Monday, September 30, 2013

The Kingdom of God

To speak of the Kingdom of God is to speak of a divine political order that stands in contrast to the politics of man. Christians throughout the world are not merely members of the various nations who worship the same God in their personal devotions. They constitute a nation in their own right, a distinctive people, called out and separated from the kingdoms of the world, and born from above through faith in Christ into another kingdom with its own political order.

The form of this political order is absolute monarchy. Regardless of the particular forms of administration under which the Monarch’s sovereignty is delegated to his ministers in the different spheres of life (i.e. family, Church, State), the Christian nation is governed by an absolute Monarch whose law is unchangeable, whose jurisdiction is unlimited, and whose will is final. His ministers, or vicegerents, who govern under his law in the various institutional aspects of the life of the nation, may or may not be chosen by means of elections, depending on the nature of the institution (e.g. elections may be used in choosing elders—Ex. 18:25; Dt. 1:13–15; Acts 14: 23 cf. 6:3–6, but such elections have no place in the family). Nevertheless, those chosen by whatever means are bound absolutely to govern these institutions under the will of God as revealed in his law. This applies not only in the government of the Church but in the family and the State also. No Christian politician, chosen by whatever means, or belonging to any particular political party, has any dispensation to serve any other Lord. In his work as a politician he owes an absolute and unswerving loyalty and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rome recognised the inevitable conflict between Christ and Caesar that this fact created. So did the early Church. It is the modern Church’s failure to recognise the inevitable and exhaustive nature of this antithesis that has in large measure rendered the Church so irrelevant and powerless in the modern world. We can put this another way by saying that the modern Church has failed to recognise that all political thought and action is inevitably religious, and that since Christianity is a religion it must of necessity have a distinctive view of political order. Had the early Christians been prepared to do what the modern Church on the whole seems prepared to do, namely to restrict their worship of Christ to a personal salvation cult, which is what the various permitted mystery cults were, there would have been no conflict with Rome. But they were not prepared to do this. The conflict was a political conflict because it was a religious conflict. It has been observed that in Rome

“The framework for the religious and familial acts of piety was Rome itself, the central and most sacred community. Rome strictly controlled all rights of corporation, assembly, religious meetings, clubs, and street gatherings, and it brooked no possible rival to its centrality. One of the reasons for the later supremacy of the military bodies over Rome was the lack of any organized bodies within the state to provide a counter-balance to the two swollen bodies which became the rulers of the Empire: the army and the abiding and growing civil service. The state alone could organize; short of conspiracy, the citizen could not. On this ground alone, the highly organized Christian Church was an offense and an affront to the state, and an illegal organization readily suspected of conspiracy.” [1] 

The early Christians proclaimed Christ as Lord not only with their words, but with their lives also in the way they lived and organised themselves as a community, and in doing this they constituted a distinctive social and political order that was in direct and open conflict with the social and political order of Rome. “Very early in her life the Church set up agencies to deal with every sphere of life. They had their own courts, schools, exchequers and hospitals. It was their faith that dominated every sphere of life; to have any area of life outside the Lordship of Christ was considered idolatry. The reason behind the violent Roman persecutions of the third century was not religious, but rather that, as the charge read, the Christian Church was—imperium in imperio—a sovereignty within a sovereignty; an absolute authority within the jurisdiction of another. It was because they were regarded as politically subversive that they had to be destroyed.” [2] Speaking of Celsus’s opposition to Christianity A. D. Nock observed that “Both the Christians and their opponents came to think of themselves as a new people: and it is clear in the work of Celsus that his real aim was to persuade the Christians not to forget loyalty to the State in their devotion to this new state within a State.” [3]

We must recognise, therefore, first, that the kingdom of God, the body of Christ on earth, and the Christian ecclesia, are political concepts, and second, that the realisation of these concepts in human life and society constitutes a distinctive form of political action. There is a sense, therefore, in which we can say that the kingdom of God is primarily a political order and that the Christian faith is primarily a political faith. Politics for the Christian is not merely one aspect of life among others, but the whole of it. Christianity is about politics.

Not only is it the case that for the Christian politics, in this general sense, is the primary context of life; it is the case also for the non-believer. Life is primarily political because politics is inevitably religious and has as its raison d’être, its entire rationale, the administration of the law of an ultimate authority, i.e. a God, in the totality of life.[4] In this sense, therefore, we can say that Christianity is the only true politics. All other political ideologies are false, i.e. idolatrous. There is only either obedient or disobedient politics in God’s sight. The body of Christ, as the polis (the city) of God, whose demos (people) constitute the ecclesia (the body politic) of the Kingdom of God, is a political organism, and all other political organisms are apostate and in rebellion against God, their only rightful King, to whom the nations of the earth have been given as his rightful inheritance.[5] Christianity is the true politics, the only true politics. Christianity is primarily a political order because it concerns the kingdom of God, which is the heart of the Christian gospel, and which we are commanded to put first above all else (Mt. 6:33).

