One of my early conclusions in my previous articles was that God never intended for man to establish theocratic systems of government based on the Bible. Every theocratic system has failed to achieve its political objectives, even Israel’s Mosaic system. Some may argue that it isn’t Biblical theocracy that has failed, but human nature. I would argue that the failure of human nature is the very point. Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin notes, “The Bible’s underlying political message is not for the establishment of a theocracy. Were that to be the case, the utility value of scriptural politics would be dramatically diminished in today’s world. Rather, the Bible’s message is that the key to wise government is accurately understanding the full complexity of human nature.”1
The only theocratic system imposed in the Bible was the Mosaic Law. It failed to bring Israel into a right relationship with God or establish a consistently righteous nation, because sinful men were always in control of the theocratic system, or its primary arbiters. Theocracy fails because it is controlled by sinful men through a theocracy of law, rather than the one and only righteous God, through a theocracy of the heart. Even the Old Testament, the source of the Mosaic Law, illustrates this division. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”2
So where does this leave us? In my first article I asked the questions:
- What are the common and consistent principles God uses to govern all people, regardless of race, politics, or religion?
- Should we imitate those principles?
In light of the examination this book offers, I believe the answers can be expressed as follows:
- God manages the affairs of men and nations through the agencies of freedom, responsibility, and accountability.
- Yes, we should imitate those principles in all our social and public policy.
Men and nations are free to pursue a course with God, or apart from Him. We do not need to repeat the history of the world to demonstrate this to be true. If God were not a God of freedom, and did not permit such things, whether for a short time or long, nations would not exist. That God has provided a law (Mosaic), and a conscience for men (reflecting the law), gives us clear indication that God will hold us accountable for how we use our freedom (whether for freedom, or using our freedom to oppress the rights of others). That responsibility implies accountability, but the Bible goes further, stating repeatedly that God will require an accounting from us if we violate the law,3 our conscience,4 or the freedom of others.5 God uses these basic principles with individuals as well as nations. They are equally applicable.
Freedom Carried Too Far?
Even as I spent many hours writing and reviewing the text and references for these articles I came away near the end of my first draft wondering if I had unwittingly made a case for the influence of postmodernism? (One early reviewer wrote, “You are completely antinomian!”) It might seem that way on the surface, and yes, I (reluctantly) appreciate postmodernism for one thing, but not as a religious or philosophical belief.
Postmodernism is not a biblical philosophy, much less practically sound. But it has contributed something valuable to public discourse, and to Christianity: It challenges concepts of truth. This is good only in that it has forced many Evangelicals to rid themselves of theological complacency. It has forced the church to examine its ideas and interpretations in a new way. This is what cultural changes do in and through history. So in this sense, the change is not so much an effect of postmodernism, per se, rather it is the normal process of introspection in the course of human events (reactionary process).
How do you know your particular brand of Christianity is really the truth?
I will never forget the day I was teaching a Florida Sunday school class of older men and learned the difference between theologies of substance and form. I was the youngest man in the room, feeling inadequate to teach a group of men who were 35 to 40 years my senior. The room had former Sunday school directors, deacons, and men dedicated to their church for decades. They had read the Bible and shared their faith for more years than I was alive. They had seen pastors and many other Christian leaders come and go. Who was I to teach anything to this group?
We were in the midst of a protracted discussion about the historical reliability of the Bible and Jesus Christ, when I asked the question, “How do you know the Bible’s claims are true?” It didn’t take long to discover that only one man in the group had even the remotest idea how to answer the question.
That question is a pretty standard inquiry you may hear in small groups, or in first-year Bible studies. If you’ve been a Christian for at least two years, and have even a semi-regular study of the Bible, you should be able to provide even simple answers to that question. But these men, most of whom had claimed Christ for more than 35 years each, could provide none.
How do you know the Bible is true? For the sake of this Final Word, allow me to rephrase the question. How do you know your Christianity is true? Notice that I didn’t ask about the Bible, or Christian history, or if Christianity is generally true, I asked about your Christianity–your ideas of what Christianity is supposed to be, what it upholds, how you apply it practically in your life. How does your life embody the Bible’s truths?
