Eschatology and Religious Liberty

Q. What is the one thing that is not present in heaven (or in the millennium, or in the New Jerusalem, depending on your take on eschatology) that we can be thankful is still present with us here today on earth?

A. Religious liberty.

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“[The woman] gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” (Rev. 12:5)

“And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’” (Rev. 12:10–12)

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev. 19:11–16)

“The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.” (Rev. 2:26–27)

“Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6)

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21:22–27)

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According to these scriptures, one day Jesus Himself will rule over the nations with a rod of iron, and we as His faithful followers will rule with Him. In the New Jerusalem there will be no one whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life. In a sense, there will be true liberty, the type of liberty a train feels when it runs on its track and that it ceases to feel when it gets untracked. But if I am reading and understanding these scriptures correctly, there will not be the same type of religious liberty we have in the United States and many countries around the world today.

I am not necessarily arguing here in favor of one millennial position over another (though I don’t mind saying I am a premillenialist who is somewhat torn between the progressive dispensational and historical versions of premillenialism). If someone in the comments wants to make the case that one’s millennial view affects the stance he/she takes toward the present discussion, I am open to entertaining that argument. But I am personally convinced that a big error we often make as 21st-century Evangelical Christians is seeking to introduce ahead of time many of the blessings of the age to come into the present age.

As I understand it, as Christians in this day and age, it is not our place to rule the nations with a rod of iron. It is, rather, our place to manifest in the way we live our lives “love and faith and service and patient endurance” (Rev. 2:19). Jesus says, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26). It is also our place to call out the redeemed from among the nations we will one day rule; to repeat, as it were, the message of Peter on the Day of Pentecost when he “bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’” (Acts 2:40).

As the Body of Christ around the world and down through the centuries, we have not always enjoyed the same degree of religious liberty some of us enjoy today. There is, in fact, nothing in the New Testament that guarantees us this privilege. Biblical revelation appears to promise us just the opposite: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12–13).

Nevertheless, we do well in this day and age to pray and to work for religious liberty. Paul wrote to Timothy: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1–4) And to the believers in Colossae, he wrote, “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” (Colossians 4:3). When given the opportunity, Paul pled his case before government officials and he took full advantage of the legal rights his Roman citizenship gave him as he sought for a way to continue to freely fulfill the ministry God had entrusted to him.

During this day and age in which we now live, we live and work side by side with those who are not disciples of Jesus. Some of these are followers of other religions—false religions! Yet, because we believe that religious liberty is a good thing, we join forces with these neighbors and fellow citizens to protect the rights of everyone to follow through with their own religious convictions, whether from our perspective they are false convictions or true ones.

Down through church history, often when Christians have acceded to positions of power in secular society and have exercised that power in the name of Christendom, the results have not been good for the interests of religious liberty, nor, in the long run, for the purity of the church. The Spanish Inquisition, the bloody regime of Oliver Cromwell, the Salem witch trials, and the Guatemalan dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt come to mind as a few examples.

That does not mean, as I understand it, that Christians cannot, or should not, occupy official positions as civil servants. Paul told Timothy that we should pray for those in authority with the hope that they would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. When asked by King Agrippa, in the presence of the Roman governor Festus, if he thought he might in such a short time persuade him to be a Christian, Paul replied, “I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:29) Though certain early church writers looked askance at the idea of Christians serving as public officials,[1] I do not find any reason in Scripture to infer that if a public servant should come to Christ, this necessarily entails resigning his/her position of influence upon his/her conversion.

What I do not find justification for in the New Testament is the idea that we as Christians are to exercise authority in places of human government in the name of Christ or with the purpose of imposing specifically Christian values upon society as a whole. While it is true that at the present time Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father “in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21), and that God has “seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6), the reign referred to in this passage is a heavenly and not an earthly one. Thus, while as Christians, we may legitimately serve as civil servants, we do so in the same way we might serve in any other earthly capacity: side by side with non-believers, working for the common good of all—not only as we understand it, but as they understand it as well.

While it is certainly our desire that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, we do not seek to take advantage of our positions of influence in society to advance the agenda of the Kingdom of God per se. Rather, we seek to serve in such a way as to commend ourselves as diligent and praiseworthy workers in the sight of all, Christian or not, and work for the benefit of all. Not that our knowledge of the truth of God’s will does not at times influence our understanding of what best contributes to human flourishing and enlighten us with regard to universal principles of justice, but we must be ever vigilant to not impose our unique worldview on those who do not have the same faith commitments as we do.

Both as Baptists and as Americans, we share the unique heritage of forming part of a people who have been instrumental in blessing the world with one particular gift that in the last several centuries has rendered great benefit for many people in many nations: the gift of religious liberty. True religious liberty, though, does not seek for special privileges for those of one religious tradition over against those of another, or even over against those of no religious belief. It seeks to defend the rights and freedoms of all.

