Saturday, March 27, 2010
How do we apply our understanding of the purpose of civil government? Let's take some examples, even though we can only give a cursory answer.
First, an easy one - crime. It is the purpose of civil government to provide justice by punishing criminals. I think we could all agree on that, at least in principle. If someone steals something from you, you are right to appeal to your civil government to provide justice for you. The civil magistrates ought to compel the thief to pay you reparations. This is clearly part of the purpose of civil government. Let's move on.
Second, let's try the issue of licenses. If civil government is for the purpose of providing justice, does that included licensing certain activities? I would argue that licenses can be a proper expression of civil authority, provided that they are used in the proper way. That is to say, if licenses are used to enable to civil authorities to provide justice, then they are proper. If they are used to claim civil authority beyond their jurisdiction, then they are improper. Let's take the example of marriage licenses. The civil magistrates do not have the God-given authority to marry anyone or to unmarry anyone. If a marriage license is taken to mean that the state holds the power of marriage, it is wrong. However, the civil authorities do have the responsibility to provide public justice, and marriage is a public issue (not merely a personal and private one, as many erroneously believe today). Any illegitimate and unjust union claiming to be a marriage is punishable by the civil authorities. If a marriage license is a tool for the civil magistrate to recognize just marriage covenants, then it is a good and legitimate thing.
Next, let's try a little more complicated but basic issue - food and clothing. Is it the civil government's role and responsibility to feed and clothe the people within its domain? I answer, No. It was not designed for that task, and, as history repeatedly demonstrates, it must become overbearing if it tries. From the Roman dole to the New Deal, governments which try to take on the role of providing basic life necessities for people never do so in a just manner. Since the government itself does not produce anything by its very nature (it is a judging institution, not a producing one), it must take from what others have produced in order to even begin trying to provide food and clothing. Now, if other communities break down, it can at times become necessary for the state government to step in in order to ensure proper order. However, it is a contradiction of justice if the state government intrudes upon the authority of other proper human communities. Robert P. George has rightly written, "The usurpation of the just authority of families, religious communities, and other institutions is unjust in principle, often seriously so."
Instead, the state government's role is to provide the rightly ordered peace in which other communities can produce the necessities of life. These other communities are the family, first of all, and then other institutions. For example, the civil magistrate ought to protect the private property of families. Private property is a powerful hedge against tyranny, for it gives people the means to live without dependence upon the state, and it gives people a motive to protect what is their own from outside control.
What if we tried another hot topic - education. Once again, I believe it is the civil government's role to provide the rightly ordered peace in which education can flourish and men can develop their God-given capacities. It does this through providing judgment. It may not usurp the doing of discipleship by the parents. The purpose of education is not to provide well-trained technicians for the state's benefit.
Now for the topic of the hour - healthcare. I think you can probably guess what I believe. Of course, any given community may decide to delegate all of its healthcare responsibilities to its civil government, but that community is extremely foolish if it does so. Why would you give healthcare responsibilities to an institution which is designed to provide judgment and is equipped with force to back it up? This is like entrusting the vegetable garden to the guard dog. He may chase away a few rabbits, but the only thing likely to grow is what dogs leave behind.
We are living in days in which it is imperative that God's people understand and live according to the scriptural revelation about human government. God has given it to us for our good, and we must honor and respect it. But, as Jotham knew well, we must never put our trust in it. In this world of sin, it will always be a struggle to have civil government in it's place. But I want to close by pointing us to a time when a man - a real human being - will rule this world in righteousness. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore" (Isa 9:6-7). That, my friends, is what human government is for.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Governing requires exercising authority. Why do we need civil government authority? Consider: Mankind was created in communion with God and with one another. By communion we must understand mutual participation. These relationships require particular roles and responsibilities. In other words, they require properly directed authority, limited or circumscribed by the role that it is to perform under God's rule. It is one of the great blind spots of our age that we feel we must eliminate distinctions and hierarchy in order to have unity and equality.
We live in these relationships, first of all, in the family. As an aside, it is no accident that our society is destroying the role of the father in the home at the same time that it is putting in place a paternalistic state. Arising out of the family context, then, we have the larger but not more important units of association, each with its appropriate government. At each level of government, from the family outward, we have a three-fold overlapping communion: with God, with other governments, and with its own people. In each of these relationships, there is relationship with God and with others. These levels are layered and properly ordered.