Postmodernism asks the questions, what, where, when, how, and why, then denies all the answers to our face and demands we answer them again. It forces the serious Christian to search and study. How do I know that my ideas about Jesus—and my interpretations—are true? Am I like the color-blind man who looks at the world through glasses of a particular shade? I can see the world, and see the truth, but I still possess a pigment problem–on multiple levels. How do I know that my application of what I believe is correct? What part of my application of Biblical principles is shaped by my culture, national history, personal history, personal preferences, or the absolutes of God’s word? In what ways am I interpreting the absolutes of God’s word through my own cultural filters? These inquiries can be boiled down to a single question: How do I know?
For centuries well-intentioned men dedicated to Christ and their understanding of the Bible, sought to honor God by applying legal principles from the Bible into contemporary civil government. Though there is room for such application where morality is concerned, there is a tendency to take things to another level. Earlier in this book we saw examples of this through history, and specifically noted problematic introductions of legalized professions of faith. Even in our modern day there is a tendency to apply our biblical principles in the public arena–to have our ideas be the ideas for government, yet sometimes without thinking through the implications. For instance:
- A gay man and a straight Christian join the army. You are in their platoon. The gay man is a better shot. Who do you want with you on the front line?
- In regular testing for teacher certification, a married woman passes with average scores; the unwed mother passes with the highest marks. Whom do you want to teach math to your kids?
The above examples are overly simple but they speak directly to the heart of America’s culture war. Let’s take it further. Imagine if our Christian ideas of public service were in command of the mayor’s office in New York City on 9/11. Rudy Giuliani, who had been having an extra-marital affair for some time, and quite openly, would not have been mayor, yet his skilled leadership on 9/11 helped save thousands of lives. Giuliani eventually became one of the most highly regarded politicians in America–by Republicans and Democrats alike. And what of men like Winston Churchill, known for his drinking and eccentric behavior? Would our high Christian principles have allowed him to ascend to the office of Prime Minister in the first place? What would have happened to the British Empire in World War II?
While we are busy examining our candidates and public officials according to our biblical standards, hoping to find the best leader to represent our values, God is busy orchestrating public events toward His own purpose. God’s view is the long view of future history–and that is something we do not possess.
Cast a Ballot
A few days prior to the 1992 presidential election, I delivered a radio commentary in which I asked my listeners [in New Mexico] to vote for a candidate. The commentary presented a scenario that caused a great deal of controversy for many people.6 Over the years I have taken to using it in small-group discussions. It goes something like this:
The incumbent is an older man, popular, well-liked, who has initiated economic and military reforms that have strengthened the economy, secured the borders, and helped the nation gain respect in the world. He has focused his administration on passing laws upholding family values, and even worked to eliminate the influence of dangerous religious cults. He is a family man, with one wife he’s been married to all his adult life. His adult children are upstanding members of society, well respected in their own right, having served in the military with distinction. They are intensely loyal to their father, and their nation.
Now let’s look at the challenger. He served in the military under the incumbent and was awarded for his service, but differences between the incumbent and challenger led to the challenger leaving the military. Upon departure, he was indicted by the government for crimes against the State and fled the country. In the last year-and-a-half he assumed leadership of a radical group whose members include known criminals. He has not even been back to his homeland during that time. He has been married more than once and has children, but they have many problems rooted in their upbringing, and are not known for their dedication or moral values. Rumors abound about the challenger’s problems with the opposite sex, and he is sometimes known for rash and vengeful behavior. Co-workers have noted his tendency toward anger, and toward his enemies, great cruelty.
If the above information was all you had to go on, would you vote to keep the incumbent, or replace him with the challenger? Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of people choose the incumbent.
So whom did you vote for, the incumbent or the challenger? If you voted for the incumbent, congratulations, you just re-elected Saul as King of Israel, handing David, the man after God’s own heart, a crushing defeat. David remains a shepherd, Solomon is never born, and the line eventually leading to Jesus Christ goes into obscurity. How’s that for electoral politics?