It is important at this point that we understand precisely what is being claimed here and what is not being claimed. First, it must be remembered that I am using the term politics here in a wide sense as a general category for understanding the Christian faith. I am not, at least at this point, referring to a particular form of civil government or to a particular form of the administration of public justice.

Second, it has been claimed that Christianity is primarily a political faith because it concerns the kingdom of God, which is a political order because a kingdom is a political concept. However, it is clear from Scripture that the kingdom of God is not of this world (Jn 18:36). There is, therefore, a radical break, a discontinuity, an antithesis, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. Christ’s authority and power are not of this world—in other words he does not derive his authority and power from the political orders and empires of men. His authority comes from God. But this does not mean that his authority has no relation to the world of politics and the empires of men, that it does not address the political life of men and nations. It does. We are commanded to pray “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). The source of Christ’s authority and power is not in this world; but its object is the transformation of the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of Christ (Ps. 2; Rev. 11:15). The Christian nation or kingdom is not just another political order among the many political orders that exist in the world. It stands out over and against these and is completely different in origin and nature. There is a complete antithesis between the two. Nevertheless, the theatre in which Christ’s kingdom is to be manifested is the world of men and nations, not some vague otherworldly spiritual realm. It is the nations that are to be brought under the discipline of Christ by the preaching of the gospel (Mt. 28:18–20).[6]

Third, there is a fundamental principle of secular humanist politics that demonstrates very clearly the nature of the antithesis that exists between the kingdoms of the world, or the politics of man, and the kingdom of Christ, i.e. the politics of God. In the politics of man human government takes priority over all else. Man becomes the measure of all things. Man is supreme. This supremacy must manifest itself in the form of human government over all spheres of life. This inevitably leads to totalitarianism and the denial of human freedom in the name of man, indeed even in the name of the rights of man. Well did Jesus say “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). There is no real freedom outside of Christ, only idolatry, and all idols are tyrants that enslave men and crush their spirits. This is no less the case with the modern idolatry of democratic political power in which man rules himself according to his own law in the name of human rights. This kind of human autonomy from God, i.e. the proclamation of the rights of man, can only be achieved by denying the rights of God over all spheres of life. Such a proclamation of the rights of man, because it is a denial of the rights of God, is necessarily in principle also a denial of all the freedoms that God has given to men, and ultimately will inevitably produce a society that in practice denies these freedoms in the name of man as the captain of his own fate. This is a serious problem that we now have to face in Britain. Politics in modern Britain has become a relentless campaign to strip men of their legitimate freedom under God and replace it with State control over the whole of life in the name of human rights that are superficial and ineffective and virtually meaningless to the individual. The antithesis here reaches its zenith in the idolatry of secular humanism, which offers real men, or rather forces upon men, a new kind of salvation, a salvation in which the State, as the embodiment of man’s own idea of himself as God, rules over every facet of human life and provides men with their “rights” and the solutions to all their problems. This is the State as God,[7] the new Rome. Hegel even refers to the State as “this actual God.” [8] The only real difference between ancient Rome and the new Rome is the more consistently secularised form in which the new Rome is manifesting its tyranny. “Just as the church organized the faith during the medieval era in Europe, the national state regiments it in the modern era. The state sees itself as performing an eternal mission: it demands to be worshipped, has substituted strict civil registration for the religious sacraments of baptism and marriage, and regards those who question their national identity as traitors and heretics.” [9]

This is the religion by which Western societies live today. And yet the body of Christ, the nation or kingdom of God, those who belong to a different political order that claims their absolute loyalty, must also live amongst this apostate and rebellious political order in which man usurps the place of God and whose chief idol, the secular State, is accorded all the attributes of divinity, although in a secularised form.[10] How are Christians to do this? How are the members of the ecclesia of God, a rival political order, to live among the political orders of men that now dominate society? How are we to live in the antithesis while both maintaining that antithesis and at the same time supplanting the political orders of man with the political order of God’s kingdom so that the latter triumphs over and vanquishes the former? (1 Jn. 5:4) How are we to practise the politics of God amongst the political orders of men?