- In communion, the relationship of mutual participation, there is representation. Any act representing others is a political act.
- In communion there is participation. No human authority can act as an entity unto itself. It always involves the participation of those under authority, and it is right that it should.
- In communion there is accountability. All acts performed representing others must be carried out in keeping with God's purposes and plans. Authority in the Christian sense is always attached to responsibility. It is for the good of those under authority, with this good defined by God. All human authority is accountable to God (Rom 13:2-7).
- In communion there is love. Love is needed for any communion to function properly and freely with unity. Augustine said that in order to understand what unites people you have to look at what they love in common. Hence, he defined a people as the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love. John Wycliffe, the early English reformer, said that "legal entitlement [to civil kingship] is not enough without the additional title of charity; and so, without doubt, neither are hereditary succession and popular election enough by themselves."
Given this, what particular area of authority falls to civil or state governments? What is civil government for? It is to exercise judgment for the community that it represents. It is to carry out justice. It is to ensure that there is proper order and harmony within its domain. When we look at the Scriptures, we constantly see that civil government is given the responsibility of providing justice. "By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down" (Prov 29:4, ESV).
This understanding is explicitly demonstrated in both Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:14. Civil government is to uphold righteousness and to punish wickedness. By doing this, it enables all the other human communities to perform the functions that God has designed for them by providing public justice.
Next time, we will try to clarify our understanding through applying it to a few specific issues.
Rejoice, the Lord Is King! (#13)
Praise Ye the Lord (#58)
Joy to the World (#92)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (#588)
O for a Faith That Will Endure (#593)
Jesus Shall Reign (#51)
Submission in the Age of Obamacare
Thursday, March 25, 2010
For Christians, our ideas of government are rooted in God himself. It is true in this area, as it is everywhere, that what a man thinks when he thinks about God is the most important thing about him. Here are four brief points about God and their implications for civil government.
- God is God, and no one else is God. He is the creator and sustainer of all things. He alone possesses ultimate authority. He is truly sovereign. This means that all human governments are provisional and accountable.
- God is personal. He is not impersonal force or impersonal will. All of his perfections and graces are involved in his authority. This means, among other things, that authority relations are not only about power, neither are they only instruments for using others.
- God is triune. This may well be one of the most fundamental Christian and biblical ideas for government, and it is unique to Christianity. It is the basis for a harmonious society in which love and justice join hands. It instantly destroys all totalitarian conceptions of government in which a single, undifferentiated, unassociated entity carries out the functions of governing alone.
- God is revealed in Jesus Christ, the God-man. Jesus exercises his rule as one who is united with us and with our nature. He identifies with us in love for our eternal good. As the perfect expression of divine-human government, we can learn much from his example.
- Mankind is God's image. He is like God and he represents God as he fills the earth and subdues it.
- Mankind is sinful. Human government would be a reality even without sin in the world, as the previous point shows, but we can never forget that the men who compose governments and the men who are governed are sinful. This sin distorts and works to destroy all human relationships, and human governments are God's servants to punish evil doers.
- Mankind is personal. He is a rational, moral, spiritual creature. He has a heart, mind, will, affections, and so forth. He is not merely a body. Human society is oriented to obtain goods which are not merely material, and any proper government must operate accordingly.
- Mankind is communal. God created mankind as male and female, and from this arises all kinds of human community, beginning with the family. We should note well that there are many forms of community other than the state. But we should also note that the isolated individual man is never a sufficient basis for understanding human community.
- Mankind is free. He has personal integrity and participates in God's activity.
- Mankind is also finite. No man knows everything, or even close to everything. This includes the men who comprise civil government.
Keep these broad points in mind as we move on next time to look just a little more in depth at human society and the reason for civil government.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon' (Judges 9:7-15, ESV).
Jotham described honorable and productive people as those who have no time for ruling over others. He had noticed how it is often despicable people who seek to reign, and they often do it for self-serving reasons. They offer promises which they cannot fulfill (the absurd picture of trees taking refuge in the shade of a bramble), and they often destroy those who put their trust in them. The bramble, or briar, is good for nothing, but it can easily catch fire and cause great destruction.
