In a piece that appears in Christianity Today online Ted Olson argues that a plan, which was cancelled, to free the Korean hostages in Afghanistan by taking hostage the families of the kidnappers is a bad idea because the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have done it. His closing line: “It’s hard to imagine Paul writing to the Corinthians.” Would the Apostle Paul have cut off anyone’s head? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that he thought that the civil magistrate shouldn’t do so. In fact, the Apostle taught that the civil magistrate had a duty to bear the sword (Rom 13:4).
The real point here is this: though God is sovereign over all spheres, he administers his sovereignty in distinct spheres or kingdoms. The church is the kingdom or sphere of God’s saving work, the locus of the administration of the covenant of grace. The civil magistrate is not the church, it is not an administration of the covenant of grace. The civil magistracy is an administration of law, of a sort of covenant of works, of the principle “do this and live.” Of course the civil magistrate does not administer a soteric covenant of works but it does administer a civil, temporal, legal covenant between citizens.
This editorial reminds me that much of the evangelical left (e.g., Sojourners) and right (i.e., the “take back America” crowd) do not understand the difference between law and gospel and they are confused about its corollary, the difference between works and grace.
We don’t need grace from the magistrate. That’s not his job. We need him to conduct wars and prosecute justice. If one wants grace: go to church, that’s why Christ instituted it as a distinct kingdom.
This editorial seems to assume that there’s a Pauline way to rescue hostages. If so is there a Pauline monetary policy? What would Paul write to the Corinthians about the the sub-prime crisis? Should the Fed lower interest rates or should he stand pat because God is opposed to inflation?
I’m not saying what the Koreans (or Americans or Afghanis) should do about the hostages. That’s not my place. I’m a minister of the Word, but so far as a I know, the Apostle Paul didn’t articulate a social policy. Maybe that was intentional? Maybe he didn’t make assumptions that Olsen seems to make and he did make assumptions that Olsen seems to neglect?
UPDATE: Ted Olsen wrote to ask about my response to his initial post (confusing enough yet?). This led to a helpful exchange which he has posted on the CT Liveblog site and which I’m also posting here.
There has been some online discussion of my earlier blog post on plans to rescue the South Korean Christian aid workers being held hostage by the Taliban. I was particularly troubled by word that the Afghan government wanted to seize the families of Taliban members holding the hostages “as a way of applying pressure.” Read that blog post, then read a conversation I’ve been having with R. Scott Clark, …associate professor of historical and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California. He’ll be posting the exchange on his site, The Heidelblog, too.
[Ted quotes my original post which is above, so I omit it here]
Ted’s First Response
Thanks for your comments about my blog post. I think you’ll be interested in an earlier article I wrote that makes some similar points that you’re making.
But what I find interesting is that you missed the point that I was talking about the church rather than the government. The hostages are Christian aid workers. Should we automatically assume that it is the duty of the government to save Christian aid workers and missionaries when they fall into persecution? If we go into dangerous places to fulfill our Great Commission mandate, should we look to Caesar when Jesus’ promise of persecution is fulfilled?
I do think that it is the church should proclaim justice to the civil magistrate, and that Christians should speak against the government taking innocent people hostage, just as I believe that Christians should speak against the government enabling the killing of the innocent unborn. I also think that the church, and Christians in democratic societies, should speak on behalf of their persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. But I think our witness is damaged when the government takes innocent people hostage in an effort to rescue us from kidnappers.
Do you disagree?
Since you wrote, I’ve re-read the post a few times to make sure I didn’t miss something. I understood that you were talking about “the church” (more on that in a second) but that’s why I was criticizing your post. I should have been clearer.
Two things. When I say “church” I mean the visible, institutional church. Where you say “church,” I would say “Christians.” I understand the Kingdom [used in this sense] to be the visible church and I understand it’s ministry to be wholly spiritual, i.e., to be concerned with Word and sacrament.
Christians can speak to all sorts of things, but not in the name of the church, per se.
I wasn’t commenting on what the governments in the US, Korea, or Afghanistan should or shouldn’t do. I agree with you that Christians shouldn’t have put the respective governments in such a position, but I wouldn’t tell them what to do once they face the crisis.
I’m an amillennialist so I agree with you that Christians ought to expect persecution—though they shouldn’t go out of their way to solicit it.
So, when you say the “church” should proclaim justice to the magistrate, I think I must disagree if the word “church” means, “institutional entity established by Christ.”