As we as Christians seek to live lives of “love and faith and service and patient endurance” in the present age, we do well to exercise whatever power, authority, and influence we may happen to gain with a sense of respect and a certain deference for those who don’t see questions of ultimate importance with the same eyes of faith with which we see them. We do so knowing that in the long run our witness will bear more long-lasting and quality fruit when it is done in a spirit of honest and open dialogue with listeners who are free to accept or reject what we have to share with them, totally devoid of any sense of coercion or enforcement of cultural norms associated with a civil religion that may well be “Christian” in name only. And we do so knowing that this world is headed toward a future very different from the reality we know now, a future in which there will be no need of sun or moon, and in which the gates of the city will never be shut by day, and there will be no night, and “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21:22–27)

But we also do so knowing that that time is not now.


[1] For example, Tertullian: “I owe no duty to forum, campaign, or senate. I stay awake for no public function. I make no effort to occupy a platform. I am no office seeker. I have no desire to smell out political corruption. I shun the voter’s booth, the juryman’s bench. I break no laws and push no lawsuits; I will not serve as a magistrate or judge. I refuse to do military service. I desire to rule over no one – I have withdrawn from worldly politics! Now my only politics is spiritual – how that I might be anxious for nothing except to root out all worldly anxieties and care.”

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    That Tertullian quote in the footnote is, in itself, worthy of an extensive discussion.

    Wonder what the course of church history would have been like if the post-Constantinian church had followed Tertullian’s route?

    • says

      Agreed Dave. I”m not sure Tertullian should be our model for cultural engagement on any level, since, as far as I can tell, he hardly ever “engaged culture” as we understand it.

      That said, this is a thoughtful, reflective, challenging post containing principles we need to reflect on afresh. Thanks for providing it David.

      • John Wylie says

        You raise a good question Dave, but I think there has to be a happy medium between the kingdom of the Catholics and Reformers and the kingdom view of Tertullian. I for one think that our kingdom citizenship is always reflected in our cultural/societal engagement. For instance, we as a family chose to have our children attend public schools, today I am the president of our local board of education in order to maximize my involvement in my children’s education.

        • Dave Miller says

          I would agree, John. Of course, I’ve spent my life advocating the middle ground on most of our discussions.

  2. Dave Miller says

    “What I do not find justification for in the New Testament is the idea that we as Christians are to exercise authority in places of human government in the name of Christ or with the purpose of imposing specifically Christian values upon society as a whole.”

    That is the key, isn’t it? I agree that there is no command in scripture for us to take over the horns of power in the government.

    Finding the balance between constructive engagement and the Constantinian mistake is the trick.

  3. says

    When discussing historical figures and events, we must make sure we do a thorough contextual analysis of their day and time. What someone wrote/said in the 200 or 300’s may not mean the same as it does today. Language has changed tone and even meaning. Also, I think we find that often the Early Church Fathers are misquoted and misrepresented based upon a theological agenda. I think this gives credence to the need for historical study on a regular basis.

  4. says

    The eschatology of Revelation does speak of Christ and faithful Christians as ruling the nations with a rod of iron in the end. Rev. 19:11-15 portrays this with one called Faithful and True, who in righteousness judges and “makes war;” this is “the Word of God” coming in the end , with his heavenly “armies,” to bring God’s wrath upon the nations. The “rod of iron” in 19:15b is describing the “sharp sword” of 19:15a, which comes out of his (Christ’s) mouth. This is symbolism of sharp words of judgment coming from the mouth of Christ. At the forefront of this judgment are the world’s kings, captains, and mighty men of 19:18.

    But this rod of iron, this sword coming from the mouth, was introduced from the beginning, in Rev. 1:16. It reappears in 2:12, where John writes to the church in Pergamum “the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” Most of Christ’s messages to (five of) the seven churches are judgments against their unfaithfulness. In 2:16 Jesus says if this church does not repent (turn from its sin), he will come soon and “war” against it with the sword from his mouth. Thus, through John’s writing Jesus is already ruling/judging against this church; and if they continue in their sin, he will come soon with new and stronger words (through John or some other true prophet).

    So the future eschatology is already foreshadowed in the present judgments of true prophets–beginning with the churches. While some churches do have works like “love and faith and service and patient endurance” (2:19), they also have sin like tolerating a powerful leader (“Jezebel,” like the evil O.T. queen) who leads them astray. Later portraits of violent beastly (heads of) nations and immoral “prostitutes” who are rich from their “alliances” with the “heads,” show that Jezebel’s power and immorality reflect that of those leading the nations. (In this case, the politically and economically powerful have given religious freedom to all those who “know their place.”)

    Here, religion is not just religious faiths or beliefs, that can be discussed and debated while everyone is at liberty to disagree. True prophets like John are not engaging their culture–or even most of their churches–with constructive dialogue or friendly input. Revelation is saying (most of) the churches are not free, but bound up with evil powers in the nations. And John is not free, being bound up on Patmos. While he has no political power to enforce his words, John is part of passing on the ruling judgments of Jesus (the sharp, piercing words of the rod of iron coming from his mouth).

