Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tough Topic Tuesday: God, Government and Gospel

For the next several weeks on our website we will be featuring sections of a paper by Pastor Wayne Grudem entitled "Why Christians Should Influence Government for Good."  He is the author of Politics According to the Bible.  

My goal is offer readers a resource that will help them to understand the relationship between God, the Government and the Gospel.  

In the paper, Grudem contends that their are 5 wrong views that believers commonly hold.  They are as follows:

1. Government Should Compel Religion

This is the idea that civil government should compel people to support or follow a specific religion.

2. Government Should Exclude Religion

3. All Government is Evil and Demonic

A view made popular by Pastor Gregory Boyd in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation.

4. Do Evangelism, Not Politics

This is the view that we should just preach the gospel to change hearts and therefore society or that politics is merely a distraction.

5. Do Politics, Not Evangelism

After explaining the liabilities of the above views, Grudem makes the biblical case that Christians should influence government for good.

I know that my own view on this topic has been challenged and corrected in some areas through this work.

I plan to make each post brief to make it helpful, but manageable.  

Please join me in exploring this most important issue so that we may continue to shine our light to a culture that desperately needs the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

The first section is as follows:

Why Christians Should Influence Government for Good [1]
by Wayne Grudem

Should Christians try to influence laws and politics? Before explaining my own understanding of this question, I need to mention what I think are five wrong views. After that I will propose what I think is a better, more balanced solution.

A. Wrong view #1: Government Should Compel Religion

The first wrong view (according to my judgment) is the idea that civil government should compel people to support or follow one particular religion. 

Tragically, this “compel religion” view was held by many Christians in previous centuries. It played a large role in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48) that began as a conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics over control of various territories, especially in Germany. There were many other “wars of religion” in Europe, particularly between Catholics and Protestants, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 

Eventually more and more Christians realized that this position is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus and inconsistent with the nature of faith itself. Today I am not aware of any major Christian group that holds to the view that government should try to compel people to follow the Christian faith. 

But other religions still promote government enforcement of their religion. This is seen in countries such as Saudi Arabia, which enforces laws compelling people to follow Islam and where those who fail to comply can face severe penalties from the religious police. The law prohibits public practice of any religion other than Islam and prohibits Saudis from converting to other religions. But it must be noted that other Muslims also favor democracy and allowing for varying degrees of freedom of religion. 

In the early years of the United States, support for freedom of religion in the American colonies increased because many of the colonists had fled from religious persecution in their home countries. For example, the New England Pilgrims had fled from England where they had faced fines and imprisonment for failing to attend services in the Church of England and for conducting their own church services. Several teachings of the Bible show that “government should compel religion” is an incorrect view, one that is contrary to the teachings of the Bible itself. 

1. Genuine faith cannot be forced  

Government should never try to compel any religion because, according to the Bible, genuine religious belief cannot be compelled by force. Jesus and the New Testament apostles always taught people and reasoned with them and then appealed to them to make a personal decision to follow Jesus as the true Messiah. Jesus invited people, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat 11:28; compare Acts 28:23; Rom. 10:9–10; Rev. 22:17). 

Anyone who has brought up children knows that not even parents can force children to believe in God. You can bring them to church and you can teach them the Bible, but each child must make a personal decision to trust in Jesus as his or her own Lord and Savior. Genuine faith cannot be forced. 

Someone might object, “But what about laws in the Old Testament that ordered severe punishments for anyone who tried to teach another religion (see Deut. 13:6–11)? Wasn’t that part of the Bible?” 

The answer is that those laws were only for the nation of Israel for that particular time. They were never imposed on any of the surrounding nations. Such Old Testament laws enforcing religion were never intended for people after Jesus came and established his “new covenant” (Heb. 8:8-9:28). 

2. Jesus distinguished the realms of God and of Caesar 

Another biblical argument against the “compel religion” view comes from Jesus’ teachings bout God and Caesar. Jesus’ Jewish opponents were trying to trap him with the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt. 22:18). Taking his opponents by surprise, Jesus said, “Show me the coin for the tax,” and “they brought him a denarius” (v. 19). Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:20–21). 

This is a remarkable statement because Jesus shows that there are to be two different spheres of influence, one for the government and one for the religious life of the people of God. Some things, such as taxes, belong to the civil government (“the things that are Caesar’s”), and this implies that the church should not try to control these things. On the other hand, some things belong to people’s religious life (“the things that are God’s”), and this implies that the civil government should not try to control those things. 

Jesus did not specify any list of things that belong to each category, but the mere distinction of these two categories had monumental significance for the history of the world. It signaled a different system from the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, where everybody in the nation was considered a part of the people of God and they all had to obey the religious laws. 

3. Freedom of religion is a biblical value 

Jesus’ new teaching that the realms of “God” and “Caesar” are distinct implies freedom of religion. It implies that all civil governments—even today—should give people freedom regarding the religious faith they follow (or don’t follow), and regarding the religious doctrines they hold, and how they worship God. “Caesar” should not control such things, for they are “the things that are God’s.”

Therefore Christians in every nation should support freedom of religion and oppose any attempt by government to compel any single religion. In fact, complete freedom of religion should be the first principle advocated and defended by Christians who seek to influence government.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. This booklet is adapted from Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010). , and is used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. It may not be reproduced or distributed apart from express written consent from the publisher: contact Catherine Zappa (catherine.zappa@harpercollins.com) and explain that what you want to reproduce is a 9,400 word booklet condensed from the first two chapters of Politics According to the Bible and first published by Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., with the permission of Zondervan.

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