The correct response to this question will involve us in a great deal of sacrifice. It cost many of the early Christians their lives. Unfortunately, the way that the modern Church has dealt with this question on the whole has been either to deny the validity of the question and embrace pietistic withdrawal, or, as with liberalism, to deny the antithesis.

Neither approach is correct. If we deny the antithesis or the validity of the question the result will be that we shall engage in the politics of man instead of the politics of God. This may be self-conscious or unselfconscious. But it will be inevitable. There is no third way politics for the Christian. There is only the politics of God and the politics of man. Either we engage in the politics of God or we succumb to the politics of man.

   1.   R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Fairfax, Virginia: Thoburn Press, 1978), p. 92f.
   2.   Hugh Flemming, Post-Hyppocratic Medicine: The Problem and the Solution—How the Christian Ethic has Influenced Health Care (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 2010), p. 28f.
   3.   A. D. Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (Oxford University Press, [1933] 1961), p. 207. Cf. Allen Brent: “The victory of early Christianity and its success in annihilating its pagan rival both as a political and intellectual force is the victory of a state within a state, an imperium in imperio, which both challenged the State itself, and sought finally and unsuccessfully to replace it totally” (The Imperial Cult and the Development of Church Order: Concepts and Images of Authority in Paganism and Early Christianity before the Age of Cyprian [Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 1999], p. 1).
   4.   See the interesting article by Thomas Schirrmacher, “‘Lex’ (Law) as Another Word for Religion: A Lesson from the Middle Ages” in Calvinism Today, Vol. II, No. 2 (April 1992), p. 5.
   5.   It is not being claimed here that all political institutions other than the Christian Church are apostate, but that all political organisms other than the Kingdom of God, and therefore all political institutions that are not in subjection to the law of Christ, are apostate. Cf. H. Dooyeweerd, “Romantic Redirection” in Roots of Western Culture (Toronto: Wedge Publishing Foundation, trans. John Kraay, [1959] 1979), p. 182.
   6.   It is a common misconception that the Great Commission is a command to make disciples of individuals from among or out of all the nations (i.e. to engage in personal evangelism or “soul saving”). It is not. Strictly speaking the English language has no verb to disciple. The nearest the Oxford English Dictionary comes to such a verb is to discipline. Consequently the Revised Version’s translation of Mt. 28:19 reads “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.” Unfortunately, due to the ambiguity of the English language at this point, this translation can be taken, and has been taken, to mean “Go therefore and make disciples of people from among all the nations”—in other words it has been taken as a command to make individual disciples from among the nations, not a command to make the nations the disciples of Christ, which is precisely what the Greek text says. This erroneous interpretation of a badly translated phrase has unfortunately now become almost ubiquitous. But Mt. 28:19 does not say “Go therefore and make disciples of people from all nations . . .” It says “Go and disciple the nations . . .” Matheteusate (aorist active imperative of matheteuo), which is usually translated as “make disciples of,” means be a disciple. The transitive use of the verb is not found in classical Greek (H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of Matthew [Winona Lake: Alpha Publications, Sixth Edition (1883) 1979, trans. Peter Christie], p. 527). In the koine Greek of the New Testament, however, it is used transitively to mean make a disciple of (F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Cambridge University Press, 1961, trans. Robert W. Funk], §148, p. 82af.), taking as its direct object in Mt. 28:19 panta ta ethne, “all the nations.” The Great Commission is not a command to evangelise individuals therefore (though of course it is impossible to fulfil the Great Commission without making individual disciples), but rather a command (1) to disciple and (2) to baptise the nations, which means of course that they must be evangelised and brought to faith in Christ, and (3) to teach them (i.e. the nations) to obey God’s commandments. See my essay The Great Decommission (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 2011).
   7.   Cf. Jacques Ellul’s interesting comment that “The state, whenever it expresses itself, makes law. There are no longer any norms to regulate the activity of the state; it has eliminated the moral rules that judged it and absorbed the legal rules that guided it. The state is a law unto itself and recognizes no rules but its own. When, in this way, technique breaks off the indispensable dialogue between the law and the state, it makes the state a god in the most theologically accurate sense of the term: a power which obeys nothing but its own will and submits to no judgment from without” (The Technological Society [London: Jonathan Cape, (1954) 1965, trans. John Wilkinson], p. 299).
   8.   “The state is the march of God in the world; its ground or cause is the power of reason realizing itself as will. When thinking of the idea of the state, we must not have in our minds any particular state, or particular institution, but must rather contemplate the idea, this actual God, by itself” (S. W. Dyde, trans., Hegel’s Philosophy of Right [London: George Bell and Sons, 1896,], p. 247 [§258 add.]).
   9.   Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (London/New York: Verso, [2008] 2009, trans. Yael Lotan), p. 43f. Sand is here summarising the views of the American historian Carlton Hayes. Sand goes on to say: “There are significant differences between nationalism and the traditional religions. For example, the universalistic and proselytizing aspects that characterize a good part of the transcendental religions differ from the contours of nationalism, which tends to enclose itself. The fact that the nation almost always worships itself, rather than a transcendental deity, also affects the manner of rallying the masses for the state—not a permanent feature of the traditional world. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that nationalism is the ideology that most closely resembles the traditional religions in successfully crossing class boundaries and fostering social inclusion in a common system of relationships. More than any other worldview or normative system, nationalism has shaped both a personal and a communal identity, and despite its high degree of abstraction, has succeeded in bridging the gap and strengthening the union between the two. Identities of class, community or traditional religion have not been able to resist it for long. They have not been erased, but their continued existence became possible only if they integrated into the symbolic interconnections of the newly arrived identity” (ibid., p. 44). However, the era of the nation State—i.e. nationalistic idolatry—may well be coming to an end. Traditional religious forces have begun once more to affect the social life of Western cultures significantly if not always positively, and other forces are at work in the modern world, especially economic forces, that have begun to rival nation States as the primary determinants of mass culture. The decline and even survival of Western cultures is intimately bound up with the interplay of these forces.
   10.   On the modern State as a secular God and the ascription of the attributes of divinity, particularly the attribute of sovereignty, to the modern State in a secularised form see my essay Baal Worship Ancient and Modern (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 2010).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