    The U.S. is just another one of those sinning nations. The first amendment (approved by the rulers) does help to keep religion from ruling over others, including over the rulers, who wanted to be free from the kind of religious dominance they knew from England. But when true prophets speak the truth to power, they can end up detained like John. In other words, religion is about much more than liberty to think or speak certain “beliefs.” And American rulers have from the beginning (to end) taken away the liberty (and lives) of those whose religion and values led them to fight against American dominance and greed. Thus today we still have reservations and more prisons (full of minorities) than any other nation, as well as other nations in chaos all around the world (thanks to our bringing them “liberty” from rulers we didn’t like).

    • David Rogers says

      Lucas, Thanks for your thoughtful interaction with my post. I think I basically agree with the gist of what you are saying here. What I am not sure about is whether or not you agree with my distinction between the present-day heavenly (or spiritual) reign of Christ and the eschatological and earthly reign of Christ—and if not, why not?

      • David Rogers says

        Also, from what I gather from you comment, you are advocating an approach to culture somewhat similar to that taken by Tertullian. Or am I understanding you wrong here?

      • says

        My interpretation of Revelation tried to show some continuation between Christ’s reign now (with his “iron rod”) and his rule in the end. So I would not make a strict distinction between his current heavenly rule and his future earthly rule. I think Revelation portrays this rule (with a rod of iron coming from his mouth) as especially Christ’s words of judgment against an evil earth, currently by speaking through true prophets, and in the end a final judgment through the words of Christ and his prophets.

        Because this prophetic task exposes and opposes evil in the world (and church), it is not withdrawing from culture (like Tertullian, who had “no desire to smell out political corruption,” and whose “only politics was spiritual”). A prophetic outworking of Christ’s present rule would be especially concerned to perceive and expose the prevalent corruption in society, where power corrupts and special interests prevail over the common good or at least over the good of “minorities.”

        You refer to Eph. 1:21 and 2:6, regarding Christ’s present heavenly (spiritual) rule. In 1:21 Christ is above all rule and authority and power and dominion; in 2:2 the leader of these spiritual powers is the prince (ruler) of the power of the air, Satan, who is connected with the sins of “the course of this world,” and who remains “now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Paul’s emphasis here is on Christ’s rule/grace in making alive those who were dead in sins, so that they no longer sin like “the rest of mankind” (2:1,3). Thus our being “raised up” with Christ (in 2:6) is about his kindness and grace toward us and in us now and in the coming ages (2:7-10).

        Paul’s gospel (of preaching peace among former enemies, the Jews versus the Gentiles, whom Christ has now made one), has led to his imprisonment and suffering (from those who reject this peace, which would have been especially Jewish powers and authorities, in Paul’s case) (2:11-3:13). This new “mystery” of (Christian) Gentiles now uniting with Jewish Christians is not understood or accepted by such Jewish powers, inspired by the “principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”

        Paul’s advice then is not to withdraw from their evil culture (so they won’t be imprisoned or suffer); instead, he goes on to encourage them to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them;” “when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible” (5:11,13). Thus when Paul tells them in 6:11f. to put on the whole armor of God in order to overcome the devil and his principalities, powers, and world rulers, the “engagement” against these spirits, who are not flesh and blood, is nevertheless about the evil they perpetuate in the world. Their armor includes the gospel of peace, truth, righteousness, and faith; all these engage the “darts” of the evil one (who works through the sons of disobedience on earth). Paul even asks that they pray for him so he will continue to open his mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which he is in chains; then he will continue to declare it boldly, as he ought to speak (6:19-20).

        So Christ’s heavenly reign now does engage culture (on earth) and political powers (heavenly and earthly), but by means of a gospel that includes exposing their darkness and suffering for it. Sharing Christ’s rule now comes not through becoming another ruler of this world but by being Christ’s “ambassador” (6:20), who speaks boldly and suffers patiently. The politically powerful and those who support them will not appreciate this present reign of Christ through his prophets on earth.

        • David Rogers says

          Lucas,

          Thanks once more for checking in and further explaining your position. While it seems we do have some disagreement on the relative continuity and discontinuity between the present age and the age to come—and this may well be where my premillennial perspective influences me—in actual present-day praxis I sense we may not be far apart. I would point out there is a difference between prophetic ministry, and the judgment prophets pronounce, and the ultimate fulfillment of their prophecies, and between ruling in the spiritual realm and ruling in the earthly realm.

          Are you familiar with H. Richard Niebuhr’s schema in “Christ and Culture”? If so, do you identify more with one of the five models he presents than with the other four? If so, that might help me to get a better grasp of your perspective overall. I hear a lot of “Christ against Culture” in what you are saying, but I may, once again, be misreading you.

          • says

            Since our discussion is especially about political rule, I do emphasize Christ and his heavenly rule (through prophets on earth) against the earthly political culture of power and dominance. I understand that you are counseling Christians in power not to use that power to dominate others, or force others to believe or do as Christians. And providing religious freedom could be an improvement over such political domination of (certain) religions.