If by “church” you mean “Christians functioning as citizens” then yes, I think Christians, operating on the basis of natural, creational, common law have a right and duty to call the state to fulfill it’s creational function including the various causes you mention. I don’t think, however, that our faith gives us special insight as to what governments ought to do or any special status. I’m sure you agree with the latter, but I’m not sure about the former.
Thanks for writing.
Ted’s Second Response
thanks again for taking time. And yes, as an editor, I very much appreciate that you met your deadline instead of taking more time answering e-mail!
Can I ask two clarifying questions (and these are honest questions about your views; I’m unclear on whether we actually disagree)?
1. Does the magistrate’s duty to bear the sword include the ability to take innocent people hostage in order to influence and punish the guilty family members?
It seems to me that even in very strong “two kingdoms” views, the duty to bear the sword is rather limited. The Augsburg Confession, for example, repeatedly uses important adjectives: “lawful civil ordinances are good works of God … to award just punishments, to engage in just wars.” I do not deny that it’s the duty of a government to rescue those in mortal peril, to use force in doing so, or to punish kidnappers and murderers. But I do believe that the means by which and the extent to which the government bears the sword matters (jus in bello). As Augustine wrote, “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.”
2. Does it matter that the Koreans were sent by a church?
Saemmul Presbyterian Church, to be specific. I wholeheartedly agree that there is entirely too much confusion between the visible, institutional church and the invisible church (Christians). And in this case, it seems to me, the difference matters quite a bit. The church sent these aid workers into a dangerous situation, knowing they were likely to persecuted. That does not mean that the church should not ask the government to intervene against persecution. (Indeed, Paul appealed to Caesar when he faced persecution; yet he did so in service to the gospel rather than merely to spare his life.) But I’m uncomfortable—horrified, even—with the government seeking to kidnap innocent Afghans in order secure the release of Christian workers sent by a church. And I think that, given the church’s involvement, it does not violate covenant theology for both Christians AND the church to say, “It is unjust to kidnap innocents so that church workers may go free. Please do not do this on our behalf.” That, to me, would certainly be part of the church’s proclamation ministry.
Again, thanks for this conversation. It’s good to think deeper about these things.
These are important questions. I’ll interact below. (Ted’s questions/comments are indented)
1. Does the magistrate’s duty to bear the sword include the ability to take innocent people hostage in order to influence and punish the guilty family members?
I agree that the magistrate is responsible to the moral law, but I also think that it’s long been recognized that under war, governments have liberty to do things that they would not ordinarily do. We have practiced carpet bombing killing large numbers of civilians that we would not otherwise have done. We’re certainly at war with the Taliban and if their taking hostages is an act of war then perhaps taking their families hostages is also an act of war?
That said, I’m not saying what the governments should do except to say that they should act according to the second table of the moral law as it applies to war.
My query is how Scripture applies to this whole question. Your original post seemed to assume that there’s a biblical or Christian response to this problem and I don’t see it. Isn’t that the force of your invocation of Paul, of asking what Paul would say (either to the Korean congregation who sent the missionaries or to the governments involved)?
That was the assumption I wanted to query. I don’t know that we can deduce any sort of social policy from Scripture beyond whatever it tells us about the natural, creational law. Certainly there wouldn’t be a “Christian” position on rescuing the hostages. There might be a wiser position or perhaps a position that accords with the natural law more than others. E.g., it might be more just not to take hostage the family of Taliban members.
It seems to me that even in very strong “two kingdoms” views, the duty to bear the sword is rather limited. The Augsburg Confession, for example, repeatedly uses important adjectives: “lawful civil ordinances are good works of God … to award just punishments, to engage in just wars.”
Of course, this is part of what is in dispute here, whether the war in Afghanistan is just and whether in the face of the patently unlawful acts by the Taliban a government is entitled to retaliate.
I do not deny that it’s the duty of a government to rescue those in mortal peril, to use force in doing so, or to punish kidnappers and murderers. But I do believe that the means by which and the extent to which the government bears the sword matters (jus in bello). As Augustine wrote, “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.”
I know it’s heresy to disagree with Augustine on the just war, and I agree with Augustine’s general theory that there are such things as just wars, I think Augustine (inasmuch as he assumed Christendom) was still confusing the two kingdoms and the covenants of works and grace.