False Prophets

This is what we have to tolerate from our pastors and Church “leaders” in the UK today. The following statement was made by David Pawson, a well-known and popular evangelical Baptist preacher a few years ago in a conference speech. Observe the words in italics, but read the paragraph from the beginning—and weep!

“Now I want to say a number of things about the Muslim religion, which to a Christian raise questions. Number one, I didn’t know what adjective to use; I’ll start with this, Islam is a holistic religion. I could’ve said a totalitarian religion. I mean by both adjectives that it is about the whole of life. It is a total religion—it can’t ever be a hobby, it’s a total religion, not just for the whole life of an individual, but the whole life of a family, the whole life of a community, the whole life of a society, the whole life of a nation, and the whole life of the world. True religion is for the whole of that. And therefore it has much in common with the religion of the Old Testament. We call such a religion a theocracy, where the laws are not decided by a government or the politicians, but by God, and He gives the laws for the whole of society. And that is why the law of Moses has no distinction between moral law, ceremonial law, social law, crime, punishment of crime—it’s all mixed up together, because God was the King of Israel, and the whole of their life, even down to their toilet arrangements, is legislated for by God in Moses. Christianity is not like that, but Judaism and Islam are. They cover everything.”

You can listen to him say this online at Youtube here. The relevant section is at: 0:07:00 to 0:10:12 with the actual words "Christianity is not like that" at 0:09:56. From this he goes on to criticise converting nations and Christendom, but the problem is that if Christianity is not the established religion some other religion will be. Today in the West this is secular humanism.

It is no good complaining about our secular rulers while we are tolerating this sort of thing in Church. If the Church refuses to be salt and light to the world, it is no wonder the world is in such darkness. The Bible tells us that judgement must begin at the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17). Judgement is not only condemnation for sin, it is justification of righteousness. It is also rule. To judge is to rule. Accordingly Peter goes on to say that if judgement does not begin with the house of God, what will be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God (i.e. non-believers)? If the Church will not be ruled by God's law and rejects God's law, if she will not rule herself according to God's law, how can we expect the world to follow God's law? If the Church preaches that God's law is no longer applicable to society how can we condemn the world for believing that God's law is no longer applicable? The Church is supposed to set an example for the world to follow. Here in the UK the Church has cast aside the covenant and is thoroughly antinomian. The Church refuses to obey God's law and therefore she does not set an example to the world of what society should be like. Consequently the world is in darkness. The salt has lost is preservative effect upon society.

Who is responsible for this? The Church leaders, the clergymen and the pastors who have led the Church into this ditch. A evangelical clergyman here told his congregation from the pulpit "There are no rules in Christianity." And we have the appalling statement from Pawson above telling us that the Christian faith does not apply to the whole of life. This is typical of what the Church preachers and Christians believe today in the UK. We have to stop pretending that things are not what they are. Our pastors and clergymen are blind guides leading the blind into a ditch, as Jesus said they would. These men are false prophets. We are under no obligation listen to them or follow them. And we should expose them for what they are. We must stop pretending that they are doing the Lord's work. They are not. Judgement must start at the house of God, and godly rule, according to God’s law, must start at the house of God if the world is to be led to Christ.