            More broadly, I think the basic gospel message is that Jesus is Lord; he rules from heaven through disciples on earth, who are his humble servants and continue his prophetic message and obey his commands; and they can expect rejection from those who prefer the world’s standards of prevailing over (domineering) others politically, economically, and religiously (for the sake of human glory, pride, status, and honor). Even ruling on behalf of religious freedom meant (originally) prevailing over church power (which had prevailed to various degrees in England). Such religious freedom could be better for a culture to the degree that the political powers which then prevail are better than the church powers. But whoever prevails is not acting as a humble servant of the heavenly Lord.

            As for eschatology, I think when Christ comes again, he will bring the final judgment (fulfilling and concluding the prophetic judgments throughout history) and a new heavens and new earth (filled with the “sheep” and not the “goats”). I do not think Christ will rule over “goats” in a millennium; thus my interpretation of Revelation is more amillennial.

  5. Dale Pugh says

    While the Letter to the Philippians makes it clear that our ultimate citizenship is to the kingdom that will come. Paul states that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord to the glory of God. I believe that “every” in this case means “every.” There will be no other option. It will happen.
    Someday.
    For now, we live as citizens of that kingdom in this world. We have a responsibility to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission here on earth. We cannot say that we love God while hating our brother. We are to live out the principles of Matt. 25 (as someone has recently emphasized), and in so doing we show our true allegiance to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
    I believe we can best do this by being actively involved wherever we can, whenever it is possible, with whomever we can in a spirit of Christlike humility and service. We are to bring the eschatological realities to bear on our present-day living. We are to live out that future kingdom of God as if it is a present truth. That includes the concept of religious liberty for those with whom we disagree.

    • David Rogers says

      Dale, Thanks for your thoughts as well. Much like I told Lucas, there is a great deal I can affirm in what you say here. We are, as far as I can tell, on the same page here. The only thing I would nuance a bit is that I think it is only in one sense that “we are to bring the eschatological realities to bear on our present-day living.” It is true that, as the Church, we are the signpost and the model community for what life will one day be like in the New Jerusalem. And it is also true that in our relationships with one another, especially as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to treat each other in accordance with the ethics of the Final Kingdom. But for those who do not believe, there is some pretty harsh treatment that awaits them at the end of the age. I do not say that we should take this aspect of the age to come and introduce it into the present age. We presently live in a time of God’s patience and invitation to repent while there is still an opportunity, and that is the message we are entrusted with. That will not always be the case, though.

      • Dale Pugh says

        By my statement of “eschatological realities” I was referring to how I’m to live my life. I live under the lordship and dominion of Jesus Christ. The fact that all will one day bow is a present reality for me as a believer. I agree that what awaits the unbeliever at the end of the age and the coming of the Final Kingdom is not in any way ours to implement in the present age. What awaits the unbeliever at that time is judgment. God is the Judge, not the Christian.
        This is a good statement: “We presently live in a time of God’s patience and invitation to repent while there is still an opportunity, and that is the message we are entrusted with.” This is something I try to emphasize, but I’ve never stated it in those specific terms. I will be sure to quote you.

  6. Rick Patrick says

    Q. Should Christians (1) exercise authority (2) in places of human government (3) in the name of Christ?

    A. Yes, we should do so: (1) “with all our might” (Col. 3:23), (2) because you admit we should “occupy positions as civil servants,” and (3) since we “do everything unto the Lord.” (Col. 3:17) In other words, as long as we serve in government, we do it in the name of Christ to the best of our ability. Ruling well must mean ruling consistently with the timeless truths of Scripture.

    Q. Should we impose specifically Christian values upon society as a whole?

    A. Yes, we should “promote” (impose is pejorative) specifically Christian values within society, for we are called to be “salt” and “light” in this age and not merely in the eschaton. (Matt. 5:13-16) Among the good works we should perform is the good work of enacting godly laws based upon biblical truths for the good of society. Keeping Christian values away from society would be hiding our lights under a bushel. The “imposition” of Christian values in society simply offers this world godly peace, order, direction and wisdom.

    Though rooted in theological concepts, I think part of this issue really has more to do with political philosophy—today American Christians are dual citizens of a humanly democratic republic and a godly eternal kingdom. In the millennium or the New Jerusalem, we will drop our citizenship in the democratic republic in light of the divine monarchy. Our participation looks different depending on the form of government being utilized.

    Admittedly this divine monarchy will one day rule the world with perfection, while our best efforts in this democratic republic are indeed destined to fail. But this does not imply that we should give up and stop trying to influence our culture for Christ right now, using all means at our disposal to do so.

    If we’re talking about issues like gay marriage, abortion, legalized marijuana or the California Bathroom Bill, any refusal to engage society with Christian truth removes from the political equation the good Christians have to offer. Of course, we continue to offer people Christ as the ultimate answer to every person’s deepest need, but we do not need to set the offer of Jesus personally against the offer of Jesus corporately. It makes no sense to offer Jesus as the Savior for every person individually if we are not also willing to offer His godly wisdom to address the issues of society generally.