Through this fable, Jotham also taught that people often get the rulers that they deserve. He asked the Shechemites if they had acted in good faith and integrity when they made Abimelech king. Their own treachery toward Jerubbaal matched well with the treachery of Abimelech, the man they had made king. Therefore, they would destroy each other (Judges 9:16-20; compare the example of Israel choosing its own king in 1 Sam 8:9-18).
After listening to Jotham's fable, we might wonder if civil government can ever be a good thing. It seems as if it is always just taking and taxing. Maybe we would just be better off without it?
The answer to that question is "No." Human government of a state is a good thing. It is a necessary thing. In order to know that, we would need to look no further than Romans 13:1 which says, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." In fact, Romans 13:4 says that the ruler is "God's servant for your good." But my purpose in posting this is not merely to acknowledge the fact of human government. It is rather to understand a bit of its proper purpose. Hopefully, through this brief series of posts we can gain wisdom as to how we should relate to the government in our lives.
(Next: Three points to set the context for the purpose of state government)
Friday, March 19, 2010
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (#90)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (#400)
And Can It Be? (#335)
Jesus Shall Reign (#51)
God with Us (Part 2)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
I would encourage you to remember one more function of confessions. While they are indeed intended to prove the orthodoxy of their adherents, they also are designed to express deeply stabilizing and equipping truths of the faith (Eph 4:14-15). Meditate on the work of Christ and let your soul rejoice in him as you consider this section of the London Confession.
XIV. THIS office to which Christ is called, is threefold; a prophet, priest, and king: This number and order of offices is necessary, for in respect of our ignorance, we stand in need of His prophetical office; in respect of our great alienation from God, we need His priestly office to reconcile us; and in respect of our averseness and utter inability to return to God, we need His kingly office, to convince, subdue, draw, uphold and preserve us to His heavenly kingdom .
Deut.18:15; Acts 3:22,23; Heb.3:1, 4:14,15; Ps.2:6; 2 Cor.5:20; Acts 26:18; Col.1:21; John 16:8; Ps.110:3; Song of Sol.1:3; John 6:44; Phil.4:13; 2 Tim.4:18.
XV. CONCERNING the prophecy of Christ, it is that whereby He hath revealed the will of God, whatsoever is needful for His servants to know and obey; and therefore He is called not only a prophet and doctor, and the apostle of our profession, and the angel of the covenant, but also the very wisdom of God, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, who for ever continueth revealing the same truth of the gospel to His people.
John 1:18. 12:49,50, 17:8; Deut.18:15; Matt.23:10; Heb.3:1; Mal.3:1;1 Cor.1 :24; Col.2:3.
XVI. THAT He might be a prophet every way complete, it was necessary He should be God, and also that He should be man: For unless He had been God, He could never have perfectly understood the will of God; and unless He had been man, He could not suitably have unfolded it in His own person to men.
John 1:18; Acts 3:22; Deut.18:15; Heb.1:1.
XVII. CONCERNING His priesthood, Christ having sanctified Himself, hath appeared once to put away sin by that one offering of Himself a sacrifice for sin, by which He hath fully finished and suffered all things God required for the salvation of His elect, and removed all rites and shadows, etc. and is now entered within the veil into the holy of holies, which is the presence of God. Also, He makes His people a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Him. Neither doth the Father accept, nor Christ offer to the Father, any other worship or worshippers.
John 17:19; Heb.5:7,8,9,10.12; Rom.5:19; Eph.5:2; Col.1:20; Eph.2:14, etc.; Rom.8:34; Heb.9:24, 8:1; 1 Pet.2:5; John 4:23.24.
XVIII. THIS priesthood was not legal or temporary, but according to the order of Melchisedek, and is stable and perfect, not for a time, but forever, which is suitable to Jesus Christ, as to Him that ever liveth. Christ was the priest, sacrifice, and altar: He was a priest according to both natures; He was a sacrifice according to His human nature; whence in Scripture it is attributed to His body, to His blood: Yet the effectualness of this sacrifice did depend upon His divine nature; therefore it is called the blood of God. He was the altar according to His divine nature, it belonging to the altar to sanctify that which is offered upon it, and so it ought to be of greater dignity than the sacrifice itself.
Heb.7:16, etc.; Heb.5:6, 10:10; 1 Pet.l:18,19; Col.1:20 22; Heb.9:13; Acts 20:28; Heb.9:14, 13:10.12,15; Matt.23:17; John 17:19.
