Sub-Christian Nationalism? (Part 8)

In Article IX, under the heading, “Spheres of Authority,” the Statement (version 2) says:

WE AFFIRM that God has established spheres of authority such as the home, the Church, and the civil government. We affirm that God has given unique responsibilities and instructions to authorities within each sphere. We affirm that authorities in each sphere are subject to the rule of Christ, each retaining authority over its own sphere while being checked and balanced by the others. We affirm that parents, as the authority in the home, have been given the “rod” for instruction, training, and discipline in wisdom and righteousness. We affirm that only the Church has been given the “keys of the kingdom” for the binding and loosing of gospel professions (i.e., the practice of church membership and discipline) as well as God’s Word for the preaching of the law and gospel with the aims of conversion, sanctification, and discipline. The civil government has been given the “sword” as God’s servants to maintain justice and civil order by punishing evildoers, avenging the innocent, commending the good, and, thereby, promoting citizens’ general well-being.

I agree with these distinctions. These distinctions are true and can be defended from nature.

It is sometimes assumed that a non-theocratic approach to government excludes all references to God. This is not true. The Founders, whose relationship to orthodox Christianity varied considerably, nevertheless, appealed unapologetically to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and yet they did so without establishing a federal church. An appeal to God and nature does not entail a theocratic government.

These spheres are distinct, and they each have their authority from God. Since the early 20th century, the American family, as an institution, has conceded several of its liberties which it ought to reclaim—for example, education belongs not to the state but to the family. Teachers do not work primarily for the state or for the union but in loco parentis—that is, in the place of the parents. Thus, the idea that teachers should subvert the authority of parents or seek to corrupt children is flatly contrary to the nature of things. The teacher did not give birth to my children. I did not see the school district clothing or feeding my children or tucking them in at night. That was our responsibility, which we sought to fulfill to the best of our abilities.

Rod, keys, and sword are good images and clever parallels but, of course, the family bears more than the rod—in a Christian home the gospel ought to be as present as the law—and the spheres are not hermetically sealed. Every family is under the authority of the magistrate, whether they submit to the authority of the keys of the kingdom or not. The family has its own authority but there are limits. We are not, as the Sovereign Citizens movement would have us think, autonomous units free to reject the authority of the civil government whenever we please—houses must meet safety codes. Families who neglect or abuse children or husbands who abuse their wives are subject to arrest and criminal prosecution.

It is interesting how clear the Statement is on the nature and duties of the state but how relatively latitudinarian it is regarding the gospel. In an earlier installment I noted how the Statement marginalizes ecclesiastical confessions and yet, in this article, the language “keys of the kingdom,” though certainly not exclusive to the Reformed tradition (Romanists and other traditions speak this way), seems to be drawn, in this instance, from the Reformed tradition rather than from broad evangelicalism.

When the Statement says “preaching of the law and the gospel” it has strong Reformation overtones, but is a Christian nation that refuses to define the gospel a Christian nation? Which gospel? Roman Catholicism says that the gospel is that Christ has made salvation available to those who cooperate sufficiently with grace. The churches of the Protestant Reformation (i.e., the Lutheran and the Reformed) confess a gospel that declares that God justifies sinners (not the sanctified) even before they do good works, and that sanctification is only a fruit and evidence of justification. Rome has condemned that very message.

This is one reason I describe the Statement as advocating sub-Christian Nationalism. They are equivocating, as they must, on just what makes one (or a state) Christian. If we are going to have a Christian State, then let us have a truly Christian state with a Christian gospel. According to the Reformation churches, justification by grace and cooperation with grace is a sub-Christian message.

We affirm that Jesus Christ has appointed over His Church both government and discipline, and no law of any government should interfere or hinder the due exercise thereof among the voluntary members of any assembly of Christians, according to their own profession and belief.

Again, the Statement equivocates over what it means to say, “His Church.” The Reformed and Lutheran churches understand what it means to say, “Christ’s church.” We think of congregations organized around the pure preaching of the gospel and the pure administration of the sacraments. To these two marks, the Reformed churches add the use of church discipline. Romanists think of a hierarchy in which the Roman bishop claims to be the head of the visible church and Christ’s vicar on the earth. The Eastern Orthodox churches look to various metropolitans. The broad evangelical churches do not even use these categories. Under the Reformed conception of the marks of the true church (Belgic Confession article 29), it is not entirely certain that the Baptistic evangelical churches in the USA even qualify as true churches.

I agree that no law of government should interfere with voluntary associations but what would be the status of mosques and synagogues in this putative Christian nation theorized by the Statement? There have been mosques and synagogues in this country since before its founding. Under our Constitution they have equal standing with churches before the law. Would that change under a Christian theocracy? What about cults and sects—for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Adventists, the LDS, et al.?