    • Chris Roberts says

      The problem with #2 is knowing where to draw the line. When does this cross into the area of religious liberty? Dominionists would agree with everything you say here, but would likely take it much farther than you intend. How does the line get drawn when dealing with matters drawn exclusively from a Christian worldview? Which morals are we allowed to impose, which ones go too far? I know many Christians who lament the end of the blue laws, but it should be indisputable that those violate religious liberty. What about other, grayer areas? Take gay marriage. While some people will try to argue against gay marriage on the basis of psychology or other factors, we know that our position comes from Scripture. When someone disagrees about the Bible’s teaching on this – or rejects the Bible itself – then we are crafting laws with religious backing that run counter to their religious views. What keeps that from being a violation of religious liberty?

      It’s a tricky issue with tricky answers. A somewhat blithe, “Yes, we should “promote” specifically Christian values within society” isn’t quite a satisfactory answer, particularly from a people who claim to champion religious liberty.

      • says

        I notice you still use the pejorative “impose” rather than “promote”. In a democratic republic which is based upon in most respects “majority rule” the best that can be offered is “promotion” of good morals, not the imposition of it. That is the intent I believe of Rick’s reply – and while you say you give him the benefit of his intentions – not really by the continued use of the pejorative.

        Morality is imbedded into the framework of God’s creation. It is not merely, “God says so” but it is truly in the designed framework. “Gay marriage” does not work because ultimately it is based upon an act which is inherently outside the framework of God’s design. History has shown that societies that wholesale embrace actions outside of God’s prescribed order have destroyed themselves and disappeared from history.

        By your same logic, abortion would be also a conscience issue, and outside the boundaries of order and the crafting of laws to regulate. Mercy to the victims of Gosnell. Little did they know that they would be sacrificed on the altar of religious liberty.

        Rob

        • Chris Roberts says

          Rob,

          Laws are imposed, not promoted. I am not invited to follow the speed limit; I *must* follow it or I get a fine. I am not given the option of having health insurance; I must get it or I pay Obama’s new tax. I am not offered the chance to abstain from stealing; if I steal, I am thrown in jail. Blue laws did not offer the opportunity for stores to close; they had to close. The regulation was imposed upon them. It doesn’t much matter what Rick may or may not have intended by choosing one word over another, reality remains unchanged. Laws impose expectations on a people. This is not a bad thing, but it is what it is.

          Also, issues such as abortion are different because they involve the fate of other people. Abortion being legal means I have the legal right to exterminate the life of another person. One does not have to be within a Christian framework to see the problem there.

          Besides, you ignored my point. We claim to be champions of religious liberty. How do we balance liberty with the imposition (“promotion” if you choose the less accurate word) of specifically Christian values? Blue laws continue to serve as perhaps the best, though less tricky, example.

          Do you think blue laws are a violation of religious liberty? Why or why not?

    • David Rogers says

      Rick, You do a good job here of laying out the counterpoint to what I am saying in my post. I agree with what William says about the devil being in the details, as well as the substance of the rest of his responses. A key phrase from my post and a good talking point is the following: “Not that our knowledge of the truth of God’s will does not at times influence our understanding of what best contributes to human flourishing and enlighten us with regard to universal principles of justice…” As Christians it is true that the truth of the Word of God is to permeate our entire pattern of thought. And, as you correctly observe, there is a real sense in which everything we do we are to do for God’s glory and in the name of Christ. Also, I would point out the significance of the word “specifically” when I say it is not our place as Christians in positions of public service to impose (or promote) specifically Christian values. I believe that, although this opens up a whole new can of worms, this is where natural law must guide us. There are certain principles of right and wrong on which there is broad agreement, which although ultimately on a lower plane than God’s perfect law which will be in place in the New Jerusalem, are what we must depend on to guide us in the already/not yet situation in which we now live.

      As I see it (you can correct me if you think I am wrong), what we are talking about is two competing visions in American history: the vision if the Puritans at Massachusetts Bay and the vision of Roger Williams at Rhode Island. We presently live in a land of religious pluralism and of working toward a mutually acceptable consensus of what respects the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all involved.

  7. William Thornton says

    The estimable Rick wrote: “Among the good works we should perform is the good work of enacting godly laws based upon biblical truths for the good of society.”

    And these are? According to whom? And should we expect an Islamic dominated American political district to do the same, substituting “Koranic” for “biblical,” or some similar – fundamentalists Mormons out west, Santeria adherents in Miami, etc.?

    The devil is in the details. I would sooner trust atheists as lawmakers than some Christians I have known and it is understandable that some freedom loving Americans get a bit nervous when some Christians talk of “enacting godly laws.”

    I suppose we are seeing all this worked out as we move along. The general results are good although we chafe about some of the particulars.

    • John Wylie says

      William,

      Many atheists if given the opportunity would strip you of your religious rights. I don’t trust them at all

    • says

      God be merciful that many in our own house would prefer the rule(s) of a secular atheist than the merciful intentions of brothers from the house of God. How really far we have fallen!

      What laws would “godly” Christians enact that have you so in spasm?