One last point. The Bible does make a distinction between different types of law, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Pawson is wrong when he says there is no distinction between sacrificial and other laws, showing thereby his theological ignorance. Consider the meaning of the following verses: 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 40:6–8; Pr. 21:3; Ecc. 5:1; Is. 1:11–17;  Jer. 7:22–23; Hos. 6:6–7; Mic. 6: 6–8; Mt. 9:13; 12:7; Col. 2:16–17; Heb. 8:5; 9:22–23; 10:6–9, which are incomprehensible on the basis of Pawson’s claim.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Real Answer to Islamic Jihad

There are now daily articles from many different on-line media organisation reporting on atrocities committed by Muslims against those who do not accept their faith. Most of these do not get reported in the main news media. You can see some examples here, here, here, and here. (You may also find this interesting).

All this is gruesomely relevant. Our politicians and media seem to be in denial about this kind of thing. While this does not of course mean that all Muslims want to commit atrocities like these, we should not forget that the Koran encourages Muslims to do this sort of thing to their enemies. "When ye encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads, until ye have made a great slaughter among them" (Koran, Sura 47:4). There is no ethic of "love your enemy" in Islam.

Just because not all Muslims want to make war on non-Muslims in this way does not mean that Islam as a religion does not teach this. Islam is not a religion of peace. It divides the whole world into the House of Islam and the House of War. The Koran teaches that the Muslim's duty is to conquer the House of War, by force if necessary. The Koran recognises that war is hateful to Muslims but it still recommends it: "War is enjoined you against the Infidels; but this is hateful unto you: yet perchance ye hate a thing which is better for you, and perchance ye love a thing which is worse for you: but God knoweth and ye know not" (Sura 2:216). Yet the same Sura says "Let there be no violence in religion" (256).

Some Muslims have claimed that the command to fight against infidels only relates to defensive war, but this a modern interpretation, and not universal, and the history of both ancient and modern Islamic States contradicts this interpretation. A well attested hadith states that Mohammad said "I am commanded to fight against men until they bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Mohammad is God's messenger; only by pronouncing these words can they make their property and blood secure from me" (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 1, Bk 1, no. 24).

The Koran contradicts itself. Muslims will doubtless choose which bits they will prioritise and how they will interpret the conflicting statements. Apparently, the peaceful statements came first, the violent ones later. But as I understand it later revelation modifies earlier revelation. The hadiths are very important for Sharia law, more important than the Koran in many respects. However these conflicts are interpreted, the violent interpretation of Islam is a legitimate interpretation, not a misunderstanding or a corruption of Islam.

The real issue though is not Islam but Christianity. God has used Islam throughout history as a stick to beat the apostate Christian nations of the West with for their apostasy. It is no different today. The West is apostate from the Christian faith. If the Western nations do not repent and turn back to God, and this means returning to God's law as the nations' standard of justice and man’s rule of life, God will continue to beat them with the rod of Islam and other rods of judgement (Rom. 1:18–32). This repentance will not happen until the Church once more starts teaching God’s law to the nations (Mt. 28:18–10). But the Church has largely abandoned this mission and replaced the biblical gospel with pietistic and sacramental mystery cults that are antinomian (i.e. they do not teach the abiding validity and relevance of God’s law) and useless to the world. The answer lies with the Church therefore. Judgement must begin with the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17). The Church must repent of her apostasy and return to God. When she does, and when she starts to provide a model for the world to follow in the way she herself lives as a true community, a true society of faith with a social order that conforms to God’s will as revealed in his law, that witness will start to have results, and we shall again begin to see the discipling of the nation. Unless and until this happens, the Western nations, which now suppress the truth in unrighteousness, will continue to experience the judgement of God upon their ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).

The Great Commission is the only real answer to Islamic Jihad (and to all the other problems besetting our world). But Christians must dispense with the fake pietistic version of the Great Commission that has been peddled in the Churches of the West for so long and embrace the biblical vision of discipling the nations. That means not merely making individual converts but making Christian nations. And that inevitably means teaching God’s law to the nations:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is. 2:2–4).
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20).
“He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgement in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law" (Is. 42:4). 
"The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.” (Is. 42:21).
“Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgement to rest for a light of the people” (Is. 51:4).