The attributes of Saul (and David) listed above are taken directly from the narrative in I Samuel and I Chronicles, but described in modern terms. Isn’t it interesting that these attributes are virtually the same as what many politically conservative Christians look for in a political leader?7
The examples of Saul and David’s life listed above are not complete, and they have been oversimplified for this illustration, but how often do we get a real picture of what our candidates are like anyway? In 2000, who knew that George W. Bush would turn out to be the leader he did? How long did it take Ronald Reagan to convince voters of his leadership skills before they gave him a shot at the presidency? Even Abraham Lincoln was lightly regarded in his day.
Often when selecting our leaders we look for the right words, the right form, and the right behaviors. But the inadequacy of the human condition is that the outside of a man doesn’t really tell us what is on the inside–but this is the only way we, as mortals, have to judge a person’s character. This is why God said to Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). As men and women with limited faculties, we can only judge a candidate based upon our observations. If our vote, or agenda falls short, our responsibilities don’t change, only the conditions under which we must exercise them. Consider also that most Christians who live in non-democratic or pseudo-democratic countries don’t wrestle with these kinds of issues. Nor do missionaries in foreign countries who must simply live and work under whatever system is in place. Only in America, or countries where Christians possess a legitimatized political voice, do we engage in such issues.
Therefore, with a long view of history, an ability to examine the application of Christianity in various political and cultural systems over many centuries and nations, what should be our view about politics and religion, about faith and freedom? More specifically to the point of these articles, how should missionaries, and/or Christians in foreign cultures handle the circumstances of politics and religion in their field of service? This Final Word will not serve to provide comprehensive answers, but perhaps it can provide a starting point from which Christians and Christian leaders can begin.
Foundational Principles of Faith & Freedom
First, it is important to recognize, no matter our culture, background, history, or even political affiliation, that Faith is the Father of Freedom. Without faith, freedom is incomplete. As stated earlier, political freedom is a religious idea politically expressed. Concepts of political freedom came straight from religious concepts of man’s relationship to God, the nature God gave him, and his responsibilities toward God. The Reformation gave birth to modern political freedom giving it direct ties to Christian principles. There are numerous examples in the Bible of civil disobedience in the name of carrying out one’s faith. These examples were inspirational to those who were caught living under a Roman Catholic political system prior to the Reformation, when what a person was required to believe was a matter of State policy. This is true in many Islamic societies even today. Theologian Wayne Grudem notes that “Faith in Christ, to be truly held and practiced, cannot be compelled by force. If it is compelled, it changes its essential quality and is no longer a voluntary act of the individual, and cannot be true faith.”8 True faith, not politically prescribed faith, birthed political freedom. Without that true faith of the heart, and not a politically prescribed faith, there can be no lasting freedom. Some would go as far as to argue that the first expression of true freedom is the opportunity to believe something contrary to the prevailing view without fear of political repercussion.
Second, since faith is the father of freedom, divorcing faith from freedom is unwise and impossible on a practical level. For decades the Democratic Party in the United States, guided by the movement of social liberalism, has attempted to persuade Americans to separate their faith from their freedom. Certainly they don’t frame the debate that way. The political left uses phrases like, “keep government out of the bedroom9 “… faith is a private, not public matter … the right to be free from religion, or not to believe.” We could go on and on with a list of phrases from the left that sound reasonable, but they all dig deeper toward the heart of America’s heritage of faith and freedom. Many Americans have recognized this. As a result, people of faith have revolted, and political conservatism in the Christian community has grown by leaps and bounds–along with opportunities to take the witness of Christ into the political arena. Even those who are not Christians have become more sympathetic to the Christian Right’s cause.
Third, Faith and freedom go hand in hand in a world where political freedom was birthed as a direct result of religious faith. Separating religious faith from political freedom is disastrous: The French Revolution and Soviet Communism serve as terrifying examples of what happens when Christian influence is removed or suppressed in the political arena. Even modern Europe experiences cultural difficulties as a result of abandoning its faith roots. Historical church buildings and giant edifices mean little in the long term beyond tourist attractions, and become no more valuable to a culture than the Great Pyramid at Giza. Such structures may be important for tourism, but not for the long-term cultural and heartfelt spiritual life of its people. If the opposite were true, Europe would hold more strongly to its Christian roots, instead, it is busy trying to forget them.