      Rob

      • William Thornton says

        “Merciful intentions of brothers of the house of God” seems to be a highly tendentious reading of reality.

      • William Thornton says

        A few years ago here in Ga a conservative Christian lawmaker proposed a law that would have forced women who miscarried to prove that no human was involved. I am as anti abortion as most here but this well-intentioned proposal would have punished women who have had spontaneous miscarriages by putting them in legal jeopardy.

        Any who are so naive as to believe in the well intentioned brothers probably haven’t been paying attention.

        …but I would certainly have confidence in the sensible Rick Patrick as a lawmaker. He has proven common sense.

          • william thornton says

            Rob, you asked for an example. I gave you an authentic, precise example of the point I was making. Thank God there weren’t enough Christians like him in our legislature.

            But I’ll ask you, would you consider the legislative proposal to make women who have spontaneous miscarriages prove these were not abortions a product of the “merciful intentions of brothers of the house of God”? Has your wife miscarried? Would you like to see her face the possibility of a hearing where she would be forced to prove that her miscarriage was not induced by any human?

            Part of protecting religious liberty involves restraining our own impulses to legislate according to our view of Biblical mandates. It is a complex problem partly because there is a range of Christian views. One man’s “godly laws based on biblical truths” might include a return to slavery, removal of women’s suffrage and the like. These were arguments advanced at the time by Christians.

            David Rogers wrote above, “…often when Christians have acceded to positions of power in secular society and have exercised that power in the name of Christendom, the results have not been good for the interests of religious liberty, nor, in the long run, for the purity of the church. The Spanish Inquisition, the bloody regime of Oliver Cromwell, the Salem witch trials, and the Guatemalan dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt come to mind as a few examples.”

            Do you consider these straw men and would you not recognize that Rick Patrick’s assertion that Christians should work in the political arena to pass godly laws for the good of society is at least in the same neighborhood of the motivations which gave us all that sordid history of Christian rule?

          • says

            What you gave me was an anomaly to verify whatever “point” you were making. We can all think of extreme examples to prove our arguments; I can think of a few as well. Your example is “sui generis” – most pro-life Christian lawmakers and politicians do not attempt to legislate this sort of regulation. Since we are not hearing about it today, I imagine that the bill received a deadpan (as it should) by this representative’s colleagues. Have you then proven the thrust of your argument, or do we merely place it in the garbage bin of hyperbole? I vote for the later.

            Perhaps you need an education on morality, morals and laws. It is an education I give to first semester philosophy students. Perhaps you missed it. There is no such thing as a morally neutral law. All laws are moral, and attempt to impose a moral “good” on the population by legislation or fiat. Those who scream “you cannot legislate morality” merely are saying, “do not legislate your morality on me.” So it truly depends upon which side of the moral chasm you wish to place yourself under – which “reality” is your true kingdom – and which you would prefer to live under.

            Atheism (which is the religious belief in the non-existence of God) reduces everything along these following boundaries:

            The universe is purely material. It is strictly natural and there is no such thing as the supernatural, i.e. god or spiritual forces.
            The universe is scientific. It is observable, knowable and governed strictly by the laws of physics.
            The universe is impersonal. It does not a have consciousness nor will, neither is it guided by a consciousness or will.

            In such a universe there is no such thing as objective truth, good or bad, moral or immoral – it just is. Slavery, genocide, murder, rape, – all of these things which supposedly men made up as moral codes are not evil (no such thing) in such a universe you can “only imagine” (sounds like a John Lennon song). “Morals” “Dogmas” “Codes” are in the eye of the beholder, for reality has no fixed absolute objective marker on which to hang – it is merely a finger in the wind. I cannot imagine any believer so stating that they would prefer to live under such a regime under any conditions.

            Rob

          • says

            I would if you had shown one whit of understanding the lesson’s import. You do not it seems. Sigh. You can lead a horse to water…

            Rob

  8. Jerry Smith says

    If Christians were in power they would try their best to make, force, everyone obey what they felt was right & their would be no liberty. We can see in the Old Testament that laying down the did not work. Jesus & His twelve never forced their way on anyone, they asked them to freely accept Jesus as their Savior & freely walk with Him, no force involved. And that’s our mission, to go, teach, baptize, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, Matthew 28:20, not to lord over society.

    • cb scott says

      Yeah, you are right ,Jerry Smith.

      We Christians who have heaven ahead of us just need to get out of the way and allow the Vandals and Visigoths and other various sorts of barbarians govern the nation according to their “feelings.”

      “If Christians were in power they would try their best to make, force, everyone obey what they felt was right & their would be no liberty.”

      “felt was right”????? What does that mean? True Christians do not do what the “feel” is right. They adhere to the Word of God and do what “is” right.

      That is one of greatest problems in this current Christian culture. Too many believers think they have an equality of options and variables in how they live their lives. We don’t. There is right and there is wrong and that which is right and that which is wrong is revealed rather plainly in the Scripture. God instituted family, government and the Church and He prescribed the order in which all three should function.

      To make the following statement is just simply asinine:

      “If Christians were in power they would try their best to make, force, everyone obey what they felt was right & their would be no liberty.”