One of the great blessings of the American experiment as founded, which the Statement seeks to overturn, is that I can live cheek-by-jowl with Roman Catholics, Mormons, Pagans, Wiccans, and even Methodists, and I can cooperate with them (or not) on civil projects without approving of their religion and without watering down or redefining mine. I am entitled to my opinion about what constitutes Christianity, and they are entitled to theirs. Americans—that is, those who are ideologically in sync with the intent of the American founders as expressed in our documents—do not ask the State to institute their religion, impose it on others, or even to approve of it. In America, what the state thinks of my religion is of no consequence.

WE DENY that human authority in any sphere possesses absolute or unchecked authority, even within their sphere, as Christ delegates all human authority; therefore, all are accountable to Christ and His moral law whether they acknowledge it or not.

As indicated above, I agree that none of the spheres possesses unchecked authority. As an orthodox Christian in the Reformed tradition, I am convinced that all humans are accountable to Christ and his moral law, but it is one thing to announce that truth from the pulpit; it is quite another to institute that as civil law. At that point, a nation has become a theocracy. Were this an American Statement rather than a theocratic document, the framers would simply have said that every nation is accountable to “the Laws of nature and of nature’s God.” The State, as such, is accountable to what the Reformed know as the second table of the moral law (commandments 5–10). Every human knows the substance of the moral law by nature in his conscience, but an ideological American says that the state has no duty to the first table but only the second—with the caveat that the Sabbath commandment belongs to the first table and speaks to our duty to rest more than the state’s obligation to recognize the Sabbath, yet a case for a weekly day of rest can be made from nature. The state has an interest in seeing that citizens respect authority (e.g., it is illegal to defy a lawful order of a law-enforcement officer), to prevent and punish murder, to prevent and punish adultery (nature itself shows us how foolish the sexual revolution is), to prevent and punish theft, and to prevent and punish lying. I doubt that there is much the magistrate can do about coveting.

The Statement’s language raises questions about the legitimacy of a state that does not acknowledge, as the Covenanters say, “the crown rights of King Jesus.” That would include the American Republic. Is the United States government (and that of its fifty states and several territories) legitimate in the eye of the framers of the Statement? How revolutionary are they?

We deny that civil authorities may assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven for church discipline but must be uniquely protective of the free exercise of the Christian faith according to the dictates of conscience under the orthodox Christian faith.

Nature and reason tell us that the State has no natural interest in administering any religious rites. I agree with those who see the new orthodoxy of the sexual revolution as a kind of new, state-sponsored religion. We ought to disestablish that religion as quickly as we would disestablish any other. The attempt by the sexual revolutionaries to compel speech (e.g., 303 Creative v. Elenis et al., in which the court held that the State of Colorado may not compel a web designer to affirm same-sex marriage in the course of her work) should be as offensive to any red-blooded American as should be the attempt by religious revolutionaries to turn the American Republic into a theocracy.

The Belgic Confession, as revised by the United Reformed Churches in North America, under article 36 says:

And being called in this manner to contribute to the advancement of a society that is pleasing to God, the civil rulers have the task, subject to God’s law, of removing every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship.

They should do this while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them, with the means belonging to them.

They should do it in order that the Word of God may have free course; the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress; and every anti-Christian power may be resisted.

It is one thing to say that magistrates should remove every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and worship, to refrain from absolutism, and to remain in their sphere. It is another thing to say that their magistrate should be “uniquely protective of the free exercise of the Christian faith.” Again, if my pagan, Muslim, Jewish, and Wiccan neighbor pay taxes, they have a civil right to gather and conduct their worship according to the dictates of conscience. I will pray that God will convict them of their unbelief, teach them the greatness of their sin and misery, and draw them to true faith, but I also expect the civil magistrate to protect them. Is this Statement implying that non-Christians will not pay taxes in this new Christian theocracy or that they will pay taxes but receive less protection than Christians?

This is not a purely theoretical matter. As we have seen antisemitic lunatics attack synagogues in this country. One such attack occurred near to where I live. One woman was murdered in that attack. Attacks on synagogues have occurred across the country. Of course, Christian churches have also been attacked and as the sexual revolutionaries and their black-shirted paramilitary supporters (i.e., Antifa) grow bolder and more violent, those who gather for worship in this country ought to give due regard to the safety of their parishioners when they gather.

When the Statement says “orthodox Christian faith” it raises the question: orthodox by what standard? I know how the Reformed interpret the Apostles’ Creed and how Roman Catholics interpret the Apostles’ Creed. They are not the same interpretations. Where is this imagined “mere Christianity” of theirs anyway?

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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One comment

  1. In all your posts about this subject, I would agree The Statement has for itself an appeal which, to the Christian, is almost like wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be great to have a society that is made to behave itself?
    Knowing what is plainly seen throughout human history, except for that however brief time before the fall of all mankind, it’s completely unrealistic to expect a society that doesn’t want to be righteous to be just that. For this kind of nationalism to happen you would need willing participants, from every corner of society, but I know what Martin Luther has said about the “the will”. Thank you, Dr. Clark, for taking the Statement apart piece by piece, it’s very tempting for me to dismiss the whole Christian Nationalism thing as pure, unadultered sophistry.

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