In my first post I noted the differing reactions amongst evangelicals to the issue of whether Christians should seek to argue for biblical ethics to be put into national legislation.
In this post I want to argue for an “interventionist” position- or, to put it another way, provide reasons for signing the Coalition for Marriage petition or write to your MP about issues such as euthanasia and so on. Here are four reasons:
1. The claims of God the Creator and Jesus the Lord cannot be limited to one section of society.
We don’t believe that God only rules over the church or that the Lordship of Christ is limited to us. All people everywhere should obey God and his Son, the Lord Jesus. In 1645, at the time of the Civil War, Samuel Rutherford wrote a book entitled “Lex Rex”- the Law is King. His hope for England was that God’s law would be seen to be the true King that must reign. The Dutch politician Abraham Kuyper who set up his own Christian political party towards the end of the 19th century did so on the basis that there was no square inch of creation over which Jesus does not say “mine”. It is argued that both of these doctrines imply that we must call people to acknowledge the rightness of God’s rule in the ethics that a nation practises. The Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham puts it like this:
“We should work for legislation in society that reflects the Bible’s ideals about sexuality, the sanctity of life, the environment and the Sabbath. Like Moses of ancient Israel, we shall be forced to make compromises because of the hardness of the human heart but we should not abandon the vision of Genesis 1-2, which express the primal divine intentions for man.”
The implications of this argument for the Christian campaign on marriage is clear.
2. We must encourage the state to play its God given role
The apostle Peter says that the authorities have been sent by God to “punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:14). In arguing for Christian legislation it could, therefore, be suggested that we are encouraging the state to commend the good and punish the bad.
3. Love for neighbour requires that we argue for Christian legislation
We believe that God’s laws are right and are good for people. It is not good for human beings to decide for themselves how to live- we lack the wisdom. The best way for us to live is to submit to our Creator who knows best how this world works. Therefore, to seek to have God’s law enshrined in legislation is actually a loving thing to do- it means that our laws will be wise and promote the best form of living.
4. All law is imposed morality- so it is best to have divine morality
Those who argue against Christian intervention in the political world often do so on the basis that no moral position should be afforded a privileged position in legislation. However, those who favour intervention would argue that a neutral position is impossible. We are either governed by God or by secular philosophy. “In reality, everyone has a moral position upon which their view of the law is based. Secularists passionately believe that their assumptions should be the basis of our law and policy.” (Christian Institute). Given that God’s law is for our good it makes sense to argue for that to be the basis of our laws rather than accepting a secular agenda.
Those who would argue for intervention would do so from a variety of perspectives. Theonomists would argue that we should seek to have the Mosaic law enshrined in modern legislation. The law was clearly for the good of ancient Israel- why would it not be good for society today? Others would argue for a slightly more nuanced approach- picking up the principles that lay behind the legislation and seeing how they may apply today. I work along these lines in a sermon I preached recently from Exodus 21-24.
The case for intervention has been made strongly by a number of Christian organisations recently such as the Christian Institute and Christian Concern. Let me quote from their websites to give you an idea of their position:
“God knows how we are made. He knows what is best for us. We believe the Bible contains the Maker’s instructions. Only God’s moral law can truly protect people and promote what is good. Christians want to see God’s moral law obeyed. This brings glory to God and it is also what is truly best for people. Christians want to see public policy which is consistent with the teaching of Christ and the Ten Commandments. In a democracy Christians have the freedom to argue their case like everyone else. Our responsibility is to speak out for what is right…While it is not the role of a state to coerce individual citizens to adhere to particular beliefs, the state can never be neutral as regards values. Christians are to work for the state to adopt Christian values and to implement godly laws.” (Christian Institute)
“At Christian Concern we have a passion to see the United Kingdom return to the Christian faith. Our nation has been shaped and defined by this faith for hundreds of years. Yet in the last few decades the nation has largely turned her back on Jesus and embraced alternative ideas such as secular liberal humanism, moral relativism and sexual licence. The fruit of this is rotten, and can be seen in widespread family breakdown, immorality and social disintegration.
Yet we believe that this nation has a hope, and that hope can be found in Jesus Christ. On this basis we seek to awaken the Church. We need to be passionate about our faith and became a light and a witness to the nation.
Whilst engaging with the church we want to work to infuse a biblical worldview into every aspect of society. We want to be a strong Christian voice in the public sphere, arguing passionately for the truth of the Gospel and defending the historic freedoms that we have enjoyed in this nation for so long. We believe that by doing so, society as a whole will benefit. We seek to highlight injustice, change public opinion on issues of key importance and affect policy at the highest levels.
We engage on a broad large range of issues, including abortion, adoption and fostering, bioethics, marriage, education, employment, end of life, equality, family, free speech, Islamism, religious freedom, the sex trade, social issues and issues relating to sexual orientation.” (Christian Concern)
These would be reasons for being active as Christians in the political arena. In my next post I’ll turn to reasons for non-intervention. But let me end this post by flagging up two questions that need to be posed to those favouring intervention:
1. Does the Bible ever apply the doctrines of creation and the Lordship of Christ to the legislative practises of nations other than Israel? I’m not sure it ever does. For instance, in Amos 1-2 the nations around Israel are judged for their violence and aggressive warfare but Judah alone (the people of God) are judged for rejecting the law of the Lord. There seems to be no biblical link between God as Creator and a command that the people of God should argue for creation principles to be put into legislation. The issue is this- are those who favour intervention applying doctrines in a way that the Bible never applies them?
2. The desire of Christian Concern to see the UK embrace the Christian faith is, of course, right. But is the New Testament path to that desire to engage on issues such as Islamism and sexual orientation? Surely the only hope for the nation turning to Christ is to preach the Gospel?
In some ways I think it is too easy simply to go along with the argument stated above- there are difficult questions to be faced. As we’ll see in the next post there are difficult challenges for those who oppose intervention- which means we may need to come up with a nuanced position which I will try to outline in the last post.