The magistrate only works for the law. He doesn’t work for the gospel at all. Here I dissent from much of contemporary evangelicalism when it continues to assume a sort of Christendom and continues to confuse the two kingdoms. The magistrate, as he wages war, should act justly and bring justice—as much as possible in this life—but not in the interests of grace; except as bringing justice and thus peace will facilitate the interests of the church.
2. Does it matter that the Koreans were sent by a church? Saemmul Presbyterian Church, to be specific. I wholeheartedly agree that there is entirely too much confusion between the visible, institutional church and the invisible church (Christians). And in this case, it seems to me, the difference matters quite a bit. The church sent these aid workers into a dangerous situation, knowing they were likely to persecuted.
Thanks for this clarification. I do remember reading and hearing this. We have prayed for the safe deliverance of the hostages.
The church probably erred in sending the missionaries to Afghanistan. I think we agree that, if they chose to do this, they should accept the consequences. Certainly this denomination should not ask the government to act one way or the other.
Individuals are free to speak to the government about policy and to encourage this or that course, but the church as church should remain silent on penultimate matters. The church as church may speak to ultimate matters (life, death, truth, salvation etc) and it’s true that some policy questions verge on ultimate questions, but churches should exercise extreme caution.
That does not mean that the church should not ask the government to intervene against persecution. (Indeed, Paul appealed to Caesar when he faced persecution; yet he did so in service to the gospel rather than merely to spare his life.)
Here we disagree. Paul invoked his rights as a citizen. He didn’t put his appeal to the magistrate on the basis of the gospel. He didn’t say to the magistrate, “Listen, I’m an apostle of Christ therefore you ought to….” He invoked the same legal rights that any citizen had. Yes, it was to the advan tage of the gospel, but the appeal was made on the basis of common or natural law not special revelation or grace.
But I’m uncomfortable—horrified, even—with the government seeking to kidnap innocent Afghans in order secure the release of Christian workers sent by a church.
Personally, so am I, but my discomfort lies in my understanding of natural law, not special revelation. I might be wrong in my understanding of NL. Perhaps there’s a common/natural way of justifying taking Taliban families as hostage? After all, haven’t the Taliban and other Jihadists utterly blurred the line between combatants and non-combatants? They can’t have it both ways.
And I think that, given the church’s involvement, it does not violate covenant theology for both Christians AND the church to say, “It is unjust to kidnap innocents so that church workers may go free. Please do not do this on our behalf.” That, to me, would certainly be part of the church’s proclamation ministry.
Well, I’m not sure how this relates to covenant theology, but it would violate the spirituality of the church for the visible, institutional church, to speak to penultimate public policy matters. The only commission the church has is to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments, and church discipline. Anything the church does outside of those three things is problematic.
UPDATE 20 May 2009 2PM Pacific
A couple of correspondents have written to ask the same question so I thought it might be helpful to try to clarify the last paragraph above.
1. By “ultimate” concern I mean those things that have to do with presuppositions and clearly revealed truth or good necessary consequences derived from God’s Word. The church as church, as the divinely instituted organization commissioned by Christ and ordained to preach the moral law, the gospel and to administer the sacraments and discipline is called by that Word to confess the faith, to confess a piety, and a practice. The church, so defined, is called to instruct belieOfvers in the faith and in the Christian life.
2. As to penultimate issues, i.e. issues of public policy that are not clearly revealed in those portions of God’s Word that are intended to be applied to the civil magistrate in the NT (see WCF ch. 19), what I mean to say is most clearly expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith 31.4, Of Synods and Councils:
Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.
By “penultimate” matters I mean those questions that are not ecclesiastical. The taking of hostages in time of war is not a “case extraordinary.” If the magistrate attempts to tell the church that she or her ministers may not preach the whole counsel of God, the church would have cause to make a “humble petition” for the sake of conscience. E.g. if the civil authorities in the United States pass a law that intends to or is interpreted by authorities to prevent ministers from preaching that homosexual conduct, theft, murder, covetousness, or idolatry (to name but a few) are sins, then the church and her ministers should have to dissent from any such restraint on the Word. When it comes to preaching the whole counsel of God, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The church might well and probably should petition the magistrate in such a case but I doubt that the church, as such, has any special insight into the conduct of foreign policy or renewable resources or fiscal policy.
[Re-posted and lightly edited from the old HB Aug 2007]