      • David Rogers says

        CB,

        Though I agree with you that in several aspects the way Jerry has worded his take on this issue is a bit over the top and overgeneralized, I am thinking through the implications of something you say here and not sure I can totally sign off on it either: “God instituted family, government and the Church and He prescribed the order in which all three should function.”

        It seems to me that in the NT we have a whole lot more about the family and the church than we do about government. We do have Rom. 13:1–7, and some narrative accounts of the way Paul and others in the early church related to secular authorities, but not much more with regard to specific instructions with regard to how government is supposed to operate.

        Going by the reasoning behind your statement, many so-called “Christian” rulers down through the years have defended “the divine right of kings.” If they were right, we in the US need to repent of our democratic form of government and return to monarchy.

        Personally, I think God has left many aspects of human government–including some of the most basic fundamentals, such as democracy vs. monarchy–in the hands of us as humans to figure out on our own, guided by the minds He has given us, and the inner sense of right and wrong He has wired into our consciences. This is ultimately a fallible, imperfect guide, but, in my opinion, better than eisegeting principles of human government out of the Bible which are not really there, or anachronistically taking principles from OT theocracy and transposing them into the present, and then imposing them on those who don’t even accept the Bible as a source of authority.

        • cb scott says

          David,

          Let me first state that I have read your post a few times as is my SOP when I intend to engage a post and its comment thread. Let me go on to state that I do agree with much of what you have stated in your post. Therefore, please know from the beginning that I am not in diametric to what you have written.

          However, I do content that God did institute what we we consider to be human government. I also contend that much of our understanding of God’s institution of government can be gleaned from the Old Testament.

          BTW, we, here in the United States do not live under a democratic form of government. We, here in the United States, are a republic. There is a vast difference between the two although the two are often confused to be one and the same.

          • David Rogers says

            CB,

            1. Thanks for reading carefully and for acknowledging the points of agreement.

            2. What is an SOP?

            3. I am not opposed the general idea that God instituted human government, just to the idea that He lays out the details in Holy Scripture of how that government is to operate in today’s world.

            4. I would be interested to see by what hermeneutical system you divide between what in the OT with regard to human government is only applicable to theocratic Israel and what part is applicable to us today in 21st-century USA.

            5. No argument from me about the democracy/republic thing. I was only using the term “democracy” in a more generic sense, not a precise technical sense.

          • cb scott says

            David,

            SOP is Standard Operational Procedure.

            The theocracy mandated to Israel was for the governance of Israel in the time of what we term as the OT, you are correct. I do not disagree. However, there is an application of principles to contemporary governance of societies that should be taken from the OT methodologies by which God mandated Israel’s governance. Otherwise, of what good is the OT to us today other than a foundational history of our faith?

            David, I believe the principles of human governance are revealed in the OT as well as the NT. Naturally, such principles of social governance are revealed in God’s calling of His Chosen Nation, the Priest nation to the world, Israel.

            Why? Because most of the OT involves God’s relationship to Israel. Yet, there are principles set forth for all future generations of humanity of whom have and will inhabit the earth. If not, why do we consider Israel to be the Priest Nation to the world of whom were to reveal the One True God to all people?

        • cb scott says

          David,

          It is my opinion it is far better for any society to be governed in accord to a Judeo-Christian ethic that for all men to to do that of which they “felt” was right in their own hearts. The Book of Judges reveals that men who govern according to how they “felt” did not work out so well. I do not think it works so well today either.

          • David Rogers says

            Judeo-Christian ethic vs. natural law vs. everyone doing what is right in their own eyes—the difference is sometimes hard to divide correctly and precisely. As William Thornton says, “the devil is in the details.” And I will concede I don’t think we should give place in our society for such things as Aztec ceremonial sacrifice, etc. So there shouldn’t be full freedom of religion per se. But I am pretty firmly convinced the general principles I am defending in this post hold true, and that we do well to keep them in mind while we try to sort out the details.

          • cb scott says

            David,

            Human governance shall never “divide correctly and precisely.” Were such to be possible, we would have utopia. Due to the fallen nature of humanity, that will not be present in human experience prior to the return of the Lord.

            As William Thornton has pointed out, and correctly so. “The devil is in the details.” That too is because of the fallen nature of humanity.

            Nonetheless it is a far cry better to seek human governance under the moral and ethical “blanket” of a Judeo-Christian ethic than for all men to do what is right according to their own hearts.

            Were we all to do what we think to be right in our own hearts would be chaos. That, again, is afar cry from being governed in a society by a Judeo-Christian ethic. And yes, I admit the details of such is hard work to maintain. That, again, is due to the fallen nature of humanity.

          • cb scott says

            BTW, the quotes Evans uses to reinforce her position are of matters we (you and I) would oppose anyway, I think.

        • Jerry Smith says

          Show me one place in the pages of the New Testament were Jesus & His Twelve went to the law, took over the government, trying to force His ways on anyone. No, they did not do that, what they did is go, teach, baptize, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, as we are taught to do in Matthew 28:20.