As Christians who have experienced political freedom, we recognize that we hold a tremendous advantage over societies where freedom is yet to be established. Since the end of the Cold War the advantages of freedom should be more obvious. Therefore, we should use our freedom to advance our faith, not hide it or divorce it. To some degree we are already doing this, taking advantage of America’s commercial and political dominance to create systems of distribution for the Gospel. However, in the missionary community there is a tendency to shy away from any advancement of political freedom on the mission field for fear that it mixes representing Jesus Christ with the dirty workings of politics. The idea sounds reasonable, but is it in reality? Is not separating faith from politics like separating the conscience from the man? Without a conscience, what holds the man back from evil? As noted earlier, political freedom is a moral issue about which God is concerned.
The above only refers to disassociating religion and politics in general, and only in theory. In real-life practice however, it is done all the time. Liberal churches in America regularly host democratic candidates in the pulpit, giving them a platform for election; meanwhile, most conservative churches keep their pulpits shut. How different this is from the days of the American Revolution when political freedom ensured religious liberty was advocated regularly, almost weekly, from Christian pulpits?
Liberalism in the United States has become associated with postmodernism and paganism. Elsewhere the situation is reversed. In many South American and Africa countries, Christianity has developed an affinity for forms of socialism because of the “bread and butter” issues that still plague these developing areas. As we learned in previously, many Evangelicals in these countries tend to lean to the political left, while many of their missionary counterparts tend to lean to the political right. These left-leaning nationals are busy forming associations and political groups to advance the cause of Christianity in their nations, while the right-leaning missionaries keep their mouths shut. This is a critical disconnect that impacts the direction a nation may take. Thus, even in Christian circles within these nations, the ideas of political socialism gain an edge. This is tragic because political socialism runs contrary to human nature and biblical principles.
This Final Word is not an advocacy for a specific political system, rather it advocates an idea: Faith and Freedom are inseparable. They are two sides of the same coin of life. They are the left and right hands connected to the same body. To use an aphorism of socialism, they are the hammer and sickle. The difference between the left’s use of religion and the right’s use of it is that the left views religion as a means, or tool to shape political ends–you pick it up, you use it, and you put it down. The Christian right views faith as the ends, and not the means–you pick it up, you never put it down, and it shapes you. Therein lays the struggle, which worldview is right, the one that advocates politics as the chief arbiter of life, or the one that views faith and conscience as supreme?
I’ll go with the latter. But isn’t it interesting that so many conservative Evangelicals want to save the political legitimacy of Christianity in America, but remain virtually silent on the same issue for other nations?
It is important, even vital, for the church as a whole to shore up its commitment to the principles of Faith and Freedom espoused, in their most elementary forms, in the Bible. The church must continue to take a strong stand where political freedom is concerned because political freedom and freedom of conscience are uniquely Judeo-Christian ideas whose roots can be traced directly back to the Old Testament. Additionally, it is through political freedom that Christianity has seen its widest, deepest, and most meaningful advancement. Some argue that China is an example of Christianity’s successful advancement in the midst of political oppression. But are we naive enough to think that the spread of God’s Word in China would fare worse if people had no fear of entertaining its message without government reprisal? Steve Brown of Keylife Network notes, “All things considered, it’s easier to consider the claims of Christ if one knows that one won’t get killed or thrown in jail for it.”10
When the ideas of freedom took a giant leap after World War II, what happened to the missionary cause? It surged to historical heights. The end of the Cold War opened up dozens of countries behind the iron curtain and elsewhere. Missionaries were already active in many of those countries, but after freedom came, millions more came to know Jesus Christ. Freedom facilitates opportunity, and this is all the missionary seeks and needs to ensure success for his venture–an open opportunity. Religious opportunity is what the political left seeks to restrict. Freedom facilitates opportunity, opportunity facilitates advancement of faith, and faith transforms society. Therefore, the political or social liberal (or socialist) must restrict or subvert free opportunity to prevent transforming society in keeping with Christian values. This is why we see so much legal and political activity to restrict the influence of Christianity in society – and not just in America! Socialism resorts to this tactic because it cannot stand on its own, competing fairly in the marketplace of ideas. For these reasons the church must maintain and strengthen its support for basic human freedoms in foreign as well as domestic societies, so that free opportunity to transform those societies for Christ will remain intact. The opponents of Christianity are working in many nations against the interest of historical biblical freedoms. Should the church sit by complacently, and do nothing while these organizations help facilitate policies that adversely affect Christians around the world? This is the heart of the matter. Supporting and advancing political freedom helps open doors for missionary evangelism.