XIX. CONCERNING His kingly office, Christ being risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and having all power in heaven and earth, He doth spiritually govern His church, and doth exercise His power over all, angels and men, good and bad, to the preservation and salvation of the elect, and to the overruling and destruction of His enemies. By this kingly power He applieth the benefits, virtue, and fruits of His prophecy and priesthood to His elect, subduing their sins, preserving and strengthening them in all their conflicts against Satan, the world, and the flesh, keeping their hearts in faith and filial fear by His Spirit: By this His mighty power He ruleth the vessels of wrath, using, limiting and restraining them, as it seems good to His infinite wisdom.
1 Cor.15:4; 1 Pet.3:21,22; Matt.28:18,19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:1, 5:30,31; John 19:36; Rom.14:9; John 5:26,27; Rom. 5:6,7,8, 14:17; Ga1.5:22,23; Mark 1:27; Heb.l:14; John 16: 15; Job 2:8;
Rom.1:21; Eph.4:17,18; 2 Pet.2.
XX. THIS His kingly power shall be more fully manifested when He shall come in glory to reign among His saints, when He shall put down all rule and authority under His feet, that the glory of the Father may be perfectly manifested in His Son, and the glory of the Father and the Son in all His members.
1 Cor.15:24,28; Heb.9:28; 2 Thess.1:9,10; 1 Thess.4:15,16,17; John 17:21,26.
XXI. JESUS Christ by His death did purchase salvation for the elect that God gave unto Him: These only have interest in Him, and fellowship with Him, for whom He makes intercession to His Father in their behalf, and to them alone doth God by His Spirit apply this redemption; as also the free gift of eternal life is given to them, and none else.
Eph.1:14; Heb.5:9; Matt.1:21; John 17:6; Heb.7:25; 1 Cor.2: 12; Rom.8:29.30; 1 John 5:12; John 15:13,3:16.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
Praise Ye Jehovah (#4)
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah (#495)
He Leadeth Me (#497)
Call Jehovah Thy Salvation (#499)
He Who Would Valiant Be (#507)
Psalms 42 and 43
God With Us (Part 1)
Thursday, March 11, 2010
1 Tim.2:5; Heb.9:15; John 14:6; Isa.9:6,7.
XI. UNTO this office He was appointed by God from everlasting; and in respect of his manhood, from the womb called, separated, and anointed most fully and abundantly with all gifts necessary. God having without measure poured out His Spirit upon Him.
Prov.8:23; Isa.42:6, 49:15, 11:2.3.4,5. 61 :1.2 ; Luke 4:17,22; John 1:14,26, 3:34.
XII. CONCERNING His mediatorship, the Scripture holds forth Christ's call to His office; for none takes this honour upon Him, but He that is called of God as was Aaron, it being an action of God, whereby a special promise being made, He ordains His Son to this office; which promise is, that Christ should be made a sacrifice for sin; that He should see His seed, and prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand; all of mere free and absolute grace towards God's elect, and without any condition foreseen in them to procure it.
Heb.5:4.5.6; Isa.53:10,11; John 3:16; Rom.8:32.
XIII. THIS office to be mediator, that is, to be prophet, priest, and king of the Church of God, is so proper to Christ, that neither in whole, or any part thereof, it cannot be transferred from Him to any other.
1 Tim.2:5; Heb.7:24; Dan.7:14; Acts 4:12; Luke 1:33; John 14:6.
Like most of the Reformed orthodoxy of its day, the London Confession used the theological formulation called the covenant of grace as its tool to explain the doctrine of Christ's work. In the century previous to this, influential theologians Caspar Olevian and Zacharias Ursinus had refined and developed a clearly covenantal theology. In the seventeenth century, other men like Johannes Coccieus, Francis Turretin, and Herman Witsius continued to hone and promote this theology. This was also taught in England by William Ames, and, of course, it became crucial to the Westminster Confession.
There is much that is true in covenant theology's explanations of Christ's work, especially Christ's representative headship of his people. However, covenant theology as a system lacks strong biblical support. Evidence in Scripture for the so-called covenant of works is virtually non-existent. The covenants of works and grace become, in this system, an all-embracing grid by which the Scriptures are interpreted. It is rather odd that all of the actual covenants in the Bible become subsumed under two inferred covenants. Covenant theology is a serious attempt to explain the unity of God's work of redemption. As such it is to be commended. However, it goes astray by allowing inferences to shape the system. It needs to be reformed biblically (pun intended).