          And of course Jesus set the example we should follow.

          Joh 13:15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

          Mt 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
          Mt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
          Mt 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

          Ro 15:5 ¶ Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

          1Pe 2:21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

          But man loves power, & would love the power to tell the world what to do, besides, we fear the terror of secular government fearing we might just suffer as Jesus did & that would cause us to lose all of our happiness.

          1Pe 3:14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;

          • David Rogers says

            Jerry,

            Just to be clear, it seems to me we are mostly on the same page here. I just think the way you worded the following sentence was over-generalized and needs to be nuanced:

            “If Christians were in power they would try their best to make, force, everyone obey what they felt was right & their would be no liberty.”

            What you say in this second comment, from my perspective, is more helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. Bill Mac says

    Where do we draw the line between moral and legal? Theoretically all things that are illegal are in some way immoral, but in a Christian society would all immoral things be made illegal? I think that is the concern being raised, because not all Christians agree on all aspects of Christian morality. Chris’ example of the blue laws is a good one. Using the power of the sword to enforce Christian morality is not as simple an issue as it seems.

  10. dr. james willingham says

    I am a post tribulations (note the plural, brethren), post millenialist. We go through trials in this life, much or many tribulations as Paul put it in Acts.14:22. These tribulations can be individually and collective as intensely severe as can be imagined. Just think of the problems of struggling with mental issues like depression and despair. And then there is the issue of PTSD, the impact of trauma. A friend’s wife was tortured by the Japanese 8 hrs. a day, 7 days a week, for 2 mos. and 28 days. Then they tossed her apparently lifeless body on a pile of corpses. A Filippino doing the burials saw an involuntary movement, got her to a hospital where they hid her in the nunnery, and she had a baby that night. In later years, she was tested for allergies at Duke Hospital. I think they ran about 300 tests and found that she had 260+ allergies. Biblical eschatology calls attention to sufferings; it also calls attention to a future, not just millennial as to years, a thousand years, but to a millennial of generations, I Chron. 16:15, a generation that can be on the order of 20 to 50 to 900 years (remember the reference to a man dying at a 100 will be considered a youth) and a Gospel victory and success, reaching every soul on earth and innumerable planets likewise to fulfill the reference in Rev.7:9.

    As to religious liberty, William Federer on the NRB channel on Sunday afternoons at 12:30 cited examples from Jefferson, Madison and others of the Founding Fathers about the US being a Christian nation (Really!). The fact is we do need the Bible as the basis for our law, not in the way some of the Reformed folks think, but in the way of a system of checks and balances, the best way for sinful man to have the most freedom. Two scholars from Houston did a research project on the founding documents of our nation and they discovered that three sources were primary in those writings, the Philosophers Montesquieu and John Locke by 6-8% and 8-89%, respectfully, and the Bible by double digits, 34%. Selah! Pause and give thought and meditate on that. Have we not been sold a bill of goods about our nation’s founding? Consider a Black teenager in high school here in North Carolina back in the 80s. The text book said that the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians. He protested, saying, “I know that is a lie. They gave thanks to God.” And then there is Jefferson attending a Baptist church meeting in the capitol building, while he was President. There is more, but I hope this will give some stimulus to the discussion.

  11. William Thornton says

    Since our kind of Christian is fast losing ground politically (let’s see – ubiquitous gambling, gay marriage, divorce everywhere, etc. ) and since we failed to elect the Mormon most of us voted for in 2012 (wasn’t even close) nor the non-born again candidate in 2008 (not even close) and since our guy elected in 2000 and 2004 didn’t do much with the social agenda we favored but did a lot of governmental expansion that we did not favor, and since we never cared at all for the two authentic southern baptists who were Prez and VP in 1992 and 1996, seeing that our last real hurrah was in 1980 with the divorced, nominal non church attending Presbyterian, a man from Mars might be forgiven if he stands agape and scratching his bald oblong pate over exactly what this Christian America is supposed to be and exactly which of these self-described Christians should get their way. I mean, they are eschewing declared christian candidates for cultists and non-born again ones. And there is a broad range of authentic Christians who aren’t with us on many public policy issues.

    Nonetheless, this is a profitable discussion. It is certainly the usual springboard for the “take back our country” candidates. A better option might be to take aim at individual souls and let the power of the gospel change some hearts. Political power hasn’t accomplished squat for us.

    Those who have lived in some other countries and cultures like DR have a clearer understanding of these things.

    • Greg Harvey says

      I thought God always had a remnant? I’m curious if God feels he is “losing ground”? My perception is that it is exactly what he intends it to be and he will be satisfied with what his will accomplishes.

      I think we might worry too much about politics and your advice to worry about the more important things is certainly sage. But the victory is already ours in Christ Jesus.

      Perhaps the opportunity, instead is expansive and we have to strike the arrows to the ground repeatedly to completely realize the opportunity that has been granted to us. If so, then we should continue striking the arrows against the ground until he comes so we can fully appropriate ALL of the good works God has planned in advance for us.