It is entirely appropriate and necessary for the missionary on the field not to deeply associate his Christian faith and mission with specific political theories. At the same time, there are many areas of the world where the heritage of freedom can offer greater opportunities to advance faith – even in the Middle East! One missionary to the Muslim world shared a unique and highly successful strategy that used concepts of American freedom to explore biblical truth:
I use them as a springboard to share Christ. One example was while living for the summer in Amman Jordan; I lead a Learn the Truth about America discussion group for Jordanian students where I read famous American documents and stories. I read the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and writing from our Founding Fathers. The Gospel just flows for the pages of America’s founders.11
As shown above, the life the missionary leads is already an example of the principles of 1st Amendment freedoms.
Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky noted in the close to his book, The Case for Democracy, “I am convinced that a successful effort to expand freedom around the world must be inspired and led by the United States. In the twentieth century, America demonstrated time and again that it possessed the moral clarity and courage that is necessary to defeat evil.”12 That moral clarity, the defining characteristic of a good society, is deeply rooted in America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. That moral clarify, as Sharansky wisely points out, is the fuel of freedom’s powerful engine.
As we examine history we are tempted to view the 20th century, and the beginnings of the 21st, as the struggle for great freedoms. Yet we would be remiss if we did not go back further to see that the struggle for freedom is a basic and universal desire of the human heart. Let us embrace freedom. Let us also embrace the people who have contrary ideas (not the ideas themselves). When such sides stand in opposition to one another the battle is enjoined and freedom, even if it sometimes suffers repression or oppression, will not die, but be yearned for all the more. Whether publicly or privately, freedom always prevails, and where freedom prevails, faith prevails.
- America’s Real War, “Faith’s Influence on Technology,” chapter 24, page 153, Copyright ©1999 Daniel Lapin; Multnomah Publishers, Inc.
- Jeremiah 31:33.
- In Deuteronomy 28:15 God declared a series of curses that would come upon the Israelites if they failed to fulfill the terms of their covenant relationship with Him. That the law is important to God is clearly demonstrated: “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”
- A reference to conscience and its importance is made in James 4:17, “To the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Other passages related to the application of moral values and conscience can be found in Romans 2:15 and 13:2-5 (specifically about government authority).
- Further evidence for the Bible’s support of political and culture freedom can be found in the many passages of the Old Testament that condemn oppression in various forms. Old Testament prophecies condemned both Gentile nations, and Israel, for oppressing the rights of their own people, and foreigners in their own lands.
- Some listeners mistakenly thought my original commentary was an endorsement of Bill Clinton’s bid for the presidency. I ended up having to meet with a very influential church leader to correct the misconception. Regrettably, the pastor was headstrong in his view that the commentary would have the same effect as an endorsement, though it was well-known to our listeners that I was not a Clinton supporter. For some people, personal perceptions, fueled by personal agenda, mean more than reason and common sense.
- Use of the illustration of Saul and David should not be construed to mean that the values conservative Christians hold dear are somehow wrong or shortsighted. In fact, the values inculcated by the conservative right in America are usually in lock-step with the values of evangelical Christians who desire to protect the political standing of their faith, and maintain the freedom to express it openly in the public and private sectors. The evangelical right in the United States has a long history of not only protecting its interests, but also standing for freedom with personal responsibility – a most desirable combination.
- Systematic Theology, chapter 46, “The Power of the Church,” page 892, copyright ©1994, Wayne Grudem, Ph.D., Intervarsity Press.
- This catch phrase may not seem to protest religious involvement in politics or law; however, it deals directly with issues of morality, which is squarely in the religious and political realm.
- Email interview with Steve Brown, President of Key Life Network, and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. July 17, 2003.
- Career missionary of 23 years with Campus Crusade for Christ, International. August 24, 2003 email interview.
- The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, page 279, Copyright ©2004, Natan Sharansky Public Affairs.