Good Government Impossible Apart from the Christian Religion
As voting season is upon us, we must study the Scriptures. Theological errors more than anything else explain our present situation. Indeed, they explain the situation we have been in since 1789, when the foundations were laid to replace our national God and covenants with a theory of government that owes more to Locke than to Moses. This has been the cancer eating away at our national heart for over two centuries. If we submit to what God says about kings and kingdoms, our responsibility will become clear.
I take it as axiomatic in this day of our Savior’s reign (Matt. 28:18) that the rise and fall of men and nations is determined by the response they make to his word (Rev. 19:11-16). The preaching of God’s word shapes the course of history (Ps. 29; 1 Cor. 1:16). If a people rebel against his word, whatever their past commitments and traditions, they will be smitten by the sword of our Savior’s mouth. He rules in the midst of his enemies with a rod of iron (Ps. 110:2; 2:9; Isa. 11:4; 49:2; Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
As our particular nation has been richly showered with God’s word but has institutionally rejected it, he is judging us. Whatever else may occur as our ugly national drama unfolds, God has set his King upon his holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:6). Our Savior rules to preserve, defend, and increase his holy nation, his peculiar people, his church (Eph. 1:20-23; 1 Pet. 2:9). All that do not kiss him, all that will not prostrate themselves before him (Ps. 72:11), all that will not flow into his church to be taught his law, will be swept away in judgment (Ps. 2:10; Isa. 2:3; Mic. 4:2). His word will kill them (Ps. 110:5; 2 Cor. 10:4). “The Scriptures cannot be broken” (John 8:35).
John Calvin wrote to King Frances I: “Indeed, this consideration makes a true king: to recognize himself as a minister of God in governing his kingdom. Now, that king who in ruling over his realm does not serve God’s glory exercises not kingly rule but brigandage. Furthermore, he is deceived who looks for enduring prosperity in his kingdom when it is not ruled by God’s scepter, that is, his Holy Word.” When Calvin penned these words in 1533 or 1534, France was by no means a kingdom ruled by God’s law but by an ungodly king. To write these words was treason. The fledgling French church was mercilessly persecuted. This did not stop the faithful. They proclaimed and printed God’s truth. God’s truth shook France, a world power at the time, with a series of convulsions that opened the door for more preaching and discipleship within Calvin’s lifetime and especially afterwards. Treacherous kings responded by slaughtering the faithful. God’s response? He progressively destroyed the kingdom of France, culminating in the blood-letting under Robespierre. The rebellion did not stop, and his judgments continued. France endured two devastating waves of judgment in the world wars of the 20th century. France is but an emaciated shadow of its former self, now overrun with Muslims and secularists. God’s word prevails against all brigands. Fight against his truth and his people, and you will die. It may be today, tomorrow, or in four centuries, but God never forgets the smallest seed of his word sown in faith. He forgets no impenitent treachery against his Son.
The kings of the earth must kiss the Son or face his wrath. This includes the Presidential candidates and the whole rebellious machinery of the American government, including local magistrates. Those who rule bear God’s authority, and he will hold them accountable for how they exercise it – in history and at its conclusion. This faith armed our spiritual forefathers with incredible boldness. Christ, not man, is King. They spoke God’s truth, and they suffered for it. In some places and eras, he granted them reprieve from papal and civil idolatries and persecutions. Faithfulness to God’s truth, not accommodation or the lesser of two evils, was their watchword. God honored them. His church, which is his saints, are the pillar and ground of the truth in the world (1 Tim. 3:15). Our mission and weapons are different. We proclaim the truth of the King in every place God installs us as his ambassadors. We stand, suffer, pray, speak, and wait upon him to honor his truth.
The problem with American Christianity is very simple. It no longer believes God’s word – or to state the matter more specifically, it no longer believes to the death that Christ, not man, is King. It knows little of “another King, one Jesus,” to whom the kings of the earth must bow in submission or feel his wrath. It hyper-spiritualizes the kingdom of Christ, dichotomizes it, or pushes it into the future. It is willing to make its peace with the Baals of the day, provided they allow it a place at the table. As a whole, the American church has little consuming conviction of the reigning King at the right hand of God and of its responsibility to be faithful to him. Not fearing him, it fears man. It is afraid to call men who do not rule by God’s Holy Word brigands.
This refusal has many sources. Some read Romans 13 in an extremely passive sense that every authority, however evil, must be obeyed without regard to God’s higher authority over him. Others adhere to natural law as a sufficient basis for good government. For them, “Jesus is Lord” means “Jesus is Lord specifically over the spiritual realm, while only generally Lord of the natural realm. And so, most Christians settle for whoever will toss them a bone. Had the godly men and women of the 16th century adopted such a political philosophy, we would still be languishing under papal tyranny and the divine right of kings. We would be in gross ignorance of God’s word and slaves to whatever megalomaniac was on the throne. Praise God that they did not simply have it written in their confessions that Christ was King, not man, but that they proclaimed, labored, organized, confronted, lived, and suffered for this inviolable truth of God’s word. They obeyed God rather than men (Acts 4:19).
“He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). David spoke these words at the end of a long life of slaughtering unjust kings who did not fear God. He spoke as an oracle of eternal truth. He spoke as a type of the Messiah and of his reign. God has spoken. He has given statutes and judgments to Moses as a model for the nations (Deut. 4:6-8). It is not that America is God’s new Israel. This bad theology has created many problems in the church’s political philosophy and historical expectations. It is rather that as the King of kings, Jesus Christ calls upon human rulers to fear and obey him (Ps. 2:11). Those that do not will be judged. Recent centuries painfully bear this out. “All they that hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36). The West embraced the Enlightenment politically and ecclesiastically. The Holy God and his enthroned Messiah, who has entered his glory as Daniel’s exalted Son of Man, Messiah the Prince (Dan. 7:13-14; Luke 24:26), is now killing it.
If we are learning nothing else in this present season, God is testifying to us that good government is impossible apart from the Christian religion. It is impossible apart from national submission to Jesus Christ, confession of his gospel, and rule in terms of his law. Calvin taught us this five centuries ago, and Augustine before him, and we have been tragically slow to embrace fully the implications of the mediatorial reign of Christ and his judgment of the city of man. Apart from the regenerating power of almighty God, men will remain dead in their sins, unable to see the truth, and thus choose death over life – or fantasy and perversion over maturity and obedience, or government subsidies over personal responsibility – every time. Only the Christian faith reveals how dead men can become living men and therefore truly free men. Nature does not teach them this. Splitting the world into two, three, or twenty kingdoms only serves to obscure what God has made abundantly clear. Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He is Lord of every institution. He demands its respect and homage. He is Lord of every state. He is Lord of every man. He is the Head of the church and the Prince of the kings of the earth.
Only he can subdue men’s hearts so that they are governed by his Spirit, self-governed by his word, and therefore able to resist lawfully and effectively political tyranny. Only he gives men the blessings of peace and justice through righteousness. This is his mediatorial covenant with his Father. It not a covenant based upon natural law, limited to the spiritual sphere, or discoverable by man’s reason. God has made foolish all the wisdom of this world. Man cannot know God or govern himself wisely and happily apart from his word. Do not back down from this high claim, this proclamation of the resurrected Lord of heaven and earth. Everything else is polishing brass on the sinking Titanic of man’s reason and rebellion – that Jesus Christ is sinking. We shall have good government as men become good Christians and as leaders recognize their responsibility to King Jesus. We have the powerful means, God’s promise, our Savior’s power, and God’s invincible word. Let us use and depend upon them fervently and prayerfully. Let us call upon our rulers to submit to Jesus Christ, the Prince of the Kings of the earth.