The case against strong Christian intervention- or the reasons why you may not want to sign the latest petition- in the non-Christian state need to be heard. There is a danger that we simply assume that it is the right thing to do. Groups such as the Christian Institute and Christian Concern make the case for involvement well but, inevitably, there isn’t a group making a different case- one that would campaign not to campaign…

So here are four reasons why those who didn’t sign the Coalition for Marriage petition may not be wrong.

1. Jesus is Lord over all- but he rules the church and the state in very different ways. There are two different kingdoms.

At the end of my last post I queried whether those favouring intervention had applied the Lordship of Christ in a biblical way. Rather- the Bible seems to think in terms of two kingdoms. There is the church which acknowledges the rule of Christ and the world which does not and they are a long way apart from each other. It is not the job of the church to seek to rule the world. Instead, we are to get on with the task that the Lord Jesus has committed to the church.

Biblical support for this idea of two kingdoms could be found in different places. For instance, consider Jesus’ comment in Mark 12:17- “Give to Caesar what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s.” This does seem to suggest that there are two different kingdoms in operation (dare one suggest a separation of church and state?!). Christians are to behave as responsible citizens of the secular state but to give ultimate allegiance to God. Perhaps two other examples make this more clear. In John 18:36 Jesus says this to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.” Jesus repudiates a kingdom that is based on human power and prestige. His is not a kingdom that belongs to this world. Or consider what Jesus says after his resurrection. The disciples ask him this question, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Surely the resurrected Lord will now launch his political revolution and kick the Romans out of Jerusalem. But notice that Jesus’ agenda is very different: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus rejects the political agenda of his disciples in favour of a different agenda- preaching the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

It seems that there is consistency throughout the Gospel narratives- Jesus turns his back on the pursuit of political power in favour of a different approach which involves humbly and sacrificially preaching the Gospel. This may suggest that political campaigning should be of, at best, marginal interest to the church.

2. Christians are not to judge the world

The starter for this discussion was the Same Sex Marriage Act. It is instructive to consider some of Paul’s teaching on sexual conduct in 1 Corinthians 5. He is outraged that the church in Corinth is tolerating sexual immorality in its midst. There is the need for church discipline. However, it is worth noticing that he has a very different approach to sexual immorality in the world, We are to disassociate ourselves from professing Christians who are sexually immoral and unrepentant- but we are to associate with non-Christians who are sexually immoral. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” he asks. When it comes to the Same Sex Marriage Act, I could see reasons to campaign for us to be allowed freedom of conscience so that we would not be forced to conduce same sex weddings. But I wonder if Paul would say that telling non-Christians what they can or cannot make legal in the sexual realm is none of our business. Here is Don Carson:

However much Paul might reprobate the sins of his age, it is of no immediate concern to him to pass legislation that would modify those sins. His focus is on the life, faith and morality of the Christian community.”

3. Fighting political battles is a distraction from/hindrance to preaching the Gospel

For many in the reformed world one of the first questions people ask is, “What would the Doctor do?” speaking, of course, of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have to be honest- that isn’t a question I ask all that often. However, if I did then my suspicion is that he would be sceptical of the recent tendency to fight political campaigns. During the early years of his ministry- he was particularly strident in refusing the join in with social or political campaigns. He discouraged church members from being part of political parties. Interestingly, he refused to take part on the temperance movement despite the problems of alcoholism in South Wales in the 1920s. Whilst these things were not wrong in themselves, the danger was that they treated only the symptoms of people’s problems not the source of them. People needed the Gospel and here should be an absolute clarity about that. It is interesting to see how he dealt with the question of homosexuality much later in his life. Whilst taking an orthodox stance on it- homosexual practice is sinful- he questioned whether the church had taken the right approach in talking about the subject. “We have been too guilty of moralism instead of being more like our Lord,” he said. People’s main need is the Gospel not legislation- for that will, at best, treat the symptoms of the problem. To be candid, one of my fears of the recent Coalition for Marriage campaign is that it makes preaching the Gospel harder because it makes it sound as though our message is one of morality rather than rescue.

4. Christians are to be marked by suffering not by power

At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther talked about a theology of the cross. That is to say- the life of Jesus and the life of the church is marked by suffering and weakness not success and power. That is the way that the church makes progress. Rather than expecting the state to promote Christian legislation, we should anticipate that it will bring about opposition. As a church we’ve recently finished 1 Peter which has an emphasis on Christian suffering. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis are forthright on this point:

Peter does not say, ‘I can’t believe the way people talk about the Christian faith. It’s outrageous. We need a campaign.”

Down through church history, this doctrine of two kingdoms has been espoused by a number of people. Here is Augustine:

The celestial society, while it is here on earth, increases itself out of all languages, being unconcerned by the different temporal laws that are made.”

Or here is the Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1530:

The Gospel does not introduce any new laws about the civil estate, but commands us to obey existing laws, whether formulated by heathens or others.”

Or here in more recent years is Darryl Hart:

The otherworldly character of Christianity…should lower the stakes of politics for those in the church…The humility taught by the theology of the cross and the doctrine of two kingdoms puts a strong brake upon conceiving of Christianity of the transformation of culture.”

I probably ought to come clean. I have more sympathy for this view than the one I outlined in my last post (did you guess?). Whilst I understand the logic of the other position, it seems to me that the two kingdoms approach best represents the teaching of Scripture.

However, there are problems that remain with it. Here are three questions that the non-interventionist/two kingdoms approach needs to face:

1. Is the situation today different from that of the early church? To be sure, there isn’t much about political activism in the New Testament but they weren’t living in a democracy and didn’t have the opportunities that we have. In truth, I think this doesn’t change a great deal as I think the points above reflect the way in which God works rather than being specific to that given time- but it is an issue worth considering.

2. How do you avoid excluding Jesus from the public square? The danger with the approach above is that Jesus is seen only to be relevant to a small group in the church.

3. Do you really want to end up in a position different from, say, William Wilberforce? Surely his work in campaigning against the slave trade shines brightly in the history of the church? Or to put it a different way- do you want to live in Germany in the 1930s and fail to protest against Hitler?

These last reflections suggest to me that you can’t pursue an exclusively non-interventionist position. We need a more nuanced approach which I will seek to outline in the last post.