Friday, March 05, 2010
In the Cross of Christ I Glory (#142)
Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today (#156)
Like a River Glorious (#352)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)
It Is Well with My Soul (#371)
Bless the People - Numbers 6:22-27
Peace to All in Christ - 1 Peter 5:14
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
VII AND this is life eternal, that we might know Him the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. And on the contrary, the Lord will render vengeance, in flaming fire, to them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John 17:3; Heb.5:9; 2 Thess.1:8; John 6:36.
VIII THE rule of this knowledge, faith, and obedience, concerning the worship of God, in which is contained the whole duty of man, is (not men's laws, or unwritten traditions, but) only the word of God contained in the holy Scriptures; in which is plainly recorded whatsoever is needful for us to know, believe, and practice; which are the only rule of holiness and obedience for all saints, at all times, in all places to be observed.
Col.2:23; Matt.15:6,9; John 5:39; 2 Tim.3:15,16,17; Isa.8:20; Gal.1:8.9: Acts 3:22,23.
IX THE Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote, the Apostles preached, He is the Son of God, the brightness of His glory, etc. by whom He made the world; who upholdeth and governeth all things that He hath made; who also when the fulness of time was come, was made of a woman, of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham and David; to wit, of the virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her, the power of the most High overshadowing her; and He was also tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Gen.3:15, 22:18, 49:10; Dan.7:13, 9:24, etc.; Prov.8:23; John 1:1,2,3; Heb.1:8; Ga1.4:4; Heb.7:14; Rev.5:5; Gen.49:9,10; Rom.l:3, 9:10; Matt.l:16; Luke 3:23,26; Heb.2:16; Isa.53:3,4,5; Heb.4:15.
Here we see the confession affirming basic truths of Christianity: salvation and judgment, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and the true identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that one of the major purposes of this confession was to demonstrate that the "Baptist" churches were orthodox churches. They specifically distanced themselves from the label "Anabaptist," and this shows even in what they included in their confession. When we look back at the Schleitheim Confession of a century before the London Confession, we immediately notice that the Anabaptists did not include much in the way of doctrinal concerns in their confession. Doctrine was not their primary concern; ethics was. The Anabaptists were not concerned about distinguishing their doctrine of justification, for example, from the Roman Catholic teaching. They were not concerned to articulate their beliefs about Jesus Christ or the Trinity. They were more concerned to promote godly living and holy churches. By way of contrast, the London Confession, though not by any means exhaustive, was quite concerned to show that its authors held to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Albert Mohler writes about the case of a German family granted asylum in the United States because of their commitment to home school their children in "Where Homeschooling is Outlawed - Asylum?"
And over at Public Discourse (which is a site worth watching), Christopher Tollefson argues that "the option of home-schooling should be the prima facie starting point for parental deliberations about their children’s education" ("Are There Harms of Home Schooling?"). One very important component of this article is the author's deep understanding of the nature of the family.
Is the family a mere aggregate of individuals—spouses, and children—held together, perhaps by common or overlapping interests, but ultimately independent, in their interests and their being, from one another? Such a picture seems implicated by those who pit children’s interests against the interests of their parents; but it can also seem lurking in the naked assertion of “parents’ rights” as a conclusive justification for the right to homeschool.
A more adequate picture emerges from a more accurate account of marriage as a comprehensive sharing of lives that extends not just through those immaterial aspects of the spouses’ lives, such as intellect, will, character, and emotion, but penetrates down to the bodily being of the spouses in the act of sexual intercourse. That act of intercourse is, by its nature, ordered to the biological function of reproduction. Thus, children who are born of marriage so understood are the fruit of that parental union, and so themselves in a strong sense new parts of that union. The unity and multiplicity that characterizes the lives of spouses who have become one flesh is thus extended to include the lives of children born (or, I believe, adopted) of that union.This understanding of the family is crucial. Homeschoolers and family promoters should think about it and internalize it well. Incidentally, it is this kind of an understanding that lies beneath the proper practice of family integration.