’t “do”, there ought to be a little suspicion there. Remember nonetheless that “doing” is an effect, not a cause. It is an effect of being born again by the Spirit (which is an act of God, not of will).

    God chooses His people (despite themselves).

    Christ dies to purchase those people from sin.

    The Spirit fills those people and causes them to be born again.

    That is the Gospel.

    One more consolidating (and muddying 😉 paragraph. Living (acting) as a Christian is not a pre-condition; it’s a post-condition by which -men- (not God) can identify Christians. Likewise with faith. Those without faith, and those who don’t act as Christians, are demonstrating, simply that they are not. It has nothing to do with the “size” of God’s grace. It has to do with the fact that there is one type of person: a wicked person, deserving condemnation. God has mercifully chosen some to new life, while justly condemning others to death. The potter and the clay… the owner and his wages… etc etc.

    -Rob

    Comment by Rob French — October 2, 2005 @ 9:30 am

  7. (Yes, that all makes me Augustinian/Lutheran (in the old sense)/Calvinist/Reformed.

    -Rob

    Comment by Rob French — October 2, 2005 @ 9:31 am

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